I was about ten years old when I first got turned on to the music of Prince. It was my next door neighbor, Michael Johnson, who got me into Prince. We were hanging out one day and he told me about this guy I just had to hear. He put on For You. It was funky and challenged many of my notions I had had up to that point about so many things.
But, it wasn’t just the music that hooked me. Michael told me that Prince was a local guy. Not just local to Minneapolis but local to South Minneapolis — our ‘hood. He graduated from Central High — just like my Dad had a few years before him. He grew up only about a mile away. I soon found out that just about everyone in the neighborhood had some direct connection to this kid — they knew him. They went to school with him or played basketball down at the park with him, or their sister dated him, or played in some basement band with him, or they just saw him around. This skinny kid with the giant afro who was either always in the music room or on the basketball court. This kid who in just a couple of more years would become known worldwide.
I became a big fan. A fan of the music and the little guy I heard so much about around where I lived. Later on, we moved away — to Iowa City, IA and then to New Haven, CT. Prince’s fame began to grow. First with Controversy then with 1999. No matter where I went, when I mentioned that I was from Minneapolis, people immediately brought up Prince. “Oh, where that Prince guy is from! ” or “Isn’t that where Prince is from?”. It worked the other way too. If someone gave me a somewhat quizzical look when I mentioned Minneapolis, all I would have to say was, “Where Prince is from…” and the recognition was immediate.
By the time I moved back to Minneapolis, Prince was a huge star. The whole world knew about him now. Purple Rain had just come out and his music was everywhere. His videos running every hour on MTV. And, in too many ways to count, he literally put the Minneapolis music scene on the map. And, there was so much happening here. The punk scene was exploding with great bands like Hüsker Dü and The Replacements. Prince himself was bringing up his friends with him like Morris Day and The Time. It was one of those magical times in the city when, every night, you could go out to a local club and hear a band or artist that now is a household name. Of course, Prince was bigger than all of them — a bonafide superstar now.
But Prince never left. He could have had houses all over the world or lived anywhere he wanted but he always called Minneapolis home. Almost everyone in Minneapolis and Saint Paul had a Prince story. He lived here. He worked here. He played here. He showed up and sat in with some local band, or was at some restaurant, or was buying fruit at the supermarket. No matter how famous he got, what levels of superstardom he achieved, he was always just Prince here in the city the world now knew. He was always around and everyone could tell you a personal story about him.
I say all of this not only to tell you the story of what Prince meant to me in a formative era in my life but so that you can understand the depth of the loss we are feeling here in this city — in his city. Imagine if New York City lost the Empire State Building, or Paris lost The Eiffel Tower… Well, we lost Prince. We lost the icon that the rest of the world knew us by. We lost the symbol that was our city to so much of the rest of the world. The thing that, no matter where you went beyond this place, all you had to do was say his name and people knew and respected where you came from.
He’s gone now, but just like the Empire State Building or The Eiffel Tower, people will not forget. There’s a great line in the in the musical Hamilton about the idea that we have no control over who lives or dies or tells our story. We don’t have control over any of that. But, what we can control is to make sure we become a part of a place, or a part of the people there, so that there are stories to tell should people wish to tell them. The better the stories we leave, the more likely people will be to tell them. Prince left a lot of stories to tell and we will be telling them here amongst each other and to the rest of the world for a long time to come. He left us some great stories.
(The photo above is the last known photo taken of him, riding his bike back to the office, just like normal.)