Tag Archive: youth


The day of Prince’s death, I remembered an essay of mine that was never published but was dear to my heart. Thankfully, I found it in the files of my old laptop. It’s too long and the news cycle is too short for it to find a home in a traditional publication — even an online one, I imagine. And this is why it’s time for me to revive my blog. To get the words out without gatekeepers. At the time I had my concert review and a little bit about Paisley Park published in the Chanhassen newspaper. Perhaps I’ll attach or link to that. But for now…

 

Friends 4Ever: Prince Fan-atics at Paisley Park, June 18, 2004

On a breezy mid-June afternoon, I’m outside Prince’s recording studio in Chanhassen, a southwest suburb of Minneapolis, out in “industrial park land.” The sleek, blocky, unmarked building could easily be mistaken for part of the General Mills complex across the street. But to the observant, the pots of purple petunias are a sly tip-off: this is not Betty Crocker, but Paisley Park.

Today the security gates are thrown open to the public for the first time in years. The occasion: three afternoons of Open House to show off Paisley Park’s new state-of-the-art recording equipment during the Twin Cities leg of Prince’s “Musicology” tour. Minneapolis being The Artist’s hometown, enthusiasm runs high. At least two different lines snake through the studio grounds, among a confusion of picnic tables, purple helium balloons, and sellers of Prince merchandise, popcorn and mini-donuts.

“Do you know where we buy tickets for the tour?” I ask two friendly-looking African-American women who look one step ahead of me in piecing out the puzzle. I’ve followed them to the line at the merchandise tent, and it is indeed the right place.

Unified by our fandom and the long wait, first for tickets – or rather, wristbands, then entrance to the Purple Palace itself, we become friends. Tracy, 38, and Janice, 56, paralegals from Dallas, are enjoying their first visit to Minnesota. “I’ve loved Prince since seventh grade,” Tracy gushes. “I’ve even gone to Hawaii to see him.”

“You’re a fan!” I say, impressed.

She corrects me: “Fan-atic!” and lifts her shirt to reveal the large tattoo on her stomach: the symbol that was once The Artist’s name.

Unlike many Prince fans, my enthusiasm for The Purple One does not date back to, say, junior high. In 1984, the year Prince became a 3M-sized colossus with Purple Rain, what rocked my world was my colicky newborn daughter, Sarah. I first heard the new hit “Raspberry Beret” in Jazzercise class while burning post-maternity flab.

At the dawn of the new millennium I found myself singing along to “1999” on the radio, to the dismay of teen-age Sarah. What clinched it for me, though, was watching Prince tear through a guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” during the George Harrison tribute at this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, televised on VH1.

I’ve always been a pop music fan, dating back to when I was a 10-year-old bubble-gum-chewing teenybopper trading Beatle cards at slumber parties with my girlfriends. Fandom was very much about friendship. We’d discuss which Beatle was our favorite, and whether the Rolling Stones were dreamy or dangerous. (Actually, they were dreamy because they were dangerous.) We fantasized about meeting our unattainable celebrity crushes. In truth, looking back, I can see that I wanted to be Keith Richards as much as date him. But until the arrival of Chrissy Hynde, herself a fan who became what she loved, I couldn’t imagine how that was possible. Girls did not pick up electric guitars. A couple of us picked up acoustic guitars and gamely tried folk songs. And I dreamed of writing for magazines like Tiger Beat when I grew up, so that I could interview pop stars.

At the end of the school year, my fan friends and I would sign each other’s autograph books with sayings like “2 Good 2 B In School” and Friends 4Ever.” (Is this how Prince learned 2 spell?) The autograph book didn’t survive our family’s many moves, and neither did the friendships, but the happy memories did, along with my love for pop.

That’s what drew me to St. Paul’s Xcel Center to see Prince, whose electric presence grabbed you ‘round the throat even if you were perched in a rafter seat of the giant hockey arena.

After the show, I hadn’t had enough Prince, and that’s why I was at Paisley Park, two days later, milling again in a sea of fans.

PaisleyParkStudio

I’d worried about being too old, too un-hip, too un-cool to hang out at Prince’s place, especially alone, but there was no need to fret.

With this trip to Minnesota, Tracy is celebrating her recently-finalized divorce. “Every day my life is just work and kids, work and kids. I decided it’s time to have a little fun.”

Talking of Prince’s new Jehovah’s Witness ways and the R-rated songs he’ll no longer sing, Tracy says, “I have to say, I miss his erotic stuff. But if he doesn’t want to do those songs anymore, I respect that. He’s got plenty of other good stuff to choose from.”

Janice, a fan-atic not so much of Prince but of travel, came along as part of her quest to see all 50 states (Minnesota was No. 29.) “Tracy originally wanted to go to Chicago to see Prince. But I told her, ‘Anyone will go with you to Chicago. Only I will go with you to Minnesota.” The pair laugh.

I’d thought Paisley Park would be some dim den of hipness, but once we reach the foyer, I feel almost like we could be at Betty Crocker headquarters, except for the Grammy awards and the Purple Rain Oscar displayed in a case.

In the airy sky-lit atrium, the walls, a heavenly blue, are painted with clouds, doves, and a large likeness of Prince’s eyes, staring, intense. During the tour, the guide points out details we might overlook, like a wooden cage of white doves on the balcony, or the “cuss bucket,” an empty water-cooler jug labeled “Luv 4 One Another,” into which employees must deposit money for charity if Prince catches anyone cursing.

Prince’s people – the tour guides, the recording engineers, and the security personnel – are so polite and good-natured, we could be on one of the factory tours from the Mister Rogers show. And indeed, there are children on this tour, even some in strollers. When we come to the giant console in Studio A, on which Prince himself lays down most tracks these days, Khalik, a recording engineer, has one of the children push a lever that demonstrates how a drumbeat is preserved and played back.

After the tour, I trade e-mail addresses with Tracy and Janice, bid them good-bye and wish them well in their Twin Cities visit. They’ve got a full night ahead, with the concert at the arena, then back to Paisley Park for the after-show party that begins at midnight and goes till…dawn?? The personnel can’t say: they only know that “special guests” might be on hand tonight.

I leave regretfully, knowing I’m doing the wise thing not to spend the money for the late-night show. I don’t want to negotiate my way alone in the middle of the night.

Still, part of me wishes someone would talk me into it. After all, it’s Prince. After all, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And as I walk back to my car, a pretty, perky-looking woman with bouncy reddish hair, big brown eyes, red Capri pants and a white sleeveless top passes me on her way toward the studio.

“Can you tell me if they’re still doing tours?” she asks eagerly.

“No, I was in the last one,” I answer.

She looks so disappointed that I quickly add: “But they are selling tickets to the after-show.”

“Really?” she says – and as if hearing the very thoughts emanating from my brain, says, “I really, really want to go. But it starts so late, and none of my friends will go – even though I kept telling them, ‘It’s Prince! This could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance!’ And at that hour, I don’t feel comfortable going alone.”

I hear these words leap from my mouth: “I’ll go, I’ll go with you!”

“Really?” she squeals. “Yes, yes!” I answer, and, there we are, two strangers jumping up and down together, trading cell phone numbers and agreeing to meet back up at 8:30 to be among the first in line.

She calls me at dinner, telling me she went ahead and bought tickets for both of us, cash only, knowing I’d be there at 8:30 to repay her. Her friends are telling her what my friends are telling me: “What? You’re going to an all-night party with someone you’ve just met?” But we tell our friends the same thing: “I know she’s OK. I can tell.” We’re both fans.

            During nearly four hours sitting in line at Paisley Park, Sheila and I find out we have much in common, like milestone birthdays. She just turned 40; I just turned 50. As the sunset streaks pink and purple behind us, then sets, and the moon and Venus rise, we talk.

We are both rediscovering our Inner Kid, learning to have fun after years of seriousness, struggle, and responsibility. She is recently divorced; my marriage had broken up two months before.

We are both dreamers, looking forward to new lives.

In business with her brother, a home-builder, she’s thinking of going back to school, becoming a grief counselor, and learning to write: “I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas I want to write about,” she says.

I do, too, even though I never became a writer for Tiger Beat.

“Here,” says Sheila, eagerly thumbing through Oprah Magazine. “I found a line just for us,” she says, pointing to a sentence from Oprah’s “What I Know For Sure” column: “Party until dawn,” it commands.

“I think it’s a sign,” Sheila says.

We do exactly as Oprah says, though it may not quite be the experience she had in mind. We’re crowded, standing-room-only, into a cavernous room packed wall-to-wall, listening to a funk band play for more than two hours.

Prince finally emerges from the back-corner of the stage at 2:45 a.m., his presence first signaled by the ring of bright gems that outline his ear, sparkling in the dark. We cheer as Prince takes the stage, no more than 10 feet before Sheila and me. He’s no bigger than a birch sapling, and not a molecule isn’t pure energy and presence.

Prince_at_Coachella

[The above photo is not from that performance. It’s Prince at Coachella, from Wikipedia, available for non-commercial reuse.]

Sheila and I try not to think about the bathroom break we wished we’d taken three hours before, and I try not to worry that my numb feet could be a sign of some serious degenerative disease only now making itself known. Were we not packed like sardines, I’d be flat on the floor.

But when I doubt whether I should be here, I have only to look at Sheila, who beams at me with the most radiant of smiles and says, over and over, “I’m so glad I ran into you! I wouldn’t have come here otherwise.”

The evening gets more and more absurd. Prince and the funksters call up audience members to sing off the cheat sheet pasted on the stage floor and then to dance. As the band whips through a long, long version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” the line of audience dancers grooves on and on, among them a skinny middle-aged woman with an intense look and a leg brace.

At 4:50, the show ends, the doors to Paisley Park open, and we are released to the dawn, the western sky already reflecting the sunrise. I am cold now, and I can barely walk. As we stumble to the car, Sheila bubbles, “This reminds me of college. I can’t remember when I’ve stayed up to see the dawn.”

“Neither can I,” I say, not quite bubbling, but maybe percolating. To be honest, I didn’t even do this in college. We trade e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and hugs, promising to stay Prince-pals.

When I finally see Purple Rain for the first time, at home on my DVD player, I watch through all the credits. My persistence is rewarded with this stunning line across the screen:

“May u live 2 see the dawn.”

 

I will always remember this summer night, with Sheila. And yesterday (was it really yesterday?) afternoon, with Tracy and Janice. We may never meet the pop stars who brought us together, but like my old girlhood friends, they are:

2 Good 2 B 4Gotten.

Purple Dawn

[As a postscript: Despite trading contact info, Tracy, Janice, Sheila and I never got in touch after this. But in the days after Prince’s death, I’ve thought about them, and I’m sure that Sheila, wherever she is, has also been remembering that evening.

From what’ I’ve read, it sounds like 2004 was a bit of a turning point for Prince: He became a Jehovah’s Witness and settled more permanently in Minnesota. He opened Paisley Park many times after that, hosting frequent all-night music parties with pancakes served in the morning.

A few months before his death, I saw the ad on Prince’s Twitter feed announcing the sale of tickets to his first “Piano & a Microphone” program. I was sorely tempted, having felt a bond with Prince since my 2004 experience. I reluctantly passed on it because of the $100 tickets and the prospect of driving to Chanhassen on a January night. It would have been a good time to run into Sheila.]

 

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For the past three years I’ve lived not even a half-mile from the St. Louis Park Recreation Center with its beautiful swimming pool. (To be precise, Google Maps tells me it’s .4 miles, or an 8-minute walk.)

St Louis Park Pool.

St Louis Park Pool.

I grew up in pools like this. During our three years in Puerto Rico, where my dad was stationed on an Air Force base when I was ages 9-12, I spent entire summer days in the pool, punctuated by breaks to leap out to get a plate of french fries or an ice cream cone from Tommy, the young Puerto Rican man who worked at the snack bar. After a lot of swimming on a hot day, there was nothing like those plates of french fries with ketchup dribbled all over them, shared with a friend. The teenage lifeguards were the ultimate in cool: so grown-up, so tan, so fit, twirling their whistles, their marks of authority. At 5 p.m., when we heard Taps wafting through the air, we’d leap out of the pool and stand silently and reverently, dripping, hands over our hearts, facing the direction of wherever the American flag was being lowered for the evening. And just to show you what a year-round paradise Puerto Rico was for an outdoors-fun-loving kid, I had my 10th birthday party at the pool, and my birthday is around Thanksgiving.

I learned to swim years before that, though, at pools at other Air Force bases, in Japan and in Waco, Texas. I never took a lesson. Never feared the water, like so many of the friends I met later from more northern climates, without easy access to an outdoor pool (speaking of which, I have never been able to abide an indoor pool. They’re too cold, dim, utilitarian. Swimming, to me, means fun, freedom, sun and warmth. Not just swimming laps.) In gym class, I was generally a klutz. But when we had our swimming unit, I was right at home, while other girls, terrified, one crying even, as I recall, were shoved into the water by our sadistic gym teacher with her cane. My father was a terrific all-around athlete, always playing a sport on some just-for-fun men’s team. Also, he had grown up without parents, since they died when he was little. So, growing up in an orphanage, he was extra conscious of being an involved dad who would leave work to see me in a swim or track meet.

I’ve always been grateful to him for teaching me to swim so young without even really “teaching.” I just picked it up, and I have always felt at home in the water. Later, when I learned more about Judaism and after I’d known for some time that my father was Jewish, I read that the Talmud instructs a father to do three things for his child (son, actually): 1) teach him a way to make a living, 2) find him a spouse, and 3) teach him to swim. I know my father didn’t realize this. He was just being a great dad. But it delighted me to learn that, that he’d unwittingly followed that instruction for being a good Jewish father, like he’d absorbed it from the generations.

Anyway, it was a hot summer afternoon, near 90, humid, too hot to run, and I thought of how great it would feel to be in cool water. In a pool, as in my youth. Pools, where the black lines on the bottom always reminded me of stripes on a watermelon, one of my favorite foods. For someone who loves school and loves to learn, I am such a summer person. Summer always meant freedom, and Iove and need warmth and light. Plus, as an Air Force brat, we moved every few years, and some new schools were halls of dread. I thought of that St. Louis Park city swimming pool that I’ve eyed for 10 years now but never quite had the gumption to visit because I didn’t know how it worked (sounds so silly now that I write it.)

So I went, I swam, I loved it, I thought “how have I lived near this pool for 10 years and never come here?” After swimming laps, I lay on one of the lounge chairs, thought of the ultra-cool “older” lifeguards of my youth, of the Puerto Rico pool. How they are replaced by new ones now who look just like them but were born decades later. I think of those lifeguards I watched from the pool and of what they must look like now. Life goes on; we get older so that there will always be young people on our earth to experience those new stages for the first time.

Finally I packed up my things and left, and as I walked out the door of the Rec Center, adult men were coming in, hauling big gym bags and toting hockey sticks. I realized they were in some kind of rec league. They were enjoying the sports of their youth and the freedom and joy that came with it. For me it was summer swimming. But for these guys raised in Minnesota it was winter afternoons after school, whizzing around on ice skates on a neighborhood pond.

Image

When I think of myself as a girl, in fifth grade,living on Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, I can hear two sounds in my mind’s ear. One is the periodic roar of B-52s taking off from the flight line just down the road. We got used to pausing in our lesson, everyone quiet until the plane was high in the sky, where we could no longer hear it.

The other sound, which I liked much better, was that of the Air Force band across the quad, practicing “Rhapsody in Blue.” I didn’t know what it was called then, just knew I loved the swoon, the sweetness and melancholy of that tune. Here’s a poem I wrote once for a beginning poetry class at the Loft:

March 17, 2009

Rhapsody

In fifth grade in Puerto Rico
we learned to pause
when planes lifted off the flight line down the street,
carrying my classmates’ dads in pilot jumpsuits
for a mysterious two weeks “on alert.”

And wafting through our classroom window
late mornings, passionate music
from the boxy building across the lawn,
the Air Force band rehearsing.

Amateur musicians in uniform
with trumpets and trombones,
taking a break from desk jobs and airplanes, to practice
a daily melody I learned to love but couldn’t name,
under summer skies all school-year long

that return to me on a cold spring night in Minnesota
when I hear Gershwin
on the radio.

I remember those days when my sunny dad
whistled off to work in officer’s khaki,
and me at the pool in November with friends
and the school where we studied
in shirtwaist dresses and madras.

And I miss my father tonight,
how he played jazz piano
easily, naturally, in every key.

And that’s what I wish to do here: rhapsodize in every key, without gatekeepers and without fear. Without perfection, without self-censorship. To have writing be *fun* again. If there is a theme, it’s a loose one. Baby boomer mom tells of the life and times in which she grew up, the children she raised, her passions (those children being among the greatest of those), who she was as a girl and who she is now — which is that very same girl with a lot more wisdom.

When I was a girl, Anne Frank and her diary were among my first inspirations to write and to keep my own diary. A place for far-ranging thoughts. So this will be, in part, my figurative red-checkered cloth diary AND my rhapsody, from one who has always thought she was probably meant to be a musician more than anything else. As I didn’t learn the piano very well, these, on the laptop, are my keys.