Why I Needed To Witness The Greatness Of Prince

I felt compelled to buy a pricey ticket to see Prince in Chicago — even though I struggle to pay my rent.

Isaac Brekken / Getty Images

I read the announcement for Prince’s Chicago residency on a delayed CTA Blue Line train. The stations are the only underground areas in which I have signal access and the news appeared at the top of my Twitter feed. I squealed in joy, then looked around me. The news had just been announced, yet no one else seemed to share my joy. A part of me was trying to figure out if this concert was a reality or wishful thinking brought on by my devotion to Prince. Could this moment really be happening?

A week later, I sat at my desk in the open floor plan of my day job and I purchased a ticket. I’ve been struggling with my finances after realizing that living beyond my means produced an empty, hungry void. I purchased my ticket after spending days eating the bare minimum: cereal, salad, and whatever I could throw into a crock pot and call a stew. The weekend before was Labor Day, and I went home, and reveled in my access to a feast of food and comfort missing from my apartment in the city.

“How much are those tickets going to cost?,” my mother asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said.

A ticket to see Prince was a financial sacrifice, but it fulfilled a dream and gave me a chance to see “greatness” in action. I often view music now as an act of consumption over appreciation, but Prince represents the music I knew and loved, the music I grew up with, the music that was embedded in me from a young age, and the music that became an education. My love of Prince developed slowly over time. I did not truly know who he was when I was a child, but I understood that what I was listening to was good, and that it was “real” and special.

Prince is one of a handful of artists that I learned about through my parents who I have rediscovered in the past couple years. I have always listened to him, and to Sade and Luther Vandross, but something about their music clicks with me as I became an adult. This is bittersweet, because when I hear them, I feel a part of myself, a part of my childhood, disappearing. But I know all of the words to their hits by heart, and when I hear Prince songs like “Kiss,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover” or “I Would Die 4 U” I feel a special rush unlike what I get from contemporary musicians. It’s partly nostalgia, but also a respect for the clarity and precision of a classic, perfect song. Prince may get older, but his music never gets old. It is timeless and true, the kind of music that always sounds right.

A much-older friend asked me after I bought my ticket for the show why I wanted to see Prince perform now, as a 54-year-old man whose greatest work is behind him. What pleasure would I derive from a Prince show in 2012 versus one at the peak of his popularity in 1984? But Prince is one of the last living icons and I jumped at the chance to see him live because e older I get, the less likely I am to get the full experience of seeing my favorite performers in action. Realizing that you can’t ever see a newly-discovered older band or musician live is a particular type of heartbreak, and I would not let that happen with Prince. There was no way I could see Prince at his youngest, at his raunchiest, at his liveliest, but to not see him at all felt like a betrayal of my love of his work.

I held hands with the strangers around me at the show, fully embracing the communal nature of the experience. A Prince concert is greater than the self, so I put aside my love of songs like “Erotic City.” That was Prince from a different, more debauched era. He no longer plays those types of songs live. I missed that chance, but I have come to terms with that loss. It is better to have some Prince than to have not seen him at all.

The night began strongly, but ended with confusion after many in the audience anticipated another encore. My good friend left the evening in tears feeling almost betrayed by an evening that started off well, but ended with short sets with only snippets of many of his classics. After his second encore, we waited in the dark in the United Center for nearly 40 minutes anticipating even more. Was it selfish to expect Prince to cater to our desires? Possibly. But as the lights switched on and fans were ushered out of the arena with haste, many felt disrespected by their favorite musician.

I left the stadium and walked down an eerily quiet Damen Avenue searching for a cab.

“I don’t understand. What just happened? What is going on?” I overheard a woman ask her two friends. Their conversation was rife with anger and confusion. They had seen him perform numerous times in the past and felt this was his worst show, a calamity, an act of betrayal.

“You didn’t like it?” I interrupted. I should have kept my mouth shut. But their hurt felt personal, as if they were denying how good it is to see him even a little bit, even at his worst. They looked at me with scowls on their faces; I quickly turned away.

Moments later I found a cab and asked the group if they wanted to share, and they declined. I read messages from strangers and friends at odds with what they had just seen. They knew it could have been better. They witnessed it. They were a part of it in the past. I turned my cell phone off and the next day when I talked about the show to co-workers and family members, I spoke honestly.

“I saw him. That’s all that I care about. That’s all that mattered to me.”

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