The Second Disc joins the world in mourning the unexpected loss of Prince, a true American original. Please welcome our founder, Mike Duquette, in sharing his memories of this visionary artist.
First U Have 2 Purify Yourself
I'm 16 years old in the Menlo Park Mall in Edison, New Jersey. It's 2004, and the Sam Goody is liquidating. Sometimes, at such an age, you do things that don't make sense to yourself, or to anyone else. You remember the reasons you give, and maybe you don't question them until later.
This was such a time. I'm standing in line with a red-stickered copy of Purple Rain. It's maybe 10 dollars, a relative steal for a kid with no Napster, no broadband, just a deepening thirst for music, good music. I know the Prince songs played on the radio, rapidly ascending into the classic pop/rock canon with decades of play. "When Doves Cry," "1999," "Kiss," "I Would Die 4 U," and so on. I own no Prince albums, but that changes today--for reasons so arcane that they sound made up. You see, by this point, I had dreams of being a pop culture journalist, and felt honor bound to study all the classics. A year before, I dog-eared Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time issue, convinced that I would make this canon part of my own.
I'm sure it made sense at the time.
I've Seen The Future and It Will Be
I'm 19 years old in a corner dorm of Serra Hall at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. I don't give one shit about sports, but I returned from dinner eager to watch Super Bowl XLI's halftime show. Prince, then 48 years old, was going to perform a set. My Prince collection had only doubled since Purple Rain, to accommodate the soundtrack to Tim Burton's Batman, a childhood favorite.
I turn on the TV as the neon-illuminated symbol lights up. I don't remember what I did in the 14 minutes since. I do remember my bony knees thudding against the cold, hard floor when it was over. Welcome 2 The Dawn.
This is The Funk Bible
I'm 21 years old and it all makes sense.
Prince Rogers Nelson, a preternaturally talented kid from the Twin Cities, has some ideas about music, God, sex and the status quo that set the '80s on fire, then spent the '90s as a sort of hermetic iconoclast--changing his name to that unpronounceable symbol, releasing music in unique ways to smaller audiences that managed to keep up--before coming back as an elder God back from a sojourn in the mountains.
Michael Duquette, a weird kid who loves music, the arts and writing, is a nominally talented kid from New Jersey who endured a strange bout of Catholicism that curdled when the Northeastern United States exploded with reports of scandals within the church. He rejected the existence of God until Prince, interested in the bizarre intersection where the sacred and the profane meet, helped him realize that you could have it both ways. This fuelled a voracious desire for music--his, others, anything that can move a man, really.
My hunger for Prince CDs is voracious. At Tunes in Hoboken, I pay $35 for a copy--a real, real copy--of The Black Album on CD. I am so anxious to get it onto my computer that, with no Internet connection, I open Photoshop and create a 300x300 pixel black square so I can have the cover art RIGHT NOW.
Please Tell Me What the Hell is Wrong
I am 22 years old in her Hyundai Elantra. She turns a radio playing The Time's "Jungle Love" off. "I'm sorry," she says. "I just don't like this. I don't think I'll ever like this."
"That's not the point," I say cheerfully, hiding a broken heart. "I don't want you to like him as much as I do, I just want you to know how much I like him."
I am 24 years old in the bedroom I grew up in. I feel alone. I am alone--she'd left not long before. I'm trying like hell to find a job I love--maybe this weird little music reissue site is the key. As is so often the case, it only makes sense in music. Linn LM-1s, Oberheim OBX synths, that Hohner Telecaster, the screams and the voice that sounds like it came from Heaven to deliver me from evil.
Love the One Who is Love
I'm 26 years old on a creaky New Jersey Transit train heading to a fancy office for a major label that I work for. It just happened, days after my first tangible idea for a reissue product arrives in physical, tangible form. It feels like things are about to change.
On Facebook, an esteemed music critic--someone I've been reading since I was 10, now an actual friend and sounding board--shares the news. Prince has finally obtained his masters back from Warner Bros. and will license them back to Warner Music, eventually dipping into the vaults with a planned reissue of Purple Rain. I check my inbox for the press release, think of how long I've longed to read these words, to have this life, and I cry.
I'm 27 and sweating in a large karaoke room in Koreatown. I'm surrounded by new friends from a neighborhood I'm about to move to. Somehow, they've decided my birthday is a worthy enough occasion to come out and celebrate like madmen. They want me to start it all off. I can't imagine how, until one of them, with a wicked glint in his eye, suggests "Let's Go Crazy." It's gonna be a beautiful night.
Burn Up My Clothes, Smash Up My Ride--Well, Maybe Not the Ride
I'm 28 and working and busy and in love. Her friend is doing a cabaret performance of Purple Rain--the whole album, top to bottom. I remember those memories, somewhat dormant, of where I was when I picked up that record. I tell her how much I want to go, and she replies "Of course." Not "well, I don't know." Not "no." Of course. She's my partner. We understand each other's passions, even if we don't share them in parallel.
Minutes later, another response: "They want me to be in it!" The mind boggles. "I'm playing a porn fantasy!" Again, I holler with excitement. "Darling Nikki! They want you to be Darling Nikki!"
They do not want her to play "Darling Nikki." The show, which weaves together intensely personal stories on love and lust and hopes and fears about all of it, will touch on deriving pleasure through Internet stimulation. The lead actor, clad in a purple trenchcoat and stockings, is commanded to conjure a fantasy. And in she walks, in flannel and a large wig, as painter Bob Ross. She dabs happy little trees on the lead's body, much to his theatrical pleasure. It is wild and I love every minute of it.
At the end, a beautiful resolution to a Revolution, the band plays "Purple Rain" and she returns to dance with a lucky audience member. She picks me. She knows how much it means to me. I cry into her shoulder. I can't imagine it any better than it is. Within a week I am getting drunk and telling her friends and mine that I think I've met The One.
Even At the Center of Fire There is Cold
I am almost 29, loving my new office building, dreaming big and making plans in music and writing and art. I go to lunch with a beloved coworker. I do not take my phone. I come back to a dozen texts, tags, tweets.
My stomach drops.
I lurch into the men's room and sob.
I try to compose myself.
A coworker finds me, talks with me. He's warm and understanding. He gets it. You get it. We all get it. We get what Prince did for us, whether we were weirdos in a Sam Goody or dreamers in the projects, wishing there was no black and white, wishing there was no rules, casting Spooky Electric away.
I note, through my tears, that if none of this had happened the way it did, I wouldn't be here. I'd be selling sporting goods at minimum wage, instead of reaping the rewards of hard work, dedication, kindness, love and music.
Of course it will keep hurting. But if the night falls and a bomb falls, I truly believe we may live 2 see The Dawn.
Even at the center of fire there is Gold is the lyric.
alex stassi says
"Even at the center of fire there is cold and all that glitters ain't gold" 🙂
Nope fire has gold in the middle.
But the lyric is still "Even at the center of the fire, there is cold".
First of all, Prince wouldn't be so clumsy as to repeat gold twice in the same line. Second, while the colour gold is seen in the center of the fire, the line doesn't make sense if that's what he sings. The point is, there is cold even in the center of the fire, just as all that glitters isn't gold. Its the contrast of opposites that is the point.
Oh, and its also what the lyrics printed in the album booklet say.
Zack S. says
This is a wonderful statement. The ways that music (and for us, his music especially) is so interwoven into our own journeys is astounding.
Thanks for sharing.
Steve Bruun says
A beautiful essay, that really shows the way our favorite artists can weave their way into our lives. Thank you.
I started writing my own comments, not about Prince specifically but about the way the death of a beloved musician (for me, Chris Squire) can send you spiraling down through your memories - but it was getting to be a bit much. This is your column, not mine.
It's some comfort that many of these artists have left a significant recorded legacy, so they are still with us.
Thank you for sharing - a lovely tribute.
Michael Grabowski says
As a diehard fan since '84, I had gotten used to thinking people only dug him in the 80s and for his 80s music. I'm thrilled to see someone so much younger than me getting into his music so much more recently than that, as well as inspired by his music to make more great music available.