Prince: Music + Essence

Prince Nebula
A purple nebula Tweeted by NASA in honor of Prince.

↑ A purple nebula posted by NASA in honor of Prince.

Prince. One word. His real name, unbelievably. His father said he wanted his son to feel like he could do anything. And I thought of Mozart’s father, and how prodigies get handed a baton at a young age.

I was the perfect age when Prince came along. Purple Rain washed over me in 7th grade. I still remember watching the movie in some Pleasant Hill theater, feeling a surge of hormones at the brief glimpse of Apollonia.

My neighbor and fellow 7th grader Lance introduced me to the genius of Prince. Like Prince, Lance was very comfortable with himself. I wanted to feel more comfortable with myself.

Actually, I was more comfortable in my own skin before my militant stepdad came along that year. He had a way of making everyone feel lesser than. I remember trying to play some Prince for him. I said people were comparing Prince to Elvis, but he wasn’t a King, obviously, he was a Prince. Needless to say, my stepdad had a problem with that.

Thinking back, people who reacted disdainfully to Prince were not comfortable with themselves in one way or another. Maybe something about the way Prince defied containment and limitation made them angry about the ways they had contained and limited themselves. Tipper Gore comes… to mind.

When I was in college I went back and listened to a lot of Prince. I was trying to reconnect with a sense of freeform possibility. I wore these paisley pants, for which I was scoffed at, especially by my girlfriend’s parents, conservatives from Texas who thought I might be acceptable if I could just learn to, you know, figure out where I was going. They didn’t like Prince, either.

You didn’t know where Prince was going—that was the beauty of it. Even within a song, right around the time you’d expect a slow fade out, Prince would click his heels and take you home in an unexpected way.

Yesterday I took my son to the dojo, and before class I heard him talking to another boy. He said someone named Prince died today, and his dad cried when he heard the news. My son said, “My dad didn’t cry, but he played this song over and over again.”

I did cry. And the song I played over and over again was Purple Rain, live.

They say Prince wrote the song for his father. The yearning for reconciliation, for transcendence, that long guitar solo filled with sorrow and ache and longing and so much more.

And I thought back to the moments when my own father was growing older, broken up about the death of artists he loved, and it was hard to imagine what they meant to him.

And I thought about Garry Shandling hearing the news of Robin Williams, saying we might not remember everything Robin said, but we remember his presence, what he gave to us on the essential level of the soul. That’s why we’re here on this Earth.

This is what Prince gave us—beyond music, an essence that helped us defy limitations boldly and feel comfortable in our own skin.

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