Prince is dead, but his music is still very much alive. And for Wai Sallas, that music is transformative.
It’s hard to catch my breath and my chest feels like someone is sitting on it, and I don’t know why. I never met the man, only seen him once in person, yet the death of Prince leaves me feeling hollow.
I don’t remember a lot from my first 5 years in life, as most of us. And the older I get the less I remember. I can recall, however, my introduction to Prince. I was four years old and my babysitter, a high-school student, had MTV on from the moment he walked in the door to the moment he left. It’s where I first met Michael Jackson, RUN-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Tiffany and Debbie Gibson and all the rest of the 80s icons who ruled the airwaves. They all kind of blend in to one big 80s mash up, except for Michael and Prince. I can remember dancing and singing to Michael’s Thriller album in my living room, and I remember watching Prince crawl across the floor while doves flew behind him. My babysitter at the time commonly remarked on what a girl he was, dressed in purple with make up and frilly shirts. I was mesmerized.
If David Bowie initiated the androgynous rocker movement, Prince defined it. From the heels to the hair to the high pitched squeals, Prince let people know he was going to do, dress and say however the hell he wanted. And he was going to rock the shit out of it. Purple was no longer a color classified for girls, it was the color of the 80s. Everyone had purple in their closet, because whatever Prince did, was cool.
In 1993, long before the nefarious nature of the music business world would become common knowledge, Prince took a stand not only for his own independence and self-worth, but for all artists.
“The first step I have taken toward the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros.
“I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name. The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about. This symbol is present in my work over the years; it is a concept that has evolved from my frustration; it is who I am. It is my name”
He stayed true to that idea up until the day he died, constantly fighting for the rights he and other artists deserve. He fought against record companies and later video streaming sites and music streaming sites. He never settled.
In 2008, at Coachella, I stood five rows away from the stage where Prince was set to perform. I had ditched my friends an hour before to get as close as I could to the stage. While they were “pogo-ing” (an affectionate term used to describe bouncing up and down to house, hip-hop and dj’s spinning) I was on a mad-dash to make sure my place would be secure.
There was a question I’d always ask women on our first date; “dead or alive, name three artists you would want to see in concert.” Prince was always in my top three.
So there I was, ghosts of girlfriends past urging me to realize one of my fantasy concerts. I spoke in giddy tones to the other fans patiently and excitedly waiting for him to begin. We talked about what featured artists would come up on stage with him.
A few moments later, the lights went out on stage and you could hear the familiar drums and bird call, a beat later the synthesizers came in, and in a second of pure unadulterated glee I turned around and shoved another Prince fanboy. You could see his eyes widen, probably thinking this crazy man wants to fight me. Once his shock dissipated and he saw my reaction we both started jumping up and down. Our Prince experience was about to become a reality and we jumped in unison like two members of the Prince congregation.
After Morris Day and the Time and Sheila E performed their hits, the fervor had reached its peak. I looked back and saw a sea of people all hopping in anticipation. The buzz consumed us all, we were all ready to go to church.
It’s as if Prince knew were all in the gospel mood when he showed up in a white tunic with diamonds shining back at us.
The next couple of hours I let the music take hold of me. It’s not an overstatement or corny to state that Prince exorcised any demons within me during his set. To this day, many regard his version of Creep from this performance as one of the all-time best, including the original.
For me, my soul was lifted when the lights went purple and he began the first couple of notes of Purple Rain. Over my life, there are many songs that I’ve had an emotional connection to, but none quite as strong as Purple Rain. To be honest, there is no wrong answer to your favorite Prince song. The man was able to meld, pop, rock, soul, blues, gospel, damn near every genre found its way onto a Prince jam. He played over 30 instruments and was a virtuoso in almost all of them. This version of Purple Rain however was different than the one I had memorized decades ago. He was playing and singing it as if we were literally in church. I closed my eyes and felt like I was not under the Palm Desert stars, but in God’s church. His lyrics spoke to me, his guitar led me into a meditative state of consciousness where nothing else mattered or was tangible to me except for Prince and his music.
I can still feel his guitar playing through me. Anytime I need a lift or the song comes on organically I immediately turn it up, close my eyes and harken back to when Prince gave me my own personal concert. Yes, thousands of people were there, but for me, it was just he and I.
A few years earlier, I sat at a Super Bowl party and witnessed 50 people in a crammed 2 bedroom apartment grow silent as Prince performed under the rain in Miami. It was the only time I had ever been to a party, let alone a Super Bowl party where everyone went silent. It was the power of Prince.
Maybe that’s why I’m sitting here today, unable to really comprehend the emotions that I feel. Maybe I’m trying to grapple with the idea that Prince is dead, but his music is still here. Prince gave me the courage to dress and act like myself and be my own style. The colors of the rainbow light up my closet with no fear of being out of the norms of what men should wear. Prince showed me that you are who you are and you should be proud of that, whether you are your given name or a symbol that represents love.
A few months ago, when Prince announced he was starting a new tour with just him and a piano, I told my wife, when he comes to LA, we’re going no matter what. With today’s news of his passing, I’ll never get to see that show. But if I close my eyes and listen closely I can transport myself to that night when Prince took me to church and cleansed my soul under the Purple Rain.
Photo: AP/ Rogers and Cowan