Thank you for a funky time

By now, you’ve probably been Purple Rained out by a million MTV marathons, viral tributes and Facebook sendoffs for Prince. And far be it from me to add to the chorus – is there anything I can say that Oprah, Obama or the Queen haven’t already said? Well, possibly. Especially since the Queen issued no formal statement (word is there’s no relation between the two.)

But chime in I must. For someday, someone might ask me what I was doing when I found out the Funky Purple Overlord passed on to the afterworld – that place of never-ending happiness, where you can always see the sun, day or night. And I will tell them: in my Subaru, delivering papers.

OK, maybe not the dramatic response you were hoping for. But when the solemn voice came on the radio and told me Prince had been found dead, in an elevator, no less (oh, the irony!) I guess you could say it hit me like a red Corvette.

See, growing up in St. Paul in the 1980s, there were two camps: the Michael Jackson camp; and the Prince camp. I fell into the latter. There was something about MJ – his squeaky clean Jackson 5 persona – that I couldn’t quite embrace.

But Prince – in all his kinky, dry-humping, androgynous-puffy-shirt-tight-pant-black-eyeliner-wearing swagger, was just rebellious enough to capture the young imagination and possibly alarm parents. (Not to mention he played all his own instruments, whereas MJ – well, we know what he played with.)

He was a happy medium for those of us who aspired to be punk rock but weren’t ballsy enough to do the safety-pin piercings or the jet black dye job.

I guess his allure was not unlike Elvis – as much as I hate to admit it, only because it makes me sound really old.

But there was a difference. Being from Minnesota, Prince was one of “us.” He knew what a skyway was, played “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck,” drank “pop” and probably received his fair share of snuggies in his day. Given his proclivity to purple – it was obvious he was a Vikings fan. And even his high, Elizabethan collars had a friendly familiarity to those of us who had spent our life sequestered in Catholic uniforms.

At the same time, he was very much not like us. For starters, he could jump off a stack twice his height, in heels, and land in a splits – playing guitar. And then there was that thing he did, with Darling Nicky? In the hotel lobby? No god-fearing Norwegian would ever dream of such a thing. And if they did, they sure as heck kept it to themselves and didn’t go around singing about it.

But sing about it, Prince did – putting Minnesota on the map for something other than a bunch of silly lakes and a giant lumberjack. And in the process, he freed all those repressed Midwesterners from their frozen shackles of decorum and decency – if only for a few crazy moments.

I remember listening to “1999” in my friend’s basement circa 1983. We were all sporting what can only be described as a reverse mullet – long in front, shaved underneath – in honor of our newfound idol from across the river. Our young minds were sufficiently blown at the concept of the turn of the century, where would we be at the ancient age of 29? Would we still be friends?

Little did we know once high school hit, we would scatter to the far corners of parochial schooldom. But Prince stayed with me. I had a poster of him on the back of my bedroom door, a place of honor in any girl’s bedroom. There was something about that come-hither stare, the down-to-there shirt, the eye make-up and gold hoop earring – well, it confused the heck out of me. But in a good way.

Needless to say, the one-dimensional version of Prince would pale in comparison when the “Purple Rain” tour came through town. Working on a tip from a punk girl waiting at Great American Music to buy tickets to Black Flag (a band I would come to appreciate later in my high school career), my brother and I scored 15th row seats to two newly added Prince shows.

It was on the second night that a bouncer came up to my friends and I, and uttered the best words any teen-age girl of the ’80s could ever hear. (No, not “free wine coolers.”) He said: Prince would like you to come up to the front row. Sad to say, memories are hazy, but I am quite sure the mass migration of hairspray and mascara to the front row was anything but calm – possibly bordering on Who hysteria. But once there, I remember being in a state of complete awe and reverence, basking in a magnificent glow of purple glory.

Alas, when the last encore was done, there were no back-stage invitations. But Prince did toss me a guitar pick (purple) and I’m pretty sure some of his sweat landed on me. Which really, when you think about it, is a lot like making out.

(Sad to say, this was my biggest bragging right until about 10 years ago, when a friend one-upped me by dancing. On stage. With Prince. I hate her.)

And so, you can see why I was so upset about the news last Thursday. Prince and I were practically married – if only just pretending.

 “Price is dead,” my son texted around noon (he was never a good speller, probably because he’s too busy texting when he should be learning.)

“Yes, I know,” was all I could say. “Verklempt.”

And soon, the calls and emails from family started flying.

“Fittingly it is raining today. Mpls is in shock,” Sister No. 1 emailed. “Just heard ‘When You Were Mine’ and had a ‘80s flashback of us singing into hair brushes, curling irons, etc., in the pink bathroom, probably getting ready to go to a kegger.”

Meanwhile, Sister No. 2 had heard the news over the speaker at the shopping mall. (Only two things go over the speaker at the shopping mall: tornado warnings and Prince’s death.) We tried to come up with our favorite Princeisms. “He didn’t really talk a whole lot,” she recalled of his film debut. “He would just sort of suddenly appear and be standing next to his motorcycle.”

Ah yes, that inexplicable Prince magic – sometimes, it was best not to ask questions.

“Amazing show – seem to remember him singing from a bathtub at some point – blew my little Midwestern mind,” my brother soon chimed in, remembering the 1985 shows (begging the question: where were my parents during all this?) “I remember keeping one of the plastic flowers that dropped from the ceiling during the encore of ‘Purple Rain’ – have no idea if I still have it.”

As for my purple guitar pick, it’s likely at the bottom of the Dakota County landfill. Cant’ say I’m not kicking myself over the potential eBay revenue from that. Then again, if I had hung onto it all these years, maybe I would not have wanted to part with it. After all, it would be my last vestige of Prince, to have and to hold, to get me through this thing called life. And that’s a mighty long time.

“You need to have a Prince dance party,” a friend advised. “It’ll work wonders.”

But I’m not there, yet.

Instead, all I feel is an immense sense of loss for something I foolishly thought would never come to an end. Like sitting in that basement listening, all those years ago, to the man himself sing about a time that seemed a million years away – and surely would never arrive.

Yet, here we are.

Good night, sweet Prince.

Missy Votel