By Derek Ruhland
The first hero of my choosing was a boy named Anton. He was about 13 years old, the son of the lady who watched over the kindergarteners at the daycare where my mother worked in Seattle. One of my first memories in life is of waiting for him to walk through the door of the multipurpose room with his cool middle school kid backpack so that he could lead us in relay races.
Being Seattle, most of our activity took place indoors, and when he got there is when we'd be allowed to get rowdy. We had a oval track on the carpet of the multipurpose room, the lanes defined by different colors of tape. Anton would set us up in relay positions and we'd have races. He put the fastest kids as the closing runner, and when they'd receive the baton, he'd yell "PURPLE RAIN!" That meant that you were supposed to make a very flat hand and slice the air, pumping your arms hard and bringing your knees all the way up to your chest to get extra speed so that you could win the race for your team. Being picked as the closing runner was the most important thing in the world to kindergarten me, because it meant Anton thought I was cool, and Anton thought Prince was really cool, so I did too. When Doves Cry was my favorite song that year, because I understood that Anton would think I was even more cool if the Prince song I liked wasn't the one he'd told all the other less cool kids about.
Prince introduced me to hopping on the bandwagon, and to being obnoxious about music: "You probably haven't heard of it..."
Prince introduced me to kinky sex.
The year was 2003 and I was a sophomore in high school. I'd recently gotten over my, "I only listen to hardcore punk," phase, and was staunchly in my, "I only listen to music made before 1985," phase. I had also recently lost my virginity, and thought sex was pretty cool. Then I heard The Foo Fighter's cover of Prince's Darling Nikki. It was just about the sexiest thing I'd ever encountered up until that point, and it sent me on a deep dive into Prince's catalogue that had me listening to basically nothing else for months. The fact that something by a contemporary artist had turned me on so much also drew me out of my backwards-looking reverie. I snacked around on The Foo Fighter's offerings and didn't find much that excited me, but then I started listening to The Strokes, The White Stripes, Jet, The Hives, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The International Noise Conspiracy.
Prince made it OK for me to like the music of my generation.
In 2011 I was planning the adventure of a lifetime. I was going to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail with two of my best friends, Brandon and Anastasia. Brandon was visiting me for a weekend of drinking whiskey and walking around the streets of LA talking about what we saw, and at some point he put on the The Rainbow Children album. It reawakened my love of Prince, and I listened to his entire catalogue constantly after that weekend. Even though The Rainbow Children wasn't the music of his that resonated with me most during that period - that was Sign o' the Times - for the next 6 months I listened to that album more than any other while researched the gear I needed for the trek, where to send resupply boxes, novel bear bagging techniques. I felt like in some small way the three of us were Rainbow Children, participating in a paradigm shift in an effort to find beauty and spirituality in a material world.
Prince gave me the strength to try something hard.
2011 is the year when Prince played a 21 concert residency at The Forum, declaring "Inglewood in mine!" He sold those tickets for only $25, even though he could have charged much, much more. My dad took me, my brother, my mom and I, and the show was incredible. For every single minute of a more than 2 hour set, he was blasting energy out at the crowd. He never made a mistake and he never stopped. I felt like I needed a minute to breathe at points, and then felt silly because there was an old man on stage putting out so much juice that it was tiring me out.
When Brandon put on The Rainbow Children, he mentioned that he and his dad used to listen to it all the time and that it reminded him of his father. My father loves Prince. I have happy memories of myself as a child in the back seat listening to him wax poetic about the triumph of evocative songwriting that is When Doves Cry, about how it captures perfectly what it is to be in conflict with the person you love most, and of him then turning it up so loud that my mom got mad. Or of Raspberry Beret coming on the radio and him cranking it and bellowing, "THIS IS A CLASSIC!"
He tells the story of when him and my mom were a new couple and for her 25th birthday he took her to see the Purple Rain tour's swing through Seattle. They drank beer in the parking lot and made themselves late, so he made her sprint to the entrance. They snuck flasks in. Prince said he was finally a big enough star to be worthy of playing a Jimi tribute show, so that's what he did in the legend's home town. Every time a solo would come up, he'd play in Jimi's style, and he nailed it. Even though he was the hottest recording artist in the world at that time, he was more interested in paying respect to one of his heroes than he was in representing his own unique and laudable guitar style. My dad says it was like watching Jimi come to life, and was the best musical performance he's ever witnessed.
My dad has seen every single live performance of Jimi Hendrix recorded on 8mm from the crowd that exists on YouTube. His favorite thing about YouTube is that every once in a while someone will die and their kids will upload old footage from the attic so you get to see a fresh performance from 40 years ago. When he tells the story of that Prince concert, he's got tears in his eyes, because Prince gave him the live Jimi performance that he was born too late for, and to see my dad's smile when he brags about it, I know that what makes him happiest is that he was able to give such a special experience to my mom.
Prince is intimately tied up in my example of what it means to be married and in love.
He's the consummate musical professional, my example of what it means to be passionately and intelligently artistic. He's been with me as long as I can remember and given me more than I can put into words, and I'm grateful. I'll miss the world that had Prince charging out of his private creative life every once in a while to entertain us.
Rest in Peace Prince.