On Losing an Imaginary Friend

Prince came to live with me in Xmas 1984 (or maybe ’85), via the kind of cassette tape you could pick up for a couple of quid at any market stall in the country during those prehistoric, lawless times.

As I listened, wearing out the tape, he told me strange, unknowable things, things I sometimes didn’t understand but knew that I shouldn’t talk about…particularly in polite company.

Purple Rain went from album to film and – despite the really bad dialogue, embarrassing attempts at humor, and the unconvincing drama – it remains quite clearly one of the greatest movies of the 80s, if not of all time. For me. Sometimes.

Prince’s music was at once like nothing I’d ever heard while also being exactly what I needed as I moved from child to…whatever it is we become after we’re children but before we’re even half-grown. It inspired a quiet, internal, mostly secret rebellion that eventually became a part of my identity that was visible to anyone who spent any time with me. So much so that, 30 years later, I received FB condolence messages before I’d even heard that he’d died. “I heard the news and thought of you.”

And it was a bereavement, a genuine loss.

The only time I actually saw him play live was at the Glasgow SEC during the time he was writing “SLAVE” on his cheek and refusing to play the hits. So, no “When Doves Cry”, no “Sign O’The Times”, no “Paisley Park“, just the new stuff that no one recognized. Stuff lacking the spark that seemed to coincide with the time he spent with The Revolution, and Wendy and Lisa in particular.

But it was still…awesome. Really, genuinely, literally awesome.

I remember so little of the actual show now, but I remember my face hurting from the grin that didn’t leave my face for days; I remember not being able – or wanting – to sleep; I remember needing to tell everyone that it should be the law that people see Prince perform.

I was inspired, I was born again, I was a true believer.

In the brilliant comic series The Wicked + The Divine, actual gods return to Earth in the form of rock gods. Inevitably, perfectly appropriately, the god of love and partying looks suspiciously like Prince. From now to whatever Armageddon finally ends our time on this world, it should ever be thus.

In truth, Prince and I stopped being close some time ago. Oddly, after I’d finally seen him in person during the Gold Experience tour, we stopped communicating quite so easily. That is, he stopped seeming to be talking to me, so I stopped listening out for him. I’d check in occasionally, and sometimes be rewarded with something amazing like “Illusion, Coma, Pimp, and Circumstance”. But mostly we just, well…like the saying goes, we’d grown apart.

He remained, by all accounts, an amazing performer, but when I got to hear his new stuff, it didn’t have the same effect on my lizard brain as the music that first brought us together in the 80s. Maybe he’d changed, maybe I had. In the end, it hardly mattered. The songs he’s written (for me) in that incredible time we had from 1983’s “Little Red Corvette” to The Black Album had always seemed enough. A gift that would keep on giving, like the best Xmas present anyone had ever received.

And now those songs, and the memories that are entwined with them, will have to last me the rest of my life.

Thank you Prince, for being the best imaginary friend a boy could ever have asked for.

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