Seeing Purple Rain on the big screen days after Prince’s death and 32 years after I’d watched it as a precocious, titillated teenager, brought me to shivering tears. The final scene felt like witnessing a shooting star explode into eternity. I was undone with emotion, awed by his prodigious artistry, vulnerable arrogance, and epic catapult to fame. I was also left simmering in despair. Who can ever dream to emulate such glorious Purple Reign?
Walking towards the train after the movie ended, I felt a tickling sensation at the back of my mind, a voice growing more insistent with each step. Suddenly, clear as day, I hear, “Girlfriend, you gotta stop hiding inside those baggy-ass clothes and dedraggled look you callin’ style. Shake what your maker gave you.”
This was definitely not my regular inner voice, the one that advocates for turtlenecks, no makeup, and long shirts to cover my ass. I whipped around, wondering who was cat-calling me in such an oddly insulting sort of way. I was alone in the rain, trekking up Second Avenue towards Grand Central Station. Mystified, I kept walking…and then the lyrics started:
Don’t give a damn about the rules / How you expect me to be / Cuz it don’t pay my bills / Or buy cheap thrills / Gotta be me / Gotta be me / Dress how I want / Eat what I like / No pain or shame in being free / Gotta me free / Gotta be me / Life on a dare / Can you see? / Gotta be free / Gotta be me / Wish I had a diamond / For every tear I cried / I’d cover you in riches / Fill you up inside / Never knew my savior / Though I tried / Though I tried / Never knew my savior / Til I died / Til I died / Passion in the music / Set my soul on fire / Passion in the music / Deepest heart’s desire / How I loved my father / Hated him the same / Never knew my mother / She died early from the shame / Passion in the music / Set my soul on fire / Passion in the music / Deepest heart’s desire / Yes, I got real famous / No end to fame in sight / Rockin’ melodies a worthy fight / Rebel poetry flowing out my pen / Rebel poetry 1 to 10 / Sell me your soul for two bars / I’ll sell you a treble clef / Passion in the music / It’s all I got to get / Help me go / Set me free / Gotta be me / Gotta be me.
Let’s not get it twisted folks, this is not my normal authorial voice. I’m a scholar, one of those dull academic writers who occassionally composes romantic poetry peppered with words like “diaphanous.” These short rhyming, vernacular lyrics are not my style, and it wasn’t even a female voice in my own head. Nonetheless, lines were still coming, so I grabbed a (purple) pen and took dictation.
Imploding black hole of pain and rage / Got me falling onto the stage / Onto the cosmic stage / Play it true / Don’t stop / Don’t wait / Falling deep into the sea / I got to save only me / Said my prayers / My soul to keep / Gotta sleep / Help me sleep / Brand new day / Fly round the moon / Come on back / Troubles packed up in a sack / Dump them out onto the stage / Pain and rage / Pain and rage / Love me fierce / Love me true / You love me fierce? / Like I love you? / Black and blue / Black and blue / Love me fierce / Like I love you.
By now I’m starting to freak out, wondering if I’m losing my mind and simultaneously experiencing profound despair over my own obvious lack of talent. I feel vaguely suicidal, suddenly convinced that there’s no point to life without music (hell, I don’t even play a instrument!), but the lyrics keep coming.
Don’t hold back / Don’t block / Don’t stop / Don’t doubt / Leap, fall / Catch a wave / Wait before you die / Leap again / Fall in faith / Pure love / Nothing great in playing small / No joy in life half-lived / Go out with all you got / Singing heart on fire / Bliss / Dying alive / Can’t catch a breath / I’m in freefall / Don’t try so hard / Close your eyes / Leap with faith / Fly free and die / Let it all go / Let it all come in / Fly like the wind / Cry under the sun / Sail round the moon / Dive free again / Hold your breath / Come back to me / Everything you’ve ever known / Every place you’ve ever been / Nothing there when you return / Sail away ’cause there is no sin / Gotta love with every step / Die a bit with every breath / Ticking tocking / Never stopping / Until the end when / You fly back home / Fly back home / All I want is to be free / Don’t need no company / Got my guitar / Took me so far / Gotta go / Close the door / Let go my hand / The ride was fun / The people grand / Music always with my band / The way is steep / Time to sleep / Final curtain call / I’m in freefall / You’re in freefall / Let’s all freefall / Peace.
Peace, and yet I felt empty for days afterwards, like I’d had temporary access to a foreign language but had forgotten every word since then. The inevitability of death enveloped me. I (re)mourned all my losses, especially a talented artist friend who committed suicide three years prior. I considered joining her, all of my lost idols and loved ones, on the other side of the veil. But truth is, my song’s not fully sung yet. I’ve still got stories to tell, even if some of them aren’t entirely my own.