in honor of Prince's birthday, I want to share one of the many ways his life and artistry have impacted my own.
Last July, I shuffled through my music library until I landed on Chaos and Disorder, Prince’s final album with Warner Bros. He only released it to fulfill his contractual obligations with them, putting this note in the liner notes for the album:
“Originally intended 4 private use only, this compilation serves as the last original material recorded by (love symbol) 4 warner brothers records – may you live 2 see the dawn”
I was going into my 8th grade year when he released it in the middle of what I recall to be a scorching Texas summer full of hail-producing thunderstorms. I remember watching him perform cuts from the album live on the Today Show for their summer concert series, the word “SLAVE” drawn yet again in black pencil on the side of his face. I was able to catch it because it was summer vacation and my father was at work, which meant I could sneak and watch the living room TV which had satellite cable service. My father was divorced yet again which meant I didn’t have a stepmother, so that was the summer he started leaving me on my own instead of hiring a babysitter.
Prince played “Dinner With Dolores,” which I’d seen the video for on VH1 a week before already, but it was “Zanalee'' that really caught my attention. It was the guitar riffs and the rockabilly-but-funk-driven vibe that pulled me and left me hoping against hope my father would stop by the BX/PX after work to grab a copy of the new release before coming home that day. He did of course, and I remember listening intently to each song from my room it blared through the stereo speakers in his. I was hooked from the opening riffs of the title track and while I didn’t like all of the songs, I connected to the clamoring, disjointed, unabashed expressive feel of the album as a whole.
I remember my father playing it, The Gold Experience, and then the three-disc Emancipation album incessantly during those years. Like other kids my age at that time, I was heavy into my grunge, rock, & alt rock, so the sounds of the former two definitely satiated my musical appetite. Having been released a year before Chaos and Disorder, Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill was inescapable on the radio and in my drama class, where “Ironic” was the most chosen song to do record mimes to next to dc Talk’s “Jesus Freak” and “Peaches'' by The Presidents of the United States of America.
Aside from the fact that it was *Prince* and I’d been a fan practically since birth thanks to my father’s obsession with Prince’s music, the sounds on The Gold Experience and Chaos and Disorder matched the chaotic, tension-filled, jarring, and dissonant tone of my life then. They were raw, explosive, aggressive, but also had moments of clarity and awakening that helped me channel my teen angst and spiritual thirstings into an emerging, intuitively perceptive consciousness that left me questioning the authority and abusive circumstances I was living under. I had deep wells of emotional pain over being abandoned by yet another mother figure and separated completely from my biological mother whom my father had told me at age 10 didn't want me anymore. It would be years before I’d learn that was a lie, but at 13, it was a gospel that poisoned my insides. It was a pain I couldn’t parse on my own. And, in addition to writing, the music available at that time became a channel to process all of the pain and questions I had.
There are plenty of other albums and songs that defined my early teen years for sure (it was a prolific time for music in several genres), but those Prince albums are ones that my 13-year-old self loved deeply for these reasons. I still do all these years later. Everything about my inner and outer world was shifting and spinning out of control during those years and when I pressed play on Chaos and Disorder last July, I could feel myself becoming re-submerged in the growing turmoil I lived with on a daily basis back then, and how trapped I was. I remember being shocked to my core repeatedly throughout 1996–1999, which were the last years I lived with my father before leaving at 17. Those years revealed how much of my life had been constructed around a deceptive framework I had to choose to abandon if I wanted to live free, on my own terms. I remember how restless I became under the control of a narcissist, and how desperate I became to get out from under it, even if it meant risking physical harm to do so.
When I sat in the studio last July listening to Chaos and Disorder, memories of that pain, despair, anger, rawness, and turmoil helped me peel back layers of emotions and thoughts surrounding the unfolding pandemic and Breonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s murders and the social unrest and uprisings that flooded the national consciousness last summer that I had been just storing up quietly. The present didn't feel the same as the past, but it did feel parallel to the emotional volatility I lived with personally from 1996–1999. The music was the conduit fusing both together in a way that allowed me to unleash it all onto the canvas nailed to my studio wall.
Once I started getting it all out of my body, I noticed aspects of my teen self emerging. I wanted to dance so I did; my hair has been short for years but I wanted to whip it around wildly so I donned a long, silver-colored wig. I felt power emanating from my core. It was the shock to my system I needed in that moment to get re-engaged with my studio practice and move me from where I was to where I wanted to be creatively in the midst of the turmoil around me.
I haven’t looked back since.