Prince and the Revolution Purple Rain Tour was my first concert. Prince and Sheila E.
I was twelve and went with my very pregnant mom and her ultra conservative Christian husband. I don't think any of us knew what was in store.
I had begged my parents to buy me the Purple Rain album when it first came out. I remember my step father referring to Prince as "that little queer" or sometimes he would use the word "f*ggot" or a racial slur. This made me feel ashamed, but in my "home" coming from this "man of God," son of missionaries, and former military, it was common language. Any culture that was to be found, I had to seek out on my own. My only comfort in music was that he happened to love Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the greats of the sixties.
But Prince's talent was undeniable, and that was the magic. It didn't matter what this homophobic, racist man, whom we all feared thought of Prince -- his talent superseded it all, and could not be denied by even the biggest bigots. When Prince picked up a guitar, the racist... shut his mouth, and listened.
Somehow, perhaps as a birthday gift, and my step father's genuine love of music, my parents scored some nosebleed tickets to go see Prince in concert. My first concert ever. My mother was about 8 months pregnant at the time. Now if you weren't embarrassed enough by your parents at this tween age, having your mother be the walking embodiment of "my parents had sex and that's how she got that way" was even more humiliating. All I cared about was seeing the show; it didn't matter who took me.
To devote an entire paragraph that he was an incredible performer, is to almost insult the reader, we all know that part. His moves masterful, the guitar, the emotion, dancing, pain, hope... it was all there. Prince bled for you onstage. But the feeling I remember most was how uncomfortable and embarrassed by his sexuality and moves I felt... in front of my parents.
At one point, he got down on his knees, guitar between his legs, and stroked the neck of his guitar simulating masturbation, while he continued to play. As he "climaxed" his guitar was in a frenzy of perfect time and emotion to this act, then he finally shot out his "semen" spraying it all over the front row. I pretended not to know what was happening.
I was just starting to learn about sex on my own, hearing from friends. My parents would never talk to me about it... while some girls in school were already sexually active. At 12.
Prince was more than just music for me. He was an awakening and a way to feel okay about things my parents wouldn't talk about; my own developing sexual identity. I grew up in Broward County, Florida. At the time, I was living in Miramar. We didn't know "gay people." We didn't know artists. My only exposure were records, and MTV.
Watching his concert that night, so many things were being processed by this little girl of 12. So many stereotypes bent on their heads.
Sheila E, gorgeous and feminine, this sexual goddess of a woman... who beat those drums tougher than any man. As a little girl, it was inspiring, and my first glimpse of feminine "badassery." I knew I could be that girl.
Wendy and Lisa, and their mysterious androgyny. Their own sexual chemistry that was palpable, yet completely misunderstood by me, as I had no idea what a lesbian was. Were they? Weren't they? Is it possible that some women kiss each other in real life? Or is this just for show? Do they think they are men, or women? I had no idea, was confused, but deeply intrigued. I was excited by the possibility, that there were important people out there that did not fall into the framework of my familiar.
Then there was Prince. Challenging every bit of gender identity I had ever known.
I knew he wasn't those horrible words my stepfather said, and even if he did like men, I didn't care. I knew how he made ME feel. I had never seen such raw, pure sexuality, just at the time when I was discovering my own.
In the film Purple Rain (I watched dozens of times), one glance back at Apollonia from his motorcycle, and I felt my first sexual awakening. Those deep soulful eyes, his long lashes. The liner, the mascara... all of it. He wore heels better than any woman. Frilled ruffled shirts. Impossibly skin tight bedazzled purple pants. He was the tiniest man I had ever seen but he was larger than life, more masculine, and sexier than any man I had ever laid eyes on. How was this dichotomy even possible? It thrilled every cell in my body, and challenged my mind. He was my first celebrity crush, and I was in love with him.
Prince awakened me sexually. Challenged me to think. Pointed out the bigots and racists. Prince challenged me to look at people who were "different" and find them not only acceptable, but exciting. He did this without saying a word... he did it through his art.
True artists inspire more than a dance, they change you. They change the way you see things and the world around you. They inspire you to think. They challenge your beliefs, and they cause you to question those around you: like parents, feeding you their own ignorance, fear and misinformation. Prince was a genius musician, but he was so much more. He opened the eyes of an entire generation about gender identity.
I spent so many days and nights alone, locked in my room, listening to Purple Rain over and over again. Sometimes dancing, sometimes crying. I would stand in front of my mirror with a hairbrush and pretend I was Sheila E, and that Prince was in love with me.
Purple Rain was the soundtrack to my "becoming" in those crucial and influential early teen years. I am forever changed and so grateful for it...
And I know, I just know somewhere deep inside, that he was the catalyst for me to get out. To leave my small town, to seek more. To find others that made me feel that way, to leave the small minded behind and try to expand my own... and to eventually move, entirely alone... to New York City.