I went with my girlfriend to see Prince play Madison Square Garden in 2010, a day or two before New Year's Eve, on our last day in New York before moving out to the West Coast. I remember a snowstorm – the cabs wouldn't take us back to Queens afterwards – but it was so worth it. Thanks to miraculous strokes of good fortune, we had excellent seats, directly in front of James McNew and his bandmates – who seemed a bit miffed, to be honest. But: there was Prince! He played for a long time and at some point my friend went to the bathroom. Just then, Prince started locking-and-popping – which wasn't something I'd have thought Prince even did.
I read, in the gush of remembrances since his death yesterday, that Prince's father had taken him when he was very young to see James Brown, and that Prince had danced for the maestro. If so, this is beautiful. (The one video there is of Prince, Brown and Michael Jackson together, onstage, is low-res but highly enjoyable.) I read, also, that grown-up Prince had given his cock the name 'Valentino'.
I read remembrances, too, about Prince's work as a Jehovah's Witness. But this had always made sense. He was a devout man who wrote sad, devout songs for lost lovers and fucky, devout songs for new acquaintances. 'Sometimes I stand in awe of what I do myself,' he once said. 'I feel like a regular person, but I listen to this and wonder, where did it come from? I believe definitely in the higher power that gave me this talent. If you could go in the studio alone and come out with that, you'd do it every day, wouldn't you?'
'When Purple Rain came out,' Dan Piepenbring wrote on the Paris Review’s blog in 2010:
Prince was all slashes: black/white, straight/gay, male/female, rock/R&B, voluptuary/ascetic, cocaine/peyote, garish/understated, Hendrix/Little Richard, gothic/ecstatic, authoritarian/anarchist, apocalyptic/Panglossian, hip/square, selfish/selfless. Any thesis about him came bundled with its antithesis. He was so at odds with himself that the odds synthesised into one whole, perplexing person.
'Prince's concept was James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Chaplin,' said Miles Davis.
At Madison Square Garden, Prince turned out to be insanely great at locking-and-popping. It was mind-blowing, one of the sexiest things that I'd seen. My girlfriend, when she came back from the bathroom, didn't quite believe me. But 'supremely great dancer' isn't even on Prince's CV. Neither is insanely great roller skater, ping-pong player, tennis player, basketball player, maker of 5 a.m. pancakes – though he seems to have been all these things, among others we'll never know about. I wasn't surprised to read about Prince's 40-hour tantric sex sessions. Nothing about the man is surprising. Most of the stories turn out to be true. But it had never hit me, full-force, that Prince had played every note on every one of his albums. He really was a sexy motherfucker.
A few days after the show in New York, at a New Year's dinner with friends in California, the musical question was asked: 'Would you fuck Prince?' 'Of course!' we all said, until we got to my girlfriend who, all by her lonesome, demurred. But then she hadn't seen Prince lock and pop.