In the dark of a sweat-soaked night, poured into a pair of jeans with zips at the ankles, a half shirt riding my midriff, I stood. With other uncoupled girls, backs against the cool tile wall, I listened as the unmistakable guitar notes of Purple Rain echoed through the cafeteria.
As a young teen, Purple Rain was a song for fetishes. It was the song you fantasized to, the one where the boy you had been following between locker clangs and lunch tray thumps all semester strode over to ask you to dance. That long, guitar strum anthem was four and half minutes in which to bury your nose in the scent of boy crush. Ten if they played the album version.
Prince, like the smell of Drakkar Noir and Aqua Net, the stickiness of bubble gum lip gloss and the snap of grape Bubblicious, was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence. His music was there, new and adult. For many of us Darling Nikki was the musical equivalent of Judy Blume’s book, Forever. A song which you knew was down and dirty without knowing how you knew. That song sounded like lust. It sounded illicit and secret and thrilling and as teens, our parents had no clue we were grinding to those notes until Tipper Gore came along and ruined everything.
Prince’s music was accessible enough to land in the Top 40, but edgy enough to make you squirm. For a young teen, his music was dirty. It was sexy. It was raw and lust and moan and grind. It was music to make out in a dark corner of the cafeteria to. It was boy straining at the crotch of his jeans music. Music that made your pulse throb with longing.
For a long time Prince found the perfect balance between commercial and cool. Androgynous, high-pitched and unabashedly sexual, he was the 80s answer to the 70s Bowie. Flamboyant enough to appeal to the fringes and talented enough to wrap the mainstream around his little finger. Prince was the man who made singing about a sorbet colored hat sound cool, the one who got away with singing about condoms on Casey Kasem’s radio show.
As adults my husband and I still listen to Purple Rain from time to time. We still know all the words to When Doves Cry. I can still do the finger gestures to I Would Die 4U as if I were dancing in a circle in a high school cafeteria, watching the boy I crushed on out of the corner of my eye, praying he noticed enough to ask me to dance.
For me, Prince will always be the music playing at the moment you understand what the adults are talking about behind their hands. The moment you realize the throbbing and the pulsing and flutters mean something. When the Drakkar Noir mixes just a little too well with the scent of flesh and male and the hum of your very self sings as high some of his notes.
It was the perfect soundtrack for the long walk from childhood to adolescence, a low thrumming baseline of lust which made you sing and wonder and feel those notes down below your belt.
Standing here now at forty-five, at the crossroads of yet another turn of life, his death has brought me full circle. But I will never be able to hear the opening strains of Purple Rain without feeling like a girl on the cusp of something new, something exciting, something they tell you is wrong but is oh, so right.