A Dude Extraordinaire

I can’t get over the fact that they found an unresponsive Prince on an elevator.

An elevator.

It is completely irrational and goes against the anti-supernatural perspective I maintain. But I can’t help but wonder if Prince, when he warned us in 1984 not to let the elevator break us down, if Prince essentially told us 25 years ago how he would meet his end.

Given the lofty themes that often appeared in the man’s music, you can’t blame me for thinkin’ it.

I started digesting this news today, this news of the death today of Prince, at about 1 p.m., when sheriffs were only reporting that “someone” had died at Paisley Park. Soon, the various news agencies, first AP, then CBS, etcheterra, started verifying TMZ’s initial scoop: That the deceased was a skinny motherfucker with a high voice. A kid at work made the most obvious jokey comment, that now he really is the artist formerly known as Prince. I tried not to shoot (purple) laser beams at him with my eyes. But I probably did. Pew pew.

This is a hard one among celebrity deaths. No. It’s the hardest one. You’ve got to understand. I have spent probably a third of my life living inside of a Prince album. Having it play on the nearest sound system. Having it play in my head. Digesting the music. Absorbing the whole work. Just essentially wearing the current Prince album around like a pair of snorkeling goggles. That’s how I have spent a lot of my time.

I remember three different instances of being introduced to Prince, and I do not know for certain which came first. There was the summer in Edinboro, when Leah couldn’t stop talking about him. Or, there was the time I got the 1999 album as part of a Columbia House Record Club deal and didn’t listen to it for a long time figuring it was just some of that weird black music, and then I listened to it after I heard “Delirious” on the radio and it made me fall on the floor due to the immaculate attention to detail therein.

Or, there was the first time I heard “When Doves Cry.”

The aesthetic Prince introduced in that song, in that video, in that whole era, was stunning. The man could be elegant, he could wear lace, he could wear that HAT that covered HALF HIS FACE, and yet he could still be cooler than the Fonz. A man could wear elegance, he said. It was okay to embrace your own soft edges, he said. It was okay to appreciate the beautiful things, he said. All welcome messages to a horny, frustrated kid newly plopped in the Midwest who had no love of football whatsoever.

Prince gave a young awkward kid named Aaron a lot of hope.

And he continued to do so. Album after album. Every summer for a time, you could count on a release. It was glorious. And I have memories associated with every release from Purple Rain to Graffiti Bridge and beyond. I remember putting on the goggles and wearing them around and seeing and hearing everything I experienced through the goggles. The Batman soundtrack, or as my buddy called it, Batsexy, I associate that with biking. Lovesexy, I was in Kansas that summer before I transferred to Kent State. I kind of worshiped that album. Though I also remember hearing “Dance On” for the first time walking across campus at Ohio University, so I guess that one was with me for a long, long time. I first unboxed Sign ‘O The Times when I was in D.C. for the summer.

Prince albums are weird. Because you must listen to them a few times before they grow on you. Because a new Prince album doesn’t sound like the last one. It doesn’t sound like anything else you’ve ever heard. It’s brand new. So you sort of go, what in the world is he doing now? On the second spin, you become more accustomed to his new experiments. By the third spin, that album is ALL YOU ARE GOING TO LISTEN TO FOR THE NEXT MONTH OR TWO. Constantly. On your stereo. In your head. In your body. That’s all you’re hearing. You got the goggles on. And they’re glued to your face. You are haunted by the music. And there are no spells to help you.

Few musical artists have ever done this to me. None have done it to me as often as Prince has.

He did it most recently with his double release as a result of his reunion with the Warner Bros label. Art Official Age would have been a sublime achievement had it been Prince’s only release that year. But that it was paired with his girl-group sonic triumph PlectrumElectrum, that is something that makes this untimely death cut to the gut. It’s not like he’s lost his gift, not like he’d given up his art to send his children to private school (oh, there’s that), not like he had become Phil Collins. These two albums are masterpieces. They belong in a shelf next to any of his best, and I haven’t even listened to the Hit n Run series yet.

In his mid-50s, he still had it. He could still do it. He could still be fucking brilliant.

All welcome messages to a horny, frustrated middle-aged man newly plopped in upstate New York who friggin’ loves football.

This isn’t difficult because of nostalgia. This is difficult because he wasn’t done. Because he hadn’t lost it. Because I wanted to look forward to another spell where there’s a Prince album a year, and each one tops the last. I wanted another golden age for this golden artist. He wasn’t done. And neither was I.

I cannot begin to express to you what this artist meant to me. He is 80 percent of what music is to me. He is the content of my pop culture goggles much of the time and has occupied them exclusively much of the time.

I cannot tell you how difficult this is. What a touchstone you’ve lost if you’re a fan.

I saw him live once, during the Musicology days. He gave a brief intermission and then came back, just him and a guitar on a stool. He played a lot of favorites, heavy on Around the World as I recall. And he said to us, he said something like this, he said “you know you sang this into the mirror holding hair brush.”

And I’m like how the F did he know? F’n guy’s been spying on me all along.

He got on the elevator. The elevator tried to break him down.

He forgot to go crazy.

That’s what happened.

I am not done updating this post. I’m just tired. I’ll be back. I’m so sad.