I developed a taste for alternative music as I moved into my middle school years however I held onto one mainstream musical obsession up until the ninth grade. In 1984 I was 12/13 and in that awkward place between child and teen. Prince was the first Pop star who introduced me to sex appeal, even if I had no real idea what sex was no less sex appeal. Whatever it was, I wanted to explore it.
I loved Prince's music but his persona stretched far beyond his top 40 hits. The record and the movie Purple Rain was already iconic worldwide and had pushed him into superstar status. All television, radio, and print that mentioned Prince was recorded or cut out by me, and then I revisited these things obsessively until every lyric, dance move, movie dialog, and melody had been memorized. I was a super fan swept up by and into his neo-romantic Revolution.
But what made Prince so appealing to me?
First of all, Prince’s written language reflected a coding almost exclusively used by kids in school passing notes to each other (or as this article ponders, graffiti - also a youth movement.) As if mirroring the language of my people, his signature abbreviations like "I Would Die 4 U" read like the messages held within the folded pieces of paper my age group kept in our pockets, purses, and notebooks. On a side note, who could have guessed that cell phone technology would lead all of us down the Prince path with texts from from friends and family reflecting something once exclusive to his purple majesty and tiny, torn bits of notebook paper?
Revisiting Purple Rain as an adult, I am perplexed by the topics his lyrics touch upon: bananas, masturbating, doves, the Lord, computer blues with a dominatrix overtone, and a deeply emotional reaction in ballad form to rain the color of purple. This was not a bridge for a Holly Hobbie loving little girl into adult lust, it was a 42 minute push straight into psychedelic desires of the flesh. These subjects were not found in any book or record I owned so the combination of these themes delivered me to a place that one could not travel to in a car or plane. I call it hormonal transcendence. This would be reason number two for my fascination.
He was to me what I imagine Hendrix was for suburban girls one generation older than me. Their extended manhood was released through orgasmic guitar solos. Their vocal attack added one more layer of Rock and Roll dirty talk. If I wanted to flirt with adulthood, this music took me there. What better escape from a mundane teenage bedroom than through a man who wore more eyeliner than I did wrapped in size 0 violet suits, ruffles, and sang about a girl named Nikki who was a sex fiend. It sounds ridiculous hokey now but to a 13 year in a training bra, my mind was blown. There were no capes in my closet. There were no lace teddies accented by bullet belts and stiletto heels. I had not skinny dipped in Lake Minnetonka. The trashy glam world Prince and his female entourage flaunted (Apollonia / Vanity) replaced my Barbie dream home fantasies for good.
Lastly, his exotic mysticism and eroticism had a hypnotic effect on me. I grew up in a small town with mostly upper class white people so there wasn't much about Prince that seemed cut from my little suburban world. Besides his Afro Hispanic appearance (although his family claims he is 100% black), much like Bowie before him (and other gender benders), he was also my first exposure to men who wore make up, heels, and dressed in a flamboyant fashion. His interviews and film characters have always portrayed him as a heterosexual male, but his soft spoken, feminine overtones made him less threatening and even more appealing to a barely teenage girl. Petite and seemingly sensitive, Prince was the perfect introduction to sex for a little girl on her way to becoming a woman.
In March of 1985 The Purple Rain tour came to Nassau Coliseum and attending this concert wasn't just a dream to me, it was a necessity. My mother was always tremendously supportive of my passion for music so it wasn't all that shocking that she was excited to take me to see Prince live. What I can't recall, and honestly am glad I don't remember the details of because its utter impossible absurdity makes this story all the more amazing, is how a group of friends and their mothers also all agreed to attend this concert with us. We were a gaggle of grade schoolers going to see a man have simulated sex in a bathtub on stage in the presence of our mothers and thousands of screaming fans. Yes it was totally surreal but it really did happen. Purple orgasms everywhere.
For a first concert, I don't think I could have done much better. The only downfall to this is knowing that most artists I would see for the rest of my adult life would never top that experience. Ignoring the whole it was my first concert so therefor it was the best aspect, we are talking about Sheila E as the opener with Prince and the Revolution as the headliner. Everyone's stage presence and performances were flawless, energetic, colorful, and sexy. Every moment was larger than life and their staging put the audience in a fantasy setting with some of the best musicians on the planet. It not only showed me that women had an equal place on a stage with men (talent before gender) but that you could develop a unique sense of style and own it. Hell, if you worked hard enough, you could fill a stadium with people who applaud it.
This is part of an ongoing series I am writing. The last one I wrote can be found here.