At the supermarket a few weeks ago, nearly every magazine had a cover story about the surprising death of the recording artist Prince. Indeed, the mystery around his death has intrigued many, especially given the very private life that he led.
Interestingly, this focus on Prince reminded me of when he emerged on the music scene. I was 16 years old and I really liked his first hit song. But, honestly, I was a bit jealous of him too. He had perfect pitch and a perfect Afro—two things I lacked. Moreover, my girlfriend was a lady so gaga about him that she had a huge poster of him in her bedroom. So, alas, I suspect that Prince was in her dreams much more than I.
However, as I began to grow in my Christian faith—and started to really understand his song’s lyrics—I began to part ways with Prince’s music. You see, Jesus Christ’s call to seek the Celestial City beckoned me. But, Prince was committed to an opposite destination—the Erotic City, the title of one of his more sexually suggestive songs. The hedonistic sexual mores that he embraced and sang about were in direct conflict with the Biblical standards of the Celestial City. In fact, the tipping point for me was cover of his hit album 1999. The “1” in the artist’s rendering of 1999 was a phallic symbol. I knew that I could not serve two masters and head in two different directions. I had to choose. So, I did.
That said, after his death, I learned some things that gave me an insight into why early in Prince’s musical life he chose such erotic themes and why he chose the path he did. You see, Prince’s parents split up when he was about 10 years old and he went to live with his father. However, when Prince was 13 years old, he and his father had a fight and his father kicked him out of the house. In a 1985 Rolling Stone magazine interview, Prince told how he called his father from a phone booth and begged to return. But, his father didn’t relent. Prince said, “I sat crying at that phone booth for two hours…That was the last time I cried.”
Indeed, when a king rejects his prince, it’s a troubling thing. What should be a purple reign together becomes purple pain for the prince alone. And, for Prince, it seems that a stormy purple rain cloud cast a dark shadow over much of his life.
This article goes on the say:
He moved in with his Aunt Olivia, but his domestic exiles created longing and anger that played out in his career: He would build a community in his music and his band, but then cut off band members whenever he felt it necessary; he would most often record albums by himself. He was the only one he could count on.
And in a 1990 Rolling Stone interview he said:
“What if everybody around me splits? Then I’d be left with only me, and I’d have to fend for me. That’s why I have to protect me.”
As I considered the above, Prince’s journey to the Erotic City began to make more sense. You see, the Erotic City has a special allure for the wounded and rejected. The place boasts an ability to give you sexual healing for what ails you. Indeed, it’s a place where one easily confuses the intensity of sex with the intimacy of love. In fact, the Erotic City is a lot like the mythical land of OZ, which is run by what appears to be a kindly and harmless wizard. But, when you pull the curtain back, you will see that it’s a place built on a lie. You have been deceived. The streets are paved with fool’s gold. The Erotic City is no place like home, and it never can be.
So, after years in the Erotic City, encouraging others to “go crazy” and “party like it’s 1999,” Prince had a revelation. Like a prodigal son, he determined, despite all of the sexual hook ups with beautiful women, many of them his musical collaborators, it never satisfied and never could. In fact, in a 2014 Rolling Stone interview, he said that he was celibate. Moreover, in an Essence magazine interview, Prince explained why he would no longer curse. Also, he committed to no longer perform his songs with erotic lyrics.
You see, in 2001 Prince packed up his talent and set out on a new journey…his last “pilgrim’s progress.” He longed for the Celestial City, with its streets paved in real gold. And he seemed determined to get there. Interestingly, Prince’s exit from the Erotic City did not merit the fanfare in the press that his arrival did years ago. Alas, we live in a time where folks are more interested in the profane than the profound.
Now, it’s impossible to truly know what is going on in the mind and soul of another. Conversations with God are private and the ones we have when we are dying are the most private of all. But, it is poetically symbolic that Prince died alone in an elevator. Indeed, telephone booths and elevators have much in common; both are meant to help connect you with others. In my mind’s eye and in my heart’s prayer, I envision Prince “on the line” one last time. But, this time, on the other end is a Heavenly Father who won’t reject him and who always delights in bringing a wayward son home, no matter where he has been or what he has done. And, I see the Prince of Pop lovingly embraced by the eternal Prince of Peace in a place where doves never cry. Amen.