For the time that my mother, father, and I lived together, we were a Prince family.
For my mother, liking Prince made sense. She was 19 when his self-titled album came out, which I know she listened to because as a teen I plucked the vinyl copy from my parents’ old record collection. My mother has always been a fan of overtly sexual pop music. I don’t know if this started with Prince, but I’m sure he definitely played a role in shaping her tastes.
My father was a different story. A walking example of your stereotypical Southern outdoorsman, there has always been something about his appreciation of the Purple One that didn’t quite make sense. But regardless of all that, he is and has always been into Prince — and not just in a casual way. When I was growing up, my dad always kept three cassettes in his truck, which carried with it the strong smell of the paper mill where he works. Among all the half-empty tins of Skoal that littered the cab, tucked into the door were the only albums he needed: Back in Black, John Cougar Mellencamp’s Scarecrow, and Prince’s The Hits 1.
Released in 1993, The Hits 1 is half of a two-part compilation of the musician’s top singles up to that point. The first track was “When Doves Cry,” originally released on 1984’s soundtrack for Purple Rain. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I do remember the first time I heard the song.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of his truck, my dad, for some reason, was surprised that I had never heard a song that was released three years before I was born. I guess I wasn’t as hip as the other kids at the time. Either way, my dad wanted me to listen to this song — really listen — and understand that it was good. He popped the tape in. If you’re familiar with the song, you know how it begins: There is silence, just the hiss of the stereo, and then before the drums kick in, there is a guitar solo that’s best described as savage.
A child at the time, I didn’t really understand anything that Prince was singing, and I don’t think I’ve ever really tried to figure it out. The reason for this isn’t because I don’t think there’s depth to the lyrics or the music. It’s because regardless of the words and their intended purpose, that song is about something else for me. It’s about my dad wanting to share something and wanting me to understand something he found important. It’s about riding with my mom and dad, and everyone being able to enjoy something together as a family.
When the news of Prince’s death first leaked Thursday, I knew I needed to get in touch with my parents. It’s probably been more than 10 years since they last spoke and almost 20 since they parted ways. I texted them both separately, saying only, “Prince died.” My dad was the first the respond. He was at work and hadn’t heard the news. He was surprised, but more curious than shocked. The call was short. We both had to get back to whatever it was we did before Prince died.
My mother on the other hand just texted me back because she was in tears. She said, “Please take care of yourself. I would die if anything happened to you. ... Please do right with yourself.”
For my mother, Prince’s death is a reminder of how easy it is to lose the people and things you care about. But for me, it’s a reminder of all the things that a great artist can leave behind.
Prince Rogers Nelson died Thurs. April 21 at his home and studio in Minneapolis. He was 57 years of age.