I was at work when the news broke today that Prince had died. Fighting back tears for a man I never knew, and know nothing much about beyond his music, in the relatively exposed space of my cubicle it occurred to me that the mourning of a celebrity involves some confusing emotions. Artists I like die all the time. It’s always sad, but more likely to be marked with a mental note of respect and maybe posting a favourite song on my Facebook feed than tears. Trying not to cry at the passing of this stranger this afternoon I learned something about myself: Prince mattered to me.
I came to Prince relatively late in life. Obviously I grew up hearing his music, and I certainly liked some of the songs I casually encountered along the way (“7” stands out as a particularly odd example of a Prince song I latched onto in my youth), but I didn’t become a Prince fan until I was grown. I was working doing data entry for a classifieds newspaper. I got the job from a friend (RIP Separate Bill) who was a manager there and staffed his whole team with musicians, comedians and various misfits who needed the money and a low-stakes work environment. That job saved me at that time and I will always be grateful for this act of generosity. One of the other misfits employed there was a skinny white dude with dreadlocks who I instantly recognized from his 90s band Grasshopper. (If you’re reading this and are from Toronto, you probably know Grass. He now has a record store called Grasshopper Records). It was Grass who brought the triple disc Prince The Hits/The B Sides compilation in to work and let me take it home to explore. Listening to that compilation was one of those mind-blowing musical experiences that comes along in life. Turned out I loved Prince.
So that’s how I first became a Prince fan, but why does he matter so much? Before I met my current wife and love of my life (see honey, this really is becoming a blog about you) I was married once before. My first wife hated Prince and hated being around if I wanted to listen to Prince. This is not why we split, but it does add weight and symbolism to my relationship with the music of Prince. In the wake of our separation listening to Prince records and other upbeat dance music felt like an expression of my individuality and the newest iteration of my sexuality. Prince fandom (and some aesthetic calibration courtesy of MF DOOM samples) helped me to become open to the slick production and overt sexuality of late 70s/80s R&B and funk right as I was doing the emotional work of getting over my divorce and figuring out how to date. I came of age in a time, or at the very least in a sub-culture (‘90s “Indie”), that was seriously sexually repressed. This informed my younger dating life into near non-existence and here I had Prince (and Teddy Pendergrass) telling me “don’t you dare fucking fall into that bullshit trap again!” Dance, fun, sexiness and openness. Own who you are as well as Prince does. That was my lesson. That was my goal. I don’t know that I achieved it, but I know I didn’t fall into my old terrified milquetoast patterns either.
Thank you Prince Rogers Nelson. For all the amazing music, for helping me become a better version of me, thank you.