Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Little Prince With A Big Impact

This is one of those times where a social media post just wasn't going to be enough.  Today we lost an all-time great, the incomparable Prince - Prince Rogers Nelson - the prolific, prodigious, popular music recording artist.

It's turning out to be a rough year for someone my age, losing many icons in the first third of the year already including David Bowie and now Prince, two artists with similar impact. Each in many similar ways, especially showing you can be a 'man' even when - or maybe because of - being effeminate, influenced me in various degrees to be the man I am today. There' a common phrase about men who are 'comfortable with their sexuality' and not needing to be a big, masculine, manly-man and I like to think I am that type of man, in part from men like Prince and Bowie.

There's one more thing about Prince that I relate to and was always inspired by: his size. As a smaller, soft-spoken guy, seeing someone like Prince with his stature and demeanor being able to be as big as he was in his chosen profession,  ad to look and dress as he did and still be attractive to women, made me think I could be whatever, whoever, I wanted to be and still fit in even if that me was unique.

I've never been one to take it to heart too much when a celebrity passes away,  I probably even scoffed a those who did, but this year, these two, have been different, probably because they were different. After Bowie passed there was a great tweet by @ElusiveJ that many have reposted for a reason: it sums it up perfectly. "We don't cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves" I get that now. I've had my mourning over Bowie, so its time for Prince. I was a teen in the '80's, so Prince is right in my wheelhouse of music and though he was never one of my favorites - which leaned to both darker and poppier (if that makes sense) tastes at the time, namely New Wave music - I always liked his music, respected his musicianship, and was inspired by his style and persona.

I am now 5'6", well on the shorter side for a grown man, and back in '84 when the movie Purple Rain came out I was 13 on my way to 14. I was one of the youngest in my class which just made my progress in size even less, I was probably around 5'4" and near the 100 pound mark as I entered High School in the midst of the New Romantic movement in music. Music videos (back when MTV actually played them) by all the Punk, New Wave, and other genres - what would eventually be known as alternative music - to most people were something to watch, not something to want to be. After all, though people liked Kiss, or some of the hair bands, most didn't try to dress like them. Sure maybe they grew their hair the same, but really who dresses like a rock star in real life? Well, me. Unlike many other genres, back then those who followed New Romantics, or gothic music, or other styles were some of the first who truly embraced the entire look and led the way for so many kids now who are much more accepted for different appearances now. And though he may have played music more related to funk and R&B than bubbly synthpop or dark, baroque goth, he wore make-up, feminine clothes, danced well, and still was sexy, women considered him sexy.

Yes, I did actually go out
looking like this
I grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Cedarburg to be exact, and there wasn't much in the way of youth culture out there, not much style beyond jeans or chinos with Ts and polos. Sure it was the '80's so they were pastels or neon, but still, pretty plain. So, what made me take that extra step compared to others who liked the same music? For one thing luckily back then under-age clubs that played alternative dance music were common - if I wanted to at the time I could go out pretty much any night of the week to listen and dance to the likes of Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Dead or Alive, Adam Ant, and more. Some of them were straight, some I knew were gay, but all carried on and amped up the glam look, and Prince was among them. This tiny powerhouse of a man from the Midwest - Minneapols no less, farther north even than Milwaukee - not New York, or L.A., let alone the UK, had the balls to look like that. So like my heroes, I dressed the same to go out. Soon the barrier between going 'out', i.e. to the club, blurred with just leaving the house for whatever - even school, and soon it was just who I was.

I may have gone out like the photo above,
but  it was maybe bigger that I went to school
like this
Maybe it was a way for me to be bigger, to get attention, though it was never a conscious decision. Whether planned or not, it did work out that way. Surprisingly, I didn't get much flack in school. I never felt bullied there. I had connections with most cliques from the brains (I was in some AP classes) to the jocks (I ran in track and cross country) and of course the few freaks. The teachers were very supportive, and I never felt pressure really to not dress as I wanted. Only a few threw the obvious xenophobic homosexual slang at men, and for senior awards I was voted, nearly unanimously, the 'Best Make-up' Award over even the 'pretty' girls. When I went out I was more likely to run into some - literally - punks who would make some comment, but maybe because I usually stood up for myself I usually ended up respected than further scorned. In those cases I guess you could say I was bullied, though it never got physical and I can probably count on one hand how many times I may have been actually fearful.

When out, I was, understandably, as likely to be approached by a gay teen as a straight young woman, but either way to me it was flattering. I always kindly declined advances from a gay teen, and in some cases became friends. I hung with people with a variety of sexual preferences, but also other diverse backgrounds from color of skin, to suburb versus urban, wealthy or not. When we were together, especially through the door of the club and on the dance floor, we were all equals. I guess the point is, I was always comfortable dressing how I wanted, being who I wanted, and whoever I fit in with because of that were only more likely to support and inspire the same in each other.

It is those experiences, with my appearance inspired and bolstered by the image of artists like Prince, that I believe helped mold me into the open, accepting, even empathetic man. Though I can never understand what it is to be gay, to actually deal with what some think of you, I have encountered some of the same treatment because my appearance was equated to it, such as having eggs thrown at you from a car passing by on the street as they hurl insults at you.

So there's that. But to bring it back there's more. There's also his physical stature and his upbringing. He is a small, soft-spoken (have you seen him in interviews?) Midwesterner who became as big as you can become. You never heard much about him off stage, other than his fight for his musical rights and name change thing. He made others big (Sheila E., Sinead O'Connor, Vanity, Morris Day & The Times and more) and much like some of the biggest artists (hello Mr. Bowie, along with the likes of Madonna) reinvented himself numerous times whether it be style of music and/or fashion. Seeing that you didn't have to be bombastic in your personal life yet could still be a powerhouse was, is, huge to me. I'll never do even a fraction of what he did, but I have been able to overcome a, let's not say shy, but quiet personality to learn to speak up, speak out, and step up to try to make even a small impact in the community.

Oh, and Prince rode a motorcycle. Not just in Purple Rain, and it wasn't just a stunt rider, but also in Graffiti Bridge (the same 1981 Honda CB400A Hondamatic just painted different). It was his bike.

So yeah, with the deaths of Bowie and Prince, artists who made well-crafted, enduring, influential, and successful, yet avant garde works, artists who may have had some personal issues (as do we all) yet never were hurtful, or hateful, and always inspired, it's been a rough year.

Goodnight, sweet Prince. This is what it sounds like when doves cry.