Today my all time favourite artist died.
Six weeks ago I got to watch him swagger onto the stage, back lit and triumphant, his presence filling the room until the air was viscous with awe and aura.
This was his first and last time in New Zealand. In between improvised major chords, he promised that he would come back. We cheered and breathed him in, ahead of me a retiring-looking man in a corporate suit raised his hands in hallelujah, swaying, overcome in the moment.
I am incredibly lucky and grateful that I’ve seen the two artists who most fill me with reverence; Prince for his musical genius and Patti Smith* for her transcendent words. But while I discovered Patti Smith as a late teen, my love for Prince has been life-long.
I fell asleep to his music on a children’s plastic cassette player from age three. I had mix tapes made for me by my mother and her friends (who were in their early twenties in the late 80’s) and his album Controversy was my most-loved.
Years later I remember being asked at school who my favourite singer was, and knowing at age nine that it was the gender-bending, falsetto-surpassing Purple Man. I knew the other kids would think it was embarrassing mum music, so I muttered “Smashing Pumpkins” as if I knew who they were.
Stand up everybody, this is your life
Let me take u to another world, let me take you tonight
You don’t need no money, you don’t need no clothes
The Second Coming, anything goes
Sexuality is all you’ll ever need
Sexuality – let your body be free
I think, partly, I am who I am because of Prince. His raw sexuality that conformed to no gender and apologised for nothing, attracted me when I first started to feel attracted to anything at all. He was memorizing, he was beautiful. Wasn’t I meant to like ‘handsome’ men? I supposed so, but this person who declared “I’m not a woman / I’m not a man / I am something that you’ll never understand” was the hottest thing in my world.
Looking back now as a queer woman, it makes a lot of sense. I owe a huge thanks to his frequent and explicit assertions that sexuality was good, for helping me avoid tearing myself to shreds over a crush on a person that was both a luxurious femme and an oil-greased, thrusting guitar god.
I like ’em fat
I like ’em proud
Ya gotta have a mother for me
Now move your big ass round this way
So I can work on that zipper, baby
Listening to Get Off as a teenager when his more sexual lyrics didn’t go right over my head, I felt validated and desirable as my chubby, confident self. In the early 2000’s, before Drake, Meghan Trainor and Nicki Minaj sang about hot fat ladies, this was the only song I’d heard that talked about me being beautiful. I’d heard Baby Got Back, but I didn’t have an itty bitty waist, so I was out.
Now you say
God made you
God made me
He made us all equally
I confuse the hell out of people as a spiritual and somewhat religious person with a love of all things sex and sexuality. But it never seemed strange to me that a love of God can co-exist with, maybe even manifest as, exploring pleasure with myself and others.
I wasn’t until I lay sipping wine in a consoling, candle-lit bath tonight while listening to Prince’s back catalogue, that something clicked when Controversy played.
I’ll leave you with these lyrics.
Our Father, who art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those
Who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever and ever
Love Him, love Him baby
Listen, people call me rude
I wish we all were nude
I wish there was no black and white
I wish there were no rules
*If Patti Smith dies this year I’m becoming a woeful woodland hermit.