The Purple One and Me (Part I)
What Prince meant to me and why he’ll never truly die.
I always knew that the day would come. I just didn’t think it would be so soon. On a Thursday afternoon in Dublin, Ireland back in late April 2016, I took the 50 minute train ride home from work as I normally would. I put my headphones on and turned up the volume.
As was the case on more train journeys than I care to remember over the last 25 years, I was listening to Prince. On this occasion, it was 1996’s Chaos and Disorder album. It’s a rockier Prince album that I hadn’t listened to in a while and I contemplated texting my Prince-loving brother, Ivan, to tell him what an underrated album it is. I didn’t text in the end, I got caught up in Chaos and Disorder as the train rattled along to tracks like “I like it there”, “The Same December” and “Zanalee”.
When I arrived at my train stop for home, my phone rang. It was my brother-in-law, Fran. “Hopefully it’s not true, but I just heard that Prince died”. I was quite relaxed about this as I’ve heard these things before. “I know he’s been sick a little over the last few weeks” I replied. “Hopefully it’s not true” Fran repeated, “Sure, I’ll chat to you later”. Less than five minutes later, I was sitting at home in front of a TV and it was true. Prince was dead. Gone.
Over the years, I’ve seen many musicians, sports stars and celebrities passing away and have been momentarily saddened. This was different though. Prince has been an integral part of my life through the most memorable years of growing up, my travels as a young adult, my great relationship with my only sibling and even my wedding day.
He’d been there for me at my lowest and highest moments in life. And as the news emerged that it looked like he had died alone in an elevator in Paisley Park, I felt even more sadness. It’s wrong. No one should die alone. And especially not Prince. It felt like a punch in the stomach.
My love affair with Prince, began in earnest in the 90’s. Although already aware of his truly classic tracks like “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain” and “Little Red Corvette” and notably the Batman soundtrack which I loved, it was “Diamonds and Pearls” that began the real infatuation. Although released in 1991, it was a concert at Dublin at the RDS in 1992 that set it all in motion.
And I wasn’t even at the gig. My brother was though and talked about it for days afterwards. He was mesmerized by the performance of Prince. The showmanship and downright funkiness of Prince lit a fire, first in my brother and then subsequently, those flames engulfed me. From there on in, we were devout fans and still are to this day (Note: My brother is a proper SUPER-FAN though!).
In September 1992, I started secondary school. A pre-pubescent teen hooked on music my parents told me I shoudn’t be listening to. They were right of course, this was Prince at the height of his raunchiness. As a 12 year old, that stuff is damn exciting though. Who am I kidding, it’s still exciting as an adult, right!
I remember spending Friday nights praying my parents wouldn’t be home until after midnight so that we could watch the video for “Gett Off” which would only be shown after 12. It wasn’t un-usual for us to schedule the video player to record from midnight on, in the hope of catching a new Prince tune too rude for normal TV audiences. By today’s standards, Prince’s released material probably wasn’t that “blue” and was certainly more innuendo and imagery than bare rears (MTV Awards aside!) like Nicki Minaj today. Still, the heart wants what the heart can’t have sometimes.
Joining the Prince brigade over 10 years into his career made for some epic binge listening opportunities that the Netflix generation of today would be proud of. Our music collection grew quickly with Sign O The Times, 1999, Parade, Lovesexy and the Batman soundtrack quickly becoming part of our household playlist. Little did we realise though that we were already the proud owners of the Purple Rain album on vinyl. My dad had won the album on a radio quiz about 8 years before then. I don’t think it had ever been played. We certainly made up for lost time.
Over the next few years, I went through school as a Prince fan. That was my thing. I had Prince pencil cases, pencils, pens and erasers which I’d purchased in the NPG Store in Camden Town in London. I wrote “Welcome 2 the Dawn” on school books and most probably, desks too. My end of year project during transition year in 1996 was on Prince: 1958–1993. Obsession, yes.
One year before that in 1995, I got to see Prince for the first time at the Point Depot in Dublin, only by that time, he was in dispute with Warner Bros. and was no longer using his Christian name, hence the date range on my aforementioned transition year project. It’s a gig I’ll never forget despite the fact that he hardly played a chart hit all night.
The music largely came from the not yet released Gold Experience album. There’s few times in life that I can remember being blown away by brand new music in a live setting. Prince delivered that night and time and time again over the next 20 years anytime I was fortunate to see him play.
I remember the NPG, Prince’s band at the time, waltzed out into the crowd about an hour before that gig in 1995. No one really knew who they where but we did. We strolled up and got drummer Michael Bland and bass player Sonny Thompson to sign our tour programmes. If it happened today, we’d have probably taken a selfie and that would have been that. The tour programme is far more sentimental now and you’ll just have to trust me on the accuracy of the memory. There’s no “pics or it didn’t happen” rules around here. Another memorabilia nugget from that faithful night is that I also still wear the free NPG t-shirt that was handed out to the first punters through the door. It certainly helped that they were only giving out XL’s. It’s like he knew I was only going to get bigger!
The second night of Prince’s 1995 Gold Experience tour in Dublin caused a lot of anguish in the O’Shaughnessy household. Largely, because I didn’t go to it as I was a teenager with no money and in truth, was grateful just to have made it to one night. My brother did go however and so began a friendly “argument” that lasted nearly 20 years!
One of the tracks on Prince’s new album was called “Billy Jack Bitch”. It’s a funk laden track with some deep basslines and horns on it. On the first night, he didn’t play it. In fact, from what I can tell, he didn’t play it all that often on the tour. However, my big Bro, returned home the following night proclaiming the encore featured the aforementioned Billy Jack Bitch. I refused to believe it. I mean point blank refused.
We had some good fun about it as we went to more Prince gigs over the years and then literally one day, decades later, my brother to say he’d got his hands on the audio from the second night at the Point. And sure enough, in all it’s glory, there was “Billy Jack Bitch”. I still get abuse for having trust issues!
The after shows for the 1995 gigs took place in The Pod in Dublin. Prince invited Bono from U2 up onstage and they performed The Cross from Prince’s magnificent Sign O The Times album. We didn’t go to that particular after-show but there’s a weird connection between Prince, The Pod and an after-show that fueled one the greatest musical days of my life in 2002 and some funny memories from that night with the NPG Music Club that will last a life time.
I am writing this for my family and I as much as anything. I really don’t want to forget some of these Prince moments that are captured only in our minds. I hope you enjoy coming along for the ride. And as the great man once sang “the ride is so smooth, you must be a limousine”
Part II will be available shortly…