The latest in a series about influences from my earlier days
I’m just as shocked as any of you. When I first heard the news last Thursday morning, as TMZ was breaking it, I was convinced it was a hoax. There was just no way that Prince could be dead.
As a teenager in the 1980’s, I was a metalhead. I remember seeing Prince perform “Little Red Corvette” on Solid Gold (remember that show?), but I hadn’t been impressed. But in the summer of 1984, I first heard “When Doves Cry,” and then “Let’s Go Crazy.” And then I ran to the record store to dive headfirst into Purple Rain.
That album rocked just as hard and loud—if not harder and louder—than anything else I was listening to at the time. When the movie came out, I saw it several times (and many, many more times on VHS).
Hungry for more, I bought the extended mixes of the singles and discovered amazing B-sides: “17 Days,” “Erotic City,” “Another Lonely Christmas.” I delved into Prince’s back catalog: 1999, Controversy, and Dirty Mind. I jammed to the The Time’s “Jungle Love,” “The Bird,” and the rest of their album Ice Cream Castles.
I was hooked. I had become a hardcore Prince fan. Some of my headbanger friends didn’t approve, but I didn’t care.
Every year after that, Prince would put out a new album, and every year, it was like Christmas came twice. I remember taking a break between classes at the University of Maryland College Park to visit the campus record store on the day that Around the World in a Day, the follow up to Purple Rain, was released. I didn’t have time to go back home and listen to it, so before my next class, I was content to open it up, soak in the trippy artwork, and read the lyrics. Right then, I knew—I knew—that it was going to be awesome.
And it was. I loved “Raspberry Beret,” of course, but also the title track, and “America,” and “Temptation,” and the psychedelic “Paisley Park.” But most especially the B-side “She’s Always in my Hair.” It’s my favorite Prince song.
1986 brought Parade, an under-appreciated masterpiece. It wasn’t anything like the metal rock I had grown up on. In fact, it wasn’t like anything I had ever heard before. Everyone knows “Kiss” from Parade, but the rest of it is even better than that: I can’t decide whether “Mountains” or “Anotherloverholenyohead” is my favorite from that album.
(And yes, I saw Under the Cherry Moon. And yeah, it was bad, but it was still fun)
The year after was Sign O’ the Times, a double album that most critics call Prince’s finest. It’s hard for me to say (Purple Rain makes an awfully strong case for itself), but “Housequake,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” and “Strange Relationship” are my favorites. I was so taken with “Starfish and Coffee” that I wanted to name our first daughter Cynthia Rose (my wife vetoed that).
But after that…after that, something happened, either to Prince or me or both of us. Lovesexy went off in one musical direction, and I—grabbed by the back of the head by Guns ‘n’ Roses and Skid Row—went off in another. I came back for Batman (which has its moments, but yeah…not all that) and Graffiti Bridge (the songs by The Time are good, and “Thieves in the Temple” is okay. Everything else? Naaaah. And the movie is wretched).
Diamonds and Pearls was where I jumped ship—in retrospect, the title song, “Cream,” and “Gett Off” are solid. I caught Prince on the Musicology tour, and it was the best concert I’ve ever been to. The second part of the show was just him, a stool, and a guitar, and he did a sing-along in the round, with several thousand people. Some musicians work a guitar, cranking on it until they’re a sweaty mess; for Prince, it seemed effortless. It looked like he could play and jam and wail on it all night.
But the album itself? Ehhhhhh…..
So how did Prince inspire me? First, let me discuss his influence on a (very) personal level. Many of his songs intertwined sex and passionate romance, and that resonated with me as a young man fresh out of high school and into college.
My prior heavy metal catalog had plenty of odes to T&A, but precious little about actually being madly in love with the person you were with. Prince was infamous for being raunchy, but many of his songs (especially on 1999 and Purple Rain) were about more than just getting horizontal.
Now, for how he influenced me on an artistic level. Prince was always changing, always growing, even if it was sometimes not to my liking. Dirty Mind was not 1999, which was not Purple Rain, which was not Around the World in a Day, etc., etc. Some musicians do and have done basically the same thing their whole careers—that certainly was not Prince.
Similarly, I always want to do something different with each writing project. I’m early into my career publishing books, but Dragontamer’s Daughters is very different from Lost Dogs or Our Wild Place, and In Lonely Lands will be different from all of them. Some authors like to write series, but though that might be more lucrative, it would bore me to the point where I’d gnaw off my hands to get out of having to do that.
I’m not ordinarily moved to melancholy by a celebrity’s passing, but Prince’s death has hit me a bit hard, and it took me a little while to figure out why. Prince’s music was the soundtrack to my late teens and early twenties, and though intellectually I know I’ll never be that age again, it never connected with me emotionally.
Until now. Now it has sunk in that that time is well and truly over, and I need to focus on the rest of my life.
And “life”…well, it’s an electric word. It means “forever,” and that’s a mighty long time. I heard that in a song once. I’m guessing you did, too.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is In Lonely Lands, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in late 2016.
Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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