In 1984, I was in first grade. I lived in a tiny town in East Tennessee about 25 miles from Knoxville. We did not have a movie theatre, but thankfully, for some reason, we had MTV. I would watch the videos constantly. I liked Madonna, tied huge bows in my hair (I would not comb or brush it to give it that “Lucky Star” look) while clunky bracelets adorned my tiny wrists. I was six years old and already pretty much a latch-key kid. I was an only child in the only Jewish family in the county, everyone else was at the Baptist Church. I was an odd bird. MTV was my friend.
I liked videos but I had yet to be compelled to insist my parents buy me a record (not even Madonna). But I was a tyrant and my parents, both working professionals were too tired to argue with me when I really wanted something. One day there was a video with a man in a bath tub (blindfolded) narrated by a keyboard and guitar, and being accompanied by what sounded like my dad’s electric razor (my mother rather nervously and quickly agreed that that was exactly what it was).
I watched and listened to the video without blinking. I asked my Mother to read the credits off of the screen at the end of the video: “When Doves Cry” by a man named Prince (a name that was so enticing for a six year old girl). Suddenly, Michael Jackson was just not as cool and Madonna was just–well, Madonna. I got Purple Rain that night. He had me at “Dearly Beloved….”
My turntable was made by Fisher Price. Overnight it went from playing Mousercise and Cinderella (the Disney record that came with a book to follow along; not the band by the same name) to Purple Rain. I loved the upbeat songs, “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Baby I’m a Star” and quickly learned that dancing too hard made a record skip. I loved the intro to “Take Me With You.” There was a sadness to “Purple Rain” that I identified with my own loneliness. As my feelings (that I didn’t quite understand) for Prince deepened I wore the record bald in the spot in “The Beautiful Ones” where Prince humbly and so casually asks: “If we got married/Would that be cool?”
My parents were both amused and mildly concerned. I overheard my mother tell my aunt, “She is going to be into musicians.” I knew what she meant, in a way, sort of and thought, “Well isn’t every girl?”
At this point, I know now that my mother was just relieved about the electric razor and the fact I thought the first line to “Darling Nikki” said that she was “six feet” and not a “sex fiend.” They indulged my questions about Minneapolis and my need to find out where it was, as well as “hypothetical” questions about sending someone famous your address in order to correspond. They let me take the poster that was enclosed in the album to school for Show and Tell. They agreed to take me to see the movie “Purple Rain,” but for reasons that weren’t (and still aren’t) answered, backed out at the last minute. You better believe that I got that VHS the day it came out from my Daddy though (don’t blame them, they hadn’t seen it before). It took a long time for my mom to convince me that Morris Day was really Prince’s friend (in real life) and not a bad guy. It took me even longer to come to terms with Apollonia.
I have maintained a copy of Purple Rain throughout my life: vinyl, cassette, CD, and now on my iTunes. When I first told my husband (a musician) about my love for Prince that started in first grade, he laughed and said “Purple Rain” was the song with which he nursed his first teenage heartbreak, giving perspective to our age difference. Everyone worth their salt remembers what that song meant to them.
First crushes aside, Prince’s music stirred a love my love of music in the purest way: I didn’t know exactly what he was saying, but I loved how he was saying it and I loved his music. I still do. I guess I just wanted to be “some kind of friend” to him, one odd bird to another.
Erin Pounders writes for The Vinyl District in Memphis, Tennessee where she lives with her husband and son. She is a student of creative writing in the MFA Program at the University of Memphis. She still wants to know how to correspond with Prince.