When he first broke onto the scene, Prince made me uncomfortable. Dude dressed in puffy blouses, wore high heels, makeup, and was named “Prince.” Who did he think he was, Bowie?
I was a young man who’d just joined the USAF out of high school and was stationed in Myrtle Beach, SC. A raging fireball of hormones. A young bull. Screamingly heterosexual, my life was basically wake up, work, eat, go to bars, sleep.
Prince made me uncomfortable because even though I didn’t know any gay people, he epitomized my idea of a gay person. And, like most straight guys I knew, I couldn’t fathom the thought of having sex with another man. Also, back then we just weren’t sure whether homosexuality was something you could contract.
So yeah, Prince was weird. But man, his tunes were damn catchy.
And to my amazement, women adored him.
Still, you’d never catch me in a puffy shirt. I was a man (note: boy). And I dressed like a man by wearing faded Levi’s, nice kicks, and tee shirts. And in the winter, leather. Because that’s what real men wore. Leather.
Besides, at the time I was into British metal and lacked the palette for some lollypop pop singer. Metal was loud. Dark. Chaotic. You had to be a real man to like metal. And all my mates knew that my band was Judas Priest. Their lead vocalist, Rob Halford, was a metal God who dressed head-to-toe in leather and represented everything I knew about being a man. He was tough. He was rebellious. He even drove a motorcycle on stage during concerts and would hold a microphone next to the engine while revving it full-throttle as his guitarists walked around shredding, and the fog machine flooded the stage. We loved it. We loved it because we were men (note: boys) and Priest gave us an outlet for our testosterone.
Plus, we all knew that chicks dug dudes who were tough.Ah, youth.
In 1983, when Prince’s music seemed to hang in the summer air at the beach, I started to notice a correlation between not meeting women, and hanging out at bars head-banging with other dudes. That’s when I started paying more attention to Prince. .
Did he just purse his lips at the camera? Is he wearing false eyelashes? What the hell? Wait wait wait wait wait … is he talking about women in his lyrics? How could this be if he were gay? And how could all these women fall for it?
Yes, Prince’s music was undeniably danceable, but it was how he attracted women that made me most curious.
Then it struck me—I needed to take a page out of his book to start meeting women.
So I did. Not that I dressed differently. I was still (trying to be) a cool guy, after all. Rather, when I’d go out to clubs, I began making sincere eye contact with girls. And smiling more. And listening more. And leaning in when they talked. And laughing at their jokes and idiosyncrasies.
Basically, caring more.
The rest of that summer was great. And even though Myrtle Beach was a revolving door of girls from northern colleges, none of those relationships ever felt false. Even when we were only in it for the sex (which most times we were). Because there was an emotional connection, the sex was authentic. Sincere. It was an expression of love, even for one night.
And that’s when I saw him in a whole new light. Prince was no longer some Tiger Beat pop singer, but a true artist.
And the best damn guitar player I have ever seen live.
Prince’s death has enlightened millions of people to his talent. People who only knew him for Purple Rain are now starting to see what a great artist he was.
And great artists transform those who are willing to listen.
I never learned whether Prince was gay. I stopped caring. All I know is that he was an artist who had a profound impact on my life. Because of Prince, I began thinking about women in new, meaningful ways. Which is good because at this stage of my life, I’m surrounded by them.
Thank you, Prince, for making me a better man.