by Peyton Price
When Prince died — I still can't believe that's a thing that we say now — I did what a lot of people probably did: I went down in the basement and dug through hundreds of CDs. I found a random lot: Purple Rain, Lovesexy, Sign of the Times (Disc 2 only, for some reason), Batman, Graffiti Bridge, and Musicology. I'm sure we have others, but I stopped looking once I found six because I was sad and my car has a six-CD changer.
Had I thought this through, I probably wouldn't have chosen these particular CDs, but I went ahead and pressed "Insert Disc" six times. I then announced to my family that our all-Prince-all-the-time vehicular mourning period (moan) would extend to Black Friday (what?) at which time The Artist would be replaced by Christmas CDs (loud groan). Looking back, this seems a bit drastic, but at the time I imagined that only Christmas magic could sparkle through the purple fog. Something else you should know about me: I keep my word.
This week, now a few months into our listening tribute, I've had a few revelations.
You don't need to know what art means to be moved.
Half of these songs don't make a lick of sense — and just to be clear, I mean that in the old-timey sense of the expression, not in the Prince context where someone actually licks you senseless. Most people would say that "Purple Rain" is Prince's piéce de resistance, even though they have no idea what the lyrics mean. Go ahead and Google it. There are some general hints, but no definitive explanation. One verse seems to be about Appolonia, but lately I'm getting Donald Trump there toward the end. Who knows. When it's sung live in tribute, the words are rarely even right. But there's no denying the sentiment of "Purple Rain," and so many other tracks: Prince yearns. So do moms driving in circles around the suburbs. Oh, how we yearn. If you've seen me in your rear-view with tears running down my face, now you know why.
Good times don't just happen. Somebody makes them.
Right now, my favorite song on most albums is the party song. Prince is having a party. You're invited, and man, is it going to be a good time. We know this because Prince tells us in the first few bars where the party is and how cool it's going to be. He wants to get us pumped up. Next, he sets the example and proceeds to have fun himself — we know because he's saying something like "ooowah!" in a very high voice. But hold on, he's just getting started. He's gonna boss around the band to make sure everything is perfect. Drums! Horns! Jerome! Now Prince is bossing us: Do this dance! Sing it! OMG, there's more. Solos! Jams! Clap your hands! I drove all the way home but I can't get out of my car. What is even happening here? The sheer force of one tiny man's will, that's what.
The part where "nothing happens" can be the most important part.
My carpooling audience members (some of whom would like to note for the record that they consider themselves captive) are not fans of "the jam." The jam happens toward the end of the song, when Prince takes a break from singing and the musicians (sometimes also Prince, it must be noted) really get going. My son says the jam is "boring" because "nothing happens." Au contraire. If you listen really closely, and enough times, you might be able to pinpoint the moment at which the band loosens up a little bit and starts to try some stuff. It's also the point where I start to loosen up a little bit and maybe think some stuff — stuff unrelated to this carpool and the whiners in the back seat who do not understand how to jam.
You can take a pass and still love someone.
At first, I faithfully listened to the CDs in order, one track at a time as his Purple Highness intended. After all, he's The Artist. Who am I to mess around with his creations? This is how He would want it, I figured: Some of his albums don't even have tracks — they just roll from one tune right into the next, skip-proof. Then one day I was bouncing along to Sign of the Times (Disc 2) and after "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," I really wanted to hear "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" without suffering "The Cross" first. I get that Prince is trying to atone for "If I Was Your Girlfriend" by slipping in some religion to even things out, but that doesn't mean Mama shouldn't get her party song before camp pickup, right? I hit "Skip Track" and realized The Artist decides what to make, but I decide how to experience it. Now that I forgive him his musical transgressions, I love him even more.
I'm sure there will be more to the Prince effect as the miles wear on and summer becomes fall. (Someone tried to slip a "regular" CD into the mix but I immediately sensed and ejected it.) On today's ride, Prince was trying to tell me something about dissonance. I don't know what that's all about yet, but seems like I'll have some solo ride time to work on it, seeing as my kids keep jumping into my husband's car for some reason. Weird, I know.