When Prince passed away on April 21, I knew that my next column at PopMatters would be about him. That column, “Prince: Never Stop Arguing,” is up now. Read it before reading any of what’s below.
The problem was that I didn’t know what to say. For me, trying to write about Prince has been like trying to walk around an ocean. Where do you even think about beginning? I’ve been a Prince fan since I was thirteen and first heard Purple Rain. As a young musician I was blown away by his talent, his soul, his ambition, his dedication. I traded for bootleg tapes. When my truck was broken into one night, I was more pissed about the thief taking my Paradiso live CD than I was about the shattered window. I’ve been trying to write about Prince for years, either for a PopMatters column or something else; I have a few stalled essays, one dating back to the album 3121, one as recent as last year.
At first, in the days immediately after he died, I didn’t want to write anything, either. I knew I needed to, and would, but I wasn’t ready to start going through the boxes in the attic and making pronouncements about what it all meant. I still don’t think we know what it means, really. Which is how I ended up with this essay.
What began as a typical essay evolved into a fictional story once I realized I had two different points of view (at least). Instead of trying to resolve them neatly, I wanted to just let them be. So I let them be their own characters, and as usual, they became more independent. I’m not as devoted as Clara is (though she’s not uncritical) or as nostalgic as Dorothy (though she knows, like me, that “Black Sweat” is a jam). The rest fell into place eventually. It was important that this be a dialogue, a human moment. Too often we divorce music criticism from our actual experiences listening to music, and even though Clara and Dorothy are fictional, I’ve had similar conversations about Prince and other musicians with friends, of course, and those are such valuable experiences that it made total sense as the scene and method for this response. It became the only way that made any sense.
Like I said in the author’s note–and thanks to Karen Zarker, editor at PopMatters, for suggesting that one be included–I wanted to include a not-so-subtle nod to the positive impact Prince has had and will continue to have on the LGBTQ community, folks who may have felt like outcasts until they heard and saw Prince being himself. Originally the narrator was a man, but then it switched and felt right. I was convinced to keep it when I came back to the end of the story/essay and the idea that what matters more than consensus, sometimes, is that we honor the dialogue, the give and take, since that’s where we can belong and still be our unique selves. As Bangs implied in his essay about Elvis, the worst fate is “contemptuous indifference.”