When Prince announced his Mother’s Day Baltimore show shortly after the uprising and a few days before my birthday, I took it as a sign. This one’s for you, Marion Winik. Last time I saw my beloved Artist was more than ten years ago at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. We sat in the very last row, our heads touching the cinderblock wall. Another twenty years before that, I was in the uppermost balcony at Radio City Music Hall — which was a good seat only when Prince sang International Lover from a giant, flying four-poster bed. This time I was determined to do better, no matter what.
Tickets went on sale at 5:00 pm on May 6; they sold out at 5:08. At 5:03, I clicked Submit on a purchase confirmation for $1090.40. As I told my daughter Jane, Somebody’s going to be sitting in that third row. This time, it’s us.
The four days until the concert were full of festivities. A dinner of Cuban sandwiches made by a friend the night of my birthday, Scrabble games, poetry readings, a Mother’s Day outing to Pimlico. I soaked up the attention and love; I celebrated by every means available, including both gin and hot yoga.
Let us say this: If the road of excess actually led to the palace of wisdom, Mr. Blake, I would have been there a long time ago.
Then came the concert, to which a great horde of black and white and other shades of people came wearing gray, for Freddie Gray. T-shirts, hoodies, blouses and button-downs, silk and sequins, gray hair to match. There was an unusual amount of bonding and networking, folks introducing themselves and chatting as if seated together at a wedding. Or a peace rally. Or a dream about racial harmony.
At 9 p.m. the violet scrim was whisked away and the 5’2” vegan Jehovah’s Witness from Minneapolis took the stage with his all-female, super-cool band. The fog machine started blowing, the purple lights lit and the videos rolled. And then they poured out one after another, the top tunes on the jukebox in my head: Let’s Go Crazy, 1999, Nothing Compares 2 You, Controversy, Purple Rain.
It was almost more than I could bear. The opening bars of each song hit me in the gut like a psychic medicine ball, doubling me over with disbelief and joy. I yowled, then began to sob, and didn’t stop for the whole first hour.
Mom, said Jane urgently. Watch the show.
I’m doing the best I can, I said. But then I would hear the swelling, melancholy chords of Little Red Corvette, the skittering riff that starts When Doves Cry, or ten thousand voices singing You, I would die for you, and my heart would break open again, humbled and inspired. It was as if Prince, in his complete and utter Princeness, was re-awakening my own misplaced self, and this feeling stayed with me for many days.
If you don’t go to church and you’re not in therapy, the awakening has to catch you where it can.
Later I learned that other friends at the concert had similar experiences, the sobbing, even, and the sense of something shifting inside. Perhaps it has something to do with the way the songs are woven into so many decades of our lives. Imagine the concert as one soundtrack for ten thousand different movie montages — car trips, nightclubs, living rooms and kitchens, siblings, friends and lovers, some of them now gone. Nancy and Steve and Tony and me, arms around each other in my mother’s driveway in New Jersey, about to go to that concert at Radio City. Judy and me dancing under the carport so hard we end by jumping into the swimming pool with our clothes on. We ain’t gonna let the elevator bring us down – oh, no let’s go!
Remember when 1999 was so far away and we were in our terrible eighties clothes, our big pink hair, our shoulder pads, that electric green Girbaud pullover, the cowl-neck maxi dress from my mother, belted with a big pewter lion’s head dangling leather thongs?
Along with the flood of memories there’s the sheer awe. So much talent and mastery packed into one diminutive frame. Tiny, lean, and totally focused, kooky and cocky, Prince literally embodies his art. Every molecule is fully dedicated. You see it in the way he grabs the neck of a guitar and snaps it back against his hip, you hear it in the angelic swoop of his voice and in the effortlessness of his piano style. It makes you proud to be a human being.
Unlike some other things that have been going on around here lately.
Finally the sobbing lets up and the dancing takes over. Prince has a dozen musicians up there on stage with him, and Marilyn and Nick Mosby, and has moved a hundred-odd people from the worst seats in the place up front to the pit. They and everybody else are singing and swaying and shaking and rolling like believers in a gospel tent. All in all it is a rather unusual, and pretty expensive, and sort of miraculous peace rally, but I was dreamin when I wrote this so sue me if I go 2 fast…