Sunday, October 28, 2012

Prince and the Revolution (and Me)



"People say I'm wearing heels because I`m short. I wear heels because the women like 'em."
-Prince

jacket, thrifted then bedazzled with pyramid studs
shirt, thrifted then made puffy with extra cotton fabric and lace
pants, American Apparel with added silver buttons
wig, random pop-up costume shop
boots, thrifted forever ago



They say you can't really understand a person until you walk a mile in their shoes. While I wasn't able to obtain a pair of Prince's own platforms (I wish), dressing up as the king of music, sex, fashion, and unpronounceable symbols was a pretty enlightening experience. The first time I listened to Prince in a serious kind of way was in middle school, just as I was really getting into playing music myself. After listening to all the jazz guys a budding saxophonist is supposed to, I started searching for pop and rock musicians who could actually play their instruments. I don't know if you remember the 90's as well as I do, but much of what was on the radio was pretty terrible, and I quickly figured out I needed to look backward for inspiration. Since I didn't have any money and the next gift getting holiday was months away, I turned to my parent's meager music collection out of desperation. Meatloaf, The Carpenters, John Denver, Eric Clapton, The Beatles, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Harry Nilsson, Bread. Bread? Ugh. This blend of feel-good 70's soft tunes and middle aged white guy rock was not what I was looking for, and frankly, drove me nuts every time one of them played it in the car (once, when my brother and I wouldn't stop fighting in the backseat, my dad put the song, "Coconut" on repeat as punishment. I still consider it the worst thing he has ever done to me). As I was re-stacking their records and CD's and questioning whether or not these two lame-o's were my real parents, I saw it. The image of a semi-creepy, strangely appealing, man-woman hybrid royal highness straddling a motorcycle. I put it on. I laid back on the antique living room sofa I was only allowed to sit on at Christmas and when company was over. I closed my eyes. I was changed forever.

Okay, so that last line might be a tad dramatic. Purple Rain didn't change me as a person, but it did open my eyes to a lot of really important things. Firstly, because I was a twelve year old girl with a Seventeen Magazine skewed view of myself and others, I thought people had to be either pretty or smart. I mean, why would you lug around a heavy baritone saxophone case everywhere or become obsessed with Russian royalty if you were good looking and boys liked you? But Prince's outer physical beauty housed an inner song writing genius. And he could play the guitar like a god. He made the idea of carrying an instrument around seem not only cool, but cooler than playing sports.

Secondly, sex. When you're on the brink of teenagerhood, there are cookie cutter images of people you think you are supposed to like. Girls are supposed to like the tall, muscular guys who play team sports, and guys were supposed to crush on girls who developed faster than the rest of us and didn't talk too much. But those tall guys weren't into me and my hairless male band friends were too boyish and awkward to cast in my first fantasies. Prince, however, had the alluring combination of womanly grace and beauty with a powerful, raw kind of sexuality I considered extremely manly. He would be the perfect boyfriend because not only would he sing in a breathy voice that he would die for me, but he'd compliment my new second hand hat.

Speaking of hats, let's talk about Prince's fashion choices for a minute.

They are all perfect the end.

I'm kidding. I mean, no, everything he wears really is perfect in terms of color, proportion, and fit, but the best part of Prince's get ups are how much they say about him. As a very private and quiet man in real life, he lets his appearance do all the talking for him, and it does, very well. He doesn't need to go on every daytime talk show and answer painfully obvious interview questions because the public already knows who he is and what he is up to just by looking at him. As one who doesn't always succeed in talking with people I don't know, the idea of letting your clothes speak for you hit me like a bag of stilettos and I have yet to recover.

While walking around Chicago last night in my homemade Prince costume, it was clear that I am not the only one who has spent blissful moments in their bedrooms dancing to Little Red Corvette. My Bruce Springsteen costume last year was a hit with a particular crowd (i.e. white kids from a working class background), but when Prince boarded the red line to the Loop, everyone was excited. I sung a few bars of Kiss with a couple of CTA employees, and was asked to have a photo taken with a young gay guy for his sister, who "loooves" Prince. A homeless man yelled, "Prince! Now that's what I'm talking about!" and gave me a fist bump. An elderly couple walking arm in arm gave me a nod and sweet smile of approval. In CVS, an Australian guy told me I was a fine looking Michael Jackson, then the entire staff told him he needed to get his musicians straight because that's Prince, you fool, and then invited me to cut in front of him. I was so goddamn popular and loved by so many that for a few minutes I forgot that what was actually exciting people was my costume, not me. Maybe that's what I love the most about Prince. That he can help even boring, scoliosis-ridden nerds like me feel like royalty, even if it's just for one night.