On April 21, 2016 my heart, along with the hearts of millions of others, shattered into a million little pieces. Our beloved Prince, the innovative musical genius and icon, died suddenly. That haunting falsetto was silenced forever, those sexy hips would gyrate no more.
Of all the celebrity deaths in recent years, this one hit me hardest. I’ve been a hard-core Prince fan since his debut album, For You, was released. It was 1978 and I was a 13-year old Black girl attending an all-white, private suburban Detroit school where I felt keenly out of place most of the time. The early stages of puberty hit me hard, filling my head with ideas and images that both frightened and excited me. I was also a precocious reader, devouring “adult” romance novels by the truckload, earmarking the sex scenes to read to my friends, and trying my hardest to understand the changes in my body.
Then, along came Prince and the song “Soft and Wet”. Back then, I didn’t fully understand the song was about his girl’s pussy. Not at that tender age, anyway. But it felt “naughty”, much like the images in my head. The song struck a chord, and suddenly I didn’t feel so out of place. What followed was a 38 year love affair with his music, filled with live performances, dozens of albums and a deeper understanding of myself.
It’s significant that Prince came along at the advent of my sexual awakening, piquing my curiosity and titillating my senses. Through his music, I was exposed to ideas about sexuality, sensuality and spirituality that ultimately shaped my identity as a woman and later, as an erotica writer.
Prince Rogers Nelson (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016)
Born June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, MN, Prince Rogers Nelson was a musical prodigy. He signed his first record deal with Warner Brothers at the tender age of 18. Prince would go onto enjoy one of the most successful musical careers in history, eventually putting his hometown on the musical map. A prolific writer and producer, Prince was also a mogul, developing long-lasting, lucrative careers for other talented musicians. And his epic battle with Warner Brothers in the 90s, which played out in the public eye and prompted him to give up his own name for a few years, ultimately changed the way the music industry treats its artists.
The man’s influence is undisputed. He was an icon, a true musical genius. Artists from all genres and generations clamored to work with him. He’s written and produced hit songs for some of music’s biggest stars, and won 7 Grammys, a Golden Globe and even an Oscar. And he’s also a big part of the reason you’re reading these words today.
You see, Prince taught me a lot about sexuality through his lyrics and music. He gave me permission to be curious, to explore and experiment. His artistry helped me to reconcile my growing sensual nature with my religious up-bringing, bridging the gap between sexuality and spirituality in a way that made me feel whole and acceptable. Bottom line: he’s one of the reasons I write about sex.
My parents hated him and his blatant sexual prowess. Of course, this made me love him more. Prince made me a rebel, allowing me to expand my horizons within the safe confines of his music. His posters freaked my father out and made my mom blush, but they gave me a sense of belonging, a place to pour my fantasies without any real risk.
His 2nd album, Prince was released in 1979 and it blew me away. The song “Bambi” was my introduction to gay sex and love. This was the 1970s, decades before the internet, Google and Pornhub. In my little sheltered corner of the world, people didn’t talk much about any kind of sex, much less gay sex. While I cringe at the anti-lesbian messaging in some of the lyrics today (“Bambi, can’t you understand/ Bambi, it’s better with a man”), back then the mere notion of two women loving each other was revolutionary for me. It prompted me to ask questions and explore. And in those days, that meant a lot more than just typing a few words in a search engine.
Whenever I’m Around You, Baby … I Get a Dirty Mind
It was Prince’s 3rd album, Dirty Mind that really rocked my world, though. My older sister owned the album and I blatantly stole it from her. Without remorse. Without apology. Without hesitation. I took it.
You see, this was the album through which my burgeoning sexuality was really brought into focus. If his first 2 albums were my introduction to sex and sensuality, Dirty Mind was my Master’s Class!
The opening beats of the title song still make my heart race. I can’t help but bob my head, tap my feet and sing along when I hear it. Prince put into words all the “dirty” thoughts swirling about in my adolescent imagination. Then he set those words to a blazing hot beat that still makes me squirm in my seat to this day.
But it’s “Head”, that funky, up-tempo ode to oral sex that was the real revelation! Here was this tiny little half-naked man bellowing “Morning, noon and night I’ll give you HEAD”! Man, I was hooked! Those lyrics, that baseline, that beat all came together to give women permission to want, request and enjoy oral pleasure. Hell yes!
And that’s the genius of how Prince wrote about sex. He was this virile, hyper-sexual man writing and singing about women who were unafraid to ask for what they want in bed. It wasn’t just about the man’s pleasure, anymore. It wasn’t just about the man’s sex drive. Prince’s woman, in song anyway, brazenly asks for what she wants (“I must confess, I wanna get undressed and go to bed”). And Prince, with his diminutive, falsetto little self, is all too happy to give it to her.
“I Just Can’t Believe All the Things People Say”
I can go on and on about those early albums and my sexual development. There was “Do Me, Baby” from the wildly successful Controversy album (released in 1981). Not only did we hear Prince simulate an erotic scene which ends with one of the best recorded orgasms in history, but it’s also the song to which many of my contemporaries lost their virginity. And yes, my friends and I can still sing along with every single moan, sigh and gasp to this very day!
“Sexuality” from the same album became another anthem during my blossoming adolescence. He says it plainly with this lyric – “Sexuality is all we’ll ever need”. Yes, my dirty little mind screamed! Prince gets me!
Following 1999’s “International Lover” (released in 1982), no real Prince fan can listen to a pilot’s announcements on a plane with a straight face ever again. Especially when they tell us “your seat cushion may be used as a floatation device”. And don’t even get me started on the aggressive sexuality of “Lady Cabdriver” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”. In the latter, he says “I sincerely want to fuck the taste out your mouth”, and I ain’t been right since.
“I’m in love with God, that’s the Only Way”
I could do this forever, taking you through every single sexually-oriented song and drawing parallels to my own sexual development. Suffice it to say that Prince’s straight-forward lyrics about embracing our sexuality played a huge role in creating the woman I am today.
But I’d be remiss in not speaking to Prince’s ability to connect the sexual with the spiritual, which was truly genius of him given the era during which his career took flight. The year was 1984 and the album and movie that would launch Prince into the stratosphere, Purple Rain, was released. The AIDS epidemic had exploded and was quickly going from a gay, white man’s disease to a worldwide crisis.
In the US, political conservatives were evolving into the GOP we know today, thanks to Ronald Reagan and the enormous push-back from the women’s movement of the previous decade. The free loving 70s had given way to the greedy, consumer-driven 80s, and ironically, religious fervor was on the rise.
And here was Prince, brazenly sexual, pushing boundaries, not caring if anyone thought he was Black, white, straight or gay. He had the nerve to sing about God and spirituality in the same straightforward manner, mixing religious iconography and erotica effortlessly. From “Annie Christian” to “God” and so many other songs, Prince touched upon spiritual themes throughout his long career.
Prince taught me that my sexuality wasn’t diametrically opposed to my Christian upbringing. He taught me that my sexual curiosity was connected to my spirituality; that I could love God and good sex, and not burn in Hell for it. He took the shame of my precocious sexual nature and re-cast it as a spiritual awakening, and I’ll always love and appreciate him for that. I know of no other artist, from any generation, who had the ability to connect sex and religion in such a beautiful and reverent way.
Sometimes It Rains In April
I was a precocious little girl with a wild imagination and raging hormones when Prince burst on the scene all those years ago. His music and lyrics gave my innermost feelings and desires a slammin’ sound with a funky backbeat. He made it easy for me to feel comfortable in my own skin, and gave voice to all the thoughts and fantasies swirling around in my adolescent brain.
Prince provided the backbeat and baseline for the soundtrack of my youth. His lyrics were the syllabus for my sexual education, and the balm I needed when I felt out of place. Listening to Prince allowed me to shed the shame of my desires and cloak myself in the confidence it would take for me to pursue my passion. I wasn’t alone when I listened to Prince. I wasn’t strange or weird or a freak … I was a woman, spiritual and sexual and blessed. I’ll always love him for that.
Sleep well, sweet Prince. You’ve earned your rest. I hate that your life ended the way it did: fighting the pain that so many years of vigorous entertaining caused. I pray you know how much you were loved and are loved, still. Happy Birthday in Heaven.