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On the Passing of Prince – From a Minnesotan

April 23, 2016
Death of Prince I35W Bridge Purple

I was in the car with my daughter Thursday morning when we heard the news that Prince had died. We were going to Ikea, driving along 494 through Burnsville, Mn. My daughter is in charge of the radio while we drive and had just switched from satellite radio to a local station, Cities 97 if you’re wondering, when we caught the tail end of the DJ talking about how someone had died. You could hear she was holding back tears. I said to my daughter “the only death that could bring a Minnesota DJ to tears is Prince”, but that seemed unthinkable.

(For an in depth read, from another Minnesotan, about the music, the style, the talent of Prince, click here)

My daughter grabbed my phone out of my purse to see who it was. She didn’t even have to open the phone, it was right there on the lock screen.

Prince dies at 57.

I was pulling off the exit towards Ikea at this point, but was so distracted that I missed the exit and continued on to the Mall of America. While stuck at a light I tried to search through my phone for any details, but got shut down by my daughter. Already, a digital billboard had a tribute to Prince.

It was real.

We continued on to Ikea, the daughter wants to update her bedroom and needed a few items. My heart was no longer in it, and neither was hers. My daughter was upset too. No surprise really, she grew up being embarrassed by me dancing and singing to all the Prince tunes. When David Bowie died earlier this year she wasn’t the least bit interested in listening to his music with me. She didn’t want to listen to me go on and on about how cool he was and how experimental his music was. But then Bowie wasn’t a Minnesotan.

As we walked through the parking garage we could hear other groups talking about his death.

My son was now texting me about Prince’s death.

How could he be gone (I can’t type dead, it’s too final)?

I’d first heard of Prince when I was 13 or 14 from my friend Stella. She’d heard I Want to be Your Lover on the radio and had to get the album. Stella, Stephanie and I listened to Prince after school each day. Stella sang that song ALL.THE.TIME.

The music was amazing, the album cover was titillating with his bare chest, flowing hair and intense stare, and that he was from Minneapolis made him incredibly real. For a 13 year old it was a little unsettling and exciting at the same time.

And thus began the soundtrack of my younger years.

I just can’t believe
All the things people say, controversy
Am I black or white?
Am I straight or gay? Controversy

My dad was gay, closeted and married to my mother who discussed their issues with me,  while he was out at the Townhouse bar on University Avenue. I was terrified people would find out about my dad (even though they all knew, I just didn’t know they knew) so would much rather have people discussing Prince’s sexuality than my fathers.

We don’t care
It’s all about being there
Everybody’s going Uptown
That’s where I wanna be
Uptown

When we were a few years older we’d go to First Avenue to catch of glimpse of Prince on stage or the dance floor or just on his way to the bathroom. If you’re a Minnesotan, you have a story of literally bumping into Prince at one time or another. He didn’t hide away in some ivory tower, he was part of the party.

My high school years were challenging, for a variety of reasons I went to three different high schools and was forced to spend my senior year at a new school. I went to St. Paul Central that year, a large inner city school with a population four times what I was used to. Prince’s discography played at every single school event, after event party and was constantly playing on the Walkmans all the kids were wearing. Sometimes Michael Jackson played.

Let’s pretend we’re married and go all night
There ain’t nothin’ wrong if it feels all right
I won’t stop until the morning light
Let’s pretend we’re married and go all night, tonight

Prince was playing when I had sex for the first time (though it did not go all night), and many times after as I am sure is the case for most people my age. It was the most sexually explicit music available and yet it didn’t seem dirty. Okay, it was really dirty, but in a damn good way.

‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You’re on your own

That summer, 1984, Purple Rain was released. If you know me, or have read my older posts, you know how I struggled through those years due to my dad’s closeted lifestyle and the affect it had on my mother who had been disabled years earlier. Prince helped me through those years. When the movie was released soon after and we got a glimpse into his early years I knew he understood all that I was dealing with. And, as I Minnesotan, we all knew he was goofing with Apollonia when he tricked her into jumping into the Mississippi river.

What’s the matter with your life
Is the poverty bringing U down?
Is the mailman jerking U ’round?
Did he put your million dollar check
In someone else’s box?

My first apartment – my roommate and I tried to drown out the relentless Bruce Springsteen that was played downstairs, with Prince music.

“Oh, I got a live one here!”
Get the funk up!
BATMAN

On our first date my ex husband and I saw the movie Batman at the Grandview theater on its opening night. The packed house erupted when Prince’s credit filled the screen.

If I gave you diamonds and pearls
Would you be a happy boy or a girl
If I could I would give you the world
But all I can do is just offer you my love

We married that fall.

It was my ex husband’s decision to bring his girlfriend to Paisley Park for one of Prince’s more intimate concerts that made me realize the marriage couldn’t be saved. While he was dancing to Prince with some 21 year old I was in the hospital with our infant son who was dehydrated from an ear infection.

When I found a necklace with Prince’s symbol on it, a souvenir from the show, next to our bed, I knew it was time to move on. I would have liked to blame Prince, but that would have been foolish. Our marriage ended when our daughter died a year earlier. Not unlike the way Prince’s marriage ended to Mayte Garcia shortly after their son died of a similar malady.

I’m not a human
I am a dove
I’m your conscious
I am love
All I really need is to know that
U believe

Yeah, I would die 4 U, yeah
Darling if you want me to
U, I would die 4 U

Life moved on and Prince continued to churn out album after album. 39 in total. Prince was texting decades before it became a thing. I only knew one person who didn’t like Prince’s music and I think that was because his music was so raw it could be scary if you weren’t willing to just fall into and let it take you wherever it was going.

We live in a global world now, because of the internet I have friends who live all around the world. When Prince died I got text messages from people asking if I was okay. I was not  a super fan, but I was a fellow Minnesotan and it stung just slightly more, I think, that one of our own left this world. A Minnesota friend who has lived in NY for decades learned of his death before me and was afraid to mention it to me on Facebook, preferring not to be the bearer of bad news.

I visited my mother in the nursing home on Friday. Mom has been delusional for some time and it was nice to see that Prince had worked his way so quickly into her delusions, I spent half an hour listening to her tell me how he and my father were more than just friends.

Let’s go crazy
Let’s get nuts
Let’s look for the purple banana
‘Til they put us in the truck, let’s go!

Minnesota has been awash in Purple since his death. The I35 bridge bathes in purple light during the night. First Avenue is alive with all night dance parties to celebrate his life and gates of Paisley Park are festooned with purple mylar balloons and flowers. It is spring here in Minnesota, early because of El Niño. This week all the azaleas bloomed. Drive down Summit Avenue, Highland Parkway or along Mississippi River Boulevard and you can’t help but see all the purple flowers blooming — seemingly for Prince.

Honey, I know, I know
I know times are changing
It’s time we all reach out
For something new, that means you too

You say you want a leader
But you can’t seem to make up your mind
I think you better close it
And let me guide you to the purple rain

Prince Purple Rain

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  • What a great piece, Jen. That is all.

  • Small Town Mommy

    I can see how much it meant to you. This kind of thing brings back memories, both good and bad. I hope you are doing ok.