I wanted to know all of his songs as quickly as possible. Without Internet or email or Shazam or a paycheck, this meant tracking stations throughout the day, when they’d play popular songs six or seven times. Coming in even half a beat late could mean screwing up hours worth of more waiting.
“Did he just say Egyptian lace?” I scribbled fast on a yellow pad of paper, most likely scavenged from a trip to my mom’s office at the community college downtown. The top line had the word ADORE in all caps and underlined. Tate shrugged and rewound. We did this repeatedly, using the opportunity to listen to the entire song again before demanding, did you get the lyrics?
He’d give up before I would, content to be immersed in the music. I wanted more order. I wanted to record a song faster, blend it with the next track better, write on the label more neatly.
I hadn’t been kissed when I first heard “Adore” or “When Doves Cry.” I was too young to see “Purple Rain,” but I saw it because Prince was black and that’s what you did. My mom joked once, “‘She’s never satisfied.’ Remind you of anybody?” An edgy riff on my grandmother, this presented an epiphany for me. I was listening to music my mom liked, and she was a grownup.
Prince was not Michael Jackson. I loved Michael Jackson and felt destined to marry him. Prince was something altogether different. I didn’t have any pictures of Prince. I didn’t try to win tickets off the radio. I didn’t know anyone who saw music acts on tour, and he wasn’t often in Bop or Teen Beat. Listening to him felt wild when I was kept on the world’s tightest leash. I needed an outlet, and was gifted one.
This was how recording became my favorite late-night activity. My grandmother might be napping in the back after a heavy meal, leaving me with rare alone time. I’d sit at The Window, taking in the dilapidated factory signs to my right, the twin towers to my left, the bridges straight ahead while awaiting for the Quiet Storm or Red Alert. I’d wonder what it was like at grown places like The Shadow, where he’d started to party. I’d imagine it was just like Purple Rain, all melodrama and funk music. I couldn’t name why I loved Prince, but later I’d know it was all of the above: summertime and drums, family and electric guitar. Summertime, heat, and beats.
I still have a skyline view, though it’s more of Brooklyn now than the city. And you can only really get a full-on view from the bathroom. But that’s all I need, really, to bring on those Polaroid flashes of summer’s dog days.
I moved out of that apartment at age 15. I’ve lost my grandma since then, and it’s easiest not to speak to Tate anymore, and of course, we all lost Prince. When I’m missing them–the memories, of when things were cool–I can start up any playlist, starting with “Adore,” and still be soothed.