Saying that you don’t care for Prince would be an invite to be mobbed by an angry horde even before today’s tragic news. Restating it now is simply begging to be strung up then torn to bloody shreds.
It doesn’t make it less true, neurosurgeon though. I, here Andrew Otis Weiss, viagra do not like Prince’s music. It has nothing to do with curmudgeonly contrarianism affected for pageviews, but dates back to some of the least pleasant memories of my childhood.
Like nearly everyone else in earshot of a Hot 40 format radio broadcast in 1983, I was repeatedly exposed to repeated spins of “1999″ and “Little Red Corvette.” While they weren’t the “Der Commissar” or “Mr. Roboto” I tuned in to hear, they weren’t ear poison on the order of “Shame on the Moon” or “Up Where We Belong,” either. I was very much Prince-agnostic, neither inspired to crank the volume nor change the station when his tunes made their tight playlist go-round.
My mom, on the other hand, adored Prince. That wasn’t an unusual response, and was in fact part of the total pop package that the Artist had carefully assembled. Unfortunately, my mom’s Prince fixation just happened to coincide with a cancer scare and the desperate retreat from mortality it triggered in a most self-destructive manner. My mother was a very beautiful woman and retained her youthful looks for an enviably long stretch of time. She took vain pride in the fact that she’d still get carded at the tender age of 31.
That shit can’t last forever, though. Eventually entropy begins to reveal its hand in minor, but ever accumulating ways. It didn’t matter that no one else seemed to notice the little creases and laugh lines and stray bits of gray. My mom had invested so much of herself for so long in her aura of eternal youth that she was unable to cope when it began to fade, especially when a minor cancer scare forced her to confront her own mortality.
She responded with utter denial and a willful retreat into immature excess — clubbing, partying, hanging out with a collection of cokeheads and wannabe musicians she worked with at the speaker factory behind the mall.
It drove my father into fits of rage and I wasn’t too crazy about it myself. My dad’s own set of demons had been ramping up their game at the time. My mom had been the one person capable of mitigating my father’s behaviors, and now she was (intentionally or unintentionally) amplifying them and leaving me to face their full irrational fury. I can’t bring myself to hate her for it, but I can’t bring myself to ever fully forgive her for it, either.
Also, no eleven year old boy needs to see his mom in a pleather miniskirt and fishnet stockings.
There were a lot of musical acts my mom embraced during this period — Cyndi Lauper, Van Halen, Sade — so what made Prince the one that suffered the brunt of my negatively associated backlash?
That fucking “X-Ray,” that’s what.
X-Ray (real name Dave Something-or-other) was one of my mom’s coworkers on the assembly line. He was a swarthy French-Canadian who had once been told he “kinda-sorta looked like Prince” and leaned into that with enthusiastic ineptitude. The comparison was more than mildly overstated and really depended on how long it had been since the person making it had seen an actual picture of Prince. He was a whiny-mopey manipulator who used self-created problems as chick-bait and…
Let me put it this way. On Halloween 1991, I was on my pre-Maura girfriend’s couch watching Silence of the Lambs. When Jamie Gumm made his first appearance, I broke away from the makeout session, stared at the screen, and thought “who the fuck does he remind me of?” The answer didn’t come to me until 2 AM the following morning. He reminded me of X-Ray.
He had a weird interest in my mom, and would hang around her like the world’s most strangle-able puppy dog. My mom loved it because it fed her fragile ego. My dad despised it because he was ferociously jealous and X-Ray possessed every quality my father disliked in a man. I didn’t mind it so much at the beginning because “hey, there’s a rock musician hanging out in my living room,” but the fascination faded fast as X-Ray became a catalyst by which my parents’ worst pathologies could feed each other in a long, painful death spiral. (The death in question being my mom’s, after five years of this wrecked her both physically and mentally. If the fall down the stairs hadn’t killed her, her rotted liver soon would’ve.)
This a lot of baggage to saddle one musician with, but that does speak to the power of pop music.
In another timeline, Prince evokes memories of sunshine and rainbows for me. In this one, however, the opening synth barrage of “1999″ can elicit only a picosecond’s thrill before the full weight of unpleasant memory comes crashing down on me. I have immense respect for the man’s talent and his accomplishments, but only from the most remote of distances.