|A purple flower for Prince|
His stunning musicianship and prolific songwriting, his showmanship and overt sexuality, all of it felt so electric, so alive. But I feel the loss because of his vulnerability, which seeped through his every performance. Also because all of him - the whole package - is linked in my mind to younger days and my first encounters with Prince in the 1980s.
It all goes back to Ben and me visiting our friends Peter and Kathy in their tiny cottage in Hull, Massachusetts. It was 1982. The vegetable garden was bigger than the house itself and Peter played for us the 1999 album. Prince, he said, was playing all the instruments. As we listened we couldn't believe it. We were immediately hooked.
We were living in New York. I was working at NBC and Ben was doing construction for our friend Frank. A little bit later, I got a job at the New Yorker. We'd been living in an apartment in Crown Heights - not the coolest of neighborhoods (except on Labor Day when they had a massive carnival parade). We were living in the middle of a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood, which had little in terms of ambiance, but everything we wanted in terms of light and space.
Fortunately we found other kindred spirits. Our upstairs neighbors were muralists - Tim and Andrea Biggs, and soon they became our best friends. We went everywhere together - to art galleries and parties, to gigs at the Ritz - and we sat up late into many an evening talking about life and politics and art and music and everything under the sun.
Our friend Frank was our life line - he had a loft in Chelsea, which he had renovated from scratch. We would hang out with Frank and his girlfriend Peggy along with Tim and Andrea and our friends Bronwen and Felix, and Frank's best friend Giancarlo - also a struggling actor. And there was also our friend Rob, another struggling actor.
When Purple Rain came out, Ben and I immediately went to see it. The film itself didn't interest me much, but I was totally bowled over by Prince's performance of Purple Rain at the end.
Meanwhile, my brother Robert's band Til Tuesday was about to have its hit single Voices Carry. They had signed with Epic. This was our life and things seemed to be happening.
Then Ben got a job in the Foreign Service and that was the end of our New York life. We moved to DC and then to Caracas, Venezuela and beyond.
But Prince continued to be the background music of our lives. In Caracas we got his album Parade and played it incessantly in our enormous penthouse apartment underneath the Avila mountains. When I hear it, it brings back the terra cotta tiles, the view of the mountains, our beloved dog Stjohn, us expecting our first child and this whole new world we seemed to have created for ourselves.
When we came back to the States on home leave, along with our newborn daughter, we stayed with my parents in Brookline, Massachusetts. My sister Stephie had her hair in a punk rock style - dyed blond. My brother's band Til Tuesday was all over MTV along with Sinead o Connor singing Nothing Compares to U -another Prince song. Having been overseas, I had never heard it. "Oh," said my father Derek, when the song came on, "here's that lovely Irish girl..."
This is what I remember when I remember Prince.
Now of course we're all grown up. Tim passed away and Andrea still lives in New York. Our friend Rob runs a theatrical salon in Park Slope. Frank and Peggy are still together with two grown sons. Felix lives in Park Slope as a producer and songwriter. Peter has happily remarried after many years alone, as Kathy died very young. Bronwen lives and works in Maine. And Giancarlo? Well, he became a star.
My kids (and there are three of them now) are the ages we were then. But somehow in my mind, Prince remains the same. In my mind, he didn't age. To me, he was eternal.