When I first heard, the thing I feared the most was what I’m about to write, but it seems I can’t properly go through this fall-on-your-sword metaphor that is the five stages of grief without it, so here goes:
undeniably, my favorite Prince song is “When You Were Mine.” track six on his “Hits” album. my mother didn’t have an extensive library of Prince music, but somehow I’d managed to pick this album – all stubbled profile and lace on its cover – and take it with me on summer cross-country bus trips with my grandmother’s church group. 75 older black ladies, a few other kids and me on a charter bus headed to New York City by way of Daytona Beach, Fla. I managed to get an empty pair of seats and spread out across them both with blankets and snacks and Prince in my Walkman.
I listened to the album front to back repeatedly. sure, it’s got the classic standards like “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” but “When You Were Mine” settled into me with every repeat. the story of loving someone who no longer belongs to you, remembering all the ways you stretched outside of yourself to keep them from leaving, the things you watched happen seemingly powerless to stop:
When you were mine
You were kinda sorta my best friend
So I was blind (so blind)
I let you fool around
I never cared (didn’t care)
I never was the kind to make a fuss
When he was there
Sleeping in between the two of us
I was 12. I wouldn’t know anything about this kinda love for years, but I’d sing the lyrics loud and bounce to the electric keyboard when no one was around. I realized a few years back how much I’d internalized them. how I’d turned my love life into a disjointed remix of apathy and obsession, and yet, I was nothing but thankful to him.
Prince helped me through one of the roughest parts of my life. newly bipolar and fresh out after spending eight days in a psych ward, I went to live with my homophobic father and his new wife. when that plan went to complete shit (not exactly sure why I thought that would work), I went back home to live with my mother in the house that I’d had my psychosis in. I couldn’t sleep in my old bedroom, so I dragged my mattress into the middle room and wedged it between a couch and a coffee table.
on that floor, I watched “Purple Rain” every day for three months. I turned it on in the mornings when I went to work. I started it as soon as I got home, in the same place. on the weekends, I’d make it through the whole movie a few times, crying as he sung “The Beautiful Ones” behind that piano. when it wasn’t on, I felt like I had nothing – no hope, no future, no promise, but watching this quiet soul who came alive in his art made me believe I could continue, that I could find that type of confidence and resilience despite remarkable odds.
I’ve faced a lot of those odds, healed my broken heart a few times, with that soundtrack. it’s so beautiful artistically, pumped with emotion and reality. it’s not often that the whole world gets better with an album, but “Purple Rain” did it, and that’s only a small reason why we are all mourning.
Prince turned up in my life many, many more times. my dad’s name is Prince, so when I told people that growing up, they thought I was talking about The Purple One. (I don’t remember correcting anyone.) Prince was the music I cooked and cleaned to as a child, singing into the handle of a vacuum cleaner. I always pictured him outliving us all. when the Revolution came, it would be him leading us into a new society that finally put down all the constructs – race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and/or spirituality – that have held us back.
he can still lead us, now just with the playback recorded instead of live.