When I moved to New York a few years ago and people would ask me where I’m from, I’d say Minneapolis. I’d get only a handful of responses. No one would really know much about the city: Sometimes they’d think it’s a 45,000-population village where everyone sounds like they do in Fargo, or they’d know nothing at all, or in the charitable moments, they might have been there or have family from there.
For any of the moments when people were unaware, I’d really only have to rattle off a few names to give my hometown some context.
“You know, it’s where Prince and Bob Dylan are from.”
If they were a bigger music junky, I’d say something like, “We brought you Prince, Bob Dylan, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü…” I might even bring out the Information Society if they’re really into music.
Or maybe I’d throw out one of our political celebrities, like U.S. Senator and former SNL writer and actor Al Franken.
But always Prince.
In the wake of Prince’s death yesterday — he was apparently found dead in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate in the Minneapolis suburb Chanhassen — I got to thinking about how he helped define my hometown.
The height of this was, of course, in the 80s, when he was a driving force in crafting the Minneapolis Sound that reverberated in his own music, his side projects/shepherded souls such as The Time or The Family, or in his influence on others. Those synths. That Linn Drum. Those hooks. Those vocals. That attire. Those songs.
Although his influence subsequently wasn’t as explicit, it was always there. It was there in the bands from Minneapolis that would do their best to work some Prince reference into their songs. It was also there when every touring band would play First Ave and at some point in their set yelp in awe about how they’re playing the same stage Prince did in Purple Rain.
In his later years, after I had moved away, he threw several shows at Paisley Park, even busing people in from Minneapolis to hang out in pajamas and eat pancakes at 3 a.m.
He also was a huge fan of local music. I remember when I still lived there he showed up at a show featuring acts whose members were all in the 80s retro R&B supergroup GAYNGS. I had tickets to that, but never went. I lost them. After I moved here, I missed him a bunch more times.
I don’t have much else to say. I imagine I’ve been listening to him all my life — I was born around the time 1999 came out. I think the first Prince album I ever heard in full and owned was his Batman soundtrack. Such a cool time that was, even for a seven-year-old. Not only was there this ominous, dark Batman finally on screen, but there were some crazy, hook-laden cuts serving as the backdrop. Remember “Partyman” and “Bat Dance”? They were actually quite good.
“Cream” was something that dominated my early 90s. I also remember buying some digipak of “You’re the Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” from his symbol era, in a used CD store on the University of Minnesota campus.
My stepdad had Prince’s Controversy LP on vinyl in pristine condition, including the poster featuring Prince barely wearing clothes in a shower.
I remember one summer during college, when I couldn’t get a newspaper internship if my life depended on it. I ended up in a boring job erasing pencil marks from test booklets. It was often a wholly lame experience, but I recall the joy of joking around with one of my coworkers as we listened to “Raspberry Beret” on the crappy office radio. I’m pretty sure we got some “demerit” for singing the chorus at the top of our lungs.
There were other of his songs I either purchased, injected, fused with spiritually, or otherwise became one with over the years, even as my degree of Prince-listening would ebb and flow.
During those times when I was down the rabbit hole of The Smashing Pumpkins or Arcade Fire or something, there’d always be something that would pull me back to the The Purple One. Maybe I’d overhear a song on a sound system or a few lyrics from a song would pop up and I’d have to play that particular cut. Maybe I’d go home, and, seeing the Minneapolis skyline, be reminded of the genius pan-auteur who was always there.
No matter what, in the end there was always Prince. And perhaps because I never met him or knew him personally, only carrying on any sort of relationship with him through music, there will always be Prince.
RIP Prince Rogers Nelson.
Feature Photo: The cover of Prince’s When Doves Cry 45.