Like most kids growing up in Suburban Detroit, I was first introduced to Prince by The Electrifying Mojo, the legendary underground DJ on WGPR. I was a card carrying member of the Midnight Funk Association.
Mojo had been going on for hours about this 19year-old kid from Minneapolis who was going to take over the world. Then shortly after Midnight, and after I raised my hand and “Pledged Allegiance to The Funk”, Mojo played “Soft and Wet” – I was hooked.
From that day on, I have bought all of Prince’s 47 albums the day they were released. Many years, waiting in line at The Music Stop in Clawson Center, or Harmony House at the Oakland Mall before they opened, so I would get the first album out of the box.
Over the years, I have gone to 46 Prince concerts. Each one a unique and incredible experience.
My first thought, when I learned of his death, was, I wasn’t going to be able to see Prince in concert with my daughter Cali. I always thought we’d go see a 70-year old Prince playing blues guitar in some medium sized club. Sadly that will never happen.
My first Prince concert was the Dirty Mind Tour. By the time he reached Detroit, he was incorporating songs from the upcoming Controversy album. The concert was at Cobo Arena. Eddie Macknis, Paul Lichota and I braved a cold Detroit December night and headed downtown. (Eddie’s mom dropped us off, we were only 13)
When we got to our seats (main floor 10th row, come on, I was with Macknis, he always had the best tickets), we started to look around and noticed, we were the only white kids at the concert. I’m sure there were others, but we sure didn’t see them. My 13 year-old brain was trying to calculate, why this rock star was so popular with African American youth. I was so focused on Prince’s guitar playing, and raw sound, it never dawned on me he was a funk artist. I mean, yeah, I DID first hear him played on a radio show called “The Midnight Funk Association” but Mojo also played The B52’s, Kraftwerk, and a whole host of other genres.
And you also have to realize. There was no MTV, and Cacey Kasem sure wasn’t playing Prince videos on America’s Top 10 countdown. Eddie, Paulie and I were about to find out why.
Prince came out wearing 4 inch heels. Knee High Stockings, a trench coat and g-string.
That was it.
When he would spin around on stage, there it was. His “business” stuffed into a tight marble bag masquerading as underwear, all for the audience to see. It was a lot for a 13year-old to take in.
But my word, what a concert! Guitar playing unmatched by anyone (except Page, but I hadn’t discovered Zeppelin at this point) all while dancing, and humping the guitar. At one point during the concert, Prince went to every instrument, including drums and jammed. I don’t know why this surprised me. After all, he did play all the instruments on his albums, but for some reason seeing it live, was unreal.
During one point in the concert, a brass bed was wheeled onto the stage, and Prince started singing a new song called Do Me Baby. He sang it while slowly working his way to that bed. He then pulled a curtain across the front of the bed. It was backlit so you could see his shadow. Then he proceeded to take off the trench coat, then the heels and stockings and finally the marble bag. And let’s just say, he acted out the song on that bed. My mind was blown.
Outside the concert, we found a pay phone to call Eddie’s Mom to come get us. I still remember that conversation.
Eddie- “We’re right in from of Cobo.”
Mrs. Macknis- “What are you wearing, so I can spot you.”
Eddie looked around – still not a white kid in sight – and said- “don’t worry mom, you’ll spot us”
The three of us left the concert changed. I think that marked the time Eddie started wearing the long trench coats to school (thank god he left the heels and G-string at home) Paulie started branching out to bands that took as many risks as Prince.. and me, I became the irritating music snob I am today.
I’ve always been very open minded when it comes to Political views, cars, art, books, travel, philosophies, lifestyles.. every person’s opinion is respected and honored. But when it comes to music, I’m right– you’re wrong– because I have seen the best.
Prince shaped my view of music.
If the talent wasn’t there, I wasn’t interested. Prince opened my eyes to the talent of Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. And is responsible for me being the Zeppelin freak I am today.
Prince’s view of the music industry, and how at 18 he refused to give up control of his writing, arranging or producing to someone else. This got me to appreciate independent acts like REM.
Prince shaped my view on race.
Early in his career Prince gave a rare interview. The reporter asked him about his race, given Prince was so light skin, his mom was of Mexican heritage, and his dad African American. Prince was asked “What race to you consider yourself?” He responded “human”. To this day, that’s the race I put down on applications. And much to the chagrin of my lovely wife, IRS forms.
Prince shaped my views of sex and sexuality.
For a pimple faced Suburban Irish Catholic, sex was for making more Catholics. Not for pleasure. Prince made sex acceptable. He made talking about sex acceptable. He made sexuality itself acceptable. His views on sex, and how you have to take care of a woman’s needs first were revolutionary for a rock star. There are millions of women all over the world who thank Prince for turning guys onto this concept. Heck, my wife thanked Prince twice last night.
As Prince got more popular, his stage shows slowly went from X to R then finally to the G rating of recent years. And his audience became as diverse as his music. The last tour I saw, there were 3 generations of fans all dancing to the New Power Generation.
But one thing never changed.
And always moving forward. Purple Rain was the number 1 album in the country and singles were still being released when he released Around the World in a Day. When the American public caught up to him, and started appreciating Raspberry Beret, he has already completed another movie, album and hit single Kiss.
In the span of 36 months, he released 6 albums, with enough b-sides for a 7th. Three movies, and 15 top 100 hits written for other artists. All, accomplished, while on constant tour.
Every album – different- going seamlessly from funk, to R&B to Dance, to Rock.
Name another artist who has a library of songs as diverse? I mean, Sexy Dancer, and Bambi are on the same album!!
And he was always refusing to be defined by any genre, race, or sexuality.
He was extremely masculine, but wore eye-liner and heels.
He was a bit of a pervert, but always had a song on each album praising Jesus. Yes, when you sing the song “I Would Die For You” you are giving praise.
I’m not a human I’m a dove
I’m your conscience I am love
All I really need, is to know that you believe
That could be placed right into the gospel of Mathew.
And even in death, I’m finding it hard to define Prince.
I knew he wasn’t immortal, but at the same time never thought he’d die.