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23 April 2016

Forever in My Life: The Final Post


At the Chanhassen Inn before the Piano & a Microphone Gala at Paisley Park

Prince Rogers Nelson changed my life.
Although I did not become a fan until I was a teenager, his music had always been in the background of my everyday life: I heard his music on the radio, Purple Rain was often on TV and I used to go through my mother’s record collection and look at her 12” Purple Rain single on vinyl (that was actually purple and I later had it made into a purse). But, it wasn’t until my best friend, Kamika Wallace, bought the Purple Rain Soundtrack from Columbia House CD club (when you could get 12 CDs for $0.01). We played the shit out of that CD, especially “The Beautiful Ones,” “Computer Blue”,” Darling Nikki” and, of course, “Purple Rain.” But, I went a step further and bought The Hits/The B-Sides and that changed everything.The first full-length album that I bought after that was Prince (1979) and from there I was hooked. Little did I know that Prince's songs would take me on an 18-year musical odyssey that suddenly came to a halt when he died on April 21.


The Stats
Fan since: 1998
Favorite Song: Moonbeam Levels
Favorite Album: The Gold Experience
Least Favorite Song: Sometimes it Snows in April. I always thought that song was super depressing…now I know why.
Least Favorite Album: Batman Soundtrack…I tried though.
Favorite Lyric: “Damned if I don’t hit that, wait right there I’ll be right back.”
What I’ll miss the most: no more live shows.

The Beginning
As corny as it might sound, listening to Prince’s music made me feel like it was okay to be different. I’ve always been a person who marched to my own drummer and was always super juiced about stuff that most people found boring. My interests ran the gamut from classic movies (including silent ones), old TV sitcoms (shout out to "Bosom Buddies" and "The Facts of Life") and old show business biographies. I guess I was trying really hard to stand out, which is difficult when you attend a performing arts high school, but I did. Yet, Prince’s music spoke to me; it connected with something deep down in my soul.  His lyrics communicated my individuality to others in a way that I could not. By announcing myself a Prince aficionado (not a fan, mind you, as I researched The Purple One and his music like I was trying to earn a degree), I let the world know that I was daring not to downgrade myself to the musical tastes of my peers. You would never hear Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, Sisqo, DMX or anyone of that ilk in my Discman.
This might seem like a no brainer now, but I became a Prince fan when I was 15, in 1998, and Prince was not really considered universally cool at that time. Don’t get me wrong, people respected his talent and musicianship, but I think there were many who felt his time had passed. Besides, a lot of people felt it was hard to take a man seriously who legally changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. But, what did they know? I was fiercely loyal to this man who had touched me—to the point of driving my friends and family crazy. I did find one kindred spirit at school, Donald, whom I had known in middle school. He was kind of a loner, but he genuinely liked Prince just as much as I did. I remember he gave me a birthday card where he wrote out the lyrics to Nothing Compares 2 U and he even gave me his mom’s old Controversy poster, (the one where Prince is in the shower in his bikini underwear with a crucifix in the background) which I still have to this day. I tried to integrate Prince’s music into every aspect of my life: I did a presentation on The Time in my music survey class, I tried desperately to get someone to decorate my high school graduation  gown so it said “Lovesexy” down the right sleeve (and failed) and I used Prince lyrics as my high school yearbook quote. Later, there were times when I had to give Prince’s music a “break” and I gravitated toward other artists, especially during my first years of college, but Prince was always lurking in the background.

The Memories
While I was catching the bus to and from the University of Washington Thursday, I could only smile to myself as random memories kept popping into my head: I laughed when I thought about my friend who informed me that I blew out his car speakers when he let me play the Controversy album when we went out; I remembered how sad I was when my aunt and I went to visit Paisley Park during Prince: A Celebration in 2000 and we could not get inside because all the day tickets were sold out (and I almost started crying); I cringed when I remembered how I overdrew my bank account to buy my friend and I tickets to an aftershow that Prince did in Seattle in 2011…and ended up getting fired from my job two weeks later. I remember that I flew from Illinois to Minneapolis for the so-called "Purple Olympics" in July 2007, where Prince played three concerts in one day. Before I left, I told my editor at the Daily Herald, Mike Smith, that I was going and he spent a few minutes with me brainstorming on a way for me to cover the concert for the paper. Of course, we could not come up with a legit reason for a Suburban Chicago paper to cover a Prince concert in Minnesota...but we tried.

The Influences
Prince changed the way I listened to music; once I became a Prince fan, I became an album listener. When I started liking him, I was buying most of his catalogue at used music store--on tape mind you--and I was able to get albums for very cheap. On top of that, the bus ride to school was an hour and nobody was trying to sit on MUNI fast forwarding and rewinding a tape, so I just ended up listing to entire albums. Granted, there were still some songs that I skipped (sorry "Sometimes it Snows in April" and "When We’re Dancing Close and Slow" fans), but I listened to the albums all the way through at least once. From then on, I decided that if I was going to buy any album, especially those expensive CDs, there better be some quality music on at least 80 percent of the album.
Prince also influenced the type of music I listened to: I became more partial to singer/songwriter/producers. I also started to lean more toward R&B that had some rock elements to it; I became avid fans of Teena Marie, Babyface/The Deele, Klymaxx/Bernadette Cooper, DeBarge (who don’t get enough credit as talented songwriters), Switch (same as the former), Jesse Johnson and more recently Billy Joel, Duran Duran and Barry Manilow. I sought the music of powerhouse singers and entertainers like Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer and Michael Jackson/The Jacksons/Jermaine Jackson. This is not to mention all the associated artists albums and bootlegs that I purchased/borrowed/downloaded over the years. I would go as far to say that Prince made me enthusiastic about listening to music in general; and I didn’t just listen to it, I immersed myself in it, analyzed it, digested it and applied it to every emotional aspect of my life. The amount of song lyrics I have stored in my head today scares even me.






Stage at 2013 Billboard Music Awards



The Blog
 I like to say that Marcus Scott brought me out of retirement to start this blog. When he called me in 2012, I had not written anything professionally in more than three years and I was working in the hospitality industry. The Great Recession had shot down my dreams of being an entertainment reporter and I was still a little bitter that my life had not turned out the way I wanted. Marcus said he was starting a new Prince group, Beautiful Nights, that would have a presence on Facebook and throw Prince parties in the Chicago area. He wanted it to have an accompanying blog and he wanted me to be the exclusive writer. He told me that I had to do this and he thought of me after coming across some newspaper clips I had randomly mailed him a few years before; to sweeten the deal, he told me that he would even be able to hook me up with an interview with The Twinz (Maya and Nandy McClean, Prince’s former backup singers/dancers). I figured I did not have anything to lose so I said yes.  Besides, how do you turn down someone who has that much faith in you? I had limited knowledge about blogging and digital media, but I just had to fake it until I could make it.
My first interview actually ended up being with him, talking about his past as a Prince impersonator and the Beautiful Nights group. The page views came in a trickle at first—even the later interview with The Twinz was not really widely read. Things picked up when I posted a video interview with Seattle-based artist Troy Gua (who created Le Petit Prince), but it was not until I started sharing my interviews on Prince.org (shout out) that I started getting a lot more traffic. Things only picked up from there, with the popular interviews garnering several thousand page views. I got to the chance to interview (and be interviewed by) the infamous C.J. and she also featured me in her Minneapolis Star Tribune column twice. I remember the thrill I felt when talking to Susannah Melvoin on the telephone and her suggesting that we get together for lunch to do the interview; that was before she realized I lived in Seattle and she lived in California. I also enjoyed doing simpler stories where I talked to avid fans: like the four-part "My Love is Forever" series, where I collected anecdotes from people who had been Prince fans since he released his first album in 1978; and talking to Jesse Jenkins, a young fan who was handpicked by Prince to premiere the single “Live Out Loud” and was later personally invited by Prince to attend his SXSW performance and meet him after the show. I remember St. Paul Peterson and Jill Jones being hilarious and Cat Glover being so open and full of energy. My favorite interview, however, was the one I did with T.C. Ellis and getting to hear about the High School for Recording Arts, which he founded in St. Paul. Another thing that was awe inspiring was the fact that there were other Prince fans who wanted me to succeed and volunteered to help me. I would be remiss if I did not mention-- in addition to Marcus-- Tamiko Umoren, Duane Tudahl, Morris Mills and Erica Thompson—who all helped me procure interviews with people who once worked with Prince.
I stopped writing on this blog about a year and a half ago when I went back to school.  It was not because I didn’t love doing it anymore, but trying to procure, schedule and do the interviews (as well as transcribing the audio and actually writing the stories) just became too time consuming. In fact,  the last interview I posted with Howard Bloom in 2014 took me more than a month to complete. In the interim I have received a second Bachelor’s Degree and I am now working on a Master’s Degree. But, I regularly check the stats on the page, clicking through old stories and wondering what might have been if I had been able to continue on. When Prince passed away, however, I finally realized how pointless it is to reflect on what might have been when I could clearly see what I had actually accomplished: I convinced my friend, Elke Hautala, to take a road trip to Boise, ID to do a video interview with Gayle Chapman, which in turn led to us organizing a concert for her in Seattle six months later. I also got to write review when Prince's Live Out Loud Tour with 3rd Eye Girl came to Seattle and I was in the house at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas when he was honored at the Billboard Music Awards. Furthermore, I was told by a good source that Prince actually read one of the stories on my blog. To think that this man, whose poster I use to stare at in my bedroom as a teenager and dream about meeting one day, was actually aware of something that I had done was incredible. I’m not sure if it is true or not, but it’s a nice thought. I have been coming back to the Web site regularly the past couple of days, as I was preparing this story. It went from 75 page views on Wednesday to more than 4,400 views Thursday. It is interesting to see that people are actually reading it again, but I would trade all those views if it would bring Prince back.




 The Music
It’s funny how certain songs can take you back to a specific moment in time: Every time I hear "Moonbeam Levels," I’m back in my old car in Sonora, CA and still a newspaper reporter driving from the office to an interview for some story or other (like when I covered the theatrical group at a state prison in Jamestown, CA or was it that thrilling story I wrote about the many uses for zucchini?); when I hear “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” I think about the morning after I slept with this guy I used to really like and he sang this song to me—and in case you were wondering, the falsetto was on point; the entire Planet Earth album transports me right back to the Western Suburbs of Chicago, particularly St. Charles, IL. It was my first time away from home and I had just moved there to do an internship at the now defunct Kane County Bureau of the Daily Herald. I remember driving to the Super Target near the office when that bad boy opened at 7 a.m., so I could be one of the first people to have the album when it was released.
I still remember when Kamika and I went to massive Amoeba Records in San Francisco on a Prince album dig and I found The Black Album on tape. We were still rocking our Walkmans then, but top of the line ones that actually had rewind buttons on them. We had this thing where we would each listen to a Prince album on the way home and report back to each other what the jams were on it. She picked the Black Album and, to this day, every time I listen to the “Bob George,” I can picture her on the bus, nodding her head, and pausing the tape to tell me after the song was over that this joint was the “new Erotic City” (what she really meant was that the song was hella funky). She turned me on to some gems: “Bambi,” “Eye Hate U” and she even tried to get me to like “Into the Light” from the often-maligned Chaos and Disorder album (but it took another ten or so years for that to happen). When I hear “Betcha By Golly Wow” or “Purple Rain,” I remember that we used to carry around an analog tape recorder and we used to make copies of us singing Prince songs with her throwing in spontaneous ad-libs—the best being on “Purple Rain” where she said “Never wanted to be your weekend lover, I only wanted to be your lover during the week.” When I hear “Sexy MF,” I remember the time one of my relatives let me play my Hits Volume II CD while they were setting up at a family barbecue and when the chorus of the song came on my cousin got incensed and demanded that I turn it off because of the cursing (despite the fact that the song "Head" had just finished playing not long before and no one said a word). Lastly, I remember that the very first CD I played in the studio apartment I live in now was LotusFlow3r and how proud I felt at that moment that I finally had my own place in Downtown Seattle.





The Gifts

             Over the years I have received some cherished Prince-related gifts from friends:
The first one is a framed charcoal drawing of Prince that a friend of mine drew for me andwas           a gift on my 29th birthday. What really made it so cool was that he gave it to me right before               we went to go see a Prince concert at the Tacoma Dome in December 2011.
      
The summer I did my internship at the Daily Herald in 2007 was the same year that the Chicago Bears went to the Super Bowl and Prince did the halftime show. The paper, of course, sent writers and photographers down to Miami. My going away present at the end of my stint there was two framed photographs that Rick, the bureau photo editor, had taken himself during the halftime show. One was Prince by himself and the other was him with The Twinz.
  
My grandmother's late second husband, Errol, worked as a banquet waiter in some of San Francisco's best hotels for many years. In the early 1990s, when he was working at the Clift Hotel, Prince came to town on a tour. When I was in high school (around 1998), at the height of my Prince madness, he gave me this very small jar of honey that had a black label with gold letters that said: “Prince, Scandalous Sex Suite, featuring Kim Basinger.” Errol later told me that someone working with Prince had given it to him. He had kept it on his dresser all that time until he gave it to me. I had it on my dresser from that moment all the way through college, when I left home to accept the internship. I left that jar of honey behind and have not seen it since. In my Mother’s haste to clean out my old room-- so my younger brother could move in-- a LOT of things came up missing and that was one of them. When I came home three months later to get my things, I could not find it. I asked her about it and she acted like she had no clue what I was talking about. I eventually forgave her and moved on, but, I am getting a small twinge of sadness just writing about it now.
    
When I was in high school, my friend and classmate, Salvador Santana gave me a purple hand towel emblazoned with gold symbols; he said that his father, Carlos, had gotten it directly from Prince. I loved this towel and it has hung on the wall in every apartment I have lived in since then. I just recently bought a frame for it, as I did not think it was getting the reverence it deserved.



Marcus Scott and I at a Morris Day and the Time concert


The Friends
There are so many people I would not have met, but for being Prince fan. There are way too many to name, but these are some of the most important people:

  • I met Natasha White-Smallwood in 1999, when I was 17 years old and we were both working at Old Navy in San Francisco. She saw me in the break room one afternoon reading Dance Music Sex Romance: The First Decade by Per Nilsen. She rushed over to me and wanted to know where I bought the book. We started talking about Prince and the rest is history; she has become one of my best friends over the last 17 years and the first person I called when I found out about Prince.
  • I met Marcus Scott at a party thrown by Mone Baker in 2007 in Chicago. This is when I was living in Aurora, IL and working at the Daily Herald. I got invited to the party because a mutual friend who was living in California was connected to the Chicago Prince Crew that attended the now-defunct monthly Prince parties that were held at Club Berlin. I stayed in touch with Marcus over the years—on and off—which inevitably lead up to him pitching the blog idea to me. Mone is the one who actually invited me to move up to Seattle from San Francisco and I stayed with her until I got on my feet. Needless to say, that move changed the course of my life. 
  • I also got to spend some casual time with some of the people I interviewed and talk to them about topics other than their work with Prince. I spent an entire weekend with Gayle Chapman, when she came to Seattle for the concert Elke and I organized for her. I also got to be photographed by the fabulous Steve Parke when I took a trip to Baltimore. They were both very wonderful experiences. 



The concerts
I saw Prince in concert 17 times-- the first time at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis when I was 17 years old. We just got barely got there, as the concert tickets went on sale in Central Time and my stupid alarm did not go off, resulting me waking up 30 minutes late. I got my aunt and I two tickets in the very last row (I used to always say that if we had been any further back we would have been outside). But, we were there. My favorite concert experience took place when I made the trek to the Rio in Las Vegas when Prince was doing the 3121 residency at the hotel. I went four times, the first time with my ex-boyfriend, whom I had to beg to go with me for my birthday; but, the second time I went alone and I since it was a GA show, I got there six hours early to make sure I got a good spot.
I ended up right in front of the stage! I was very enthusiastic and of course I knew the words to all the songs. Let me just say that there was no moment more thrilling than when, during the show, Prince reached down and grabbed both my hands, sort of dancing with me from the stage. I’m pretty sure I momentarily lost all sense of reason because the next thing I knew I had climbed onstage. Luckily, he did not have security to come tackle me or have me ejected from the venue, so I guess it was okay; and for two or three magical minutes it was just me and Prince dancing together onstage. I’m sure it was a curious sight—me at 6’2” and Prince nearly a foot shorter--doing the Bump. But, being in that close proximity to Prince is surely a moment that I will never forget.
Immediately after that concert he did an aftershow at the 3121 Jazz Cuisine, a fine dining restaurant that was part of the 3121 experience. Since it was January, pretty much everyone was able to get into the “Jazz Room” an intimate part of the restaurant that only seated about 50 people. I remember that while his band played a set, he came out to the seated area and handed out a Jehovah’s Witness publication (I think it may have been Awake! Magazine, but I’m not sure). It was so interesting to see Prince proselytizing (or witnessing) at this own show. Then about an hour later, he was fronting the band and played a funky set for us, right there in that small room. It was a surreal experience and, honestly, I never told anyone about it, because I was not sure if people would believe me. I went to another concert the very next night and I was in the front again, but I stood at a different spot near the stage. Yet, at one point during the show, he came over to where I was, playing the guitar, smiled and gave me “the nod.” I remember being so happy that he actually remembered me. I saw at least ten more concerts after that, but none of them compared to the feelings I had from those two that weekend.



The Last Time
I did get to see Prince one last time at the Piano & a Microphone Gala Event at Paisley Park in January. I almost didn’t go, as it was only announced a few weeks beforehand and I had just plunked down an ungodly sum of money on a trip to New Orleans and a Platinum Ticket for a meet and greet with Barry Manilow and front row seats at his show. But, at the end of last year, I had decided that going to Paisley Park was on my bucket list and, after that debacle in 2000, I was definitely going to make it happen in 2016. When the show was announced, I inquired to see if my co-worker would switch her days off with me and she said she would, no problem. I booked the hotel and the flight, but a week later, I got cold feet, worried that I was spending way too much money, and cancelled them. However, when a video released online showing how they were remodeling Paisley Park for the big event, I had a charge of heart, fearful that I would be missing something special. So, I rebooked the hotel and flight (thank God for Southwest Airlines) and, when the tickets went on sale I was able to get one with ease, which as my fellow die-hard Prince fans know was not always the case, so I knew this trip was meant to be.
The trip to Minnesota was a bit stressful, but once I got there, I knew I made the right decision. Even up to that night I was still a little anxious, even more so with the confusion trying to get into Paisley Park for the second show at 10 p.m. Once I got inside, most of the people in VIP had already been there for the first show, so they had claimed their spots. The floor immediately in front of the stage was strewn with pillows, but there was no open spot for me to sit down. Finally, I just decided that I would sit on the floor. There was kind British gentleman sitting on a pillow next to the spot I had chosen and moved over a bit to give me room, inviting me to sit down.
I sat in front of the edge of stage right, but since Prince was playing a grand piano and not moving about the stage, it was hard to see him unless I was standing up. But, it didn’t matter. It was only important that I was able to hear him. It was wonderful to hear him play “The Ladder,” the beautifully spiritual ballad that I never thought I would hear live. I just took advantage of the moment, sitting in the dark on the floor—by this time I had a pillow—with no lighting except from the back screen and a few lit candles on the stage. I just closed my eyes and let myself be in the moment, quietly singing the lyrics from a long-ago Prince favorite to myself. Despite the fact that I was at a concert, I felt myself transported back in time, laying in my bed in the dark, listening to the Around the World in a Day album with one lit candle. It was surreal. But, Prince also had a way of mixing it up, so he alternately had us stand up while he jammed on "Kiss" and "I Wanna Be Your Lover." Granted, I did miss some of the most talked-about moments of the evening (like when he became overcome with emotion at one point in the evening and briefly left the stage) because of where I was sitting. But, I was just so happy to be in the house, after being turned away years earlier, that it didn’t matter. The night flew by so fast and I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t do an encore, but once I got back to the hotel, at nearly 2 a.m., I remembered that I was getting old and I had to fly back to Seattle the following day and work the graveyard shift once I got back home. So, although I did want more, I was grateful that Prince made it possible for me to get a full night’s sleep. I woke up glowing and got excited at that the thought that he might bring this tour on the road so I could see it again. There was no way I could have known that was the last time I was ever going to see him. I can only hope that one day I will inspire others as much as Prince inspired me.


Stay Beautiful, always, Kristi


3 comments:

  1. <3
    oh, what a loss.....
    Thank you for your words

    ReplyDelete
  2. aw HECK naw! 'Batman' as LEAST fave album? I mean to each their own, but aw HECK NAW!

    ReplyDelete