Deep sigh. Here we go again.
There was a mall near where I lived as a teenager and at this mall, out in the parking lot between it and the 10, was a building called Tower Records. I know, there were lots of Towers but this was my Tower and the one where I discovered music. Not specific music, necessarily, but MUSIC. My parents didn’t listen to a lot of it as I was growing up. The only album I remember my mom playing was a Connie Francis boxed set and my dad’s coolest 8-track tape was Hot August Night by Neil Diamond (and this explains my appreciation of Barry Manilow to this day). Anyway, Tower is where I discovered that music was a thing that could speak to you and mean something and wasn’t just pleasant noise. I’d go there with my friends and spend the little money I had on records, usually whoever it was those friends were listening to since they knew about music and I didn’t.
Except one day. One day, I bought something that wasn’t as a result of a friend’s tastes. At the checkout counter was a display filled with 7″ singles pressed in purple vinyl for a song I knew nothing about by an artist I never heard of. It was the first release of When Doves Cry by Prince (b/w 17 Days). This was before Purle Rain came out and before the album was released. I played that little record again and again and again.
Prince sounded nothing like anything else I was listening to at the time. He was funky and screamed and sang in falsetto and played the meanest fucking guitar around. When Doves Cry led me to 1999 and that led me to Controversy and Dirty Mind. And then I saw Purple Rain. And that all made my head explode. Prince has been called the master of the single entendre because when he sang about sex, it was fucking sex. And, it seemed especially early on, that’s all he sang about. He sang about a lot of casual sex and cheating sex (and incest and oral and even cuckolding). Some of his most famous songs were about women who had sexual agency. They weren’t always being seduced by him. In a lot of cases, they were the ones seducing. They were the initiators. The one looking for the easy hook-up with no strings attached. In a way, he was the first to tell me the conventional trope of how men and women related to one another was bunk.
He landed in my world at the very moment I was starting to appreciate how I wasn’t like all the other boys and Prince, like David Bowie, showed me that not all the other boys were like them either. His sexuality was slippery. He sang about men and women but had enough little things dropped in along the way to make you wonder what else he’d been up to. He presented a masculine persona but his outward gender expression was plastic. I didn’t think of him as bi like I did Bowie but I also didn’t think of him as 100% straight. He showed me that sexuality was personal and didn’t have to fit in a box and that sex itself was a thing to celebrate and enjoy.
I will tell you, Prince inspired teenage me to have a lot of sex. I jacked off to both sides of the Dirty Mind cover more than once.
Lovesexy was about the time I started to drift away from Prince. The world had moved to compact discs by then and, for whatever reason, he released that album as one long track so I rarely got to the end of it (even now, the digital version on Tidal is all one chunk). He also started singing more about God which I couldn’t identify with and some of his songs seemed downright hokey (Raspberry Beret, which I like now, seemed especially bizarre to me…Old Man Johnson’s Farm?). Then he fell out with Warner Bros. and stared releasing albums on his own with no marketing. I was shocked to see that the music of his I was familiar with probably didn’t amount to more than a third of what he put out. So much to catch up on.
Prince was an inspiration to me. The way he created his own sexuality that couldn’t be compared to any other. He allowed himself to be exactly what he was. We should all be so lucky.