Farewell, Sweet Prince
There’s very little else on earth I’d rather be doing less than writing about the passing of The Purple One. And yet, there is some comfort in finding the words for what exactly this man meant to me in all his multitudes.
Richard Kim, on All In with Chris Hayes, had this to say about Prince when he emerged:
It was the early 1980’s.
Reagan had won.
The Religious Right was ascendant.
Disco was dying.
Gay men were dying.
Sex was something to be feared.
The dominant culture was reinforcing order.
Prince comes along and he just nukes that whole culture.
And he creates this alternative universe.
And it’s not red white and blue;
It’s purple and paisley and raspberry.
And he’s not a woman
He’s not a man
He is something
You will never understand.
Sex and redemption
In a time when sex meant death.
In the 80’s and 90’s Prince was the soundtrack to my life as a sexual adventurer. His funky grooves were an itch coursing through my veins that made me want to be a stripper, a professional sadist, a porn star. To dress like a slut, to fuck like a whore.
Kim is right — Prince created an alternative universe, a porn world where hot women dressed up for each other. Where anyone could be a lucky boy or a girl. Where love and gender and sex and communion with god were fluid and blended — No distinctions necessary.
It felt vital to me that Prince’s masculinity was worshipful. In that era, male pop stars were either oddly childlike (see: Jackson, Michael) or savagely boastful, who projected: You’d be so lucky if I fucked you. Prince came along operating on a completely different energetic plane: I would be the luckiest man alive if I could make love to you, Girl, anyway you want, for just as long as it takes.
I needed a male avatar not just devoted to, but drunk on female pleasure; before him, I didn’t know such men existed. That masculinity wasn’t modeled anywhere else in the culture. Male pleasure was all that mattered; female pleasure, an afterthought.
Prince spoke to me as afraid to be seen as gay or feminine, who reveled in gender blur and bisexuality, who had no fear of transgression. He didn’t fear sex -- it was his playground, in a society that was petrified by pleasure. And because of him, his vision of what sexuality could be, I became just a little bit braver.
In middle age, Prince developed into a more complicated character. His religious inclinations, always a front-and-center theme in his music, took over his thinking. He became publically homophobic and judgmental in his statements. While I wish that weren't the case, that doesn’t deminish my love for him.
For one thing, he appeared to me, at a fan’s distance, to be someone who needed orgasmic release several times a day just to hold body and mind together. His legendary multi-day recording sessions point to a relentless creative mania. It seems impossible to conceive that Brother Prince ever enjoyed anything that resembled a quiet mind.
So, he became a Jehovah’s Witness. Seen through the lens of the excesses of his youth, it’s possible he:
1) Felt the need to reject those earlier excesses, or even to repent
2) Needed a structured, conservative worldview in order to escape his unrelenting urges, or
C) Both, I suspect.
Do I wish Prince didn’t get all judgy later in life? Of course I do.
But I hold compassion for him. His body, we know now, was betraying him. (Cue Leonard Cohen: I ache in the places that I used to play.)
While he still enjoyed tremendous fame and prestige, his career had drifted downward. He never was the super megastar that Michael Jackson was, and, now pushing sixty, he had to know he never would be. It's understandable that religion offered him some comfort.
Regardless of what he became later, his legacy in my early life is what I care about. As a young person, I needed Prince to be ~Prince~, unpronounceable, incomprehensible symbol and all the rest.
He simply isn't needed in the same way now. Today the world is filled with weird, queer, sex-and-gender renegades, his proud, fierce nieces and nephews and lovebabies.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s he was all alone with his bad self, pointing the way to a blurred, beautiful purple world, a freaky, emancipated future. In his vision, he was utterly fearless. An nation of one.
Quoting Stevie Wonder: "It is a heartbreak to lose a member of that army of love. It is always great when we don't allow fear to put our dreams to sleep, and he didn't."