Showing posts with label Prince. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prince. Show all posts

November 29, 2013

3. I Would Die 4 U : Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast

Part 1.

I developed a taste for alternative music as I moved into my middle school years however I held onto one mainstream musical obsession up until the ninth grade. In 1984 I was 12/13 and in that awkward place between child and teen. Prince was the first Pop star who introduced me to sex appeal, even if I had no real idea what sex was no less sex appeal.  Whatever it was, I wanted to explore it.

I loved Prince's music but his persona stretched far beyond his top 40 hits. The record and the movie Purple Rain was already iconic worldwide and had pushed him into superstar status. All television, radio, and print that mentioned Prince was recorded or cut out by me, and then I revisited these things obsessively until every lyric, dance move, movie dialog, and melody had been memorized. I was a super fan swept up by and into his neo-romantic Revolution.

But what made Prince so appealing to me?

First of all, Prince’s written language reflected a coding almost exclusively used by kids in school passing notes to each other (or as this article ponders, graffiti - also a youth movement.) As if mirroring the language of my people, his signature abbreviations like "I Would Die 4 U" read like the messages held within the folded pieces of paper my age group kept in our pockets, purses, and notebooks. On a side note, who could have guessed that cell phone technology would lead all of us down the Prince path with texts from from friends and family reflecting something once exclusive to his purple majesty and tiny, torn bits of notebook paper? 

Revisiting Purple Rain as an adult, I am perplexed by the topics his lyrics touch upon: bananas, masturbating, doves, the Lord, computer blues with a dominatrix overtone, and a deeply emotional reaction in ballad form to rain the color of purple. This was not a bridge for a Holly Hobbie loving little girl into adult lust, it was a 42 minute push straight into psychedelic desires of the flesh. These subjects were not found in any book or record I owned so the combination of these themes delivered me to a place that one could not travel to in a car or plane. I call it hormonal transcendence. This would be reason number two for my fascination. 

He was to me what I imagine Hendrix was for suburban girls one generation older than me. Their extended manhood was released through orgasmic guitar solos. Their vocal attack added one more layer of Rock and Roll dirty talk. If I wanted to flirt with adulthood, this music took me there. What better escape from a mundane teenage bedroom than through a man who wore more eyeliner than I did wrapped in size 0 violet suits, ruffles, and sang about a girl named Nikki who was a sex fiend. It sounds ridiculous hokey now but to a 13 year in a training bra, my mind was blown. There were no capes in my closet. There were no lace teddies accented by bullet belts and stiletto heels. I had not skinny dipped in Lake Minnetonka. The trashy glam world Prince and his female entourage flaunted ( Apollonia / Vanity) replaced my Barbie dream home fantasies for good.

  Lastly, his exotic mysticism and eroticism had a hypnotic effect on me. I grew up in a small town with mostly upper class white people so there wasn't much about Prince that seemed cut from my little suburban world. Besides his Afro Hispanic appearance (although his family claims he is 100% black), much like Bowie before him (and other gender benders), he was also my first exposure to men who wore make up, heels, and dressed in a flamboyant fashion. His interviews and film characters have always portrayed him as a heterosexual male, but his soft spoken, feminine overtones made him less threatening and even more appealing to a barely teenage girl.  Petite and seemingly sensitive, Prince was the perfect introduction to sex for a little girl on her way to becoming a woman.

Part 2 

In March of 1985 The Purple Rain tour came to Nassau Coliseum and attending this concert wasn't just a dream to me, it was a necessity. My mother was always tremendously supportive of my passion for music so it wasn't all that shocking that she was excited to take me to see Prince live. What I can't recall, and honestly am glad I don't remember the details of because its utter impossible absurdity makes this story all the more amazing, is how a group of friends and their mothers also all agreed to attend this concert with us. We were a gaggle of grade schoolers going to see a man have simulated sex in a bathtub on stage in the presence of our mothers and thousands of screaming fans. Yes it was totally surreal but it really did happen. Purple orgasms everywhere.

This was my very first Rock concert so to get a better understanding of what to expect, I watched Duran Duran's Arena live concert film. Using my ridiculous kid logic, this was actually how I prepped to see Prince in a group setting. In turn I absolutely believed I would be brought to a frenzied state of non-stop screaming that would lead to my inevitable collapse. I seriously spent weeks fearing that I destined to faint from a sensory overload. I was very excited to see my favorite performer live and in person but I was also scared to death of losing control and my knees giving out. I love that I thought this reaction was an absolute fact in my mind. The reality was, once we entered the arena I was too busy soaking every inch of it in to lose my mind. I was so transfixed by every inch of the room's sights and sounds that there was no way I was going to scream over or collapse and miss one second of it. All of that worry leading up to the show was for nothing and damn you Duran Duran and your fire breathing windmills for misleading me.

For a first concert, I don't think I could have done much better. The only downfall to this is knowing that most artists I would see for the rest of my adult life would never top that experience. Ignoring the whole it was my first concert so therefor it was the best aspect, we are talking about Sheila E as the opener with Prince and the Revolution as the headliner. Everyone's stage presence and performances were flawless, energetic, colorful, and sexy. Every moment was larger than life and their staging put the audience in a fantasy setting with some of the best musicians on the planet. It not only showed me that women had an equal place on a stage with men (talent before gender) but that you could develop a unique sense of style and own it. Hell, if you worked hard enough, you could fill a stadium with people who applaud it.

This is part of an ongoing series I am writing. The last one I wrote can be found here.

October 15, 2012

An Introduction : Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast

In 1982 the town of Saddle River, N.J. didn't have cable television. It is hard to fathom how a town ranked with the second highest per-capita income in the state couldn't work out a way to bring this technology to our collective living rooms but regardless, we lived in a world without MTV and commercial free films. 

I was raised near the end of a  cul-de-sac on three acres of a retired apple orchard. Home was a five bedroom house that my father had designed himself with cedar shingle siding and it featured not one but two book libraries. They were divided up by his and hers collections and were contained at opposite ends of the house (looking at the picture - his far right, her's far, far left). 

People wonder why I won't combine my record collection with the men I love and live with but my parents happily kept their books quarantined. I always appreciated their carefully curated selections that highlighted their own interests and personal acquisitions living apart in two distinct spaces. They were separate but equal. This kind of segregation may sound unhealthy to some but to me it represented two individuals who maintained unique identities under one roof.  If there is one message to pull away from this paragraph, it is that collecting pieces of art (written, painted, or other) was a great source of pride in my family. Culture in our household was a core value and a collection of items reflecting that value was integral to our genetic making. Throw in a grandfather named Frank who post Depression Era could never bring himself to throw anything out and loved telling stories, and there you have it; collecting stuff was practically hard wired into my soul. It was only a matter a time before I started to write about it.

The second thing I should make as clear as possible is this. Your record collection will never commingle with mine.

Before I knew Northern Jersey had indie record stores or that magazine racks dotted with music publications could have possibly existed in the region, my exposure to music through the early '80s came from all the traditional sources. There were my parents, television/ film, radio, older siblings, and friends. But the problem was my grade school friends were as ignorant and naive as I was. My parents were, well my parents. Plus they liked music but they LOVED books. My big brother was the enemy and I barely grew up with the other siblings so that left me with film and cable-free television to show me what the world had to offer. It is hard for me to image life before the internet as I write this now but I promise you there was one and it was a dark, lonely, and confusing place.

But before I get into the significance of  me at age 11, here is a little more back story. We will get back to 1980s, I promise.

My great grandfather Frederick Keats wrote and published poetry as well as music for the piano during mostly the 1920s. Growing up we had a handful of Frederick's sheet music framed and hung up neatly in a row along our foyer's wood paneling. They now lovingly reside in my home, still trapped under glass waiting for someone to free them who also happens to read sheet music and can play the piano. 

Frederick Keats is the closest my family tree has come to to fame in the world of music. My grandmother Irma (the daughter of Frederick) had a piano but by the time I was born she was no longer playing it. It stood like an enormous out of tune end table in the front room of their home, adorned with family photos and unopened mail. No one except for me as a bored grade schooler ever paid much attention to it. I should also add that this piano and I were acquaintances at best. Armed with some basic skills passed down to me by one very patient grandmother, I poked and prodded its keys seasonally. During extended holiday visits or summer vacations (and only after we had played every card game known to mankind), I would try to figure out how to play one handed versions of songs I had recently heard. While visiting the bubble world of people in their 70s that meant Nadia's Theme, the schmaltzy opening song from the soap opera Young and the Restless. This is not exactly the stuff music prodigies are made of but it was the first hint that I had a thing for music.

My parents were enthusiast of the arts but they were not record collectors.Their first date had taken place at a piano bar where adults throw back cocktails in the presence of a piano player. They took turns singing along to whatever was played or requested with the lubrication of copious amounts of alcohol. They weren't professional musicians or songwriters, they just adored a good sing along. Even more annoyingly, my mom and Dad sang to just about everything in respectable two part harmony as if cast members from the musical South Pacific for all of eternity. When they didn't know the words to something, it didn't matter. They mumbled random ones until a melody would prevail. I suffered through hundreds, maybe thousands of car rides, trapped in the backseat, as they sang Broadway musical versions by the Rolling Stones to The Beatles. Sinatra to Bette Midler.

As a young girl being raised a mere 30 minutes from NYC, my parents regularly dragged me to the theater, operas, and classical music performances but I can't say I deeply connected with any of it. The endless exposure to music and art was there but when parents force you to attend these things, they become a chore rather than an interest. I was a prisoner not a fan with free will. Sure I shamelessly belted all the songs from the musical Annie but by the late '70s, every little girl my age was obsessed with the orphan in the red dress with the adorable dog. A little part of me dies as an adult when I hear these songs now (correction, ALL show tunes) but at the time Annie represented the promise of a happy ending involving a classic rags to riches storyboard and a locket that saves the day. Little girls love that crap.

My mom and dad were 17 years apart in age and brought children from previous marriages with them to their blissful union in the late '60s. I had a total of 5 half brothers and sisters growing up but they were all so much older than me that I don’t recall too much about their taste in music other than the occasional record they accidentally left behind at our parent’s house. Pink Floyd’s “Careful with that Axe Eugene” ( Ummagumma -1969)  literally scared the hell out of me when I put it on the turntable for the first time, so I avoided most of their orphaned records after that traumatic listening experience. (At 3:09 to be exact)

The snippets I do remember is this:

My older half brother Robbie and his girlfriend once showed up to our parent's house with every item they were wearing on their body cut to pieces and put back together with safety pins. I was told by them that it was “punk” but I couldn't have guessed what that actually meant at the time, no less that it had ties to a youth based music movement. I knew visually this punk thing pissed my parents off (“You ruined perfectly good clothes why?) but they looked like pimply puzzles with stiff troll doll hair and one black eyeliner pencil between them. If there was music fueling their fashion, they never talked about and they certainly didn't share of those records with me. Then again I was under the age of 10 so I can't be sure I would have appreciated The Sex Pistols quite yet anyhow. Music sometimes works like a book. You can be exposed to a later chapter but unless you have made it through all the earlier ones first, reading the final chapter solo can come across like gibberish. Listeners to a new kind of music sometimes need the related stepping stone chapters to have the most recent one make sense. Context is key and at that young age, I had none.

I had another older half brother named Peter who basically was Bill Murray. He looked a lot like him. He was unbelievably funny and utterly brilliant in the curious ways he expressed himself. Everything out of his mouth was delivered in an upside down comedic kind of way. He was the oldest and in turn he seemed to me the bravest of all the siblings because he didn't live in fear of our parents. He openly cursed, smoked, drank, talked back, and yet did so with such glee. 

Pete and I didn't know each other well because he was literally 25+ years older than me but I have tiny slivers of memories of him. I recall his arrival back from serving in Vietnam and his interest in making pottery. He lived in a tent in the back yard during this time period and then seemed to just vanish until the holidays cycled back around. What I remember most is a few Christmases  we spent with Pete. He usually gave ridiculous gag gifts to us but one year I was blessed with a UX-S90 mixed tape. There was no artful cover. It came bare bones with the classic lined paper insert and a handwritten the tracklisting filled with band name misspellings.(Not to mention a few missing song titles) I was in awe of this mysterious collection of nothing but new to me music. It was my introduction to Nick Cave, B-52s, R.E.M., Human Sexual Response, and Blue Cheer among others. A seed (Nick Cave joke intended) had been planted. I was beginning to understand and appreciate that there was music outside of the Billboard top 100 realm just waiting to find its way to my hungry ears. And to be fair, I know some of these bands eventually entered the top 40 charts but in the mid '80s, this was not the case. 

I can't stress how exotic and exciting these bands were to my green ears. Hearing them was like being given the keys to an invisible world that nobody else I knew had . A grown man who I really looked up to and only saw once every few years had confided in me this tremendous group of hand picked gems in a cassette form. I never listed to mainstream music the same way ever again. The secret was out. I didn't have to listen to what everyone else did. There were options. 

My half brother Chris was older than me by 6 years and was nicknamed "Psycho" in high school. He was a stereotypical artistic bad boy with a genius level IQ. During his teenage years he favored metal and punk but later in life he listened to truly every kind of music possible. He taught me that music used in movies was worth listening to on their own as a score or soundtrack. (Repo Man, The Shining, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure to name a few) This makes up for the year that he tortured the whole family by wearing a banjo around the house for a year, all day every day as he tried to learn how to play it. Try to image Tom Cruise's character from The Outsiders with a bluegrass instrument strapped around him but with no clue or talent to play it. It looked and sounded as terrible as you might imagine. 

Chris was the only sibling left in the house by the time I was born so most of my childhood featured him as the lone role of a traditional big brother. He rarely shared his music with me but at this point in my life I wasn't quite ready for any of it either. In fact when he played me The Ramones "Beat on the Brat", I was convinced it was written with a kid sister in mind AKA me. Call me sensitive but I received his passive aggressive message loud and clear. His music was his.

Chris once brought me back a white and blue quarter sleeve shirt from the Judas Priest "Screaming for Vengeance" tour but not because he was being kind or even that I requested it. Our mother made him buy me something when he went to see them perform at the Meadowlands Arena without his kid sister. His choice of this particular album art shirt was his little fuck you to me knowing I didn't like the band nor would I ever want to wear a metal eagle upon my undeveloped chest. It wasn't that the bands he liked were bad, but they were his bands. By Chris liking them first, he owned them in my mind. While some people grow embracing the music of their older siblings, I was repulsed by the very idea of being a copy cat. Now, I would kill to have that Maiden shirt.

Oddly I have almost no recollection of my half sister's musical taste at all. 

I remember Susan being disgusted with me because I didn't know who Robert Plant was when Big Log was charting on the radio. I apparently needed to show more respect for this ex Led Zeppelin vocalist but after hearing this particular single, could you blame my lack of interest? At age 40 I still find this song sleepy and disinteresting. Sorry Sue.

My sister Jennifer upon discovering I loved Prince during the Purple Rain time period  (1984)   gave me a long winded speech about the beauty and sexuality of Sade, an artist she considered more talented then my purple  royalty.  Needles to say this rambling was totally lost on me and I stopped paying attention to anything she had to say to me about anything from that point forward. She could keep her  saxophone Jazz and sex talks. Ick.  

By the early '80s I began a personal journey to find a soundtrack of my very own. I had just requested my kiddie rainbow themed room be painted over to something a little more adult that reflected the new transitional me. Good bye childhood, hello awkward puberty steamrolling towards the teenage years.

Some families pass down from generation to generation recipes or silverware but I have the deep appreciation for music, words (printed, spoken, or in song), and almost 150 years of family history helping pump it through my veins. I am enormously proud to carry on the tradition in my own small way as a musician and writer but most of all as a person who has carried a life long obsession with music.  My parents, grandparents, Chris and Peter are all gone now but their passion for the arts  had been embedded in me from an early age and now it owns me. I don't have children of my own to pass along this history to so I am extremely grateful to the internet for giving me a place to share it so it won't be totally lost.