I Owe My Childhood To Prince
How Prince made me who I am today, even though I hated him.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life."
I have never been a diehard Prince fan. However, his eccentric personality and mold-shattering music still managed to weave themselves into my life somehow. Not like bands and musicians that I thoroughly enjoy and follow, but in a deeper way. Prince has somehow managed to become a major player in the soundtrack to my life, without my knowledge or say so.
Growing up, my mother's car, like most cars in the early 90s, had a tape deck. Unlike most cars, my mother's car had one single tape: Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution. I listened to this album every single time my mother drove me, on repeat, from ages 7-11. I hated Prince. I hated The Revolution. I hated that I knew every word to every song in the order they appeared on the album. My brother and I plotted and schemed ways to rid Prince from our lives. We would hide the cassette and later, CD, in the most random of places, the most successful of which was a tissue box from my recollection. No matter how many times we purged the tape from my mother's car, she would always find another at a thrift store or garage sale immediately after she realized it was gone. Thus, every road trip my family took, every visit to family, every menial trip to the grocery store from my childhood, was scored by Prince.
I wasn't shy about expressing my hatred of Prince. I pleaded with aunts, uncles, and grandparents to explain to my mother that forcing the same nine songs into my brain for hours on end was probably classified as torture. During one of these impassioned speeches my uncle corrected me, "You mean the artist formerly known as Prince." At this time, Prince was going by an unpronounceable symbol, Prince logo.svg. This annoyed my 8-year-old self even more. How dare this person, whose songs made me carsick, do something so ridiculous and unfounded. It forced my dislike of Prince even more. However, I always kept that tidbit of trivia in my back pocket. As I got older, I learned that Prince had done this as a way to frustrate his record label, Warner Brothers. Prince felt that being attached to a major label stifled his creativity, so he wanted to end his contract early. Warner Brothers, who did not want to give up their cash cow, did everything in their power to retain him. Prince, to make himself nearly impossible to promote, changed his name to a symbol. When Warner Brothers finally released him, Prince started using his name again. I discovered this story at about 13 or 14. I was always a "good kid" and rarely rocked the boat, however, I was finding my voice around this time. Prince inspired me to raise hell, within the context of the rules/guidelines. Much to the chagrin of my parents and many teachers, I was able to stand my ground, with little to no consequences throughout my adolescence.
Speaking of my adolescence, I was a nerd. I loved comic books and even committed the summer before freshman year to reading the entire chronology of Batman. Around this time, I also developed an interest in records. One of the very first vinyl purchases was a 7-inch single emblazoned with the Batman logo, that I stumbled across in a thrift store. When played the song, I was dumbstruck. It was a clash of two different sounding songs in addition to clips from the 1991 Batman movie. It was Batdance by Prince. After my initial listening experience with the song, I had to know everything about it. It video was awe-inspiring and features troops of dancers dressed as Batman, The Joker, and Vicki Vale. In addition, there is an homage to The Dark Knight Returns in the video. However, the best part is Prince, in all his 5'2" glory, wears a half Batman, half Joker costume. Prince, one of the most influential musicians of all time, was dressed up like not one, but TWO comic book characters. To me, Prince legitimized dressing up like a comic book character way more than Michael Keaton. I knew Prince; I had battled Prince before. Michael Keaton was some guy. Prince had once been my adversary. Prince made me feel better about being a nerd when nerd was not a positive label.
Prince gave me my first kiss. Not literally. However, Prince facilitated my first kiss. At my first high school party, I wore a maroon knit cap. I was shy and intimidated and felt like an interloper. After spending about an hour perfecting my wallflower pose, a boy called across the room to me, "Hey raspberry beret, come out and jam with us." After finally realizing he was talking about me, I spent the rest of the night with a group of musicians singing around a bonfire. The boy eventually played "Raspberry Beret" for me. I thought he was very sweet and over time, that boy became a major part of my formative teenage years.
When I had heard that David Bowie had passed, I was saddened. I thought about his records sitting on my shelf and how they looked spinning on the turntable. When Prince passed, I thought of my brother and I scheming to eject Prince from our lives. I thought of my mom singing as loud as she could to embarrass us. I thought of sewing my first costume. I thought of my first kiss and laughing with the boy who tried to impress me with a song I didn't know. I thought about my life. And I realize that Prince has been a role model and a guide. His uncompromising attitude helped me become an individual and feel okay being an outcast when I needed it most. While he is no longer around to blaze a trail, his legacy will live on to inspire generations to come.