I remember where I was the first time I heard Prince’s music. Sitting on the front porch of my grandmother’s house in the very early 80’s listening to “Controversy” and “Little Red Corvette” as I played Barbie dolls with my cousin, who was a bully.
Two years later, when Purple Rain was released, I had no place to live at twelve. My parents, married and divorced before I learned to talk, didn’t want me around. The only person who did want me, my granny, passed away when I was eight years old. I had been living on the streets with occasional showers and meals at various relative’s homes. That same bully of a cousin, being bored that day, told me that Purple Rain was playing at the new theater on Van Ness in San Francisco. It was made out of glass, completely see-through, and I had been dying for a reason to get in there! She offered to pay for me as long as I went with her. Her rare generosity was my ticket out of another boring day of walking the streets of San Francisco wondering where my next meal was coming from. I was as shocked as I was relieved to have something to do.
Although she paid for the first viewing, we stayed for every single viewing that day and night – until closing, and every day thereafter until Purple Rain was replaced. I know every word, every scene, every song better than I know my own life! Sad? Maybe. Life changing? Unequivocally! Not only did I have a place to go every day for a while, but I also learned what a bully really was. Yes, my cousin was one, but she had the problem, not me. She treated me the way Morris Day, Jerome, and the person who portrayed Prince’s father treated Prince. I learned that bullies are in pain too. I learned that I might have been unwanted, but that I could want and that I could love myself, that someday I could be loved too—even if I did bad things. I learned to appreciate the art that is music and poetry, something that I had latched onto very early in my life… anything to get me out of the ugly life I was born into.
A legend has died too early; to me it seems the way of geniuses. God has claimed another angel. It seemed idiotic to cry for a man I didn’t know, meeting him and Jerome only briefly after a concert in San Francisco in the late 80’s. Then I realized that my tears weren’t for a stranger. Not really.
My tears were for a man who encouraged me through his music, his lyrics and his life. His music and artistry inspired me to move forward when I least wanted to go on with my crazy life. Like me, he was often misunderstood and judged, had a sad and intense upbringing., He also felt unwanted, unloved, and rejected, not just by his parents but by many who knew him—and others who definitely didn’t.
But still he put himself through the judgement, the misunderstandings, and the discriminations of others. Still he thrived and moved forward, not caring what others thought of him. And look where he went in life! He is a hero to me. He touched the lives of many, and his music touched even more. Prince’s music didn’t discriminate, sharing his brilliance with everyone from Sheila E. and Chaka Khan, to The Bangles, to Kenny Rogers, to Sinead O’Connor. His music was heard and appreciated worldwide.
Prince believed in himself, a self-taught, self-made man. And I left that theatre with hope. I left that theatre with a desire to live another day and not bow out in the coward’s way.
So I would like to thank Prince because without Purple Rain and without his music, I wouldn’t be here today.
My purple tears for
Prince Rogers Nelson