Monday, April 25, 2016

Prince Died

I wanna be your lover
I wanna be the only one that makes you come running
~ Prince Rogers Nelson

Prince died, and I’m having a hard time accepting it. As I write this I am watching a Lethal Weapon marathon on AMC, eyes tearing up during movies that are sparse on sentimentality and big on guy humor, exploding cars, flying punches, and a rain of bullets.
I’ve watched hours of Prince tributes and read hundreds of FB reminiscences, but now I need space to digest this disconcerting news.
My emotions are twisted. First Michael passed in 2009. Then I woke up one day and Bowie was gone, and soon after Prince followed him. Their passing feels like the end of the Baby Boomers’ generational era. Saying their music was the soundtrack of our generation sounds cliché but it is true. And yet I understand it is the soundtrack of many generations. We can’t claim them just because they were Boomers like us.
My college days at Syracuse University put me on a path filled with music. After all, Ronald was a visual art and music student. Every Friday on work-study payday, we wandered over to Spectrum Records to buy a few albums. Ronald introduced me to music genres and musicians I didn’t know existed because I had been a top 40/movie soundtrack kind of girl before I met him in January 1976 of our freshman year. If we weren’t listening to our new albums on the stereo, I listened to him practice marimba in the basement of Crouse College, or sat in on one of his R&B band’s rehearsals, or I was in the audience watching his band play at the Jabberwocky, the college nightclub.
One of our first dates was a trip to SUNY Cortland to see Tower of Power.
I remember making love after classes in my dorm room to one of our favorite songs, Afternoon Delight by the Starland Vocal Band, number one on the pop chart in July 1976. Afterwards, spooned and turning in unison in my tiny dorm bed, the stereo playing on, we talked about our childhoods and all the things we loved about one another. It is something we still do today in a bed with plenty of room to spread out.
I can’t talk about our college years without talking about art. Ronald, his love strong and his visual aesthetic appreciative, captured my likeness in photos, acrylic, and plaster. As much as music marked our years together, his artistry captured our enduring love.
The following excerpts are from my unpublished memoir Shades of Tolerance:
Some evenings we walked down to the Con Can building where his sculpture studio was so he could work on his projects and I could read while he worked. His space was clean, swept free of plaster dust, and all his supplies fit in a neat locker. Once he took a plaster mold of my face, two short straws in my nostrils. My breath came in hollow pants, the warm plaster tingling against my skin as it tightened and dried, but he calmed me by telling me more stories as his long fingers engulfed my hands that lay crossed over my diaphragm. Then he took a plaster mold of my breasts. We laughed but I tried not to laugh too hard so the plaster wouldn’t crack, and he got serious because he didn’t want to mix up any more.
The school year soon ended, and Dad was on his way to pick me up along with my belongings to take back to Albany for the summer. The evening before Dad’s arrival, Ronald took me over to Crouse College – a huge castle of a building that housed the School of Music – where he practiced piano and marimba.
Up in the balcony of the performance space where the large organ sits center stage, we made love to the sound of melancholy chords wheezing from gargantuan pipes, an anonymous serenade made by an unknowing student, vibrating deep in our chests and amplifying my orgasm. Ronald breathed a warm, moist “I love you” into my ear, and my heart quivered. Afterward we lay in each other’s arms on the cold tile floor beneath the seats, my body shivering and pulsing, shadows tracing my pleasure, tears tracking down my cheeks in anticipation of my departure, and our lips brushing occasional kisses.

It was the disco era, and some of the music was mindless, but there was so much good music out there, too, destined to be timeless.
Prince was one of the musicians making good, timeless music. He was one of our peers, born a Gemini like me, just one year later.
His second album Prince was released in 1979, the year we graduated from college.
I hear I Wanna Be Your Lover and I remember how absolutely in love we were, committed to building our lives together no matter what other people thought about us, rebels against social convention, in the same way Prince rebelled against gender stereotyping and the music industry.
I loved his picture on the Prince album cover, androgynous, ethnically ambiguous, intense, and sexy as hell.
I played I Wanna Be Your Lover so often on our stereo, the track wore out. I remember driving my used, 1977 robin-egg-blue Ford Aspen 85 mph on 690 West to my teaching job, hoping the radio would play Prince’s song, and when it finally did, my head bobbed in rhythm to his funk fusion sound, and my heart swooned. Maybe some perceived the song as purely sexual, but not this romantic. I long for the days when love songs were achingly emotional yearning and not the graphic requests for casual sexual favors found in some popular music of today.
We spent sleepless nights in the mid-80s, wide awake and feeding hungry infants to the sound of the latest MTV music videos, too tired to party like it was 1999.
Prince’s music continued to define our generation right up until his death. His music never lost its longing and sensuality for me, just as Ronald’s and my love hasn’t waned but grown even deeper.
I appreciate the times Ronald sits behind his drum kit or when he picks up his bass guitar to knock out a few riffs. His look, a kind of intense meditation, let’s me know music is as integral as air to him. I believe that was true of Prince and many artists of our generation.
We still listen to music together, going to concerts or driving I-81 from North Carolina to New York and back again. Ronald’s iPod now contains his entire CD music library (a feat only achieved with the newest, largest device on the market that boasts it can hold 35,000 songs; we have yet to transfer his vinyl library). We sing and reminisce about what those songs mean to us, and we often meander back to our college days when love was both free and precious.
I realize, as sad as it is that Prince is no longer with us, it isn’t Prince, the person, I am mourning. I didn’t know him personally. I never spoke to him or partied with him or even shared a space like a concert hall with him. I am mourning the times and memories his music represents: the great times, the romantic times, the fun times, the sexy times, the rebellious times, and the inevitable low times, those times when doves cry, when the realization hits that life, and everything and everyone in it, is ephemeral.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

~ Prince Rogers Nelson

Ronald in a photo taken by one of his college professors. Me in one of the many photos Ronald took of me in college.

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