What Makes Me Sad: Brief Comments on Prince
by C. Liegh McInnis*
Okay, so I won’t be my usual jerky self, but all you people texting me when y’all know I still got a flip phone—that just ain’t right. Do y’all know the charges that y’all just cost me? I’mma have to put my cell bill on layaway. :^) But, seriously, I want to thank y’all for all the texts and emails. I’m actually working on two projects, one of which I can’t yet tell what it is. (And, no, it’s not a Prince project.) Most of y’all know that I’m helping Hollis Watkins to finish his autobiography, which we plan to have published by June. But, I’m also working on another project, which is also related to a major Civil Rights project, but that’s all I can say. As such, I was on a conference call about that project when many of y’all started blowin’ up my phone. Because I knew what had happened earlier, I understood why so many people were calling, emailing, and…texting. Since my father taught me how to focus on the job at hand no matter the problems one may be facing, I was able to stop thinking about how much those texts were costing me and complete the conference call.
After the death of my father, I’m starting to realize that my family may have a slightly different notion about death. In Kalamu ya Salaam’s unreleased manuscript about Robert Johnson, he states of the Delta that birth and death comingle like night and day, one needing the other for its completion. Thus, I’ve never feared nor bemoaned death because I’ve always been more interested in the quality of life rather than the quantity of life. Since my father transitioned, I’ve yet to cry because all my memories of him cause me to laugh. Yes, I miss him, especially during moments when I’m doing something that he enjoyed. But, the quality of his life—the joy that he brought his family and his friends—far outweighs those very few moments when I miss him. Truly, what makes me sad is not death but when people mistreat or harm people. My mother and Aunt Iola were special education teachers, and they both instilled in me that the worst human being is someone who takes advantage of others. People hurting people—that makes me cry. Death only bothers me when it’s the death of a young person or a death from a senseless act of violence, and, of course, all acts of violence are senseless. So, when I first heard the news of the possibility of Prince’s transition, I thought about the rumors that Prince hadn’t been doing well, that he looked very thin, even for him, and I said a short prayer for those closest to him, some people I know and some I don’t. My prayer wasn’t for him because the Prince I knew was a man completely comfortable with his life and his faith. More importantly for me, Prince was a man who squeezed every drop from life. He found his love—music—and dedicated his entire being to it. I could write some historically important piece about Prince continuing the legacy of African-American music while his lyrics introduced to the narrative the notion of the post-Civil Rights (which is something quite different than post-racial) individual black, but I’ve done that. And, I’ve done it quite well. For those who want to see/hear that, I’ll be on local Fox news at 9:00 p.m. and WLBT at 10:00 p.m. briefly discussing that. But, for me, this moment, I’ll just remember the dude who outworked everyone to achieve his goal. When I was fifteen, reading a Prince interview in Rolling Stone, he stated something that affirmed everything my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and community had taught me. “When my friends were playing, I was jamming. When they were sleeping, I was working. Every morning they awoke, I had a new groove.” At that moment, my fifteen year-old self knew that I could be the best at anything if I was willing to sacrifice and outwork everyone else. Most people don’t even realize that greater than fifty percent of the dialogue in Purple Rain is about rehearsing and crafting music. So, Prince’s death doesn’t make me sad. I can only be grateful that I found an artist who motivated me to challenge myself—regardless of what any other narrow-minded folks thought—to be the best me that I could be. (I’m so glad that I’ve never wanted to join an organization just to “fit in” or feel accepted. I can’t even fathom what it’s like to live that kind of life.) My only regret is that we didn’t finish Prince’s book. I was literally given the keys to the kingdom, and I just didn’t get it done. We completed enough for about one and a half chapters, but it all fizzled after that. But, that’s life too. You do well sometimes, and sometimes you don’t do well. But, you give it your best.
At the rescheduled show after his illness, Prince asked people to save their prayers for a later time. Then, he tweeted a pic of his face with a tear. Prince has always been cryptic; that’s what his fans love about his work. Of course, now people are trying to put one and one together. Here’s what I know. Prince died. It was of no doubt by something. And, the coroner will tell us what it was. Yet, to paraphrase Salaam again, institutions, movements, and people die. That’s the cycle of life. What makes the cycle beautiful is when each of us decides to make the time we spend here worth something, especially to others. As an artist, I don’t know what else Prince could have accomplished or given. The man had a number one single, a number one album, and a number one movie simultaneously. He also earned a number one album fifteen years after his last number one album. But, more importantly, every black guitar player that I know, of my age group, was inspired to play guitar because of Prince. B. B. King stated that Prince was one of the few people with whom he wanted to work with whom he hadn’t work. As a person, what little I knew of him, he was like everyone else, traveling this life to become the best person he could become in the short span we are all given, constantly battling the innate desire to be selfish to transcend to being better today than we were yesterday. So, that’s it. That’s all I got. I’ve had a blessed life, having parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and community people all pour love and insight into me. Because of this, all I ever needed from my teachers and favorite artists was for them to expand the possibilities of my mind. That’s the primary goal of art—to show us our circumstance and how we can make it better. Nobody was more expansive for me than “His Royal Badness.” That’s what we called him, long before he demolished the charts with Purple Rain. In the hood, before the success of Purple Rain, he was “That Rude Boy” and “His Royal Badness.” Yet, when That Rude Boy became a man, he stated, “Too much freedom can lead to the soul’s decay.” I can only hope that most of us get to extend the narrative arc of our lives in the manner that he extended his.
Prince’s favorite number was 7, the number of completion. It’s in so many of his songs in so many ways. So I leave you with Morris Day’s online post that “Prince died at 57, at 10:07, on 4/21, which equals to 7.” I don’t know if that means anything, but it would make for one of those great cryptic Prince lyrics. And, for those of y’all who want to tell me what y’all think it means, remember, I don’t have a text messaging plan. Now, I must return my mind to two other important things: the takeover of Jackson’s Airport and what Monica’s gone cook for Sunday dinner. Later y’all.
==================================================================== “We Be Purple Hippies (A Poem 4 His Royal Badness)”
by C. Liegh McInnis
We be Purple Hippies
‘cause we smoke dreams laced with stainless steel integrity.
We wear midnight black creativity and
snow white fearlessness
wrapped around us like a pinstriped zoot suit.
We bang our heads on da One
to Chocolate ideas dat been dipped in liquid Funkadelic.
Money be dat AIDS
Always Introducing Death to our System.
So we do da splitz in a split second
whenever fishy smiles with greasy palms
try to slap us on our backs while pickin’ our pockets
of dat soul dat their soil is 2 barren 2 grow.
We be Purple Hippies
‘cause we ryde buses with two seats
dat swim on water rather than streets.
Yet, we understand that Noah’s Boat
didn’t have no Jim Crow seatin’ capacity.
So, we bypass frigid and fragmented fools
too frozen in the clutches of race
to punch dey freedom ticket in tyme.
We be paisley parkin’
‘cause whiteness may be da winnin’ number
to a lotto card of plastic dreams,
but dey be meltin’ under the rock-fire showers
of swirlin’ Truth da day dat da last pebble of sand
left their hour glass dat’s been empty longer
than their cloudy minds would allow them to realize.
So, if bloody justice in a Resurrection blue sky give birth 2 royal,
then Revelations provided a prophecy of purple reign
long before a pimped out prophet in pumps played in yo’ ear hole.
But iron hearts rust too quickly
when they try to oil demselves with greenbacks
rather than soaking demselves with sugar cane and hugs.
We be Purple Hippies
‘cause we read da Word before He was ripped from da sky
and understand dat we be spiritual feet temporarily tap dancing
in Stacy Adams before the curtain for Act IV drop dem 1000 years on us.
Dat’s why we shine in Technicolor bliss dat pisses off peacocks.
We be playin’ n da sunshine not worryin’ ‘bout dem sign “o” the tymes
cause a dirty mind ain’t always nasty
like a revolution always gots to have
some spilled sons and daughters
for Margaret’s new Earth to finally become a Phoenix.
So let’s break da dam of liberation soon,
by makin’ love under a cherry moon.
We be Purple Hippies
‘cause we snort plum and peach possibilities
‘til our lungs are filled with raspberry freedom
so that we can baptized ourselves in waters
pregnant with nutrients fortified with
the Big Bang Beat of Da Most High gettin’ down on da One.
We be Purple Hippies
and be allergic to cliques, posses, sets, and crews
dat chew da life from freedom seekers
trying to mangle dem into mindless meshes of mass thinkers.
We have 89 flowers in our hearts rather than on our backs.
And that’s why we can
use our cotton pickin’ hands to hug Heaven into you
rather than choke the gold of life from you!!!
We be Purple Hippies,
and we be higher than your flat-top limitations,
‘cause keepin’ it real is mostly that mission statement of
a gate-keeper who waitin’ on someone to give him the keys.
But, we badder than a camel squeezing through the eye of a needle
as we got naked b4 it was fashionable
‘cause Heaven ain’t no place for spirit covered in
a man-made suit of lies…
This “Trip and ½” has been 4U by a dude named Prince with his sometimes Dirty Mind always causin’ much Controversy walkin’ toward da Dawn after the passin’ of 1999 when Purple Rain would flow us n2 a Parade dat marches us Around da World n a Day while we b checkin’ 4 dem Sign “O” the Times ‘cause we learned how to live LoveSexy; Now, he b one of dem Rainbow Children 2 b eternally “Free.”
C. Liegh McInnis is the author of seven books, including The Lyrics of Prince: A Literary Look at a Creative, Musical Poet, Philosopher, and Storyteller, the former editor of Black Magnolias Literary Journal, and an instructor of English at Jackson State University.