Dec 17 2008

The moment I realized: There were some things my parents were never going to tell me.

(note: this started out as a proposal for a book on Prince’s 3rd album, “Dirty Mind” in part of a series of  books about albums by 33 1/3). After writing this, I realized there really isn’t much to say about the album; it speaks for itself and gets right to the point. But I did have something to say about how I became aware of the album; one night, alone in my room, as a young girl so so curious about the world out there. And relying almost entirely on tv, movies and radio to serve as my portal.)

Prince performing \”Party Up\” on SNL, 1981

At the time I first saw this clip, I had had sex twice. I thought I knew sex. But all of that changed in three nationally-televised minutes.

One night in February, Prince was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Prince’s only real claim to fame thus far had been I Wanna Be Your Lover. A song that whispered nothing to me and my newly raging hormones. Back in the day, you stopped the party to watch SNL. It was like that. Now I remember very well I was not at a party on this particular airing. I remember so well because… I had a moment.

I don’t think I’d ever actually seen Prince before this performance. If I had it was pretty forgettable. But he comes on: He’s wearing a trench coat. It’s open. He’s shirtless. He’s wearing thigh-high black boots, which I thought were pants until he spun around and the coat twirled to reveal: No Pants . He’s playing a huge (relative to his diminuitive self) guitar. He’s singing a song called Party Up , the perfect marriage of funk and anarchy and sex. This song, this performance… Changed My Life.

(A little backstory: My parents were old-school Rat Pack Fabulous. We moved from New York to Vegas back when Vegas was small and glamorous and mob-related guys like my dad did very well. Seriously, they were straight outta a Scorscese movie. My mom even looked like Sharon Stone. And dad was Greek. Need I say more. I couldn’t wait to grow up. Childhood and its inhabiting children were so banal. Adulthood seemed so much more interesting.)

Now my upbringing was hardly sheltered. I was allowed to tag along my 2 older brothers whenever they’d allow it. And my mother took me to see “Rosemary’s Baby when I was 4; the Exorcist when I was 10 — which may explain my strange dreams to this day. But I digress. Point is, I was aware of a lot of things at an early age. But could it be there were some things perhaps even my parents were unaware of… or decided it best I remain unaware of?

So here was Prince, cracking the door on an adulthood my parents never told me about. It was nasty and sexy and forbidden and it was muthafuckin’ HOT. I knew a little bit about sex at this point, so I understood horniness and desire and lust. Adolesence, hormones, blah blah blah. You get the picture. But in Las Vegas in 1981, neither I – – nor my equally horny girlfriends – had ever considered fucking the lights out of a black man. Or a really short man. Or a man who could hit higher notes that us. Or a man who weighed less than us. Or a man who didn’t wear pants. If there was a “Cause and Effect” here, Prince was the Cause. The Effect was not: Want Sex (I already knew I wanted it). No, the effect was “ Want to Experience Sex”. For in that performance, I understood The Appeal Of The Unknown.  And Prince on that night could not have been any more unknown if he were from fucking Mars. And, again, HOT.

Yeah, that night adulthood got more enticing than I’d ever imagined. The next day, I bought the album on which Party Up appeared. It was called, most appropriately, “Dirty Mind”. There is nothing mysterious or cryptic about the album’s title. It starts with the title song.  Other equally in-your-face titles, such as as Head and Sister, are about, respectively, giving/getting head and fucking your sister.

Even songs with innocent titles had lyrics such as “you didn’t have the decency to change the sheets (When You Were Mine). But I think my favorite memory of listening to this album involves my father, the most conservative old-world Greek on the planet. I was scouting colleges to attend one day, and one of them was SUNY Stony Brook (Long Island, NY). By this time my parents were divorced, my father living with his sister in Queens. I was there to check out the college and we took in a Yankees game. My first and only sports crush (on Bucky Dent) was in full swing. So we go to Yankee Stadium. And during some break in the game, when we go to the concession stand, they play Prince’s song Dirty Mind over the speakers. Now from a distance, the song sounds innocent enough, Prince hitting all the high notes in his falsetto. It’s got a nice, bouncy melody. Until you get to the bridge, where Prince blurts out (rather loudly) the lyrics:

“you just gotta let me lay ya, gotta let me lay ya lay ya, you just gotta let me lay ya, gotta let me lay ya down. In my daddy’s car. It’s you I really wanna drive…”

Anticipating that moment in the song, I didn’t speak to my father for about a minute. And then I let him have it. I have no idea what I said, just made up some tirade so that he wouldn’t hear the words. He’s the type of man who would be so disgusted, and share his disgust, for days. It wouldn’t be worth it. If I tried to defend Prince, he’d only be disgusted with me. No, I had to create a diversion. It worked. Bucky Dent hit a home run. The Yankees lost the game, but who cares? For one bright shining afternoon, I had Prince, and I had Bucky. The future was looking bright.