If you are from Minnesota, there is a certain inevitability you will be baptized by Purple Rain in a very loud and proud way. But your relationship with Prince is much more quaint when you grow up nearly in his backyard.
Or as some in Minnesota might say, with the accent, “just up the road there.”
Prince was a musical virtuoso and trailblazer -- but he was also, quite simply, our neighbor growing up. He was there for all the special moments. When I learned to drive, he was like my other passenger. I’d have one hand on the stick shift and one hand flipping through one of his CDs (likely skipping over "Delirious" -- sorry, P). And when the year 1999 hit, that song was played ad nauseum. But whether you liked Garth Brooks or Grateful Dead, this was the track that could bring everyone together at a school dance.
And earlier in life, Prince was the first music in middle school that I remember my parents disliking. So that was a major plus. Though I grew up in Minnesota and would later return to the state for high school, we moved around a bit throughout the country. During that time I’d listen to Prince, but he was never this enigmatic figure who reigned supreme for me. He just felt like home.
In high school, I was a waitress at a restaurant in Chanhassen, a couple minutes from Prince’s home and studio, Paisley Park. I lived in the neighboring suburb, Chaska, which was closer to the country -- where we had demolition derbies and parties in barns sometimes.
As news of his death spread Thursday, many high school friends shared stories of having served a sandwich to Prince or having closed down the movie theatre so he could see a show.
Back in the day, you’d hear stories about kids doing whippets or other unheard-of-at-the time substances at his wild “Paisley Parties,” soirees at his place. I wasn’t this cool, but I did serve him a milkshake once.
Prince would come in to Perkins, the restaurant where I worked, along with his makeup artists and costumes designers after his parties. It was never that big of a deal at the time. One summer night, I served him and his staff some pancakes and milkshakes. Everyone knows Prince loves pancakes. His milkshake was chocolate, but it would have been more poetic if it was raspberry.
Prince was very pleasant to me. He was gently, humbly, sincerely nice. But I noticed something that night: He wasn’t overly nice. He wasn’t completely “Minnesota nice.”
“Minnesota nice” is this quality that some -- not all -- people in the state possess which is roughly translated to maintaining appearances and the status quo. And in so doing, people might act “fake nice” or passive aggressively. They might avoid conflict and become resistant to change.
Prince is anything but all of that.
He taught everyone to be less prude and to push boundaries. He showed us that gender was just a construct.
In the early 90s, he wrote the word "slave" across his face in protest against his label.
And hailing from Minnesota, the state with the No. 1 biggest racial poverty gap in the nation -- with black residents at the bottom -- Prince was also an advocate for Black Lives Matter. He dropped a song called “Baltimore” after the death of Freddie Gray.
That's not to say Prince isn't Minnesotan, of course. I mean, he was born there, he made the state his home and his color is the same as the Vikings.
And he tweets about snow.
And he tweets about pho, which Minneapolis is known for.
But you just have to admire him for his lack of Minnesota niceness as well.
I'll always be thankful for the way Prince pushed us all to be uncomfortable. But simultaneously, he'll always be a comfortable memory that's just baked into my youth - kind of like a Midwestern casserole.