By Michael Harriot
My sister called me a few minutes ago to see if I was OK.
Although we are 400 miles apart and talk every other day, she heard the news about the passing of Prince and knew he was my favorite artist. Not “favorite” in the way that I like the color Black and love Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but in the way that he was a demigod rock star, inspiration and personal muse. People know that about me.
If you are really a Negus who reads, you should be warned that the internet will soon be awash in thinkpieces about Prince Rogers Nelson. They will ruminate on his contribution to music, art and culture, and will all invariably end by saying something syrupy about seeing him one day in the Purple Rain.
If I believed in heaven and Peter standing at the Pearly Gates like a bouncer with a list of transgressions for which I should confess, the first will be the lie I told my grandmother (who did not allow us to play “the blues” in her house) when I convinced her to buy 1999 for me when I was in the fifth grade because I told her that Prince was an exciting, new gospel artist. Second on my list of sins will be the scam I ran on the “pay-99-cents-and-get-six-cassettes-in-the-mail.” I’ll have to explain to Peter that I really deserve angel wings, but he should understand how poor I was, and ask himself, “How else was Mike going to get all of Prince’s albums?” If our Father who art in heaven has ever heard “Sometimes it Snows In April” I’m sure he will forgive my bootlegging and lying misdemeanors.
I played that gift from my grandmother until the cassette degraded from me rewinding it and playing it over and over. After a while, I had listened to it so much, the tape just popped.
In the pantheon of great artists, the Purple One not only holds the title of the greatest Black guitarist after Jimmy Hendrix and B.B. King, but he also stands head and shoulders above the rest as one of the few icons whose legacy isn’t tainted by bullshit. When listing the deities of any category –be it music, comedy or sport, their accomplishments are always cluttered with scandals and sad declines that sometimes infringe upon the memories of the beauty they bestowed upon the world. Michael Jackson’s biography is colored by accusations of pedophilia. Mike Tyson’s prison sentence will be in the second paragraph of his obituary. Whitney Houston drowned in a bathtub overcome by cocaine. Richard Pryor’s genuis bravado transformed into an old body, ravaged by freebasing whispering in microphones from a wheelchair. My other idol–Muhammad Ali has been handicapped by Parkinsons far longer than he was heavyweight champion. It always ends badly.
Which is why I don’t cry for Prince.
Prince was perfect because he gave us himself through his art. There is no Prince sex tape. There was no TMZ footage of him punching paparazzi. He had no late night rides with transvestite hookers. Even when he appeared on late-night talk shows (like when he saved Arsenio) he eschewed trite banter with hosts and just played his damn guitar. Prince didn’t have to stunt in Coca Cola Commercials or tweet stupid aphorisms. He had music. That was enough.
We will never have to recall him biting ears in boxing rings or nodding off in heroin stupors. We don’t have to disbelieve rumors that he abused little boys or fed quaaludes to starlets in hotel rooms. We don’t have to sympathetically sit through awards shows watching him teeter across stages missing high notes. We got the greatness from him without having to endure the sad, and we still have it all.
We still have 1979, shirtless with flawless perm on the cover of the album Prince.
We will always have the-coolest-motherfucker-ever, clad in leather, cruising on motorcycle, moistening the panties of Vanity and women everywhere.
When artists had not yet decried how the music industry robbed people and before we all adopted the catchphrase, Prince “stayed woke,” went to the Grammys with the word “slave” painted on his face, told Sony to go fuck themselves and changed his name to a motherfucking symbol.
We still have Shiela E, and Morris Day, and Darling Nikki, and The Beautiful Ones.
He is the VIP, originator, founder and Hall-of-Fame member of Team Light-skinned.
Whenever I hit the last shot during a pickup basketball game or have any other mic-dropping moment, I will forever channel Prince from Dave Chapelle’s True Hollywood sketch and simply say, “Game. Blouses.”
And, although, I’ve said it before, the cockiest, ballingest statement ever uttered from a human mouth is forever recorded in the lyrics of International Lover when Prince says, “My plane’s parked right outside. Don’t you wanna go for a ride?”
Prince was sexy in a different way than anyone else had been. It wasn’t hypermasculine or effeminate. It was blatantly risque without being pornographic. Last week, while hanging with a group of friends from college, someone brought up the fact that he would be in concert soon, and every woman in the room squealed. One of them told the story about being at a Prince concert, sitting next a man, glancing over at him and realizing that he had his “Johnson” out, playing with it. I, and a few others replied:
“Yeah. I can see that.”
You shouldn’t be sad Prince is gone. If there is an invisible man in the sky who sees and plans all, you should thank him for blessing the world with 40 years of purple perfection, and then calling him home while he was still beautiful and good. We should be thankful we didn’t have to witness a tragic, shameful end to all the beauty and music he gave us. If life is indeed a game, then he won. We won. His God-given name was Prince, and he was not taken from us…
Maybe we just loved him until he popped.