Day 20: Calling up that shrink in Beverly Hills

Remembering Prince Rogers Nelson

The day Prince died, I quickly wrote for The Telegraph this piece on attending the first of his last two shows (same day, back-to-back shows).

I had to bang it out quickly, which I’m not used to doing for professional publication. I’m happy with it, except for the phrase “the universe had given us a special gift.” Forget the clichéness of it. I don’t think or talk that way. But we did feel very lucky.

That piece is probably partly responsible for getting me to start writing personal reflections again, although I really didn’t intend this month’s posts to be quite so introspective. Let me just add a little early personal history to what I wrote for The Telegraph.

I came late to my appreciation for Prince.

I was almost 13 when Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out, and I became a huge MJ fan. My Jackson fandom was only slightly less obsessive than my Star Wars fandom. I still have multiple large containers of Star Wars paraphernalia (almost all of it unopened, natch) sitting in my basement. Beside them is a container of Michael Jackson (and Jacksons, Jackson 5, Jermaine, Janet, LaToya and, I think, even Rebbie) items.

When awards season rolled around in 1984, my silly teenage brain thought I had to choose between Michael Jackson and everyone else. I particularly disliked Prince and The Police, as they were Jackson’s main “competition.” (I’m still not a Police fan, although Synchronicity is pretty great. It just took me years to recognize it.)

I was also a little offended by and afraid of Prince. I grew up a Nazarene PK (preacher’s kid). Nazarenes aren’t fundamentalists (generally speaking), but they are rather socially conservative. At that point, proper Nazarenes had officially boycotted all movies for decades, and they still don’t smoke, drink or dance socially (formal performance is okay).

Prince’s sexual references were beyond the pale. Of course, that also added some intrigue, especially when he incorporated religious references (even before he became a Jehovah’s Witness). While his lyrics weren’t so over the top as to be verboten, I didn’t dare let myself like his music too much. I didn’t feel like much was forbidden during my youth, but some things were wise and some not. Prince’s music fell into the not.

One particular Prince memory that stands out was from when I was 15 or 16. I was in a statewide church choir. We travelled across Georgia, performing in various churches and staying with local congregants.

In one rural town (I forget where), I was staying in one nice couple’s house with fellow chorister Aaron. The hosts’ son was away at college, and I was staying in his room. Aaron was next door. The father told us how proud his son was of his relatively new stereo and that we were free to use it. (I’m not sure why it wasn’t at college with him.)

The son had a cassette tape of 1999. I was well acquainted with the hits, but I hadn’t listened to the whole album. So Aaron and I stayed up late immersing ourselves in the masterpiece. At some point, a lyric caught my attention. Neither of us could quite make it out, but it sounded dangerous.

I can’t remember what it was. I wish I could say it was the bit about looking for the purple banana before they put us in the trunk, because not understanding that bit would be understandable. But that wasn’t it. It wasn’t something that could be construed as “naughty.” Whatever it was, it struck us as potentially blasphemous or at least irreligious.

We kept rewinding the tape to try to make out the words. Rewinding, over and over again. Until the tape got caught. In this stereo that made the son so proud.

We struggled to extricate the tape. After trying for a while, we locked the door. We didn’t want the parents walking in while we were trying to fix things. We tried for hours. Eventually, we drifted off to asleep. The next morning, the mom came to wake Aaron and me. In the same room, when we were assigned two, and behind a locked door. We were too innocent (and not homophobic enough) to think much of that. And we were too occupied with our guilt.

We didn’t have the guts to tell the family what happened. Instead, we told our choir director later that morning, offering to pay to fix the stereo (and the damaged cassette). He told the family, and apparently they took it well. We never got a bill.

So my Prince memories are bookended by cringeworthy early memories and a bittersweet, unknowing goodbye. The CD that Leila and I got at that final concert stop is still in the CD player in our car. We don’t listen to it much because we don’t listen to CDs much. I’ve listened more to 1999 and others from earlier in his catalog, streamed from my phone. Still, I’m not looking forward to the day when we finally eject that CD.

(L) The drive-by wave. (R) The stage. We weren’t allowed to take photos once Prince came out. Apparently, I’m still too much of a rule follower.
“Let’s Go Crazy”
By Prince
Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called “life”
Electric word, life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The afterworld
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll-Be-Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the afterworld
In this life
You’re on your own
And if de-elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy (Punch a higher floor!)
If you don’t like
The world you’re living in
Take a look around
At least you got friends
You see I called my old lady
For a friendly word
She picked up the phone
Dropped it on the floor
(Ah-s ah-s) is all I heard
Are we gonna let de-elevator bring us down?
Oh, no lets go!
Let’s go crazy
Let’s get nuts
Let’s look for the purple banana
Until they put us in the truck, let’s go!
We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s cause
We’re all gonna die
And when we do (When we do)
What’s it all for (What’s it all for)
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door
Tell me, are we gonna let de-elevator bring us down?
Oh, no let’s go!
Let’s go crazy
Let’s get nuts
Look for the purple banana
Until they put us in the truck, let’s go!
C’mon baby
Let’s get nuts!
Let’s go crazy!
Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?
Oh, no let’s go!
Go (Go crazy)
I said let’s go crazy (go crazy)
Let’s go (Let’s go! )
Go (Let’s go! )
Dr. Everything’ll-Be-Alright
Will make everything go wrong
Pills and thrills and daffodils will kill
Hang tough children
He’s comin’
He’s comin’
Take me away!
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