Still from Purple Rain. Warner Bros.
All of My Purple Life
by Toni Bonitto
April 21, 2016 started out as such a beautiful day for me in Washington, D.C. However, early that afternoon, various (real) news outlets began to confirm that 57-year-old Prince Rogers Nelson had been found... not alive... at his Paisley Park home and recording studio in Chanhassen, MN. At first, it took a few beats to register... and then the tears fell. A lot of them.
Like Michael Jackson, for most of my life, Prince's musical and lyrical talents/gifts/genius, inspired, comforted, and helped shape the woman/human being I grew up to be. Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, all born in the Midwest in the spring and summer of 1958, provided the soundtrack of my childhood—my whole life, really; they became my 'Holy Trinity' of rock, pop, and soul. To lose 2/3 of that in less than a decade, and while I'm still kinda young, cuts pretty deep.
My first introduction to Prince as a kid was my mom's sister shaking her groove thing and singing along to a song on the radio. It was Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover," the 1st single from his 2nd album, 1979's Prince. Two things stayed with me; 1) how happy and free my aunt was during this expression of joy, and 2) the source of that joy; the music. I'd always loved all kinds of music, but this... this was different. And, at 9 years old, I actually understood that him wanting to be her lover, brother, mother, sister, too just meant he totally loved her and wanted to be her everything. Aww!
While I recall hearing "IWBYL" plenty of times on the radio, and seeing him perform it on the old dance show, American Bandstand, that was about as far as it went. My parents were a bit "over-protective" when it came to me, their first-born, and what their little girl was exposed to. It wasn't until high school in 1985 that I would finally get to learn about and finally hear all that I had missed from The Purple One (much to my dad's chagrin!).
One of my oldest, dearest childhood friends, Maya, has a brother 11 years our senior who had all of Prince's albums. My parents didn't let me see his first movie, Purple Rain, b/c of the R rating, so, Maya lent me the soundtrack on cassette. My subsequent gushing about the music, and about how cute Prince was [thank you, MTV and various teen magazines], was proof enough for Maya that I'd been successfully converted. She then made cassette copies of everything for me; For You (1978), Prince (1979), Dirty Mind (1980), Controversy (1981), 1999 (1982), Purple Rain (1984), and Around the World in a Day (1985). Song, after song, after song coming through the headphones of my Sony Walkman was pure aural pleasure—and thus began the journey into all things purple (purely coincidentally my favorite color).
Over the years, music, videos, and movies [Purple Rain (1984), Under the Cherry Moon (1986), Sign o' the Times (1987), Graffiti Bridge (1990)] continued to deliver the joy first glimpsed as a child. I felt a deep connection to many of his lyrics and how he, as an artist, viewed love, life, and the world. I also appreciated how completely free he was. That level of freedom was something I often longed for, but for many reasons, felt like I couldn't be... thankfully, just hearing him/his message was enough of an inspiration to get through whatever I was going through.
Front of one of my Lovesexy tour t-shirts and Love/Peace earring from 1988. Lovesexy tour program cover.
My first Prince concert wasn't until October 1988 at a Madison Square Garden stop on his Lovesexy tour. I begged my parents to let me go with my friends, and, thankfully, they gave in. I still have my program, ticket stub, t-shirts, mirrored heart & peace sign earring, pins, and a few blurry photos of him on stage taken on that magical night from the "nosebleed seats." They are among many treasured items I have amassed over the last 28 years since that first show. Yesterday, more items were added; a sterling silver love symbol ring; a silk-screened tee and giclée print of 2 different "Pop Hybrid" Prince art works by Seattle-based artist, Troy Gua; a program from Prince's final tour, Piano & A Microphone; and on its way is a pewter love symbol pendant by the jewelry maker, Marty Magic, that Prince had create for sale at Paisley Park.
While I bought every album he released as soon as it came out, as fate would have it, I wouldn't get to see him perform in person again until the Musicology tour began in March 2004. To "catch up," I caught 5 of those shows in NY and CA, and the experience fed my soul every time. During my 4th Musicology show (1 of 3 nights in a row my friends and I did at Madison Square Garden in July 2004), I had two 2nd row seats right next to the stage thanks to being a member of his NPG Music Club (NPGMC). A small crowd from the back swarmed and pushed in front of my friend and I as the band began to play a certain fan favorite. There was one hiccup: as Prince began to sing, his mic died. You could see he was not happy... he tossed the mic away with his right hand and reached out with his left, toward the opposite end of the stage, as a new one immediately came sailing thru the air from the crew that he caught with such ease—like he knew it was [better be] coming. Talk about a well-oiled machine!
When the wave finally receded, Prince started to walk away and my friend nudged me to move up before it was too late. Prince saw me, came back and reached down to hold my hand as he sang part of one of my absolute favorite songs of his to me: "Nothing Compares 2 U." It's a sad but lovely break-up song. Yes, it is the one Sinead O'Connor made famous, but Prince's version is sweeter... more tender. The friend with me that night, Jason, just happened to be an ex-boyfriend. During one of our break-ups (like 10 years prior), my friend Carla took me to play pool somewhere in the Village to try to take my mind off it all. Guess what song was in the jukebox. I think I drove everybody in that joint crazy b/c I had plenty of quarters on me and must have played it 6 or 7 times while we were there! Thankfully, the big biker dudes said nothing to the tiny trying-not-to-cry girl. Anyway, it was the most surreal moment of my life at the Garden to be simultaneously held by the 2 men who will be forever associated with that special song [who also share a birthday, June 7th], as its creator sang to me.
In addition to all of that weird, cosmic/fated stuff, there's one kind of funny thing from that moment that I will always remember. My paternal side has a lot of musicians. I took various dance & music lessons as a kid, but reluctantly gave up guitar b/c I couldn't take the terrible callouses I kept getting from the strings. After the show, and after some of the shock of holding hands with Prince had worn off, I realized something: Prince had been playing guitar longer than I'd been alive, but the skin of his hands were newborn baby soft! It was beautifully bizarre—I ended up wondering what hand cream he used, or if he had daily hand massages & manicures or something.
Over the years, various friends and I would travel wherever, whenever we could to attend his concerts and independent fan events; D.C., Chicago, San Jose, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, etc. There is a huge [huge...] international community of Prince fans, and I have made friends from all corners of the globe thanks to the unifying thread that has been his music, which was often facilitated by his ability to bridge it successfully with technology.
In early 2001, I saw an article in the newspaper about Prince's upcoming NPGMC shortly before it was to officially launch on February 14, 2001. I didn't care that people were still a bit unsure about the safety of e-commerce, I immediately signed up and sent the membership fee. Many Prince fans probably know that NPGMC wasn't Prince's first foray into the World Wide Web; sites like 1996's thedawn.com, and 1998's 1800NewFunk.com, www.emale.com and love4oneanother.com preceded it, along with chat sessions in the early days of America Online (AOL).
In the late '90s/early '00s, my career in Web Development was just beginning, and I was always in awe of and inspired by his webmaster Sam Jennings' amazing work on Prince's websites, especially NPGMC. Before I had the pleasure of meeting Sam (who DJ'd monthly "Prince Night" parties at the Berlin night club in Chicago for about a decade), I sent one of the NPGMC Admins a PM [private message], in 2004 I think, and basically gushed about how great the site was and that I was SURE they could enter and win The Webby Awards. I don't know who replied, but they thanked me, and as for the Webby said, "not yet..."
Sam Jennings at the 2006 Webby Awards; Facebook
Of course, my geeky, purple li'l heart was beyond thrilled when they won the Webby in 2006 in the Celebrity/Fan category, and Prince won their Lifetime Achievement award for his innovative work pioneering music websites and online distribution channels. The "not yet" came to mind a couple of days after his passing as I was reading an article about how meticulous Prince was in preparing to share his music; if he didn't feel it was ready yet, it was NOT getting released.
Prince at the 2006 Webby Awards; webbyawards.com. Prince in 2015, with 2006 Webby Awards on new piano, "Lyrica;" Facebook
Sometimes it boggles the mind that so many don't know much about his music past Purple Rain, his charitable works and activism (civil, social, and artist rights (Billboard, NY Times); honored by the NAACP in 1997 and 2005, and inclusion at the newest Smithsonian museum later this year), or how long he's been a part of and his contributions to the digital age. As many may have seen in the Van Jones interview on CNN, via The Dream Corps, generous, modest, rock star Prince was actually behind national initiatives like #YesWeCode, #GreenforAll and others to improve the opportunities for and lives of kids/people of color/those in low-income areas. As a "Professional Nerd" myself, YesWeCode's mission really speaks to my heart ~"The #YesWeCode initiative targets low-opportunity youth and provides them with the necessary resources and tools to become world-class computer programmers.I wish there was time to get into every wonderful experience Prince and his music afforded me, list all of the ways he impacted my life and inspired me—but then I'd be writing forever 'cause I don't think that'll ever end. As millions of others and I learn what it's like to live in a world without new creations from this prolific artist, I hope that we continue to honor his legacy of music (the U.S. Library of Congress has logged nearly 500 copyrighted titles under his name), and spirit of humanitarianism and Love4OneAnother.
By learning this highly valuable and relevant 21st century skill, these young people are shifting the trajectory of their futures and transforming their relationships with their communities and their country."
More on Prince
- NPG Underground NPGMC-member run Prince community
- Third Thursday in April Prince discography and lyrics for all official 39 album releases since 1978
- PRINCE: IN MEMORIAM - FAT MAN ON BATMAN 041 Kevin Smith and Marc Bernardin (YouTube)
- Prince Reflection: Spike Lee, Questlove, and more remember Prince | Panel 2016 Billboard (YouTube)
- Prince So Cool, Ain't Nobody Bad Like Him The Greene Space/New York Public Radio's Livestream panel
- Story Time: Working with Prince Shameless Maya, Photographer (YouTube)
- Paisley Park: Recollections of Working for Prince Marc Doty, Automatic Gainsay
- Storyville 2: Questlove Tells The Full Story Of The Time Prince Replaced Him w/ 'Finding Nemo'! (animated) Okayplayer
- How Prince revolutionized the Internet according to the webmaster who helped him do it Washington Post
- Poor Lonely Computer: Prince's Misunderstood Relationship With The Internet NPR Music
- Prince & the Internet A conversation between: Anil Dash and Prince's webmasters: Sam Jennings (Love4OneAnother.com, 1800newfunk.com, NPGOnlineLTD.com, NPGMusicClub.com, 3121.com); Scott Addison Clay (Lotusflow3r.com); Dave Meyer (3rdeyetunes.com)
- Music and the Brain's Reward and Bonding Systems: Two reasons Prince was truly a part of us Neuropsychologist, Rhonda Freeman Ph.D., Psychology Today
- To Be Yourself Completely: The Collective Grief of Losing Prince Siri Liv Myhrom, OnBeing.com
- When Doves CryWhy the Lost Child Deeply Grieves the Loss of Prince Toshia Humphries, SoberRecovery.com
Trekkie, Poet, Patron, Muse, Ally, Native New Yorker, Professional Nerd, Toni Bonitto honed her web development and social media skills in the non-profit sector and now works as an Innovation Specialist [and occasional blogger/editor] in Washington, D.C.
SEE THE OTHER ARTICLES IN OUR PRINCE TRIBUTE
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