The Art of Losing: One Year Later

This was originally written a year and a day after Prince died.

Last year I was sitting quiet in a library, trying to write this thing I have in me but struggles to get out, and my phone started buzzing. I can ignore it for a while but eventually I look: Prince is presumed dead, found in an elevator alone. My phone blows up and I stop writing. I stop everything because I still can’t imagine he’s gone a year from then, now, alone myself.

I walked in the neighborhood and heard him everywhere. Everywhere.

I went tonight to the VFW in Uptown, which has changed considerably from its 80s incarnation. I’m fairly sure I voted there once way back in the day, walking past full ashtrays right below no smoking signs, our veterans more than exempt from whatever clean air act. Now it’s a dance club and bar and whatever else. I’m stamped coming in, and banded in the area with a dj.

My adolescent sexuality was burned indelibly with Prince’s songs. You could probably map me by a collection of lines set behind music that originate in his fingers and throat.

Last year I went dancing on a Sunday, pushing my way into First Avenue, ten minutes after bar close. Clouds of reefer smoke hung in the air, purple-blue and turning slowly, while the dance floor moved and moved and moved. There were couples getting well more than handsy down in the dark and movement. I like to think there are a collection of Prince babies, three months old, conceived while we worked out our grief.

I haven’t been able to deal with this anniversary in the least. I listened to Mary Lucia spin his b-sides for an hour: Erotic City and How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore and Another Lonely Christmas. I dance to Erotic City and I can’t believe its candor, its rawness.

Erotic City can’t you see
Fuck so pretty you and me.

This shit is like 17th Century religious poetry, John Donne overcome and battered by his diety, and at the same time writing of lovers and biting fleas and the silken lines of bullshit artists everywhere.

For thee, thou need’st no such deceit, 
For thou thyself art thine own bait

Any biography is autobiography.

I had this idea I would run through my favorite songs and play their personal exegesis. But I don’t think I can, not now, not on this day. This now, these words, are the fuzzing carbon dioxide left as the drink flats. Dance was the way I grieved again, working it out through my pores like sweat and a pounding bass. Working it out in the smoked end of the night, two breaths before the ember burns down and ignites the filter.

Suck it in deep and breathe it out slow. Watch it roll in the night air. That is your breath, rising. Amen.

The Art of Losing: Prince

This was first written April 22, 2016, the day after Prince died.

I first heard Prince from my neighbor and older sister in spirit Alicia. I would have been 6, 8, something like that. I think I remember 1999 coming out. Her dad, the late David Starr, had more than a thousand records, maybe more like two.

We made a project once to count them all, but I can’t remember the count, just the hot, gabled third floor, the records flipping as we worked all around the room. I always thought it was cool that she had the same last name as one of Prince’s alter egos, Jamie Starr, who he used in production credits and in a song or two.

I remember sitting in front of the record player with the liner notes all opened up in front of us, listening. He did such great liner notes: the Prince spelling and numbers, the pull-out pin-up from Dirty Mind, the Nagel-esque face from Purple Rain. All thanks 2 U and God.

Purple Rain came out when I was 10. I made Dad take me. We went downtown, to the now defunct Skyway Theater, in a Minneapolis that was as seedy as the one in the film. There was a strip club next door, and the buses rarely ran on a Sunday.

I’m feeling defensive suddenly of my father, because although Purple Rain is maybe a bit much for 10, it was absolutely defining for me. I’ve told the story of his taking me a hundred times, because I loved every single moment. I was in the same Minneapolis as Prince, with my dad, and every single frame of Prince’s musical performances are a revelation. A Revolution.

At 14, up at my grandparents’ with friends and cousins, listening over and over to the Batman soundtrack.

Quoting lines from the insane Under the Cherry Moon because all that self-indulgent weirdness was perfect, right up to the tragic end.

All of us stumbling out of Graffiti Bridge wondering the fuck had happened.

Scrounging desperately when he released and then recalled The Black Album. Listening intently to the bootleg, and understanding why he did it: all that darkness and pain. He then transmuted that all into LoveSexy, which I think is one of his most deeply spiritual works. He always worked in dichotomy: white/black, man/woman, straight/gay. LoveSexy was his uplift after the darkness of The Black Album. It’s his word for the power of God’s love.

Going to a concert in high school, disappointing and nosebleed, still jazzed to be anywhere near him.

Going to Paisley Park in the vain attempt of seeing him. Dancing.

Listening to the bootleg The Chocolate Album (I think) which was mostly released as Crystal Ball and Sign O’ The Times. There’s a song on that album called Place in Heaven, which I can’t find, which surely exists on a tape somewhere, recorded painstakingly from the vinyl. She wants a place in Heaven/ Baby U’re already there. I can hear the piano, his high, clear voice, like he is alone and speaking to me.

Purple Rain reminds me of my son Galileo’s birth, that long, exsanguinating ending playing over and over.

That one time.

That one time.

I sobbed on the street today walking through my neighborhood, listening to my neighbors out on back porches and front porches with Prince playing everywhere.

My son sang me Starfish and Coffee.

Prince was the soundtrack of my childhood and he’s gone.

He’s gone, you guys, and I am so, so sad.