Personal Voices: The Best Prince of My Life
The worst of the eighties came back first – acid wash jeans, bright blue eyeliner, leg warmers, and excessive consumption. The hip diner down the street started playing General Public and I couldn't go to a party without hearing "Dancing in the Streets." But just when I thought I would have to live in a shelter until after we'd finished reviving those tortured years, Prince comes out with a new album. A real new album, not the synthesized stuff that came out in those limbo nameless years. Musicology is an album of songs worth dancing to ("Life 'O' the Party") worth making love to ("On the Couch"), and worth singing aloud to out the car window ("Musicology").
Wish eye had a dollar
4 every time u say
Don't u miss the feeling
Music gave ya
Back in the day?
He almost makes it sound good, but back in the day I was an awkward miserable adolescent who would speed read romance novels in the hopes I would be eighteen and somewhere else by the time I looked up from the book. I had both braces and glasses, no butt to speak of, and a psychotic step-mom who was convinced that I was a full-blown slut even though I had still never really been kissed. Two things kept me from giving up completely. The first was my mother's solemn promise that although junior high was, objectively, hell, life did get better. The second was Prince. I remember bringing my bedroom boom box into the kitchen and forcing my mother to sit down and listen to "When Doves Cry" over and over again. After the fourth rewind, she said she could tell he was a deep and thoughtful man.
But for all that I loved Prince, for all that I listened to Controversy and 1999 until I needed new tapes and the records were warped, for all he helped me get through lunch hour, I never saw him live. I knew, if I did, that he would catch my gaze and it would be immediately clear we were soul mates. I never stopped to think how this small, elaborately coiffed man could be so sexy. I never thought about what he meant by any of his lyrics; even "making love till cherry's gone" went right past me. Loving Prince was both safer and more exciting than having a crush on the cute bad boy in my biology class. And thinking about him was infinitely hotter than my first kiss, when it finally came the summer after 9th grade from a guy whose name, Arnold, and whose demeanor, awkward, couldn't have been more different than my idol's. The closest I ever got to Prince himself was five viewings of Purple Rain. After the fifth, I swear, I could feel his presence.
Thankfully, the eighties ended, and we moved on. Me to a life that was indeed better, just as my mother had promised. And Prince to wherever he went. Our time together was over, but not forgotten. So when, at 33, I was given the chance to see Prince in person I didn't have to think once. I was going, no matter what.
The Prince night came on a Tuesday. My friend and I kissed our new babies good-bye and left them with their papas. We had, in honor of his Prince-ness, dressed the part. I wore striped leg warmers, boots, and a matching mini skirt. My hair was done in a side ponytail for the first time in almost twenty years. My friend had hand-sewn her purple psychedelic translucent blouse. The whole way to San Jose we shared stories of bad experiences with wine coolers, pegged pants, and asymmetrical haircuts. Free for a night from our daughters and dressed like glamorous fools, we were giddy in a way akin to our former teenager selves.
Perhaps it was the leg warmers, the purple shirt, or the giddiness we couldn't hide, but somehow that night everything turned out right. The cop who pulled us over when we got near the arena gave us directions to a free secret parking spot instead of giving us a ticket. The crowd – old guys in pony tails, beer-bellied couples, girls way too young to have ever seen Prince before and dressed like my step-mother's worst nightmare – was friendly. Strangers exchanged conspiratorial smiles and last cigarettes before going inside. The best part of the night was the security guard who, after checking that there were just two of us, pulled us aside and exchanged our nose bleed seats for a couple in the third row. We went in and there was Prince, not just live but now close enough that I could see that he didn't sweat and that the mole was real. He did an acoustic version of Little Red Corvette that had me screaming before I could stop myself. One of Prince's entourage noticed my friend in her wild purple shirt and next thing I knew she was dancing on stage with Prince, shaking her booty like it was 1999 all over again.
I stood in my seat, dancing to each song, loving it, signing along when I knew the lyrics and not even pretending when I didn't. I didn't want anything – not to be up there on stage, not to catch anyone's gaze, not even for the night to never end.
I can now say I have evidence that it is better to love Prince as a fully grown 33-year-old woman than it was to love him as a teenager. There's no teenage shame, no fear that someone will find out how much I really like him, no desperate fantasy that he will see me in the audience, look into my eyes, and know we belong together. He is exactly like I remembered – short, pan-sexual, and multitalented. It's me who is different. Instead of helping me escape, as he did when I was a teenager, Prince helped me celebrate who I am now, the real eighties long behind me and never, ever to return.