In an evening in the early 80s, my aunt took me to see a movie called “Purple Rain.” Even though I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to view it at such a young age, I am grateful for that experience. It became an essential piece in the mosaic of my creative core. I made the decision of wanting to become a Fashion Designer at age 9 after watching a PBS special about a man who created attire for African royalty, specifically princes. Prince the legendary musician showed me how human beings had the capacity to use sound and visual to evoke unforgettable emotion.
He was a beautiful and graceful man. The hair, eyelashes and cheekbones on a petite stature are features that society would call feminine. His attire went from the extremes of high flamboyance to erotically minimalist. Forcing us to either stare and or quickly look away. Only he could pull off those looks unapologetically. What a gift it is to have an ownership of a look, a style. His style was recognizable but transcended and evolved without losing its essence. Others who are inspired and attempt to emulate have to do so with great care otherwise it becomes comedic.
The music has a rhythm that pumps adrenaline through veins. The lyrics put colorful and sometimes deep dark visuals in my head. They always make me think. Most of my vivid memories of listening to Prince were sitting in the backseat of a sedan, his singles playing on the radio. Car windows were down, I’m looking out and air blowing in my face. I would think about life. “Am I like my parents, just like Prince?” His upbeat songs made me imagine colorful drawings, cartoons, melodramatic plays (in glorious costumes of course) and ladies dressed in their fanciest feminine attire strutting to the hottest party. It took me away from my small normal life and to things that were beyond my current reality but had tangible possibilities one day. If only I believed.
Many of the women portrayed in the movie “Purple Rain” looked like sexy Barbie Dolls draped in lingerie. It was the first sex scene I saw on the big screen. Two beautiful people of color, and they were fabulous. Did it warp my perception of sex and female roles? Did it romanticize the deed? I’m not sure, but I do firmly believe like most things in life, it should be done with passion or not at all.
Prince was once a young man from Minneapolis, Minn., with family issues like the rest of us, who then transformed into an out of this world icon. He was living proof that it didn’t matter where we came from. With God-given talent, hard-work, and dedication, we could thrive from our art.
My 6-year-old son, Z accompanied me to a Prince tribute party at Fort Green Park a week after the heartbreaking news. As we entered the park we were embraced by his funky tunes and viewed all the other celebrating mourners trimmed in the color purple. It was raining that day. The song “Purple Rain” was played 15 minutes later. Z asked why were they giving this man a party as I attached photo buttons on the chest of his jacket. I explained in the simplest way I could, that he was a musician who made songs everyone loved, and he was no longer with us. Michael Jackson left the world when I became pregnant, Whitney Houston passed when he started speaking in full sentences, and now our Sweet Prince. He is too young to comprehend that I was mourning important parts of my childhood.
By the time we sat in the grass with hundreds of others to view the movie “Purple Rain,” my little guy’s eyes were brighter than usual. It was close to his bedtime and I was concerned, but he didn’t want to leave until the end of the movie. As he watched Prince’s first performance he asked numerous questions, “Why is he lying on the floor Mommy?”
“He is passionate, I replied. He loves and feels his music.”
I made an effort of covering his eyes during the sexual scenes. We all danced in unison to the final triumph performance. It was beautiful.
A few weeks after the party, while taking a drive together, I turn my head back to Z sitting in the backseat. “Z, what you feel like listening to?”
His response was “Purple Rain.” My heart melted in sparkles and glitter. Adding icing on the cake, he then asked about the meaning of the song. My childhood still exists after all in another form. Thank you for everything, Prince Rogers Nelson.
(Graphics via Prince Born Day Purple People’s Party- Hosted by Spike Lee)
(Wearing Prince Tribute Inspired Attire)- 6/4/16
(With my son, Z)
(Photo taken at Brooklyn Botanical Garden)