On March 5, 1982, Prince played the MetroCentre in Rockford, Illinois. For a 17-year-old high-school senior living in a small Midwestern city, I was pretty savvy about music, but I didn’t know much about the show my older, Chicago-bred boyfriend took me to. This was Prince’s Controversy tour. A few months before, Rolling Stones fans had booed Prince off stage when he opened for the rockers in LA. I remember being in the Rockford bathroom between acts and realizing I was the only white woman in there. Not that it felt weird, or bad, but it marked a moment, when the artist futurely known as the Artist was starting to cross over to integrated audiences – Paul and I and his roommates represented that initial vanguard.
The Time and Zapp with Roger opened. Roger Troutman played the vocoder, and Morris Day was the consummate dapper showman. What can I say, it was a great bill. I was a punk who loved funk and couldn’t have been happier.
And then there was Prince. I had seen Bruce Springsteen for the first time several months earlier, so I knew what a good concert was. But Mr. Nelson took my breath away. Like the Boss, Prince was a showman in the great tradition of James Brown, whipping his band into a tightly controlled frenzy and playing with his audience’s expectations. He was also an amazing guitar player and sang with that playful growl and falsetto. He was so sexy and beautiful in his elfin androgynous tunic and undies. I think I only knew his song “Controversy,” but I don’t think I ever sat down – nor did the rest of the crowd that filled the small arena.
I will never forget the way he made love to his guitar. Prince took the whole concept of the solo and revealed it for what it was: masturbation. He sat with that instrument between his legs and slid his hands up and down the frets, up and down, exaggerating the innuendo of the motion, just wacking the thing off. Then he laid on top of it and ground. It was not only the hottest live sex act I had/have ever seen, it also sounded great. I was transformed, a convert, a fan. In fact that whole experience – adventuring to a show of an artist I knew little about, discovering great talent, going home with my ears ringing and new songs in my head – became my life obsession, my career even.
I saw Prince many times after that: at the Apollo, in a tiny Miami press room previewing the Superbowl half-time, at the Inglewood Forum five years ago. But a girl always remembers her first time, and I’ll never forget that Rockford epiphany.
We’ve lost so many musicians this year; Prince, so young and so hugely important, is the most shocking of all. Rest in Purple.