It’s always been “The Beautiful Ones.” That’s my song, my church, my haunt.
For five minutes and 13 seconds, nothing else matters. Time stops. Complete tunnel vision. There are so many instances in which you know how you’ll react to something, ahead of time. Turning on “The Beautiful Ones” is not one of those instances. There’s no telling what’ll happen to my brain, my face, my fists, my mouth, my tear ducts for the duration of the song. Head nodding, jumping, kicking, punching, screaming — it’s all in play. It’s an extremely physical song — violent at times — built up with tension and culminating in one of music’s most volcanic releases. It’s therapy, a cleanse, confessional — everything inside suddenly bubbling to the surface, everything since the last time you listened to the song.
Only Prince could make a song that has the arc of a sermon, with the passion of an orgasm. You feel like you’re catching the holy ghost as it takes over your body, but halfway through you realize that’s not Jesus, you’re actually just having sex. And after the song’s final two minutes transforms you, sending you to a place you typically are fearful of visiting, it just ends. And just like that, you look down, and it’s your own personal Garden of Eden. Figuratively, and perhaps literally, you realize you’re naked.
Prince stripped us down to our core his entire career. Much like his voice, his guitar playing, and his style, he was unmatched when it came to expressing vulnerability, showing us all how to risk it all and lay it on the line. And it wasn’t always comfortable. Prince’s way of always being Prince was often met with confusion, and occasionally it wasn’t accepted, but looking back, it was always necessary.
The only thing that’s easing the news of his death is that I still can’t believe he was real. It’s mind-blowing that Earth got 57 years of Prince Rogers Nelson.
I saw Prince perform twice. The first time was in Austin in 2013, co-headlining a bill with A Tribe Called Quest. He played a three-hour set, finishing up somewhere between three and four in the morning. The music was incredible, but the thing I’ll always remember was his commentary. At a certain point, it looked as if the show might get shut down by the fire department. And, at this moment, Prince took the mic and addressed the Austin FD, saying, “Don’t shut me down, you know you want to dance to my music.”
And the show kept going.
The second time was last year, on Valentine’s Day in New York City. Like the first show I saw, this was a corporate event — a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Air Jordan. Again, Prince put on an incredible spectacle of a show, but unlike the Austin crowd, which was phenomenal, this one wasn’t responding the way it should have when Prince is onstage.
Prince seemed aware of that. And as the set progressed, after every few songs he’d walk up to the microphone and, in that classic Prince deadpan, say, “You’re welcome.”
Watching him both bless and chastise crowds will be my lasting memories of Prince. There was a quality to him that made him seem above everything — the law, codes of respectability, and any of the trivial things us mere mortals stress over. And he never had to outright tell you that he was one of the greatest — it wouldn’t have made sense alongside his calmingly aloof disposition. But he also wasn’t overly humble — he might not have said it, but by god was he ready for you to say it. And if you were in his presence, and you weren’t treating him like royalty, he’d be the first to let you know.
The Sexy MF’s birth name was Prince, for goodness sake. No one lives up to their name, but Prince actually did. We didn’t deserve him. Was he real? Yes, very much so. In fact, he was the absolute realest.