(This series of Prince photos–at maybe 19?–are complete treasures. Look them up.)
The first time I heard a Prince song, I was 14, and it was probably “1999.” But the one that hit me most was “Little Red Corvette.” I knew I was listening to someone unlike any other musician I’d ever heard. He was one of those people who asks you to lift your head up from the daily grind and pay attention. And I did. A lot. I had no idea how this African American kid from a huge urban area reached inside the head and heart of a rural white girl, but he got me, and I got him, not to mention the fact that I was gobsmacked at how sexy he was, and completely enchanted by the energy in his music.
When I moved to Minnesota, I realized people worship Purple Rain (which isn’t a particular favorite of mine), and fully believe Prince is a personal friend. Prince sightings are both common and legendary in Minnesota, and I was hoping hoping hoping to be one of those people someday. Lately, Prince has been giving impromptu concerts and pajama parties (musical ones, of course) at Paisley Park, and I was hoping to snag an invite somehow. I had hoped he might show up on stage with Stevie Wonder last spring, when he played here (no luck). And now my chances of being part of the legend are over.
No adequate words can say what Prince’s death means to the music world, or to Minnesota, or to me, so instead I’m going to give you some of what Gabe had to say about Prince. BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN was my chance to pay a tiny bit of homage to his genius, and I took it.
I want to start with this quotation, from a few pages before the Prince stuff. When music gets you through, gets you by, makes you strong, makes you less alone, you know what Gabe means when he says this:
When the headphones are tight on my ears, the sounds slide into my bloodstream like little silver fish, racing and flashing. Music doesn’t hurt me. It’s love that just loves you, and doesn’t care who you are or what’s between your legs.
Music is life.
That’s what music was for Prince. That what it is for all his fans, and all music lovers.
Some context for the Prince section: Gabe’s best friend (and secret love) Paige isn’t talking to him, and he’s completely distraught. He’s also getting all sorts of (suprising) attention from a woman named Heather. He’s thinking a lot about sex (and who’s better to think about sex with than Prince?). He’s also dealing with the violence that’s coming his way.
Friday night. John almost didn’t let me come [to the radio station] by myself, but I showed him my can of mace and my new pocket knife, and he relented. I need to be alone, because tonight is a Prince show. I know some people hate him but his music is timeless, old-school and new all at the same time. He’s also a Minnesota son, so I think he deserves a show. But Prince is all about sex, so my imaginary dick is twitching again. I don’t need John around while my mind is in the gutter.
Paige always admires Prince’s fashion sense, starting with the thigh-high leather stiletto boots and no visible pants of any kind in his “Controversy” video. When he does wear clothes, he’s quite dashing. But a few years ago he wore pink pants to the Academy Awards. Please.
[ . . . ]
“Welcome, welcome, to Beautiful Music for Ugly Children on 90.3 community radio, KZUK, and welcome, dear Ugly Children Brigade. Thank you for the Elvises last week. How did you manage to find that many shredded tires–or that many Velvet Elvis paintings? I want to know who those belong to. For those of you who are new, I’m Gabe, and today is a Prince show. First piece of trivia: Prince is the name on his birth certificate. And here’s ‘I Feel For You,” made popular by Chaka Khan’s remake, but written by the Small Sexy One.”
This is even worse than the seduction show. I try to keep my brain in useful territory, and I put more songs on and take them off, all the while chatting about Prince trivia. Then I see Paige, clubbing in the Cities, looking sweaty and adorable.
My phone beeps with another text: want to hook up?
Sproing. Imaginary dick in action. I respond:
On the air. U r not listening?
Then I almost miss my cue. “So, Beautiful Children, we can’t deny Prince is amazingly erotic, his looks and his music, and no, saying Prince is erotic doesn’t make me want to have sex with a man. He’s a pretty small dude–not very noticeable when he’s being a regular guy. But when he’s onstage and the energy gets going, I know people in the audience look around and say, ‘hey, you’re cure, wanna bone?’ to whoever’s standing next to them. I’ve never actually seen it happen, but I bet it does.” Then I decide to throw caution out the studio window. “Okay, I’m tempting the FCC with this one, ut here’s ‘Sexy MF,’ going out to the texter.”
Hopefully she’s listening now. The song has enough “motherfuckers” in it to get the station fined seven times over, but I can’t imagine the FCC is listening.
I wish those texts were from Paige.
The song growls onto the air, and I start thinking about body parts mashing together in the dark. I can’t contemplate having sex, imaginary dick or not. A guy with breasts can’t have sex. Can he? Maybe sex is fine between two people who love each other. Maybe love’s enough. No matter what body parts you have, or don’t have, or wish you had.
There’s nobody stupid enough on this planet to think those two last statements could be true, and I’ve got to be the only person in Maxfield who graduated from high school as a virgin.
I almost miss my cue again. “Did you know that Prince actually performed on American Bandstand, that late great musical TV show? Here’s ‘Soft and Wet,’ definitely not one of the songs he did for Dick Clark. By the way, Ugly Children, what do you think you could decorate with condoms? I wouldn’t get the lubricated kind if I were you.”
Lots more music, then a little more talk. “When you think about it, maybe Prince is sexy because he’s in the middle–those big brown eyes and long lashes, plus he used to have that long wavy hair. But he’s got plenty of muscles and testosterone. Let’s call him a birl. Or a girman. People still like him, whoever and whatever he is. He even did the Super Bowl halftime show, and if that’s not the ultimate American endorsement of somebody’s music, I’m clueless.”
I check the CD again. “To close the show with a ban, no pun intended, let’s do ‘Musicology’ and ‘Black Sweat,’ some of the very modern old-school funk grooves from his more recent disks. Can’t wait for the pics, Ugly Children. I’ll see you next week. This is Gabe, and you’ve been listening to Beautiful Music for Ugly Children right here on KZUK, community radio 90.3”
I should become a priest. That would solve the whole sex issue. Too bad I’m not Catholic. Paige is, so maybe she’d know someone I could ask. But what would they do when they found tampons in my room?
The ache in my crotch has transferred itself to my head.
Oh, Prince. This is so difficult. Thank you so very, very much for all you’ve given to this state and to the world, and to me. Thank you for helping me see myself, and be myself.