By Karen Withekomb
So, 2016 seems destined to be the year in which we lose the most glorious, glamorous and beloved. Perhaps some of those glittery last exits were expected, but you? It seemed unthinkable; just setting off on a tour in which, audaciously, you — the multi- instrumentalist ball of energy- were to perform with only the accompaniment of a piano, and, anyway, you were only in your fifties, still sexy as hell and rocking a new afro and round-framed shades
combo. What on Earth will we do without you, Prince?
You first appeared on my radar as a black and white photo in the NME, wearing tiny pants, legwarmers (were they actually stockings?) and not much more, beautiful, staring out of the page with something intangibly substantial in your demeanour, something genuine, something full of secret promise in a world full of floppy-fringed, fake fey indie boys.
Cut to a flatshare in Balham, sometime later and three cool girls with, respectively, aubergine, fire engine red and blue-black hair, fans of second-hand chic, Muscadet in wine bars and the latest turntables. We had the best time, a rotation of bedroom evenings more than making up for our lack of a living room and somehow, weirdly, our musical tastes came together in a strange combination of The Gang of Four, U2, Echo and The Bunnymen and….well, Prince, because you were always unique, cutting across the tribes and tastes with your quietly single-minded belief in what you produced and how you presented it. It goes without saying that we loved that fabulous looking film and you, its star, a man with exquisite and unique dandy style.
A while later, ‘Parade’ coincided with my incrementally worst break-up, that one where you’re old enough to think you’re going to get married or something ridiculous like that, and once again, your singular Prince-ness got played again and again amongst the wallowingly empathetic Smiths records.
Essentially, and in a good way, I think you were old-fashioned. Visually a cross between Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix, dancing like James Brown and the embodiment of that well-worn yet genuine trope, the life of music: the bluesman’s need to continually play, compose and the artist’s compulsion to express via the outlet of creativity. You were the perfectionist band leader from days gone by and, as surely as your own heroes, A Star.
I didn’t keep up with you, Prince, who could? I admit to following your changes in style more than your music, but you were always there in the background, a kind of comfort to be accessed when needed.
I noticed you again when, resurrecting memories of when you put those fey boys to shame, you were more truly punk than any number of posturing old farts attempting an embarrassing leap whilst wearing zebra print skinny jeans. You, yep, PRINCE, decided that instead of your fans having to develop an RSI pressing the ‘refresh’ button on their computer or having to pay hundreds of pounds to OhJeezI’llDoAnythingToGetIn , they could see you just by being a very big fan, and what very big fans do is queue up and buy a ticket. A person sells them a ticket. They hand over the cash. I can’t tell you, Mr Nelson, how impressed I was by that, and it sent out a message, too. If Prince can do it, anyone can do it. I bet they won’t, though. The way things are going in 2016, with The Grim Reaper cutting a swathe through our most brilliant talents, I predict that by December the future will be spending about £300 to see Ed fucking Sheeran in a huge, muddy field packed with utter morons in onesies or wearing fabric flower headbands. Again. So much for being a very big fan. So much for egalitarian queuing.
The facts of your death made me sad and made me reflect on the passage of time. I am a bit younger than you, but not so many years your junior. No doubt doing the splits in high heels and those outrageous dance moves ground away at your hips over time, but your beliefs, or, well, whatever it was that informed your decision, meant that you didn’t have your worn-out joints replaced with shiny new ones and were heavily medicated and in turn heavily self- medicated in order to deal with the pain, still showing the world a beautiful and immaculate exterior, still being Prince. It’s nice that life expectancy is so much longer these days, but they don’t tell you about the decades of pain, nor the judgment of the young, perfect and well which marks the card of the stooped, the limping, those whom make shoe choices no longer based upon style.
Tabloid newspapers, both print copies and the online versions which lure the guilty sneak peeks of those who would never be caught buying a copy, carried screaming headlines about ‘Prince’s final frail photos’ and I admit that I did look, but, Prince, you know all I saw was the man I have always seen. You looked into the camera steadily. You did not avert your gaze. You knew they were taking photos and you looked great. So what if you carried a stick? It was a fabulous stick and if you were thin and small then, shit, you’d always been that way. To me that gaze and demeanour had not changed from the first time I set eyes on you: grounded, substantial, certain within yourself. It was right that you blazed out beautiful at the beginning of a grand tour, and not one of those hopeful rags came anywhere near diminishing you with their disingenuously concerned labels. Although it didn’t happen this way, I choose to see you as the fairytale Prince, perfectly preserved in a clear glass coffin like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. Goodnight, sweet Prince. Sleep well.
Karen is a Brighton Poet and Author and the Curator of the regular poetry gala: Shine So Hard.