“He’s filthy,” my Mam sneered watching him on Top of the Pops joyfully cavorting his tiny body over a woman whose face was covered by a diaphanous scarf. We were transfixed – embarrassed but curious. Growing up, Prince meant SEX. The rude word – but not in a way that we were used to, it wasn’t something written in Tippex on the laneway walls that seemed so foreign, crude and scary. It wasn’t a snot encrusted boy waggling his pee-stained crotch at you on the way home from school. It was unabashed, upfront, raw sexuality and for us trapped in an all girls’ school, trapped into the unending grimness of Catholicism where genitals, especially female ones just didn’t exist, Prince was nothing short of mind-blowing. He was like a volcanic swear word that had the power to send parents reeling.
Pop siblings Dannii & Kylie Minogue (obvs) always speak about how they were obsessed with the track Darling Nikki singing it in their shared bedroom night after night until their parents found out exactly what the lyrics were and confiscated the offending cassette. Prince was primal, yes everyone laughed in school screaming ‘Sexy Mother Fucker’ at each other and taking the piss out of his waggling arse peeping through his lemon yellow ass-less chaps at the MTV awards but there was something else at play, a drift in a sea of hormones, confounded by a doctrine of shame, let down by your body, suspicious of your peers, Prince like Madonna made it okay to think sexy, to be sexy. The guttural cry that begins the hardcore thrum of ‘Gett Off’ was almost terrifying but definitely alluring.
Although funnily enough, no-one I knew fancied Prince. Long before he became a symbol he was treated as such, an emblem of pop’s egalitarian nature, he was sexy but almost sexless just like Bowie before him he was not enshrined in that rigid state of masculinity. He flitted through the glittery universe, uncompromising and complex, diverse and intriguing, a beguiling mystery with the prettiest eyes framed by lashings of mascara and flicks of liquid eyeliner. This mystique is sorely absent in today’s pop landscape, especially where male artists are concerned. There is no fluidity, only defined roles that become dull over time due to overexposure. Get a man that can do both, so the internet meme goes. Prince wrangled guitars like Hendrix, was a vessel for the funk like the bastard son of George Clinton, surrounded himself with a family of the foxiest, fiercest females and did it all whilst twirling around in a scandalous belly top and satin bellbottoms – the epitome of NO FUCKS GIVEN. Prince was never dull, you could never catch him, never pin him down to any one thing and now he’s gone.
We are suffering from pop PTSD. This is not a drill. Bits of your childhood are falling away, secret moments; banal days with the car stereo fuzzing in and out, parties that never ended, the best of memories that are sewn together with that magical silver thread of pop music are now unravelling, released into the atmosphere.
Too many to contain:
Swinging out of a door handle aged 16, drunk on cheap Rose bellowing ‘1999’ at the worst New Years Eve party ever. Throwing chips in the air as he strolled onstage early surprising everyone and nonchalantly banged out ‘Gold’. The never-ending live outro of ‘Purple Rain’ – watching the confetti cover friends’ shoulders as I pulled them in for a hug. Putting on the full length version of ‘Controversy’ twice in a row at a party I wasn’t invited to full of people I didn’t know. Dancing behind the counter at my record shop job to ‘Little Red Corvette’, The Very Best of Prince being the only album everyone could agree on for Saturday night listening. The dance-floor call-to –arms that is ‘Raspberry Beret’, the childish pleasure of shouting ‘My boss was Mr. McGee!’ into someone else’s sweaty face. ‘Tell that cat to chill’. Knowing that ‘I Would Die 4 U’ is the only truly appropriate wedding song – you can keep ‘God Only Knows’ lads. The neighbourhood dogs called Prince. The Tom Jones cover of ‘Kiss’ that Larry Gogan would never stop playing. Someone’s Mam drunk on Bacardi sliding over the kitchen floor to ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’, the times when ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ felt like an order. The way ‘Sign O’ the Times’ could sometimes catch you off guard and deliver a sucker punch right to the soul.
These things matter. Pop matters. It matters in ways we cannot begin to process. ‘Cause in this life things are much harder than in the after world, if you don’t like the world you’re living in, take a look around you at least you’ve got friends’, he said. So hold them close, hold those memories to your heart, remember him like the tiny filthy sexy genius he was and surrender, surrender once more to the dance floor.
Photo Credit: NPG Records