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April 21, 2016

Thank You Mr. Nelson

Today I was sitting in my office when an unexpected message came in from a student.  Someone at Paisley Park was dead.  For those of you that don't know Paisley Park is the studio that was home to Prince Rogers Nelson, or Prince for the rest of us.  They weren't sure who it was at that point but within 10 minutes of getting the first message it was confirmed that Prince had died very suddenly.  Short of a bit of a flu a few weeks ago no one really had a reason to suspect the news today wouldn't be another hoax.  They have killed him a few times.  When he changed his name to the symbol, when he left or was squabbling with Warner Brothers and a few other times.  After it was confirmed I can't say what I was feeling to be honest.  Granted I wasn't in a position that I could break down even if I wanted to so I went on with the rest of my longer than normal day and upon leaving the office I just wanted to hear some Prince music and lucked into a few songs before they started the memories of fans across the airwaves.  I stopped at a few stores, couldn't find what I wanted, came home and had dinner.  Touched base with my mother who called me to tell me the news because she knows I love me some Prince but it wasn't a good time to have that conversation. I have to say that I am well loved.  I heard from at least 20 people today who are worried about me because when I say I love me some Prince y'all really don't understand.

I grew up during the Prince versus Michael Jackson drama of the early 80s.  MJ in all his seeming normality and moon walking was loved in my house and acceptable.  When I first saw Purple Rain I had to leave the room quite a bit because my mother thought it was inappropriate for me to see certain things.  It was several years before I saw the whole thing uninterrupted and really couldn't tell you what the big issue was but I knew then the music was amazing.  I saw MJ in concert first and it was a great show.  Great lights, good music, fantastic guitarist with the giant mohawk that lit up during certain songs.  It was a seminal moment for me in terms of understanding what it took to put on a concert.  However, it wasn't THE moment.  That moment happened much later, several concerts later, when I finally saw Prince in concert in the late 90s.  At that point he had released an album every year since 1978 so while I knew he couldn't hit EVERY song I loved it was distinctly possible that I was going to leave the show on a very palpable high.  And nothing I daydreamed about before I got there ever matched what really happened.  Three and a half hours of him singing just his music, no covers, no filler, just him and a few costume changes cause the man played until he sweat through an outfit, and it was completely amazing.  It wasn't until I was home in my bed hours later that I realized he had missed at least 15 of "my songs" lol and I totally didn't care because the set list was everything.  When I went home to see my family that summer Prince followed, ok not literally but he was there in Texas and I went with my stepsister and told her to wear comfortable shoes cause she'd be up and dancing the whole night.  And we were and left hoarse from singing out loud at full volume for another three and a half hours.  It was at this show that I realized something too.  Prince was like Cher or Elton John or Bruce Springsteen.  His fans were from every walk of life and every racial group and for four hours on a given night we were a huge musically linked family.

To be clear I was listening to Prince like a fiend as soon as I could buy my own stuff so while the concerts showed me I had a place that was home his music had already let me know there was someone somewhere that kind of knew what I was thinking and feeling.  I named one of my final papers in undergrad after a Prince song, Elephants and Flowers, and fully explored who I was and how I had settled into my identity as a young black woman who was open to a number of things that others like myself were not and how while I wasn't ready to share that with the world I knew that when I did there would members of the Prince collective out there to embrace me.  And there always were at concerts, message boards, random meetups, music swaps what have you.  They were my people and will continue to be in the future I know.  They appreciated my ability to write in Prince speak (replacing random words with numbers and symbols).  They inspired my first AOL screen names which were of course in Prince speak.  They encouraged and loved on my second tattoo--the eponymous symbol we were graced with for a while that created it's own storm The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.  They returned bootleg music to Prince with me and we were rewarded with random trinkets.  They debated why this version of that song was better and they were just all in all everything wonderful about what music can bring together.

I jokingly say that I stalked Prince during the One Nite Alone tour.  I saw him four times (Chicago, Louisville--met and talked to him there, Indianapolis and D.C.) on the main tour and then someone mentioned that he was having the Celebration at his house again.  Celebration being a huge party in honor of his birthday that was a week of concerts, workshops and meeting of fans from across the globe.  I met so many people there and had a once in a lifetime experience.  From watching the cute old ladies from England get excited about being able to go grab Prince cds that were out of stock in the UK, to the super cute Italian lesbians, the bromance who came at the behest of one's girlfriend who knew he loved Prince but had no desire to sit through the week of shows, a friend from a message board who upon meeting felt like an old friend who had never not been in my life and a former mentor who woke up earlier than she had to in order to hang out a bit between my music and sleep deprived haze.  If I had never seen Prince in concert again it would have been worth it for that moment to have happened.  I did see him again in Indianapolis after I crossed with a few line sisters and again it was worth being hoarse at the end of the night to be on the floor and singing at the top of my lungs.

I'm sure if I process too long I'll start crying which may be why I'm writing this as I let my Zune work through 800 plus Prince songs.  I used to think I'd crack up into tiny pieces if this day came and in a weird way I'm kind of happy.  I lived in an era where there was a being named Prince Rogers Nelson and he was amazing.  From the 1970s blow out to the 80s jheri curl the 90s various forms of fierceness to his most recent afro, his hair always looked better than mine.  Not sure if y'all remember this suite but he was rocking a white and red polka dotted shirt and fly red suit on the cover of Rolling Stone one year that my behind wanted so bad I couldn't explain.  We were the same height but he was decidedly smaller than me.  I might have to recreate that look one day after all this gym love finally finishes paying off.  Fuck that I'll get it anyway and wear it cause Prince would have lol so I can too.

I thought about something else earlier.  After I finished undergrad and was living with my father while I worked on my master's degree MTV was running a show called FANatic during which super fans of stars and artists were connected with their idols via the show.  My brother told me to submit something cause yeah giant Prince fan so I did.  And like a month later I got a call from a casting director with MTV who had some follow up questions for me but thought I might be a good fit for the show.  And then a week or so later there was either a call or an email to let me know the show wa being dropped.  Not because Prince wasn't interested but because he didn't like the idea of his fans being called fanatics.  That was around the time that the Prince Fam label was born and took over.  We were as much his family as he was ours.  So I'm really sad right now to lose my family and at any point in the future I may not be as composed as I am right now.  But all I can say right now is thank you to the man, the energy and the forces in the universe that made it possible for me to have experienced Prince for 37 of my 40 years on this orb we call earth.  I'll be around if y'all need me.  I'll probably be working on my last tattoo which I can see in my brain had been trying to figure out how to incorporate little elements of all the important relationships and people in my life into.  I've just been reminded of another link in that chain.  I've got another 780 songs to get through so don't mind me.