Prince was an icon in a category of one. In his death, we’ve lost one of the greatest musicians to ever live.
Not only was he a master musician playing over 20 instruments proficiently, if not expertly, he was also a beautiful singer who knew how to use all of the rooms in his voice effectively, he was a brilliant songwriter who wrote a whopping roster of hits for himself and others, and perhaps most importantly, he was arguably the greatest performer to ever live.
He was The Superstar of all superstars.
If you ever saw Prince live, you witnessed how quickly he would take the entire room, amphitheater or stadium into the palm of his hand. He had more charisma in his pinky finger than most people muster in their whole lives. He understood how to use his performance, his personality, his body and his sexuality to stir emotions in his audience and to create a group experience that was unprecedented. After he basically fucked the stage into oblivion in Purple Rain, he’d staked his claim as the sexiest, most fearless performer we’d ever seen—and that was only the beginning.
Most of us—at least the Gen Xers and Boomers—have a Prince story. That time you first experienced him and something started to feel funny deep inside you. He woke something up in us in his willingness to express every ounce of his 5’2” of sexy glory, with those eyes, dat voice, those splits and dem moves. He created some of the most electric dance tunes our hips ever shook to and he kept on producing at an unparalleled rate until he passed.
I will never forget my first time with Prince at age 13—yes, it felt like a first time. 1999 had just come out and one of my friends got the record. Four of us piled onto her bed to put it on for our first listen. We opened up the double record to see Prince in a steamy photo naked on a bed. In 1983 that was risqué! I felt my heart leap and got all tingly inside. I was fascinated. Who is this strange guy? This seems naughty, an adult world I know little about. He seduced us all into being voyeurs to his exhibitionist.
My girlfriends and I read all the lyrics as we listened to “Little Red Corvette”, “D.M.S.R.” (Dance Music Sex Romance) and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and it felt like my first sex and relationship education. The following summer we went to see Purple Rain in the theater (not sure how I got past the Military Dad censors on that one) and a superstar had been born. How many people did he teach to masturbate because he was the first person to actually use that foreign word in a song?
My college boyfriend was a guitarist in a punk band and he looked a little like Prince—he and I shared a love of Prince. He recently wrote to me, “My first record EVER was one I borrowed and never gave back from my pot dealing cousin, Prince’s Dirty Mind. To my 14-year-old mind, that record was the most subversive thing ever. I mean, he’s on the cover wearing bikini bottoms, looking the would-be viewer right in the eye, daring her to say something stupid. Prince, to me, was the ultimate punker.”
Punk rock, he was. Magical, he was. Sexual role model? I say, hell yes.
It’s rare we have sexual role models that have real impact on us as sexual people. We are so used to seeing fake, vapid versions of sexual potency that when it’s as real as it was with Prince, we get permission to be all the things we want to be, to go to places we’ve never gone and to have it feel a little less scary. Prince, just in who he was, planted sexual seeds in me that were then able to flourish as I grew as a sexual person.
He said that when the lights went down, it was “very…sexual” for him. He funneled all of his sexual energy into massive orgies with his adoring audiences who felt the thrill he created over and over with his music and the palpable sexual energy he stirred in the air. He started seducing us before he ever came to the stage.
Why see him as a role model? Because he was unabashedly himself—he never compromised and he didn’t hide his beauty, his sexiness, his kinky desire, his sexual fervor, his body. He unabashedly showed us his deeply sexual nature, and gave no fucks whether anyone criticized him or thought he should be anything but who he was, be it his record company, his haters, or his advisors. He was sexy, passionate, alive, vibrant, creative—all core aspects of a thriving sexuality. He knew something most of us don’t, and that intrigued his fans—who he called “friends”.
He loved women and did more to support women musicians consistently throughout his career than perhaps anyone else ever did in the typically male-dominated world of music.
He loved his own femininity, flaunting it without it ever eclipsing or giving question to his masculinity or his heterosexuality. He was perhaps the perfect gender—a royal mix of pretty and tough, coy femme and powerful man. He clearly took joy in expressing all corners of his own gender. His gender-blended symbol was with him from Purple Rain and eventually became his actual name. Importantly, he changed the image of what a black man could be in the United States, where people’s sexuality is pigeon-holed into narrow stereotypes that limit many people from being able to be fully who they are because they are diminished and eroticized based on race, identity, or perceived sexuality.
I never questioned his sexuality because he didn’t. We knew he meant it. He had massive moxie, tremendous capital in the business of show. He was the Sexy Motherfucker named symbol, Mayor of the Erotic City, driver of the Little Red Corvette, caller of the Purple Rains, dreamer of the Joy Fantastic, leader of the Beautiful Ones who indeed created the Greatest Romance Ever Sold.
The first song he gave us was a plea to be our lover. Oh, he was. Through and through til the end. He taught us more than we could know about sex, love, passion, desire and being true. After all those drops to splits, guitar grinding moves that impressed us all—he was a chameleon, an alchemist: Another star takes its place in the galaxy of genderqueer beauty and musical genius. And perhaps in the annals of sex education.
“Electric word LIFE, that means forever, and that’s a mighty long time.” A small consolation in a post-Prince and Bowie world where we will never experience the way he lit up a room again. I saw him just last month with his piano—creating arrangements of his music that were as good as any the “classical” composers gave us. The light that seemed to flow down through him felt like his connection to other worlds, to the unformed creative juices he seemed to mainline into massive productions, music and beauty. If I’ve ever seen God in a human being, that was it.
What a legacy. He said he wanted to be remembered for his music. Yet he was so much more—and that alone would have been more than enough. From singing about the elevator (which he said represented the devil) not taking us down, to his friend dying in April, as he eventually did, to so many romantic songs illuminating sex, death, love, God and life, he gave us his story, and he did it through his music.
“Is it me or did the room just get darker?
Is it me or did I just lay down and die?
Is this a dream or did the world just crumble at my very feet?
How in heaven will I ever be alright?
There is lonely and there is lonely”
“But there’s something else: The afterlife.”
You are so beloved Prince. Damn we miss you. Thank you for all the gifts, lover.