It may be a beautiful spring day in April, but it’s snowing heavy in my heart: Today Prince Rogers Nelson is dead at 57.
“Sometimes it snows in April/ Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad/ Sometimes I wish that life was never-ending/ But all good things, they say, never last”
—Prince and the Revolution, “Sometimes It Snows in April”
Just a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t get Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April” out of my head. It was cold and damp, and it seemed like spring just didn’t want to come around this year. I had always adored that Prince song from Parade—the soundtrack to Under the Cherry the Moon, which I couldn’t help loving in spite of it being widely panned—but its lyrics will haunt me forever now. Because it may be a beautiful spring day in April, but it’s snowing heavy in my heart: Today Prince Rogers Nelson is dead at 57.
This is something I never expected to write. It wasn’t supposed to happen to Prince. Not after Michael. Not after Whitney. Prince lived in his own magical little bubble and, having lived his life shrouded in mystery, he seemed somehow immortal. Born June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, he changed music. He changed the world. I can remember hearing “I Wanna Be Your Lover”—his breakout 1979 single—for the first time, and it was like hearing music for the first time. Who was this man with the funk and the falsetto that made you want to come running? I, like many Prince disciples, was instantly hooked.
My devotion deepened after 1982’s 1999, with the trifecta of “Little Red Corvette,” “Delirious” and of course the title track—the-turn-of-the-millennium party jam that was, like many of the things Prince did, ahead of its time. But as with many, the deal was forever sealed with 1984's Purple Rain—the movie and the soundtrack—which opened my ears and eyes to the possibilities of music. It also made it cool for a Black kid to like rock music and wear ruffled shirts and ride a purple motorcycle if he wanted. It was a liberating cultural moment that transcended race, gender, sexuality and everything else.
I remember going to the Purple Rain tour—my first of many Prince shows—and knowing right then and there that I was witnessing the world’s greatest live performer. Many shows later, he still ruled the concert stage like no other with his vocal versatility, guitar wizardry and high-heeled hoofing. And while it’s hard to pick favorites, because they were all special, there was one night I saw him in concert at Lincoln Center playing the piano, and I marveled at how the same man who could do all those splits and make the guitar scream could also just sit at the keys and hold you captive for a whole show. Then after that concert, I stayed up all night for the after-party show—he was always famous for those—that didn’t get started until the wee hours of the morning. Who needed sleep? If Prince wanted to stay up playing, then I could too.
There were seven Grammys and innumerable other great musical moments after Purple Rain—from “Raspberry Beret” and “Kiss” to “ Sign o’ the Times”—and he was wildly prolific for most of his career. In 1996, he even put out a three-disc album, Emancipation, that was woefully underappreciated, because maybe we took his genius for granted a little bit. It came to be just what was expected of him, because his name was Prince. His influence will live on in countless other musicians, from D’Angelo and Maxwell to The Weeknd and Miguel. And his old stuff still sounds just as fresh and funky as the first day I heard it.
May he reign eternally.
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