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The death of Prince Rogers Nelson was devastating for me. It was like losing a family member, which is one of the first things I said when I was able to stop crying. Not like a freak out, what some might call hysterical, cry, but one that was deep, aching, and ongoing. It was a deep ache because it took me back to another deep ache, as music often does, to one of those defining moments as a young woman: the time when I had a tight group of young women friends, all of us teenagers, when the line between friendship, sisterhood, love, and attraction overlapped. A time before I came out as queer but felt like these women really knew me. And they did, a huge feat in my mostly white hometown, my mostly white family (in terms of who I lived with), and at a time when my secret sexuality and sexual practice were in “full bloom.” It was during this time that I was, perhaps, most connected to Prince, and it was the fertile ground for that relationship to build and solidify over time.

When he died I was taken back almost immediately to a night in 1987, sitting in my car in Smith Park, which was a smaller, non-party park on the north (aka Black) side of Springfield, Missouri. I was sitting alone listening to Sign o’ the Times, on the precipice of change. In that moment, I was registering my commitment to Prince, like my girlfriends, and unlike so many others, basically, fair-weather fans who only really liked Purple Rain, and mostly the movie at that. Black kids I ran with didn’t like Prince. They thought that Prince was nasty, like “he nasty.” Not like, as I’ve written about before, the cleaner/Blacker, more innocent, and “just better” Michael Jackson. Prince existed a little on the outside of that space. A certain space of Blackness. As did we—the girls I ran with who loved Prince. Because of how we looked, most people thought we’d like the side chicks: Vanity, Apollonia, Sheila E., or that that’s who we wanted to be. We listened to Controversy, 1999, and Parade over and over again, “discussing” the merits of them vs. Purple Rain, which, while [End Page 21] good, felt too commercial. Like we lost him. His other side acts like The Time, Vanity 6, and even the Family were on constant rotation in our headphones, in our cars, in the apartment that Jennifer—the only of us who lived on her own—shared with her “rumored to be a drag queen and probably gay cuz he slept with dudes for money” boyfriend, T. The one she was pregnant by. It felt like it was non-stop. We adopted his and his crew’s style: lace, curly hair, boots. Some of it we stole, just to have it be real. We loved Prince so much because he felt like he was us: light skin-ded (not mixed, despite the belief that he was, which he helped to perpetuate), Black, free sex. We were the ones who existed on the outside. The ones others weren’t so into, the “chicks on the side,” ’cause we weren’t “fully Black.” Half-white because nobody could make sense of Mexican, and, for all intents and purposes, we were fast. Maybe our parents didn’t know it—until a pregnancy occurred—but everybody else seemed to. We were the girls you’d have sex with but not a relationship. And we knew that. And when I say “free sex,” I mean freedom in that we freely had sex. Reveled in it (as much as you can revel at sixteen), in being the ones nobody wanted to be with. We didn’t want to be anybody’s girlfriend, anyway, not even Prince’s. He was fine and all, and we dug his aesthetic, but he was goofy too. Like, underneath it all, he wanted “it”—intimacy, commitment, connection—more than he let on.

His desperation seemed to come through, at times, on Sign o’ the Times...

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