The Code Switch team was sitting in our daily team meeting when our editor looked up from Twitter and broke the news that Prince was gone.
The rest of the hour was given over to reminiscing about our favorite memories of Prince: shrieking as he climbed into a limo in Greenwich Village, angering a Suge Knight-lookalike to snap a shot of The Purple One for Instagram, risking permanent foot damage for the perfect pair of purple Prince pumps.
Since yesterday, everyone from Prince’s bandmates to his superfans has been reflecting on what he meant to them. The New York Times is collecting reactions from fans around the world, as are our colleagues over at All Songs Considered.
So here’s ours. These are our stories, from the delightedly tawdry to the sublime, of the ways Prince affected us. (And as you might expect, some of these stories contain, ahem, strong and colorful language.)
Walter Ray Watson, producer of the upcoming (!!) Code Switch podcast:
Dig if you will, a picture…
It’s the 80s, I’m a college kid on a long weekend turned loose on New York City. Hanging, in the not yet summer. I wandered the streets, distracted and inundated by dull droning noise.
And there he was, flashing across my peripheral vision on that sun-splashed day. The color streaked by, bright phosphorescent green…like the stuff in a lightning bug, his suit glowed, matching his shirt, tie, and the high heel shoes too. His eyes sheltered behind fly sunglasses. His petiteness skittered by, click-clack-clacking for seconds and gone into one of two double-parked black limos in Lower Manhattan.
In Greenwich Village, and I’m looking at this scene, those cars idling in the heat.
In the haze of that afternoon, I took a beat. Not even a breath. What I just witnessed, happened so brief, like a dragonfly or a hummingbird you sense, not visible for very long.
Then, I figured it out, and I just knew… It. was. him!
I LOST IT.
I shrieked 20, 30 feet from the cars, “IT’S……PRIIIIINNCE!!!”
Like a teenaged girl losing it just when James Brown left the Apollo stage.
New Yorkers on the street, minding their biz, men, women every last one, CHILL.
NOT ME. I’m having my little fan girl seizure. Screaming.
So, Uncool, man.
Prince didn’t sing. Didn’t drop down into a split for it. Didn’t bat his flirty big doe eyes to the blinding sun of that New York afternoon.
Yeah but boy, did I ever scream like a little girl ANYWAY. And I’m still not sorry.
Karen Grigsby Bates, Code Switch reporter:
Truth be told, Stevie Wonder was the Prince of my day, but that didn’t stop me from appreciating Prince’s energy and look: First time I saw him, I thought two things: “how cute is he?!” and “I probably weigh more than he does.” (Sadly, I probably did. And do.) I also marveled at how he presented himself—so immaculately tailored, so coordinated and accessorized! One year, in double-breasted white wool flannel, he looked like what would happen if Savile Row and Marlena Deitrich had a baby. On another tour he looked like a very, very baddisco king. (These would be the assless pants. You remember.)
And in other years, he dazzled in lace jabots, ruffled cuffs and brocade frock coats that would not have been out of place in Louis XIV’s court. Beauty mark, heels and all. Foppish and sexy — very hard to pull off. A lot have tried over the years, but “nothing compares, nothing compares 2 u.” Good night, sweet Prince.
Shereen Marisol Meraji, Code Switch reporter:
Sam Sanders and I went to see Prince at this “secret-ish” show at the Hollywood Palladium in March of 2014. We were like 5 people in from the stage and right in the middle, BEST VIEW EVER, except for this dude we kept referring to as Suge Knight (he had the bald head, diamond earring) kept elbowing Sam out of the way and stepping on our toes. And, Sam got kicked out toward the end of the show for taking photos. (Prince was not down with that.) But, Sam took one of the most bad-ass Prince photos ever.
Regardless of Suge and the fact that I spent the last hour without Sam (he graciously waited in the car until it was over)…it was the greatest night of music I’ve ever experienced.
There was a brass band on stage, dancing and playing back up to Prince’s amazing voice and guitar licks. And, it went on for 4 hours…4 hours of Prince and there were only 1,000 people in a space that can hold nearly 4k. We were dancing and singing at the top of our lungs and screaming requests. He played more than 50 songs that night. No doubt he played one of your favorites: Purple Rain, Raspberry Beret, Diamonds and Pearls, Let’s Go Crazy. But, I’ll have to wait til the afterlife to hear Prince play mine: Gett Off.
Sam Sanders, NPR Washington Desk reporter:
I can second [Shereen’s] story.
In many ways, this should have been the worst concert of my life.
It was crowded. We had to wait hours for Prince to get on stage.
Some Suge Knight-lookin’ MUTHA—– tried to fight me.
AND I GOT EJECTED FOR TRYING TO SHOOT AN IPHONE VIDEO.
But here’s the thing; it was all worth it for Prince. A 12-piece horn section. HOURS of performance. Dozens of songs. The sheer ENERGY of the crowd. Prince’s artistry!
After I got kicked out that night, and went to my car to wait for Shereen, I was still on cloud nine. Yes, even after being forcibly removed from a venue by a burly-ass security guard.
I took a nap while I waited. Woke up when the show was over, still on cloud 9. Still humming the song Prince was singing when they threw me out.
I distinctly remember dreaming I was still at the concert while I napped in my car. It was weird but amazing. Wish I could dream that same dream, today and every night.
Alicia Montgomery, Code Switch editor:
Every phase of every romance I’ve ever had – from high school to middle age – is connected to at least one Prince song in my memory. But the one that connects them all is “The Beautiful Ones.” For me, it’s about the moment you realize that — no matter how strong your feelings are — it’s just not going to work. It’s a lush, gorgeous symphony of pain and longing, and it’s a song that I’ve played –often on repeat—during every break-up. I’ve played it on vinyl, cassette and CD (still on CD for me), in my childhood bedroom, on my Walkman, in college walk-up apartments, city bachelorette studios, and in the very Mom-ish Honda I’ve been driving for 10 years. Like every wine has a right temperature, every song has a right volume. And for “The Beautiful Ones,” that changes depending on the stage of the break-up: at “11” in the first days and weeks so that those final shrieks could shatter glass, and gradually down, down back to normal as you figure out that the broken heart won’t actually kill you. It’s the first song I played after hearing this terrible news.
Gene Demby, Code Switch reporter:
I was barely out of diapers at the apex of Prince’s reign as the world’s biggest pop star — at one point in 1984, he simultaneously had the number one movie, album and single in the country at the same time — and for most of my childhood, I mostly understood him as the weird dude with the ill perm and the ass-less chaps. I came to him much later, post-college, when all of my favorite recording artists would diligently name-check him as one of their influences. I’d miss how discomfiting Prince was at his peak — in the ’80s, at the same time hip-hop was gaining a foothold in the broader cultural consciousness, the black dude who most scandalized and titillated America was this diminutive, high-yellow cat with a 24-inch-waist who hailed from some place called Minnesota.
But it was my thirty-something, music nerd friends who were his most ardent proselytizers; they talked about him in a tone that was reverential and also maybe a little unhinged. They’d tell stories about their first Prince experiences. (No matter how old they were in these retellings, his music was never age-appropriate as Prince was always too grown.) Rock fans, soul fans, hip-hop fans, Recovering Oddball Black Kids — they all did that hand-on-heart, Isweartogod thing when they talked about him, lowering (or raising) their voices and no longer blinking and tilting their heads before walking me through the arc of their very specific feelings whenever they listened to, say, “When You Were Mine.” They’d tell stories about their close encounters — the way he’d invite the folks who frequented his official message boards to watch him do his soundchecks before his concerts, the times they saw him when he would randomly materialize at some smallish club and perform for hours and conscript some other rapt, nervous pop stars in attendance to hop onstage to perform with him. Whenever folks got into this trance, I’d ask: Uh, so how many times have you seen Prince perform? Their answers were usually somewhere in the low millions.
So: my favorite Prince-related memory. My good friend Robyn was always down to rabbit-hole about this dude, ready to pause an unrelated conversation to make sure I properly understood the genius of “Joy In Repetition.” On one of those PRN digressions, we watched this insane, grainy, old video that someone put on YouTube of James Brown jamming in concert. It’s a display of casual, mind-belting virtuosity — James Brown summons Michael Jackson, who happens to be in the audience, to the stage to perform with him. (Jackson’s voice is lovely, as always.) Then when Michael is done, he whispers something to James Brown. James Brown then summons Prince to the stage. And Because he’s Prince, he doesn’t just walk onto the stage — no, he is carried to the stage on the back of what appears to be a giant, who sets him down. Prince then proceeds to shred on the guitar, perform some James Brownsian tricks with the mic stand, and I think fornicate with the souls of the entire audience. (He also accidentally — or I think accidentally — destroys part of the stage set when he leaves.)
It’s unreal. And that’s the thing: whenever I tell people about this video, they think I’m making it up— because surely, if this s—were real, it we’d all have seen it and watching it would be an official part of Kwanzaa or something. It seemed to sum up the whole Prince thing perfectly: the dude who could somehow overshadow both James Brown and Michael Jackson at the same time, and even when there was concrete evidence of it happening, it seemed too preposterous be totally believable.