So, this morning I woke up to the very sad news that Prince was dead. It’s been a crappy year to be a celebrity this year – David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and now this. I felt sad when Bowie and Rickman died, but somehow feels a bit different. Whereas Bowie and Rickman were both British, and therefore somewhere in the Indian psyche, Prince was 100% American.
I remember when I first was introduced to Prince. It was 1984, the asphalt on the parking lot behind Virgil I. Grissom High in Huntsville, Alabama was cracking in the late August heat, and I was with the “rejects” this one time, at band camp. We were standing at “attention”, our arms up, the fingers of our hands interlaced and our elbows spread in a ninety-degree angle, in simulation of the position one might hold, say, a trumpet.
We’d been picked out as the ones who couldn’t keep time and march at the same time we played, that we had trouble picking up our legs for full mark-time, or that we just were still adjusting to our awkward mid-adolescent bodies and couldn’t pull off a badass “I’ve got this” vibe to save our lives. We were hopeless.
D, who embarrassingly enough was the same age as I was, walked up and down in front of us, correcting postures, making jokes, and giving off an unintended air of superiority. As I stood there with sweat rolling down the back of my legs and yellow jackets swarming around my elbows, wishing that heat stroke would hit so I could just go the Hell home, D reached over to a boom box the size of a modern in-flight carry-on and said,
“This is the perfect rhythm to march to – just close your eyes and groove.”
The song was “Darling Nikki”, and as I listened, eyes closed, D had us start marching, and I was definitely “grooving”. It was slower than the music we played for halftime shows, it washed over me, and I could “hear” the part where my leg should raise and lower itself.
Then, on the second play through, I heard how Prince met Nikki, my brain scrambled, and I stumbled. Down the sexual and psychological rabbit hole . . . .
Like most other kids that summer, I bought Purple Rain on cassette and played it so much I had to buy a second. Unlike most other kids that summer, I did not see the movie Purple Rain, because Mom and Dad had an iron-tight ban on anything R-rated.
But Prince still managed somehow to slip under the radar. My mother, a card-carrying member of the Tipper Gore Parental Lyrics Warning Club, was so busy confiscating my Mötley Crüe tapes because they were “shouting at the Devil” that she missed the subtle, sexy, bad-boy in my cassette player. I might have been busted for trying to dress like Wendy & Lisa, but they never quite caught on to the man who was up onstage, leading the Revolution in purple and a ridiculous amount of lace for any man, even in the 1980s.
Prince was part of the soundtrack of my high school, college, and young adult life. His music saw me through countless nights cruising around the streets of Huntsville, sorority date parties, and dorm “study” sessions.
I graduated law school in 1999, and Hell yeah, we played that at the Barrister’s Ball.
Then there was New Year’s eve 2000, when DiploDad was posted to Cameroon and Y2K was the boogeyman in the house, threatening to grind everything to a halt on the basis of a computer coding “error” instituted from the beginning of the digital age. For you Children of the 80s, the Y2K panic was predicated on the idea was that computers worldwide had not been programmed to calculate for the flip to 2000, and that all computers would think it was 1900, thereby plunging the entire civilized world into chaos with massive blackouts, unregulated or unavailable water supply, and no sales or distribution chains for businesses worldwide.
So here we were, a group of diplomats far from home, sitting in Yaoundé, Cameroon, where we already had problems with all of the above, fully expecting the lights to go out at midnight. And probably not go back on. So we acted like the responsible twenty-something Junior Officers and spouses we were. We planned a party – a BIG one, with lights in the palm trees, horns, tiaras that said “2000”, leis, plantain chips and “33” beer – and a big-ass sound system.
[Clock closing in on midnight]
Me: “It’s close. I’m worried.”
Diplomatte: “I kind of am myself.”
Diplomat: We already don’t have water and power half the time. What’s the big difference? Do you really think we should cut out of the party early?”
Diplomatte: “I don’t know what we should do.”
DiploDad: “I do” (turns to Marine) “You know what to do?”
Marine: “Fuck yeah, I do.”
[Cranks up stereo, “1999” blasts through the night until the last moments of 1999 roll over into 2000.]
And the power stayed on.
Prince’s passing made me feel lonely this morning like I haven’t in India for a long time. I see the traffic on my Facebook page, but I know that unless I open my windows and blast out the music, no one will be breaking the noise ordinances tonight with a tribute to the Purple One. No radio station is doing a retrospective this weekend – there will be no Prince music marathons in Maharashtra. And there’s really no one nearby, nowhere near my time zone, that I can call and share memories of that sweltering August afternoon with in the same way I could were I at home.
Even though our family motto may as well be “Let’s Go Crazy”, and the song has a certain relevance to me when I consider DiploLife, it’ll always make me a little sad whenever I hear it anymore.
Rest in peace, Prince, and next to you a small part of my adolescence.