Friday, April 22, 2016

What PRINCE Taught Me About Dating

Prince in "Purple Rain" - image from Warner Bros.
If you did not know me growing up - then you definitely do not know what an influence Prince had on my childhood. When I was a kid I learned nearly everything I know and continue to espouse about dating through Prince and his albums & movies: mostly misogyny, domestic abuse, domestic assault, sexism, and overt sexuality.

"Eat it, Reverend Tommy Gunn!" I can hear you saying. "Do NOT talk badly about Prince!!"

Before you start typing your replies to the above, indulge me and keep reading to the end.

I was introduced to Prince by some friends, and specifically by a girl who lived down the street from me. Her life was very different from my own, I thought she was gorgeous, and I was pretty enamored with her. And she loved Prince -- and, being into music, anyway,  I became pretty enamored with Prince as well. Becoming a freshman in High School in 1981-82, in a small midwest town with hardly any black families... he was something very different from the sort-of sanitized "Michael Jackson" type of thing being shoved down our throats at the time.

This girl had an older brother - and he introduced us to Prince's earlier albums: For YouPrince, Dirty Mind, and Controversy. The lyrics, full of graphic imagery and overt sexuality that I had not heard before in any of the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, or musical score albums my own parents had. I had only just gotten my first FM radio (that was MINE that I could control where it was set) the year before and it was stuck on the one local rock station -- WTUE, which played a lot of Lynard Skynard, Led Zeppelin, and the like. All the music that I still associate with the county fair. So other than those, AC/DC's Back In Black album (which I had a bootleg cassette tape of), a DEVO album I had purchased in Jr. High, and the albums I would check out of the library, my music choices were pretty sanitary and limited. Like my life.

To have someone actually sing pretty graphically about "am I black or white? am I straight or gay?," head, incest, sex, love (and the switching back and forth of the two until they were one)... it was really eye-opening. So much of me thinking while listening, "wait... you can do that?!" And I was hearing these things at the same time that my own sexuality was coming to the forefront of my life. Before this it was junior high locker room talk with no meaning. I had "girl friends" here and there, but no idea what I was supposed to do with them - so it always ended badly. So while all of this was going down - I was getting desperate to figure out what it was women wanted and how I could make them want ME!

THEN, in 1982, I got a copy of 1999 from the library once they got a copy - and I was blown away!! And so I kept checking it out and playing it until it was finally worn out - much to the chagrin of the librarians. I would say to the chagrin of my folks - but I never played it when they were around. I knew better. That album led me to checking out The Ohio Players, Parliament Funkadelic, and James Brown... but that is not important right now - we are here to discuss dating tips!

In a nutshell: I was not just fascinated by the imagery and such - I really, REALLY liked the music, too. So I was now something of a Prince fan - not just listening to his music to get in this girl's pants. In 1984, everything changed.

The movie and soundtrack for Purple Rain came out.

Prince performing in "Purple Rain" - image from Warner Bros.
From the first time I saw the video for "When Doves Cry," I was hooked. The costumes, the imagery... all coupled with the amazing music which was unlike anything else I was hearing. While I was never allowed to go see Purple Rain at a movie theater - I got to see a lot of the videos, and hear the soundtrack which my friends had. Eventually, I got my own cassette of it - and then got to watch the movie on videotape... probably Betamax.

And my life changed.

Besides the excitement of the live concert footage, combined with seeing someone I could identify with (no... not a black man from Minneapolis), an artistic, misunderstood introvert who was could hardly bring himself to talk to a girl he liked (fair enough: I was kind of dumb back then). AND so many of the girls I knew just thought Prince was SO sexy and gorgeous and... you get the idea.

Now, in the universe of Prince's Purple Rain, women are not treated very well. They are (in no particular order) slapped, punched, tricked into jumping into a lake, thrown into a dumpster, ignored, objectified, made fun of, verbally assaulted, molested, insulted, downtrodden, dehumanized, relegated to supporting roles, forced to perform simulated sexual acts (on stage), forced to wear only lingerie as clothing, and ripped off - while portrayed as alcoholic, cheating, catty, bitchy, thieving, self-centered rip-off artist damsels who need saving.

Didn't remember all that, did you?

The teenaged-brain part of me was just like, "Wow! Hot chicks in lingerie!"

Understand that because I was pretty effectively the equivalent of a giant nerd, I was not just a someone who admired Prince. I wanted to be Prince! At least, as much as an untalented, scrawny mostly-white kid living in southwestern Ohio can be a multi-talented "am I black or white? am I straight or gay" musical genius from Minneapolis with amazing artistic talent and the wherewithal to know it could be.

So, obviously, I dressed like Prince (a great combination of studded leather, lace, and velvet), I acted like Prince (or, at least, like Prince behaved as The Kid in Purple Rain), and all around tried to purport myself in a "Prince-like" manner at all times. I also wanted to "wow" audiences the way that Prince did. I wanted women to want me the way they wanted Prince.

Sure, in retrospect, it made me just another poseur - and kind of a pain in the ass to anyone who knew me that suddenly I was acting like this tiny black genius from Minneapolis as a sophomore in an Ohio High School who came from a good family with no problems, could barely play two instruments (trombone & piano... not a lot of call for that kind of thing), and whose singing was really just not that great (though in my mind it was... oh, yes).

One thing I did have an amazingly artistic father who happened to have a huge collection of cool historical costumes I could raid whenever I was sneaky enough. So, when it came right down to it - the only thing I really could do was dress like Prince dressed onstage. All the time. Not really the kind of thing you should walk into a southwestern small-town Ohio grocery store wearing on a Wednesday afternoon in 1984.

Did it get me girls? I like to think it did... Besides the girl down the street, a new girl moved into town and went to our school I also thought was beautiful - and she was into Prince, too! She ended up not really being into me - but her friend was (and that was okay with me - I am sure Prince would have approved). Plenty of other lovely young ladies were intrigued with me, as well (though I do not really know if it was because I dressed as Prince, or if they really found me interesting). So I did what I assumed were Prince-ly things and wrote them poetry, pined after them, drew crying faces in flowery notes...

Oh, man... this is kind of embarrassing to remember...

Anyway, I basically did what I really think all shy, pubescent boys do at some point: I pretended like I was a man of the world who knew what I was doing. It worked as much for me as it did for anyone. There was just so much I did not understand about women, relationships, dating, or much of anything. If I had had any idea at all, I am sure things would have gone better.

Luckily at some point early on, the voices of the women I knew - including my own mum - pointed out to me how badly the women are treated by the men in Purple Rain. And I was smart enough to realize it was true... In the movie, it is really Morris Day who treats women in an all-out dismissive fashion. But Prince treats them badly, too, in much more subversive fashion.  I resolved never to do that.

At the end of the film, though, Prince redeems himself a bit. Gives Wendy & Lisa their break - recognizing them as fellow artists. Helps his folks. Gets back together with Apollonia. All in all - not too bad, considering. Morris Day never redeems himself...

My love of performing has stayed with me. Though I finally realized I did not have the musical talent - I did manage to take my knowledge of showmanship and find another way to "wow" audiences. There may never be the audiences for what I do like there are for Prince - BUT I can say that I have influenced folks in the industry and the audience. I have traveled my own way.

And I have learned how to treat women - and how NOT to treat the, too. Thank you, Prince. God Speed.

Here is an aside: when I was growing up, I wanted to be Prince. But when you see your Reverend Tommy Gunn today, he is obviously much more influenced by Morris Day (check out those suits! and that stage banter!).

Prince - image from