It’s not often that something outside of my own life makes it on to these pages, but the tragic news this afternoon about the passing of Prince compelled me to put fingers to keyboard.
It has been an unbelievable few months as far as celebrity deaths go. I was gutted to see Alan Rickman go, I felt the sadness of David Bowie’s loss through my friends (I have to admit to never having had much interest in Bowie while he was alive, so his death didn’t affect me personally), and just yesterday the news of Victoria Wood’s passing brought a rueful tear to my eye as I remembered fondly watching Acorn Antiques with my grandparents. But Prince, in your own immortal words, Nothing Compares 2 U.
As yet, I know nothing about the circumstances of his death – I haven’t followed him or his music closely in recent years – but even so, hearing that he’s gone feels like a part of me has died too.
You see, Prince was an enormous part of my adolescence. If you’d asked me to identify myself at 16, I would probably have said Prince Fan before son, brother, student, boyfriend, Jew. I lived and breathed Prince for many years. Most teenagers have their obsessions, with football, girls, games, whatever it may be. My obsession was with Prince.
I had been aware of Prince and his music for as long as I can remember. My first clear memory of him was seeing the video for Little Red Corvette on Top of the Pops when I was 7 or 8 years old. But weirdly, my epiphany happened with the Batman soundtrack, a very odd choice of route into Prince’s music, I’m sure you’ll agree. I was given that album on cassette by my girlfriend for my 14th birthday, and I just fell in love with the music.
From that moment on, I was hooked. I quickly acquired his entire back catalogue of albums, and was very proud to have my cassette rack populated with everything from For You up to Lovesexy (the CD versions followed later). I listened to virtually nothing else. I knew every filthy, perverted word, every obscure album track that no one else had heard of.
I was fortunate to have a handful of friends at school who were as enthusiastic as I was (Aaron, Andrew) and we sat around at break times, discussing our favourite songs, marvelling at this enigmatic character and the fact that all his early albums had been “produced, composed, arranged and performed” by him alone. I was also fortunate enough to be introduced to a friend of a friend who was even more of a Prince nerd than me (hi Andy!) who kept me supplied with a constant stream of new tapes of bootleg recordings, long lost B-sides, unreleased material and much more. We used to trawl through the stalls at Camden market most weekends, looking for concert recordings and rare vinyl.
But most importantly, it was the concerts that I will never forget. Wembley Arena in the hot summer of 1990, the Nude tour, was one of the most memorable nights of my life. The highlight, a 16 minute continuous jam which started with I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man, and took in a bunch of other famous and not so famous songs en route to some pure, unimaginable funk.
Another highlight was after a concert at Wembley Stadium in, I’d guess, ’92 or ’93. Andy was friends with the head of the Prince fan club, and managed to score a ticket to a secret aftershow party in an abandoned warehouse in King’s Cross. I was gutted that there had only been one ticket left, but went down to the venue anyway, just in case. I had some scary encounters with touts around those grimy north London streets, some asking for up to £300 for a ticket – somewhat more than this teenage student could stretch to – but I eventually managed to blag my way in for a more reasonable sum. After hours and hours waiting in a hot, sweaty room, we were eventually treated to a mind-blowing concert, standing just feet away from the stage. Some time later, the show was released on VHS tape, and I was delighted to discover that if you watched it frame by frame, at some points you could see the back of my head on screen.
I stuck with Prince through the Symbol and TAFKAP years. I forgave him for Graffiti Bridge. I regularly visited his shop in Camden Town. I drew pictures of his album art to stick on my wall. I had all the t-shirts, all the posters. He WAS my teenage.
As I got older, my musical taste changed and I eventually grew out of my Prince phase. His songs occasionally pop up on my iTunes playlist today, and I smile a wistful smile as I remember that Sometimes It Snows In April, or that She’s Always In My Hair.
I know that much will be written about his talent, his genius, his impact on the worlds of music, fashion, technology and so much more over the coming days. And rightly so. But to me, the death of Prince is not about all those tangible things. It’s about his impact on me. About a fundamental part of my identity that today left this planet forever.