I think it’s fair to say that back in the early 80s, there were two kinds of people: Michael Jackson fans and Prince fans.
In my youthful mind, MJ was nice, sweet and safe, and so I rejected him. Prince, on the other hand, better symbolized my teenage rebellion. Prior to Purple Rain, Prince was considered an outsider, a sexual deviant and a “freak.” People thought he was both gay and a sexual predator of women.
My mom could’ve have easily banned him from my musical playlist. But she didn’t. She didn’t bat an eyelash while I sang “Erotic City” and “Soft and Wet” at the top of my lungs, not knowing what the hell I was singing about. One time she asked me to get off couch and do some chores and I told her, with the most sincerity, that I could not because I was busy “visualizing” the video for “17 Days.”
She also could’ve protested when I covered literally every wall in my bedroom with Rolling Stone and Right On! magazine covers. Or when I decided to put the infamous poster of him in the shower on the ceiling right above my bed.
Instead, Mom gave me the room to let my musical tastes and, hence, my imagination run free. She didn’t suppress my sexual curiosity or make me feel badly for having desires.
The ultimate test of her parental patience and loyalty came in the form of a concert featuring Prince, The Time and Prince’s proteges, Vanity 6. I beggggged my mom to take me. Instead of outright rejecting my request, Mom decided to play hardball. “I’ll take you to the Prince concert, if you win me tickets to see Chaka Khan,” she bargained.
You know what happened, right? I spent that night dialing the radio station like a crazy person until I was the right caller. Mission: Accomplished. I was going to see My Boy in person. I was 12 years old.
The night of February 13th was bitter, cold and snowy but you couldn’t tell me nothing as Mom and I made our way to the D.C. Armory, which was basically a giant warehouse with some chairs. She allowed me to run toward the stage during the performances and I had to check in with her between acts. Vanity 6 came out on stage in a full set of lingerie. Prince humped the bed during his performance of “Do Me, Baby.” It was no place for a child. What I lacked in direct adult supervision, I gained in confidence and navigational skills. I roamed the armory like a champ and, from the floor, waved my arms in the direction of my mother so that she could see that I was OK. In retrospect, I don’t know what either of us was thinking.
Mom was my Road Dawg a year later when I begggged her to take me to see “Purple Rain” at a movie theater in Georgetown. This time she didn’t play any games. She eagerly bought the tickets and did The Bird right along with me in the aisle.
I wore a pair of lavender high top Chucks nearly everyday in the 10th grade. I spent what little money I earned on albums, posters, and buttons. Over time, this independence spread into other areas of my life, including my hairstyles, my resistance to all things “girly girl,” my hatred for the Washington Redskins despite growing up in Northern Virginia, and my desire to go to college out of state. Through it all, my mom supported me and provided transportation when needed, and gave me money whenever she could.
Prince, of course, was more than a celebrity crush for me. My obsession with him really mirrors my journey of self discovery. In Prince, I found an individual who dared to break boundaries, who was original, and who spoke his own truth. He sharpened my critical thinking skills and his inspiration can be found in my teaching pedagogy, my managerial skills and my decision to shop at thrift stores. Perhaps only Michael Corleone has a greater influence.
I am grateful to my mother for nurturing this relationship, and subsequently, for nurturing my personal growth. She will forever be the Tricky to my Christopher Tracy.
In memoriam of Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958-2016.