So I fully expected to wake up feeling better about this. I literally kept saying to myself yesterday, “things will feel better tomorrow, it always does”. So why do I feel engulfed in grief and sadness today?
This is not something I do. I do not worship celebrities, not who I am. I have known too many, for one thing, but even before I worked in this business I didn’t. I have never had a picture of one anywhere in my home, unless you count the slightly ironic pics of Keith Richards and Blondie on my fridge. More like pics of attitudes than a person. I’ve never had a picture of Prince on my fridge. So why is this feeling hanging around.
Today, I am retracing my steps.
So I do what I do. I read, I read a lot yesterday about Prince. There is a wealth of material out there now. I read about the spontaneous memorials, I real all the journalists pieces on what he meant to them, to us. I watch the TV coverage obsessively, I talk about him on SM.
Finally, I can’t anymore, and I turn it off. But I am wide awake. I think that maybe I will find solace in acting on Ron’s words about it all, and write up a post on Master Raymond’s costume. Go into the art, there is always a good feed there.That was good, started to feel a bit better. Watched a GIRLS marathon and scanned around the Outlander universe, something I do for distraction on occasion. I read the good and the bad. The good outweighing the bad these days, which is really nice. I also read some of the scraps of negative that are like a pot simmering on the back of the stove. every once in a while, someone lifts the lid and throws something in.
The latest thread, one that perhaps replacing the narrative that I am a drunk, with the new one… that I am socially awkward, and probably need to hire a professional who can manage my interactions on SM, and most importantly craft a more appropriate “professional” persona. I find this much more entertaining although just as ludicrous as the charge of public drunkenness.
But it is enough to put me to sleep, finally. I dream about being a character on GIRLS.
But here I am this morning. Engulfed again. I am forced to examine what exactly did this man mean to me??? What was it that resonated so deeply?
I was a young woman when Prince exploded into my world.
My parents were civil rights activists who felt that you had to walk the walk. So we lived in predominantly African American neighbourhoods as I grew up. I was the little white girl. Actually,I was the ONLY white girl. I “integrated” our neighbourhood school, me, alone, all by myself. Even the white progressive who were active in civil rights, thought my parents were nuts.
But the black community took me under their wing. I was too young to be a threat, or someone that you needed to pull down that screen that was always there when white people showed up. I was sort of invisible and overlooked as kids so often are. But I was included. I went to family gatherings, picnics, church. My best friend’s teenage sisters and their friends got a kick out of teaching me to dance. My parents home was a very political and intellectual place, but very quiet, everyone was reading. My other world was filled with noise, music, it was full of life. I soaked it in, and it formed me.
When I was 13, we moved to Berkeley. The hot seat of political activism. It was the 70s. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had been assassinated and the Black Panthers were now at the forefront of the civil rights activism. Earth Wind and Fire, Sly, James Brown, Marvin are all over the place. EVERYONE is dancing. We are black, white, brown, yellow. My friends are a rainbow of color and culture. Music and Dancing is the centre of our Universe. By the time I am a HS school senior I have abandoned all pretence of an academic life, because I need to dance. All the time.
Every night, I am in the clubs, on the floor. Still the only white girl, but now rocking hard to George Clinton, Stevie Wonder, but also to the Stones and Bowie. ‘Miss You’ is an enormous hit on the floors of black clubs. It is a whole other kind of integration that is going on. It is no longer just an intellectual and political ideal. We are living it. We are all wild and free, multicultural, on our platform shoes, wild hair flying, it is the biggest house party ever. It was incredible.
Enter Prince. I suppose you have to be atomic to have the impact he did in a world where huge explosions are happening everywhere. When ‘Come Get to This’ and ‘Atomic Dog’ are pumping, how do you get bigger than that? Well if you are Prince you do. In he comes, glorious, beautiful and brilliant.
What the hell IS he? Mixed, creole?? Do we care? Is he straight, gay, bi? Who cares. No one. He is gorgeous, flamboyant, insanely sexy. And most of all, he is breathtakingly brilliant. you know from the first moment you put For You on your record player. You know you are experiencing something never experienced before. He has not evolved into this being, he has emerged fully formed as this, whatever it is. He is a culmination. He is the genetic offspring of the 60s. the 70s, all the marching, the sit ins, the music, the sex, the drugs, the rock and roll. He opens for The Stones, the greatest white R&B band ever. He is perfect, and he is us. He represents all of us. All of us who are thumping it on the dance floor, who are living openly, exploring, experiencing every aspect of every culture, the music, the food, the art, the life.
I have always been a music junkie. My mother talks about me at two, with my hands placed on the TV screen, swaying back and forth to American Bandstand. My entire childhood is enveloped in music. I subscribe to Rolling Stone at 12, when it is little more than an underground music paper. I have an enormous record collection, holding my own with the boys, because music is a male domain. In adolescence I sneak out to the Filmore Auditorium, smoke my first joint. I stand on the seats in the Berkeley High School Auditorium at 13, watching Jimi play the guitar with his teeth onstage (Jimi plays Berkeley), and Prince, when he shows up in my twenties, just rocks my world, HARD. By this time I know everyone in the San Francisco music scene, which is thriving. I am making band posters, album covers, trying to eke out a living after art school.
One thing leads to another, and I know members of Prince’s band. I cannot count how many times I saw him in concert.
Everyone is blown away by him. A perfect blend of R&B, funk and rock and roll, again, just like all of us. His band is filled with women musicians. “Women not girls rule my world.” He brings in Latin percussion with Sheila, making the circle complete.
So, not only is he an incredible artist, he is a man of principal and ethics, he is fiercely independent, he is going to do things his own way. He is not going to bend to the commercial interests of corporations. He is going to control his own art. He may be as famous for his willingness to go to the mat for his work. Famously giving up his own NAME rather than control of his music, scrawling SLAVE on his face for public appearances. He refused to give up in the face of the corporatization of the music industry, fighting to the end for the rights of the artists.
So what did he mean to me?
Who am I? I am an artist, first and foremost. I am a product of my time and place. I am part of a generation, who very briefly danced together in the streets, celebrating the victories hard won by brothers and sisters, whose blood ran in those streets where we now danced…together, truly multicultural, gay, straight and everything else in the rainbow.
As the child of union organisers and political activists, I struggle every day as an artist in a corporate world I struggle as a human in a human world. Ron constantly asks me if I could not make everything into one of my “social justice” issues. No, actually, I can’t. I will always struggle against the tide that says we all need to be managed and formed to a polished symmetry that never colors outside the lines. Whose voices and very existence, should be managed and tailored to fit into an expectation. Group think.
Well that ain’t gonna happen. I am going to continue to be me. I’m going to throw elbows at anything or anyone that tries to control me as an artist. I am not going to hire anyone to manage me or my voice. I am going to fight hard against anything like that, big or small. And I am going to play Prince as loud as I can while doing it.
I guess that is what Prince meant to me. That is what he represents, for me. I intend to honour him every day, every single day. I am going to speak my mind and dance in the streets and on your screens. I am going to party like it’s 1999.