That One Time When I Sang On Prince’s Stage, In Front of His Band, and In Front of His Audience
you don’t stand in Prince’s shoes. not just because you and he have different-sized feet, but you have also lived different-sized lives.
30 days ago, i was just an admirer of his music.
30 years ago his songs had been my babysitter, and mood-setter — a guiding light. he taught me intimacy. you know, how hiphop helps some of its listeners to find their grounding — their balls? well, as a teen, Prince’s pop-art helped me find intimacy. in my imaginings, in moments alone with other teen-aged girls, and in the way he interacted with the women in his music videos.
but all of those lessons were overwhelmed by a glimpse inside the birth of his work.
i spent a weekend with 5 people who know a fuller range of Prince, the person, than anyone else. this band was his family. and like any other — it is intimate with itself, but yearns for the intimacy of new encounters. one disconnected from the deepest circumstances; and uncritical.
so, i was welcomed in with a love and wanting.
as you sit and talk with people who tell stories about Prince, pre — commercial success, it weighs on you…that this was a man who lived a life most people — even those who say they love him most — will never comprehend. the greatest part of an iconic figure of modern western culture is an unseen mist that floats around in an, otherwise, empty fishbowl. this fishbowl was home to the careers of a group of people. the most prominent of whom, besides Prince himself, have asked me to meet them here, in Victoria, British Columbia, to stand in front of them and their audience….and sing…as Prince had once done, in remembrance of him.
i have not rehearsed with the band. i have only listened to recordings of previous performances with another singer, Stokley Williams. he, himself, an outstanding musician and performer. so, i have spent the previous 30 days interpreting someone else’s masterful interpretation of a master; all the while reminding myself to be myself. not an easy thing to do, but right up my alley.
i awoke saturday morning and strode down to soundcheck with the band. the first person i met was keyboardist, Matt Fink (Dr. Fink). he struck me as a guy you’d delight in watching as he broke new sound, and whose mind was always manipulating gadgets even when his hands weren’t. i asked him if i’d correctly recognized the shadow of pianist, Bill Evans, in his synthesizer solo from the song ‘Head’; off Prince’s 1980 album, ‘Dirty Mind’. he was impressed with the question, but his answer shall remain a secret.
the next introduction was to drummer, Bobby Z. as cool as the nighttime temperature of a running brook — he seemed present and pleased to see me. his was a steady kind of personality, befitting the rhythmic (and maybe emotional) anchor of a band. he was a gentle man, there from the beginning; who’d undoubtedly absorbed his fair share.
i’d met Wendy Melvoin, Brown Mark, and Lisa Coleman the night before, on the plane ride over to Victoria from Seattle. guitarist and bassist, respectively, Wendy and Brown would allow me to share front of stage with them. it’s an interesting dynamic amongst performers at the front of a stage. life positions you there, and then the position works on your life. and you spend much time trying to see around this blockade. a filter made of your ambitions and attached to the closer interaction you have with the audience than the band members behind you. you peak around this to keep an eye on normalcy. the backline of any band are, superficially, its most rational — while the frontline, its jumpiest. Wendy and Brown are the bands sharpest tongues; because that’s who they are and that’s who the band needs them to be. they are also, easily, its most sensitive, loving, and open personalities. these two are lightning rods — and i enjoyed the thrill of exchanging with them.
Lisa, keyboardist and deceptive comic, is as sweet a musician as there is. ethereal and enchanting, both intellectually and physically. she looked at me several times as if she knew me, or was asking me a question. i assume it is easier for her to manage a person’s admiration for that part of her she puts into the work, rather than of her. i could listen to her play all day.
the minute i take the stage at soundcheck, i realize i will not be able to dance the way i had planned. so, i went to plan B: i would stand and deliver. i would just sing the songs — the way i would have if Prince asked me to show him what i’d learned. because, the past 30 days had taught me that there were much more than 30 years between Prince’s best songs and me. there was a dedication to never failing. failing what? failing HIS standards. those standards are impossible for me to know, or for me to satisfy or fail. those standards were set by him to insure HIS survival. like all daring people, he was entrenched in the impression of all that happened to him — the best and worst times. and as these are the breathtaking moments, revisiting them is our addiction. we are both terrified of drowning and committed to drowning ourselves, in order to conquer the fear.
the best i could do was dive in, and give my heart and soul to 30 days of preparation, to meet MY standards for survival. and, i did.
i laid waste to those fears.