Since Prince's tragic and untimely passing, critics have weighed in on the icon's views on gender, sexuality, and religion. But what would other legendary figures, who have already passed, have to say? What, for example, might John Lennon think of the ultimate significance of his Purple Majesty?
What follows is a mostly-satirical, partly-sincere effort to imagine such a conversation.
How We Met John Lennon
Virtual reality is all the rage: Facebook's has Oculus, Google has Daydream. But the real revolution in tech happened years ago, when a former radio broadcaster named Robert Monroe recorded a series of cassette tapes—yes, cassette tapes—designed to launch listeners out of their bodies into a range of ethereal worlds beyond the physical.
Using binaural beats, Monroe recreated for listeners the out-of-body experiences he'd written about in a series of books. Different frequencies induce different experiences, transporting you across a many-layered astral plane.
Monroe referred to one of these destinations as Focus 27. It's a place—or a state of being—he described as "a way station designed to ease the trauma and shock of the transition out of physical reality." Monroe referred to it more lyrically as the Reception Center or—apropos any discussion of Prince—the Park.
Carolyn Riley, a former student of mine, was lucky enough to find one of these recordings (and, fortunately, a dusty old Walkman) while hipster-ing through a vintage record store on the New Hampshire seacoast in a quest to find Bikini Kill's original Revolution Girl Style Now cassette. As it happens, the recording she found is dedicated to the exploration of Focus 27, a.k.a. the Park. With the premature cynicism only a liberal UNH student could muster, Carolyn finished her soy latte, donned her earbuds, and dove in headlong.
Nothing happened at first. Boredom. Failure.
Then, something extraordinary: an encounter not with one but with three musical icons—two of whom are dead, and one of whom has taken their place in the queue.
What follows is a first-person description-slash-transcription of Carolyn's experience, which unfolded over the course of three remarkable days.
Day 1: Imagine There's No Men's Room
Barefoot and bewildered, I found myself sitting on a velvet floor cushion across from John Lennon. We were surrounded by a more low-key aesthetic than an Ikea show room. On occasion, a purplish flower petal fluttered gently to the ground.
John, sitting across from me, wore a cutoff graphic tee sporting Prince's iconic love symbol. Finding my inner Ms. Magazine reporter alter-ego, I took aim and fired off a line of pointed questions.
CR: Looks like you may have been wrong, Lenny. Is there a heaven after all?
JL: Well there is, but it's quite boring, actually. I heard a clever tune about that: "heaven is a place where nothing ever happens." So I don't spend much time there. George doesn't like it either. We like it here in the Park, where we can help others transition.
CR: You're not exactly known for your progressive views on gender. Why on earth are you wearing a Prince t-shirt?
JL: Well I wouldn't have while I was alive. I was too interested in projecting an aura of masculine bravado. But there's far too much of that going on now. So many neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians bragging about their bloody peckers.
CR: Speaking of which, what do you make of Donald Trump's candidacy in the U.S.?
JL: Listen, no one understands the mind of a queer-hating bigot like I do. I used to be one. In fact, I nearly killed a man who called me a queer. I battered his bloody ribs in.
CR: But you're over that now. How did you get to that point? Prince was a gender-bending pioneer. Has he been a role model for you in the afterlife?
JL: Nothing compares.
CR: What do you make of the debates in North Carolina, where conservatives want to discriminate against transgender people?
JL: Imagine there's no men's room.
CR: So you support trans rights?
JL: I am she, as you are she, as you are me. We are all together.
The man was inscrutable. I felt like Forrest Gump in that Dick Cavett scene. Sensing the immanent failure of my line of questioning, I exhaled in despair and the scene faded like a dream.
Day 2: Tea with the Pope of Mope
The next day, having recounted the episode to the well-inked regulars at Hobo's Tattoo in Portsmouth, I mustered the courage to try again. Earbuds, Walkman, hemi-sync cassette tape: check, check, check. As the ink artist worked on my sleeve, I closed my eyes and began to drift. Before I knew it, lift-off.
On my second visit to the Park, I played the role of spectator. Lenny was now sporting a vintage Smiths t-shirt. Beside him, gently swirling a tea bag in a porcelain cup, sat the not-dead-yet pop singer Morrissey—a.k.a. Moz, a.k.a. the Pope of Mope.
JL: So nice of you to join me again for tea, Moz.
Apparently this wasn't their first conversation.
JL: I read your blog piece. I couldn't have said it better myself: Prince is "far more 'royal' than Elizabeth 2, and he will be mourned far more than she." Never truer words.
Moz: All the best ones are dead.
JL: He was 57 when he died. You just celebrated your 57th. You're doing quite well!
Moz: Living longer than I had intended. Something must have gone... right.
Intimately familiar with the Moz oeuvre, I realized quickly that every word was a verbatim quote from a lyric—a notable commentary on how thoroughly the themes of death and the afterlife permeate his work. Little did we know he's been a regular visitor to an astral way-station such as this. Yet somehow unsurprising.
John noticed me shifting uncomfortably with knitted brow, and leaned in with a vaguely threatening tone.
JL: You better run for your life if you can, little girl. Mozzer doesn't like to talk about his work here.
Moz: All men have secrets and here is mine... so let it be known.
John ignored me again.
JL: Well as I said with our last tea, the Smiths were the Beatles of the 80s. I, for one, listened with great interest, as I did with Bowie. I told him you were coming for tea, but he scoffed. You were quite lucky to tour with him—I'm surprised you said nothing when he died. But then, you're more stubborn I am.
Moz: The older generation has tried, sighed, and died—which pushes me to their place in the queue.
JL: Yes, well, get ready to join us here. You don't know what might happen on the streets of L.A.
Moz: There is a place—a place in hell—reserved for me and my friends.
JL: Suit yourself. In any case, between Bowie, Prince, and yourself, the lot of you pushed more boundaries in the first half of the 80s than I did in all my years riding on the industry's merry-go-round. At least when it comes to being a man.
Moz: You're a girl and I'm a boy.
JL: Don't push it, lad. I'm not your Charming Man. You've heard what I done to Bob Wooler.
Moz: I'm a girl and you're a boy.
JL: That's a bit better.
Moz turned to a subject he'd apparently pursued before with little success.
Moz: It's time the tale were told, of how you took a child and you made him old.
JL: Leave Jude out of it, will you? Anyway, it's near closing time in the Park. They're going to kick you out like last time if you're not careful.
Moz shifted nervously, frowning at an empty cup.
JL: Don't keep such a long face. Come again for tea?
Moz: The heart knows why I grieve. And yes, one day I will close my eyes forever. But I will see you in far off places.
With that, the scene dissolved in a smoky haze and I woke to admire a paisley-lettered "Pop Life" tat freshly burned on my forearm.
Day 3: Bernie Bro?
The next day, as the swelling in my arm slowly subsided, I launched into the ether one last time. Returning to the Park, I found John striking the same pose and now sporting a Bernie t-shirt.
With Moz was no longer present to distract, I leaned in again.
CR: How terribly unsurprising. John Lennon is a Bernie Bro.
JL: Once a socialist... always a socialist. Who else is there?
CR: I hate to break it to you, but you're not a socialist. You're a brocialist. And anyway, the math doesn't work at this point. It's Quixotic. So why continue to associate yourself with a band of misogynists?
CR: No, I'm mean the Bernie Bros. They're just as bad as Donald Drumpf's Neanderthal cult.
JL: The two tribes are entirely different species. There's no evidence—not a shred—of any parallel.
CR: I beg to differ, my friend. There's one telling moment that sums it all up for both of you: Trump is on video mocking a disabled reporter. You're on video mocking the disabled, too. There you are: two privileged, able-bodied Nobodies who can't find a better target for their anger, despite an abundance of obvious choices.
JL: I meant it when I sang about peace and love. I don't support violence directed at anyone, no matter whose side you're on. But when you talk about the Clintons, don't you know that you can count me out?
Just under his breath, as if echoing an early version of "Revolution," I heard him slyly add "...in."
Finale: Prince Arrives at the Park
Before I had a chance to ask him what he meant, a haze of purple mist began to rise, and a quiet rain began to fall. Moz appeared rather suddenly, striking a strained pose beside John.
JL: He's coming.
A petite and shiny-suited figure stepped out of the mist and into sight. His lips didn't move, but an unseen chorus harmonized on the backwards message hidden at the end of "Darling Nikki": Hello. How are you? I'm fine because I know that the Lord is coming. Coming, coming soon...
For once, John was speechless. Moz took the lead.
Raising his head slightly, the self-styled Pope leaned in toward the Prince, asking politely, "Are you aware, wherever you are, that you have just died?"
The chorus continued indecipherably, as if swept up in glossolalic fever. Prince locked eyes, seemingly with all three of us, and did not blink. I felt vaguely, tentatively assured that future artists might disassemble the once-unscalable walls of masculine hegemony faster than our dead-or-dying patriarchs can build them up.
Overwhelmed, a lost my grip on the scene and began the swift return to my body.
Faintly, as if echoing through a canyon, I could hear Moz's final words. This time he crooned, sweetly: "You were good in your time, and we thank you so."
This post was written in collaboration with Carolyn Riley, member of the graduating class of 2016 at UNH and recipient of the honorarium "Funniest Person on Campus." As a work of political satire and parody, we claim protection under the Fair Use doctrine. The original photograph of John Lennon is by Bob Gruen (copyright 1974). As an expression of our appreciation of his work, we encourage readers to visit www.bobgruen.com.