In 1984, I was eleven years old. That was when I first heard Erotic City. What caught my attention was the opening guitar twang. You heard it when you read that. When I heard it back then, it held me in place – I remember freezing in my steps.
At that time, I had no idea what erotic meant. Even after looking it up in a real dictionary (imagine that!) I didn’t, I couldn’t fully comprehend the layers inherently embedded in the word, in the song. And therein lies what Prince was in his Purple Royal totality: impossible to define. His life screamed, “I am Prince and what you think about that is none of my concern”. I needed to see this; I needed to know I could be like Prince. Free to be me without fear.
I recall thinking that Erotic City sounded like the future. It sounded like where I wanted to go. On that day, in that second, I was baptized in the spirit of Prince. In fact, I felt so connected to what Prince represented that from the time I was 12 until I turned 17, I would wrestle between loving Prince and loving Jesus – it just didn’t seem possible to do both simultaneously. Every time my little Christian-self backslid, I would go out and buy a new copy of Purple Rain. Back then, that meant picking up a new cassette tape in the music section of Kroger grocery store on South Bucker Blvd. in Dallas, Texas.
“If I were your girlfriend, would you let me dress you? Maybe help you pick out your clothes before we go out? Not that you’re helpless, but sometimes, sometimes, that’s what being in love is about.”
When it comes to systems of oppression such as gender, race, and sexuality, every little bit of fight counts. Prince walked this earth with pride, gave us gender fluid fashion, gave us genre dense music, freed us all from gender and racialized traps, and made all of us want to be someone’s mother and their sister too.
The media couldn’t destroy his character and neither could the business industry of music. Warner Brothers stole his art through legal fuckery. This prompted Prince to drop his birth name and instead he employed a symbol as self-identification. The symbol was a combination of the sex symbols for both genders. How he was mocked for this! But, on the other hand, how many artists are starting their adventures by owning their own art – right off the bat – because of Prince? How many gender queers are more comfortable despite cultural efforts to eradicate our identities, existence? How many Drag Kings/Queens dragged under the influence of Prince? How many will know that His Purpleness has been dispersed into the universe?
Prince perfected the art of infusing smart lyrics, powerful imagery, and indescribably unique sounds with sexual energy. What I mean is that even though I have listened to Prince since I was eleven, I didn’t understand many of the lyrics until I was older. More importantly, I did not fully understand many of his songs until I gained more life experience. That is why I can listen to anything created by Prince anytime. I always learn something new because I am always listening closely to every line, every chord, every vocal, every percussion, and absorbing every electric shock. All the while, I feel his music as a rush of wind filling my heart, head, mind, soul with new ideas, new dreams, new aspirations to love better, to make love better, to seek a truly erotic city to call home.
The Artist made space for all regardless of where one may be located on the gender/sexual spectrum. Prince owned androgyny and by doing such resisted cultural norms of gender homogeneity and thus gave all the queer babies a vision to study, absorb, and for those of us so inclined, to emulate.
He also resisted the American cultural norm of reducing individuals to the imagined capacity of skin color. In this regard, he gave us a model for how to live life committed to meaningful values, deep concern for others, and sincere investment in expanding the goodness of humanity. Don’t forget what he did for Freddie Gray.
Prince detonated the boundaries constraining humans to be either “boys” or “girls”. He lived a life and sang songs and created magic that said it is okay to be either, both, or neither. He was one of the strongest leaders of free people with free spirits. Prince gave queer folks of all walks a great deal of the armor needed to thrive in this thing called a gendered life.
Maybe we’ll find the answer to all this April snow. Maybe one day we’ll see our Prince again. In the meantime, let us give thanks to Prince Rogers Nelson. For your light, for your love, for your fearlessness, for your integrity filled art. For everything you gave this world. Forever.