I realize this isn’t the only Prince tribute you’ll read today. But I want to talk about something specific, his eyes.
After a couple beers tonight, I’ll start talking about Purple Rain; but not about the music or the motorcycle or the Oscar win from a now-defunct category because the Academy decided nobody could do Best Music Original Song Score better than Prince. I won’t even bring up what I learned did happen to Apollonia from Oprah: Where Are They Now? (because that will invariably set the conversation in a Willie Aames/Danny Bonaduce spiral—and nobody wants that.)
It’ll be something along the lines of how Purple Rain was this endless mirror reflection of Prince. The child prodigy who captured the moment in his life when he knew he was called to musical immortality but tried to jettison it—because insecurity. The man who navigated sickly childhood growing up in a broken home, writing his first song (“Funk Machine”) at age seven and then bounced around the Minneapolis club scene till he was a 19-year-old—almost giving up after having demo after demo rejected.
A few years later, when the comet Prince arrived, fully formed in a coat of Pink Cashmere and sprinkled with ruffles, there wasn’t yet a culture of you’re The One. To the contrary, Prince always carried his guitar slung around his back as if to say, I know I don’t belong here, so watch me closely before I turn to go.
I know in a few
days hours, Prince’s life will have been reduced to a meme. But that’s wrong. Shrieking volumes should be written about Prince; about how “Nothing Compares 2 U” is not only the greatest breakup song ever sung, screamed, shouted or cried out—but also now signals that he was the first one to break out the shorthand that evolved this language into this: ✨
How “I Feel for You” is about how awkward and secret and inner-glow inducing ugly crushes can be. How Under the Cherry Moon was the most ambitious and funny and quirky and too-deliberately-winking film ever made. How thanks to Charlie Murphy and his New Girl appearance in 2014, the legend was tweaked, toyed with and turned upside down.
How this was his name for awhile:
How “Batdance” was a rebellion. How “Sexy MF” has been a party starter for 25 years and will continue to be for 100 to come. How “Alphabet St.” is a relentlessly unapologetic track dealing with finding love and beauty from the ground floor of anonymity. How “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” is everyone’s long overdue apology to the one that got away, as told by the one that got away.
How “Purple Rain” was really all about Wendy + Lisa after all.
How every time “The Beautiful Ones” comes on in the car (even if I was the one who put it on) I have to pull over.
But that’s all prologue, to Prince’s Eyes.
Nobody’s talking about these eyes today and I don’t really understand why. Maybe it’s because Prince’s eyes are difficult to describe. People who are famous usually are because of their eyes. It’s true. Most of us just walk around with our eyes averted or our eyes filled with thoughts of something else besides the present. Sincere but cloudy. On the off chance you do catch the rest of us on an on day and we’re really looking at you, maybe even into you—well, that’s what most people call (or make the mistake of calling) a connection. People who can make that kind of eye contact with a camera lens or an entire crowd and make you feel that thing…are usually lucky enough to get to do it for a living.
But Prince took it a step further. I dare you to go back and watch “When Doves Cry” and not get stuck looking at his eyes looking back deep into you. And then you realize, “Holy shit. This creepy guy’s exiting from the bathtub in the most awkward way imaginable and all I could do was stare into those eyes.”
Prince’s was the scariest of powers.
Prince could have run a cult. He could have torn down nations. He could have interrupted dinner, ordered the filet, taken your date home and stuck you with the bill. With a single look you could tell he was going to smile before he smiled or shed a tear before a hint of sadness crept across the rest of his face.
I never got to see Prince live, but my sister did and she said at one point during “Take Me with U” he stopped playing. He just stared out to the crowd and said, “I’m sorry. I can do this better.” Then he took the time to look at everyone. Everyone. And he waited for everyone to feel it.
Then he started the song over.
Prince died Thursday at his home, Paisley Park, in Chanhassen, Minn., according to a statement from his publicist. He was 57.