Look up across the street. See that lamppost? Walk toward it a few feet... there. That's how close I was to Prince a few years back, when he and his all-female power trio 3rd Eye Girl came to Seattle to play the Showbox, a venue that seats around 1,000 people. Let me repeat: I saw Prince perform in a venue that seats around 1,000 people. It was a dream come true, is what I'm saying. But this is not a story about dreams... It is an absolute, true-life tale of something truly shocking that I saw Prince do with my own eyes.
Let's back track a bit, to junior high and high school. Prince was everywhere, all around us, all the time. His voice, his songs, his extraordinary looks and magical, scandalous, gender-bending style. He was a legend long before most of us even graduated, and we were still figuring out how to do things like drive, dance, and sex each other, all of which Prince's songs helped us enjoy. Now, I'm not saying that we ALL lost our virginity to his music (for the record: I didn't), but you could say that we, Generation X, metaphorically lost it to the tiny, mighty, purple shaman. And it was FANTASTIC!!!
What you have to remember about Sex Prince is that during the public health scare and moral panic of the AIDS era, he was "not a woman, not a man", not repressed, and not about to apologize for his message, which was this: ladies, gentlemen, do sex to each other, do it a lot, enjoy it, and don't judge anyone else for doing it how they want to. And yeah, protect yourself, certainly, but protect your health, not your mind: be open to love and sex, and celebrate this thing we call life. It was the right vibe at the right time, is what I'm saying. And we loved him for it. But it deeply offended many people, including some puffed-up politicians who decided, via a laughably unqualified Senate committee, to give in to pressure by a small group of upset (uptight?) citizens and create the Parental Advisory warning sticker. The sticker got slapped on a bunch of records including "Purple Rain", because of the lyrical content of a certain song. Now, I'm not going to go into my contempt for this fiasco, except to say that if we censor the work of our artists we are no longer a true democracy. It's complete bull****, is what I'm saying. Enough said.
At this point I am compelled to draw your attention to the part of Prince that was always on full display, yet never seems to get praised enough: his music. There simply aren't enough words to express his virtuosity, his facility, his swash-buckling, dare-devil feats of recording and performance. You already know about his soul-shaking guitar playing, and we could live forever on Prince's singing voice alone. His mastery of the recording studio is the stuff of legend (start with his 1978 album "For You" and know this: he played all the instruments himself. He was 18 at the time). But he also performed countless live shows in which he was singer, dancer, bandleader, storyteller, and promoter of other talented musicians, including women (in fact, the degree to which he championed extraordinary female musicians, dancers, studio engineers, and artists has not often been repeated by men at the top of the music biz, and it should be). Oh, and he never slut-shamed them, going so far as to put himself in similar poses, outfits, makeup, and scenes as the women in his musical landscape, and making it all look as natural as breathing.
Which brings us back to 3rd Eye Girl at the Showbox. Deep breath...
I need to tell you something: I had never seen a Prince show before. Oh sure, I had seen him perform on TV countless times, and I'd seen all of his movies. "Purple Rain" and "Sign of the Times" contain huge concert sequences that blew my mind and made me long to be part of his audience, but I was too young and/or broke to attend his shows during his heyday. I had to content myself with his dazzling but infrequent appearances on late night, morning shows, and Oprah. But none of this prepared me for what I saw when Prince took the stage that night. Hold on, I need a sec...
Can I just tell you how many live shows I've experienced? I started performing onstage when I was 7 years old, and I still do it regularly. Between the family concerts I've attended (my parents were professional Symphony musicians who performed 5 nights a week), the countless singing recitals (my own and those of my students), back-up singer gigs, gigs with my own bands, tours, music festivals, and national and local shows I've probably seen or been part of more than 1,000 live performances. I understand how it works, is what I'm saying. And I've watched some incredible things happen onstage, in real time flesh-and-blood glory. But this was beyond any of that.
Prince looked in our eyes. Let that sink in for a minute.
Here was a mega-uber-super-star, a titan of music, a god/human hybrid with 100,000 hours of highly-stylized live performance experience on the biggest stages of the world. Yet took the time to look around at us, smile, and take us in. I recognized a genuine human being in Prince, a person who could have easily hid behind dark glasses, or a heavy veil, or the frosty reserve of an entitled diva. But he did none of these things. He simply looked at us with his big, brown eyes and let us see him. I won't lie: I burst into tears. I turned to bae, who had bought the tickets, and I screamed out (above all the other screaming... there was so much screaming...), "HE LOVES US!!! HE REALLY LOVES US!!!" He loved us as much as we loved him. He really did.
So thank you, sweet Prince. Thanks for being part of my life since before I can remember. Thanks for your support of female musicians, which was not lost on me. And most of all, thanks for keeping your heart open for so long, and inviting us to do the same. I won't ever forget that night. It moved me deeply, and the thought of it will always bring tears to my eyes. Tears are falling as I write this. Before you ask: they are purple.