In the mid-‘80s, when I’d get home from school, my parents were still at work. Sometimes I’d eat cereal and watch TV or get on the phone with friends. But very often I’d pull out Prince’s 1999 and play “D.M.S.R.” on the family turntable and dance across the dark brown wall-to-wall carpet in my living room, using the staircase landing as a stage. I gave Purple Rain its due, too. I mean, it was the ‘80s; who didn’t? But “D.M.S.R.” was my jam, and I played it over and over and one more time after that.
I only danced in my living room when I was alone, not because I was shy — I love dancing, and I’m good at it — but because it was like a meditation that I didn’t know I was doing. It was me creating a space where I could be my authentic self and let it all out, long before I could put words to what I was doing.
My parents were music lovers who bought records all the time, including those Prince albums, which I still have. Whether they intended to or not, they raised me to love music, too. The TV got turned off at dinnertime, and the stereo got turned on. We listened to music in the car; there was a radio at every picnic. They gave me my own radio-cassette player combo and, later, a mini-stereo.
Back then I spent my allowance and babysitting money on cheap makeup, clothes, roller skating and music. But I didn’t buy vinyl; I bought tapes because I could bring those into the privacy of my room.
When I found Prince’s Around the World in a Day on cassette in a record store, I didn’t know any of the tracks except “Raspberry Beret.” That intrigued me. I knew my friends and parents didn’t know the songs either. That intrigued me more. So I bought it and brought it to my sanctuary.
I fell in love. Around the World in a Day felt different, outside. It comforted me even though I wasn’t in pain. I didn’t start wearing flouncy blouses and purple coats with outrageous shoulder pads. (I don’t even wear purple.) What did happen, without a declaration, without my typical teenage obsession that would burn hot and bright and be just as quickly extinguished, was that I veered from liking Prince to something much deeper.
After all these years and so many albums, house parties, breakups, make outs, concerts and finding a tight-knit group of friends who feel the same connection to that funky 5’2” musical genius, I couldn’t look at a self-portrait without seeing Prince’s influence and tracing it back to those afternoons in my living room and those nights alone with Around the World in a Day.
That album continues to sit somewhere deep within me. “Pop Life” reminds me of life as a party girl, which wasn’t always pretty. “Tambourine” is just as sexy as Prince. “America” took on a new dimension after terrorists attacked my city: it was the first song my old roommate played at her regular DJ gig a few weeks post 9/11. And it felt exactly right. We’ve had our share of problems here, but please bless us with freedom, love, joy and peace.
When it was finally, painfully confirmed that indeed Prince had passed, I did what most of we longtime fans did: I turned to his music. I went right to Around the World in a Day and bee-lined to “Condition of the Heart.” That piano-heavy, building-then-crashing, electrifying intro has been one of my favorites since lying in my dark Upstate New York bedroom so long ago, listening to Prince tell me a cautionary tale of how love is bound to break my heart. But it was too late. I was already in love, and now I am brokenhearted.
(Graphic: Helen Jane Hearn/TueNight)