I was dreamin’ when I wrote this…

    icon Apr 28, 2016
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Christmas mornings my parents would make my brother and I wait at the top of the stairs. My mom would put the finishing touches on everything and my dad built a fire. The anticipation and excitement were almost unbearable. I hated to wait, but looking back now I realize it was probably the best part. They always left the biggest gift unwrapped, for two reasons: one, because it made such an impact seeing it from the stairs; and two, because then they didn’t have to wrap it. 

Christmas 1984 my mom called, “C’mon guys!”

I ran down the stairs, through the kitchen into the living room. And there it was, unwrapped, leaning against our old loveseat -- my very first electric guitar. Beams of color radiated from it as it reflected every Christmas light in the house. It was just a cheap copy of a Stratocaster from the Sears catalog but to me it was everything.  I’d asked for it for years and always got the standard reply: “Learn on the one Uncle Eddie gave you and if you stick with it… well… we’ll see.”  

I picked it up, strummed it and my dad said, “That does not sound good.”

Sparing his children’s feelings was never high on his list of priorities. My mom, the more tactful parent, asked, “Why is it so quiet?”  They didn’t realize that electric guitars are played through amplifiers, so I spent the next six months growing less and less interested in the virtually silent instrument.

That summer I was offered a job that paid 40 bucks a week helping a buddy mow the lawn at the L&K Hotel in Clio, Michigan. I had never been so filthy, stinking rich in all my life. So I did what any responsible teenager would do, I bought some Sun-In, some really embarrassing clothes, checkered canvas shoes, round mirrored sunglasses and 1999 on cassette - all the “must haves” for summertime in the ‘80s. The rest I just stashed away for a rainy day.

Fourth of July was the highlight of my small town summer and my aunt and uncle picked me up for a cookout. They were the only people in my world that had HBO and they said we could watch a movie until it got dark enough for fireworks. I took my paper plate with a Kogel Vienna and some baked beans into the living room and parked it in front of the tube.  Up next on Home Box Office… Purple Rain.

“Oh, my God! I’ve been dying to see this! I love Prince! We have to watch this!” I lost what little cool I had.  

My aunt thought about it for a minute. “Is this something your mom would let you watch?” 

“Aunt Trudy,” I said, in my best used car salesman voice, “I think we both know there ain’t no way in hell my mom would ever let me watch this… but that’s what makes aunts like you so cool.” 

SOLD! Purple Rain it was.

I’ve since watched that movie more times than I am proud of, but that first time is a blur. The music, the clothes, the hair, the women, that motorcycle, father-son drama, domestic violence, sex, smoke, lights, color -- and the guitars! I was shaken. I was dazed. I was inspired. I don’t remember the fireworks that night or where we went afterward or anything else that happened. All memories of that night revolve around that movie and Prince.     

Early the next morning, I called my lawn wrangler buddy and asked if he could drive me to downtown Flint. “Why would you ever want to go there?”

Convincing someone to go to downtown Flint in 1985 is like trying to convince someone to go to downtown Flint today. “Pawnshops,” I told him. "I saw Prince play guitar last night and I need to buy an amp right now!" 

I bought an amplifier that day and spent the next few years of my life trying to play like Prince. Never once did I come close. He was unbelievably skilled. He was colorful while defying color and original while remaining as familiar as an old friend.  He was so positive and energetic - he made me believe in myself and my generation. He set the standard high -- so high, in fact, I have never known another musician to meet it.  

I love Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and, of course, The Beatles; their music changed the world, but they were technically my mom’s bands. I missed out on the ‘60s; Woodstock happened before my time. But Prince was ours. A true, one of a kind, musical genius that could not be denied, the likes of which the world had never known, and he belonged to us.  We understood him in a way the older generation could not. And he understood who we were: Reagan-era kids that were told from day one we could do anything we put our minds to, only to find later in life that it’s so much harder than anyone ever lets on. He filled our lives with great music, fun, color, and, for me, hope.      

Prince symbolizes that entire time for me and losing him has forced me to face the fact that those times are over. That era is now the past. I am no longer a starry eyed, 15-year-old kid. I’m a middle aged guy that goes to work every day and worries about bills and his gut. I still have hopes and dreams, but now they’re more about time and the people in my life and less about mansions and private jets. Probably for the better.

When I heard the news of Prince passing my heart broke for a man too young to die and for the world’s loss of a great artist. But I am grieving something more. I’m grieving the loss of my youth, the disillusionment of my dreams, and the death of the naïve optimism of my plans.

At age 15 I had everything ahead of me, and now so much of it seems behind me. The world was mine for the taking and the possibilities were limitless. I had big dreams that I was certain I could make happen. I hadn’t really been hurt yet, or let down, or even really disappointed. I hadn’t tasted defeat or betrayal. I knew what loneliness meant by definition only, not ice cold experience.  Love was new. Music was exciting. The world seemed friendlier, more colorful, and cheerier when he was among us. 

So I think it’s fitting that he died on a cold, grey, rainy day in April. It’s like he took all the color and sunshine with him. But if I close my eyes, I don't see the grey. If I close them tight enough and let myself go, I can almost feel it again. Purple Rain, Paisley Park, Raspberry Beret...the sounds, the colors and Prince, forever young, dancing with a rose in his teeth, surrounded by clouds and crying doves.

To quote from 1999: ‘Life is just a party; and parties aren’t meant to last’. 


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