Minnesota, the land of 10,000 Prince stories. Pretty much everyone has one, including me. The last few days have been harder than I ever could have imagined and yet oddly comforting. The shock of his loss is palpable and everywhere but the outpouring of grief has been offset at least a little bit by the many public memorials, street concerts and all night dance parties that have happened across the city in his honor without any incidents because we’re classy like that up here in the north country. Forget Kevin Bacon and his six degrees of separation. No one in the Twin Cities has to go any further than two degrees of Prince separation. Everyone knows someone who either had an encounter with Prince at the state fair eating Tiny Tim donuts, or was in one of his many bands (two peeps from my high school for sure), or was an extra in Purple Rain (I’m just saying, if everybody who said they were in this movie really were than the credit list would be twice as long).
Unlike Dylan, the Coen Brothers or just about anyone else with an iota of fame, Prince never left us and for that he earned our eternal love and respect. He was a Minnesotan through and through. He went to sporting events (he loved the Minnesota Lynx), showed up at clubs (he had a permanently reserved table at the Dakota) and rode his bike around his Chanhassen neighborhood as if he were just a regular guy who worked at Target or Best Buy corporate. There was no drama with this one and there certainly could have been because he was a mega-genius wrapped up in a neat little pixie package.
The mid-to-late 80’s was a magical time to live in Minneapolis and be into the local music scene. Bands like the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Walt Mink, Trip Shakespeare and Soul Asylum meant you could go out just about any night and not regret the loss of sleep (well maybe once or twice if the ‘Mats were having an off night). Thanks to Prince, Alexander O’Neal, The Time and the Flyte Time crew, the Minneapolis sound was getting huge and gaining world-wide attention. Then Purple Rain came out and suddenly we were cooler-than-cool, and not in the expected winter-weather kind of way. Prince put our city, First Avenue and the mind-boggling purification benefits of Lake Minnetonka on the map and for that we are forever grateful.
There are and were many reasons to love Prince. He was an icon musically and sexually for a generation that needed some guidance during the just say no years. He spoke out about HIV/AIDS when the president at the time could not even acknowledge its existence. He could wear a puffy shirt like nobody’s business and didn’t mind a little black lace or shoulder pads, mainstays of 80’s fashion mostly reserved for Limited Express shoppers. I love the fact that Prince was a devoted Joni Mitchell fan and I especially love the fact that he wrote Purple Rain the ballad, as a direct response to the in-concert popularity of Bob Segar’s We’ve Got The Night. With a 1% African-American population in Minneapolis when he was growing up Prince had to find his inspiration somewhere and it certainly wasn’t going to be by watching Soul Train since the market was too small for it to even air here.
I had many Prince sightings throughout my formative years, usually at First Avenue where he was either tucked behind the glass of the VIP section or blocked by burly bodyguards. One time I saw him as he was coming up the stairs and I was coming down. There was no one else around and I could feel myself holding back from wanting to say something lest I blew my whole “we’re cool” persona. When we both stopped on the same step I realized that I was finally taller than someone in Minnesota and that someone was Prince. We both had on heels but his were much taller than mine. I was doing my happy dance on the inside when our eyes locked and he gave me that sly, pants-meltingly sexy smile he had. Let me tell you Prince was HOT up close, scorching really. I about died right then and there and hadn’t even been to a high school reunion yet. I lived and would run into him occasionally after that, usually at the grocery store, but we would never have meaningful eye contact again. Thanks to a job I had at the time I was lucky enough to be invited to the grand opening of Paisley Park and that is one piece of direct mail I will never, ever recycle.
Sometimes unfortunately it does snow in April in Minnesota and sometimes, just like Joni Mitchell said, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Prince’s charitable donations were many and not widely publicized, partly because of his faith and partly because he was not that kind of guy. There are people with solar power in Northern California thanks to him and a charter school in Minneapolis would not exist without his financial support. He bankrolled school music programs across the country and probably bought more boxes of Girl Scout cookies than you or I could ever imagine (hey, it very well could be true). The Carver County sheriff said it best at the press conference last Friday. To the rest of the world he was a celebrity but to us he was a neighbor and a friend, and we will miss that friend terribly.