It was then that I cried; two days after Prince died, watching that lousy movie called Purple Rain. In that movie, where he is implausibly on the ropes artistically against Time and Apollonia 6, and then proceeds to pull the song Purple Rain out of the bag. He tears the house down with it. The solos rip your soul out. The lyrics mean nothing in a way that meaning nothing has never sounded. He leans over and gives Wendy a kiss. That was when I began to cry. That kiss.
He was 26 when he made Purple Rain. 26. Think about what you were doing when you were 26 and then go and watch all the performance scenes in the Purple Rain movie. After he delivers the song Purple Rain in the movie, he heads into I Would Die 4 U and Baby I’m a Star. It’s fucking ridiculous. Not just the songs but the performance, the shimmy, the splits, the spins, the sudden mic grabs, it’s like he beamed down. After James Brown there was nobody like him. Nobody.
He was my first pop crush. Purple Rain was the first album I fell for. The only other album that came close at that time for me was Welcome to the Pleasuredome. I loved both those albums for the same reason: they were touched by fantasy and the outrageous. I could listen to other albums and enjoy them, I could listen to those two albums and escape. I could listen to Purple Rain and be free; I could lie down on the floor with the final song – the title track – and fall into a space where I wasn’t me. I’ve often not wanted to be me, and Prince gave me the chance to drift out of myself. Every line, every sound, every flick on the guitar, or chord on the piano is ingrained in me. I used to lie down and listen to every moment of that final song hoping against hope that the orchestra wouldn’t fade out, that the escape you offered wouldn’t end.
I often stood in the living room of my mother’s house in Raumati Beach after she had gone to work, and before I had to go to school, and pretended to be him. I could mime my way through whole albums. There are moments on your albums that continue to electrify me; they are like a trigger in me – I can hear the final solo in Let’s Go Crazy, where the guitar reaches up high and begins to distort, and I stop what I am doing and feel it grip me. It grips me physically, viscerally. Prince’s ferocious talent and incredible emotional intensity. When Kiss came out I couldn’t believe it. Sign o the Times? How was this person possible? Could people be like this? I wanted to be you. I wanted to be that free.
But I went to school instead. Of course. No white boy from Paraparaumu with limited talents was going to be the next Prince. Even I knew that. My first few guitar lessons showed me that getting a single clean E chord was hard enough, never mind playing an electrifying solo while shimmying across a stage. But Prince was one of the reasons I started playing the guitar and found my way into bands. Not the major reason, but one of them. After Lovesexy I fell out with Prince for about 25 years only coming back with Art Official Age.
Then came the chance to see him live. “Greats” like Dylan, and Cohen have come to my hometown and I didn’t even really think about going. For them I didn’t consider it; for you I was there in a heartbeat.
Remember that boy I described above? The one who lay down on the floor and disappeared with his songs? The one who danced around his living room imagining himself as Prince? When I found myself, somehow, implausibly, in the concert hall with him right in front of me playing Purple Rain on the piano I began to cry. There was no point in my life where I thought I would actually see him, and he would actually transport me gratefully back through time to 1985 when I believed certain things about myself that have since proven not to be true. It was nice to be back with myself.
What did I do on the day I heard that you had died? I made the beds. I washed the dishes. I cleaned the car. I went to the movies with my family. I had a meal out with my beautiful wife. I don’t regret for a moment my family, but I do regret the flaws in myself, the flaws that time has exposed to me. I can create beautiful sentences, and moving passages but I think I will never write a symphony. I will never spin on a dime and sink into the splits. I will never rise from the floor up to the mic and ask everyone to raise their hands (if they know what I’m talking about) and see everyone raise their hands.
Everyone else can write RIP and say things like “your music will live forever”, but I want to say this: how dare you. How dare you be the dancing light of my dreams and die. How dare the spring in your step, and the flex in your fingers, and the surging, screaming climax be stilled. You were so alive. So alive. I saw you play U Got the Look only months ago. Just you and the piano and a song I always thought was B grade Prince and discovered was a grinding, endless blues jam with you pounding away over and over on the keys, and thumping the top of the piano with your fist and humping its leg. There was so much love in that room for you. So much love. Like a kiss on the cheek for you. From the big Polynesian boys and the bald white guys and the ladies who had dressed up in their slinkiest dresses and highest heels.
I saw so many excited people in the foyer of the concert hall before your show. I saw Annie Crummer jumping up and down in her sneakers with her friends. Annie Crummer who has brought a thousand 1am Kiwi parties to full voice singing “for today, I remember your smile”. I saw the lady who stayed right at the front of the stage all by herself lost in a trance just with you until she was led away by security. That’s what you meant. Adults lost in a trance, like a circuit in their brain had blown, as you touched the piano and you voice dropped to its talking baritone.
Where has all that gone now? Photo albums fill up with pictures of the dead. Dreams get painted in with darkening shadows. Still, I offer you a kiss. As you offered Wendy. Of thanks.