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Issue 48 / Why Prince's Death Really Hit Me Hard

Why Prince’s Death Really Hit Me Hard

May 02, 2016


    When Prince passed away I was taken aback on why this particular passing hit me hard. As I write this, I know why. 

    It was March 25, the beginning of Easter Weekend, and my sister and I settled in our seats at Toronto’s Sony Centre for Prince’s “Piano & A Microphone Tour.” The Toronto stop, which, in keeping with Prince’s latest trend, was just announced two days prior. He appeared with his cane and strutted towards his majestic purple grand piano and, true to his style, gave a riveting performance covering fresh new renditions of his hits, chatting it up with the audience about his favourite scene from A Star Is Born, joking about the US presidential election (“Lawd have mercy!”) and slyly chiding the audience for not calling back as loud as his he had hoped.
     

    Prince during the Oakland, California stop of his "Piano & A Microphone Tour." 
    Photo Credit: ww2.kqed.org

     
    My sister and I basically stood for the entire time — unless he requested us to “please be seated” when he felt like slowing down a bit. Those requests were followed by loving giggles from the crowd along with immediate obedience. We were surrounded by likeminded Prince fans of all ages and stripes. It was a musical trail mix of rockers, bikers, jazz fiends and cool runners all there simply because of their sheer appreciation of Prince’s musical contribution to their respective soundtrack of their lives. And just like the musician, an audience at a Prince concert couldn't be confined to just one box.

    It was the 10 pm show, the second of two shows that was slotted for that one night only performance. He gave it all for over two hours and as the icing on the top, we all left with a free copy of his latest album Hit n Run Phase Two.
     

    The album cover of his last release, Hit N Run Phase Two, which was handed out for free to all of us who attended his March 25, 2016 concert. 
    Photo Credit: www.wikipedia.com

     
    Of course little did we all know that this night would be the last time we would see him. We were getting used to the idea of seeing him every spring as it was just last May he was here for a two-shows-in-one-night stop (again announced two days beforehand) of his “Hit n Run Tour.” So, naturally, when my sister and I left the Sony Centre this past March we were already thinking about what he’ll bring next year, fully assuming this yearly trend will last. 
     

    Prince at his "Hit n Run Tour" in Toronto last May.
    Photo Credit: www.torontosun.com


    And then, a month later, he was gone. And it hit hard.

    It was already a sad year when it came to losing music legends. David Bowie, who concealed his 18-month long battle with cancer, died in January just days after his 69th birthday. A week later, The Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey passed away at 67 from, as Rolling Stone reported, “complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia.” It was a bad way to start the year, so seeing Prince two month’s later was cathartic. Having lost such legends not too long ago, it was time for music lovers like me to celebrate the ones who are still with us.

    Then at 1 pm on April 21 I received a text from a friend with whom I just ended an hour-long catch-up call with, which read “Prince is dead??”. That was quickly followed by an ongoing stream of pings and rings on my phone. I checked Twitter and saw the various “Breaking News" tweets. And then something interesting happened. Friends were texting me to a) see if it’s true and b) see if I was okay.

    It was a barrage of emails, texts and Facebook messages, with “first person I thought of was you” type of notes. At first I found them amusing in a cute sort of way. However, as the day progressed and evening settled in, I found myself — for a lack of a better word — reeling. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. Instead I could feel it slowly encroaching on the edges of my heart. Throughout the weekend I found myself repeating “I can’t believe he’s dead. He was so young.” all the while furiously going through YouTube videos of his classic concert performances. I watched again Prince’s 1999 Larry King Live interview — one of the few interviews that I remember to this day. For a media shy personality this interview was definitely a big get for Larry King. And yes I finally saw Purple Rain. 

    In true 21st-century style I mourned through social media. My Facebook and Instagram feed were filled with Prince-related posts. How he wore ear cuffs (to the Larry King interview no less) 20 years before us mere mortals started donning them. How he brought the smokey eye before the “smokey eye." How he told Dick Clark during his 1980 appearance on American BandStand that he can play 27 different instruments.

    I watched his transformation from his thigh high boot and trench coat strutting stage presence, to his sequined cape appearance as he collected his Oscar for Purple Rain to his Moroccan tunics phase, his pinstriped suit turn, his phase as the “The Artist” with “SLAVE” etched on his cheek (due to his highly publicized battle with Warner Music) all the way to his memorable high profile surprise appearance at last year's Golden Globe Awards wearing his afro and debuting his cane while delightfully being taken aback at the sight of Hollywood A-listers losing their minds

    Prince's surprise appearance at the 2015 Golden Globe Awards.
    Photo Credit: www.justjared.com


    The "Slave" phase during his public battle with Warner Music. 

    Photo Credit: www.thegaurdian.com 


    It made me question why was I taking this death so hard. When Michael Jackson passed away suddenly in 2009 sure we were all shocked and I remember being glued to CNN as they covered his passing for days. He was part of the musical trifecta of our generation: MJ, Madonna and Prince. As an MJ fan sure it hit hard. But he was already distant. The last time I saw him in concert was "The Victory Tour" that he had with his brothers in the '80s. He was already someone who glittered in a far away galaxy. We all tried to relate to him, and admired his dance conquests and empathized with his challenges. But he was MJ. He wasn’t one of us. He was already otherworldly.
     
    Prince, on the other hand, was our token Torontonian. He spent five years living here when he was married to his Canadian bride, charity activist Maria Testolini. Even the back of his album cover Musicology boasts him zenning out in front of the skyline of Toronto’s financial district. A district funnily enough which is my neighbourhood.
     

     The back of his Musicology album boasts a Toronto skyline. 
    Photo Credit: www.cbc.ca


    In 2002, just months after he reportedly bought an estate in Bridle Path (a tony Toronto hamlet for him and Testolini), he showed up at Massey Hall (a small, 2,800-seat, music-lover’s venue known for its impeccable acoustics) for an evening billed “One Night Alone With Prince.”

    It was a pop-up show before pop-up was a thing. Prince performed for three hours (no opening act) resplendent in a raspberry beret (yes he wore that) and a pinstriped suit. (A sidenote: Due to Prince's hard rule of no photography and this was before the sneakyness of smartphones, there are no photos of this concert.) The evening comprised of jazz renditions of his tunes, some experimental treatments of some of his latest works and, of course, sticking true to compositions of his most famous songs. All complete with musical special guests including Sly And The Family Stone bassist Larry Graham Jr. and saxophonist maestro Maceo Parker. He was freshly converted to Jehovah’s Witness and made joking references that he wasn’t going to sing that one specific song (you know what I’m talking about) due to it's obvious sexual nature and that he stopped swearing as well.

    The evening was magical. I had been watching him since his “Little Red Corvette” days, but because of his shocking-for-that-time high sexual energy that emanated through his performances there was no way I was allowed to see his “Purple Rain Tour” of 1985. So yes, in 2002 I was finally able to see him live for the first time.
     
    And I will never forget that concert. It was an out-of-body experience. This was when I was first exposed to a musician whose fan following, as I noted before, broke all sorts of clichés. People came in groups and there were a good number who showed up solo. Because one thing which I quickly learned is that when you are attending a Prince concert (who often called for the house lights to go on so he can see his audience) you aren’t there to socialize with your group. You’re focused on him. And he on you.
     
    He allowed you to let yourself go and freely let your soul luxuriously sink into the plush cushions of memories that were evoked when he would start the first few notes of his songs. There was no shame. He wanted you to cry. He wanted you to cheer. He loved when audiences sang back his songs to him. You were there to enjoy the music. Just like his private life, it was perfectly orchestrated. He plucked the right chords of your soul making you (falsely) believe that you were in control the entire time. 
     
    In 2005 in Los Angeles, while attending The Golden Globe Awards, all of us that stayed at the Beverly Hilton Hotel (where the awards took place) were treated to something special. You could watch the rehearsals via the hotel room television the night before the live event. And wouldn’t you know it included Prince — who decided to do a brief impromptu guitar riff instead. Of course this was the Stone Age when we didn’t have social media. So you are going to have to take my word for it. The minute he took the stage the superstar filled audience wouldn't stop applauding. But he couldn't just stand there, he had a job to do. So naturally he started his presentation on Golden Globe nominee Jamie Foxx's role in Ray. 

                                    

    Prince at the 2005 Golden Globe Awards
    Photo Credit: www.YouTube.com

     
    Just two years later he performed his now iconic 2007 Pepsi Superbowl Halftime Show. I along with my family (also music lovers) knew that we were in for some family friendly musical treat. Remember, the organizers were still reeling from the 2004 Janet and Justin nipplegate debacle. They werent taking any chances so what followed was family friendly peformances. When he started "Purple Rain" in the wind blown Miami rain, we knew that this we were witnessing an iconic moment.

               

    Prince at his 2007 Pepsi Superbowl Halftime Show.
    Photo Credit: www.YouTube.com


    Three years later, in 2011, Prince came back with his first stadium stop at the Air Canada Centre as part of his “Welcome 2 Canada Tour.” This was his big stage return since his 2002 Massey Hall show, for two nights, and this time with over 14,000 fans. And my sister and I were there. He sang, jumped, danced and joked for over three hours plus six encores (yes no opening act here either). One of his costume changes consisted of a fantastic crisp white shirt with diamond cufflinks, which we could see sparkling from our seats, and gold sequined pants. My sister and I knew that it was a special night. To this day we still talk about that concert (and what he wore) as probably one of (if not the best) concerts we’ve been to of late. Yes, in my humble opinion, in hindsight, he may have slightly (ever so slightly) edged out MJ.
     

    Prince at one of his two shows of his "Welcome 2 Canada" Tour. 
    Photo Credit: www.sonicmoremusic.wordpress.com  

     
    Then came the two shows from last spring and this March. He was our neighbour. He was our friend. He was someone who lived here and loved coming back. Even during the after party held at a local lounge for his March show (yes he made a brief appearance) he mentioned (I found this out via twitter from someone who was there) that Prince was in talks with Rogers Centre to come back next year for a show. A show that I told mom I’d take her to. Now, as media speculates on the cause of his death (I'll leave that circling to the cable news networks), my mind is fixated on the genius that was. Someone whom I’ve always referred to by his birth name: Prince Rogers Nelson. As I write this, I realize how lucky I am. Similar to how he would go on extended impromptu jazz-infused riffs at his concerts, he brought forth unexpected melodious interludes, which dotted my adult life. And for that I’m grateful.
     

    Main Image Photo Credit: www.alwaysalist.com
     

      Hina P. Ansari

      Hina P. Ansari

        Author

        Hina P. Ansari is a graduate from The University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario). Since then she has carved a successful career in Canada's national fashion-publishing world as the Entertainment/Photo Editor at FLARE Magazine, Canada's national fashion magazine. She was the first South Asian in...

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