Once there was Prince: Exit Passion’s Purple Ambassador

Prince remembered in Jamaica and other places…

 


Above: Prince’s influence on global music and cinema is to be noted. “A revolutionary story of guitars, motorcycles, cell phones – and the music of a new generation” is how director Christopher Kirkley describes his West African re-imagining of Purple Rain. Set in the Saharan city of Agadez in Niger, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (Akounak for short) is a visually sumptuous and musically thrilling movie that works splendidly with or without the Purple Rain mythos. But riffing on Prince’s tale locates Purple Rain’s universal heartbeat.”

It was on Twitter that i first came across a report that Prince had died, hours before the official news carriers were disseminating the announcement. My mind immediately went to Marlon James, the Jamaican writer who won the Booker Prize last year, from whose status updates over the years i had grown to have a sense of this enigmatic musician and performer. He would be devastated by the news I thought. And sure enough his Facebook updates said it all:

I’m not believing this until I see his body myself. Fuck the world right now.

said Marlon first, followed by:

I’m sorry. I’m done with today.

Then:

Purple Rain was the first album I ever bought. I don’t want to talk about the music, so much as just the act of buying Purple Rain. Going to the record store at 14, already knowing about “Darlin Nicky” but buying it anyway. Working up the nerve to buy it. Looking around the record store, nervous, hoping nobody seeing me grab it. Then working up the nerve to play it, Since there was only one record player, in the living room and everybody was home. The mind-melt of hearing stuff I didn’t know humans could make. The scare of coming up to Darling Nikki and the thrill of watching it pass their ears without my parents picking up on the lyrics. Playing the album every day in December 1984, so much so that my father could sing the lyrics to When Doves Cry back to me. After Purple Rain, records became the thing I bought most, after comics. It wasn’t just that Purple Rain remains the most liberating experience I’ve ever had, it’s that by buying it myself, with my own money, I learned that I can play the biggest role in my own liberation. I could go find the world on my own. And I can blow my own damn mind all by my own damn self.

Marlon’s sentiments were echoed in a tweet that started bouncing around the internet for the rest of the day. By one @ElusiveJ it said: “Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met…we don’t cry because we knew them. We cry because they helped us know ourselves.”
I remember reading similar responses to David Bowie when he died not so long ago. How through his protean persona he had helped people all over the world who felt like misfits or betweenies, not quite this and not quite that. Prince was also admired for the boundless virtuosity he embodied, the sheer bravura of his performances while all the time looking more like an antihero than popular portrayals of superheroes. Said editor and writer Faiza Sultan Khan on Facebook:

I hope to explain someday how the great sex symbol of my day and the stuff of a million fantasies was a five foot two inch satyr of a man in high heels, frilly shirts and eyeliner. Not that there’s any need to explain it to anyone since you get it the moment you see or hear him.

Faiza went on to put her finger on the very thing that makes the Prince phenom so unusual. It’s popularly believed that the hoi polloi–the vulgar multitudes–have little discrimination or ‘taste’ often leading to disparaging comments about the ‘lowest common denominator’ determining the quality, or lack thereof, of things. How then had so many been able to tune into and appreciate someone as ahead of the times as Prince? The conversation below is from her Facebook page:

Faiza Sultan Khan: Pleasantly surprised to see that with the exception of about two people (whom I shall never speak to again obvs) everyone I can see on Facebook mourning Prince, the whole thing is glowing purple. I wonder how someone that experimental and avant garde managed such a gigantic following…maybe the world isn’t utterly hopeless after all
Rahma M Mian: Sadly it’s the FB algorithm showing you what you want to see. The world is still shit. Also </3.
Faiza Sultan Khan: Don’t you find it strange that someone who really challenged listeners also managed to sell 100 million albums?
Huma Imtiaz: I was in three different meetings where people kept finding out mid meeting and launching into wails of disbelief. Also, how are the Rolling Stones still alive and Prince is not?
Faiza Sultan Khan: I assume by ‘how’ you mean ‘why’

 

Taking it down a different but equally compelling road Natasha Thomas-Jackson blogged about “The Impossibility of Loving Prince While Hating Queerness

If you can’t fully embrace the humanity of the Princes walking around your community – the ones being bullied, disrespected, dehumanized, assaulted, and killed on a daily basis – I’m going to have a difficult time believing the sincerity of your outpouring of love and respect for the Purple One today. Prince had the inner fortitude, and perhaps external supports, to be his damn self and reach his potential….despite you. And though his ascension into super stardom -and the money, fame, and celebrity deification that come with – may have afforded him some protection from perspectives like yours, the truth remains many of you would have hated him if you actually knew him.

Want a litmus test? Please ask yourself how you’d feel about this picture if it were anyone other Prince. If it were your neighbor? Classmate? Friend? Son?

image
Photo Credit: Paisley Park/Warner Brothers

 

The tributes and spontaneous recounting of close encounters with the purple one made for interesting reading:

Talib Kweli Greene @TalibKweli
Once I djed a BET party for Debra Lee. I played some gangsta rap. Prince walked up & said “I ain’t get dressed up to come out & hear curses”

Closer to home @BigBlackBarry tweeted a series of lines about the time he found himself in a limo with Prince:

  • So a long time ago in a galaxy far far away a bunch of stuff was happening. All that stuff converged to have me end up in a limo with Prince. So Prince had a label deal through Warner. It was called Paisley Park. And they had a publishing side as well.
  • This was at a point when dancehall and reggae and jamaican talent were actually very attractive to international record labels. So I end up getting a job at one because of a hook up from my brotha from another motha @StretchArmy .
  •  So I’m spending money signing acts, getting a couple decent hits and becoming an all round jiggy mofo in the game.
  • So this beautiful chick who I had seen in clubs hits me up and says she has a gig running Paisley Park pub. And wants me to assist her…So that’s music, Prince access and a pretty woman. Sheeeet. Yu dun know mi an her start flex an buil
  •  Long and short is that in their attempts to sign Sly and Robbie publishing we all end up in a limo going to one of those pop up concerts
  • Prince used to just randomly show up at really small bars or lounges and have them lock it off and he would do a surprise acoustic set. Sometimes just to like 25 people in a tiny nyc bar. So I got to see him in one of those spaces. And then he ends up in the limo I came in. Cause he wanted to meet Sly/ Robbie. Cause as a musician he really appreciated that they were amongst the best drummer and bassist in world.
  • So the crowning moment for me is when that mofo Prince turns to me in the limo and says “I really dig your work.” At this point I start stuttering and shit. And say thank you. He says he really really dug the Grace Jones stuff….
  •  At this point I realize he thinks I am Sly. Shit, I say ” nah man, that’s the real big man over there! I jus hang out and do label stuff”
  • Mofo like him waan kick mi out the limo to rass…. lool
     I haven’t thought about that night in yeeeears. I forgot that shit really till earlier this week talking to @AliBJM bout music

Others, like Sarah Manley, whose babyfather, Saint, was probably Jamaica’s biggest Prince fan, bemoaned Prince’s passing as the ‘end of an age’ and agonized over why her children didn’t ‘get’ the dazzling superstar:

The records. That’s definitely part of it and part of why the kids can’t truly get it. The albums themselves. What it was to get a new record, put it on the turntable and sit back and study the cover, the sleeve, every single inch, read every line of every song, read every single word of the notes, find secrets lines to songs, jokes, and in Princes case realize he had written every single word and played every single instrument…. Me and my sister Natasha Manley went through this process again and again cos the one thing we always always got as gifts from our music loving dad, was music. For me, like for many many others Prince was the cornerstone of cool and the soundtrack of those halcyon days… 1984 85 86 87 88 89 90 My sister works in music I know in part because of those days, my daughter Raine Manley Robertson exists with certainty in part because her father Saint himself a brilliant musician and songwriter for whom Prince was the absolute hero, could cover Purple Rain like a rockstar. I tell my boys now who don’t really know Prince music because Prince refused to allow himself to be you tubed and they have come of age in the time as someone said yesterday of a passing acquaintance with music and not the total ownership of my teen years when we consumed albums like food, i tell them I want a turntable for my 50th, and I want back all our albums, and some kick ass speakers, so I can show them what music was… Ah sah… It’s… It’s the brave new world and I still get most of it I do, but with the passing of Prince… Truly truly it’s the end of an age…

I myself, having grown up in India in the 60s and 70s, missed the Prince phenom completely. For some reason his music wasn’t played much there, the preference being for the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and other stalwarts of white pop music. Tuning into him now, belatedly, I find one of the most fascinating things about Prince was how politically savvy he seems to have been, not only guarding his own intellectual property like Cerberus, but also demanding more airtime and column space for women and Blacks. Black women in particular he had a lot of time for, and I end this post with the fascinating accounts of two such women whose lives he touched indelibly. The first, Erica Kennedy, was asked about her interview with Prince which came about because he insisted that he would only grant an i/v to a black woman:

The Revolution @axolROSE
Erica Kennedy broke into writing because Prince FORCED in style magazine to hire a Black woman to interview him pic.twitter.com/PrinceEricaKennedy

 According to writer Leone Ross, who also interviewed him in 1995 Prince was special and important for many reasons:

He only began to give regular interviews in the 90s when he began a protracted fight with Warner Bros to get back the rights to his music. This is when he began to try and point out to the world how artistes get screwed by the industry. he wrote ‘slave’ on his face. He was derided. But he was trying for the first time to use the press to express a message.

Her Facebook update read:

Before I met Prince in 1995, I liked to think we’d had a moment. I think it was the year before, at some wrap party. So long ago. There was a rumour he was in town, but after several hours skulking around the room, waiting, with other hopefuls, I gave up and left. As I walked out onto the pavement, cursing, I suddenly saw him dart out of a side door.
We both stopped: I am sure my mouth fell open.
He twinkled at me and then dived into a car.

On the day of our interview, I kept him waiting because his security wanted to frisk me and there was no woman to do it. When I walked through the door he grinned like a little boy and said ‘Yes, a black woman!’ No one can ever again tell me I am not black enough because PRINCE TOLD ME SO. He smelled sweeter than any man I have ever been close to: patchouli. He was burning far too much incense. He moved on the balls of his feet, like a dancer. We sat on a sofa. Our knees touched. The room was a ridiculous Arabian nights parody: draped material in pinks and purples. I did not want him to think I was crazy. I wanted to be professional. I was 26 years old and I could not fucking believe I was breathing the same air in the same room as Prince.

I earnestly thanked him for the music and tried to ask my first question. He interrupted: What’s your favourite song? I said: Old Friends For Sale. He laughed: ‘Now where did you get that?’ This was when you could only get it on bootleg. I said, ‘C’mon now, Prince,’ and he winced. I said: ‘What do you want me to call you?’ He said: ‘My friends don’t call me anything.’ I rolled my eyes. I rolled my fucking eyes at Prince. He laughed. He wouldn’t take his dark glasses off. As we sank into it, I complained. I told him I couldn’t see his pretty eyes, that I had been waiting on an island to see them, all my life. He shook his head, teasing me. So I looked straight at him through the fucking glasses for the rest of the interview, so he would have the impression I was looking into his eyes. He realised what I was doing; became amused, restless. Wagged his finger at me: ‘You’re clever’. Took the glasses off. Sighed at my delight: like a strip tease. Put them on again.

He wanted to know about Jamaica. I told him we were listening to him. I told him I once dated a man because he was a Prince fan.

Prince: ‘Did you sleep with him?’
Me: ‘Yes’.
Eyebrow. ‘Because of me?’
Me: ‘No, I loved him!’
Prince: ‘That’s the right answer.’

He was so funny. We laughed so much. At one point, he laughed so hard, he fell into my lap. In. My Lap. And I couldn’t even be aroused by this man who had aroused me for so many years, because I was so shocked. Hours passed. There were other journalists outside, waiting and cussing, and Prince kept sending his frantic publicist away with a flick of his finger. He kept switching and changing topics: trying to confuse me, trying to control it all. Such a control freak. He was so kind. I asked him if he’d ever fucked Kylie Minogue. Just like that. He said: ‘Somebody WROTE that shit.’ He told me that he spent every Sunday at Rosie Gaines’ house and ate fried chicken, but nobody was writing about THAT and why not? I knew he was telling me that because I was a big woman sitting in front of him; I also knew he said it because he meant it. He told me that his next video [Most Beautiful Girl In The World] would deliberately include women of all colours and shapes, and that Warner Bros NEVER let him do that.

He cussed the music industry. He played me Pussy Control and Gold. He suddenly slapped my thigh and said: ‘I know you!’ and then told me about our wrap party moment: completely without prompting: ‘Girl, your FACE!’
He talked about his relationship with food; everything in that description sounded like bulimia, to me. He looked, sad, shaken, thin, then. i touched the back of his hand. It was the moment of the interview: the most authentic. You learn that, as a journalist. When they forget the interview and talk like humans, then gather themselves and go off the record.

He was so political. He was so fucking BLACK. He reminded me of every black man I have ever loved: brothers, friends, lovers. The publicist came in: I had been granted 20 minutes and it was over three hours. We were gazing at each other: nothing sexual, I was just trying to hold him there by sheer force of WILL. And then I had a moment: jesus fucking Christ, I’m talking to PRINCE. And my gaze wavered. And he wavered. And the fucking publicist beseeched. And then it was done. We were standing up; he was hugging me, this amazing, bruised, astonishing person and and I believed everything, anything was possible.

But then he always made me feel that way. I could be light-skinned and black. I could be bisexual and fine. I could be mischievous. Men could wear eye-liner and heels. Women could talk about sex.

The first song of his I ever heard was ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover.’ He gave me permission to feel the heat between my legs, man. With NO shame. I realise now that I experience him as a breathing embodiment of my own sexuality. That was why it felt so profound and strange the first time I saw him. Part of me always felt like a big-brown-eyed, high-heeled, shimmying, whip-thin boy. His existence validated my androgyny.
After the interview, I reeled out. ‘He liked that,’ one of his people smiled at me. ‘He said if all interviews were like that, he’d do more.’

Later, I watched him onstage, front row. I was the only person in the room who could sing along to Pussy Control with him, because I was the only one who knew the lyrics. He laughed with me from the stage and touched my hand.

I have such wonderful friends: but the subset of us who were children of The Revolution hold a special place in my heart. People are sending me messages like Prince was my family. Saying they’re sorry for my loss. It’s not strange: everyone who knows me – and some who don’t – associated me with him. Which I find funny. See, I love Prince to my marrow, but I stopped being obsessed with him on a white-hot level years ago. Ever since I met him and accepted anything was possible. Which was his very best gift to me. A little girl from Jamaica, fulfilled her most unlikely dream.

As my mum said, the day I met him: ‘You can die happy, now.’
And I thought: ‘No, I’ve got things to do.’

That was 20 years ago, and I’ve been doing those things. I was on my way out to do a reading when I saw the news. I froze. I thought: he’d want me to go. I am sure the man forgot about me years ago. But he was a perfectionist, like me. An artist. Like me. Jesus Christ, Prince. I am like you.
So I went. And I did a fucking amazing reading.
I just can’t stop shivering.

I knew one day he’d die. And that I’d cry until I puked. Or something. I fervently wished it would never happen. I wanted to die before him. I did, I did, I did.

Prince is not dead. He is not dead. Too much Annie Christian, Do Me Baby, 7, Joy In Repetition, Starfish & Coffee, 1999, Darlin Nikki, For You, Pop Life, Raspberry Beret, Thieves In The Temple, Uptown, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Insatiable, If I Was Your Girlfriend, Greatest Romance Ever Sold, Partyman, Pope, Computer Blue, Right Back Here In Yo Arms, It’s About That Walk, One Kiss At A Time, Face Down, Batdance, Daddy Pop, Nothing Compares 2U, Adore, Pink Cashmere, Adore, Sign O’ The Times, Alphabet Street, Lady Cab Driver, International Lover, Gotta Broken Heart Again, Head, Gett Off, Pop Life, Kiss, Private Joy, Controversy, Race, Letitgo, I Wonder U, Under The Cherry Moon, Mountains, Paisley Park, Count The Days, Screams of Passion, Don’t Talk To Strangers, Strollin… If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’ll understand.

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

2 thoughts on “Once there was Prince: Exit Passion’s Purple Ambassador”

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