Dig this: In 1982, I had my first romantic encounter with Prince. No, sex wasn’t involved, but something deeper, something that felt a bit more like destiny. And it was on Valentine’s Day. One February afternoon that year, on my fifteen-minute break during my retail job at a mall bookstore, I spotted a rectangular piece of paper on the sidewalk. I picked it up and read the dot matrix-y type:
February 14, 1982 8 pm.
Prince – The Controversy Tour
With The Time
San Francisco Civic Auditorium
I felt like a winner, even if I wasn’t quite in the Prince camp. He was too new an artist to have fully imprinted on my psyche. But from radio airplay and music magazine coverage, I had enough lustful curiosity to appreciate his mixed race, lean-bodied, quasi-queer penchant for posing strap lingerie and shoulder pads, not to mention that dance floor funk. That photo of him in the shower with a cross had been brazenly wheat pasted to abandoned buildings around town, he was an artist to watch for more ways than one.
I felt guilty holding on to that wayward ticket— I could only imagine the effort and expense the buyer put into getting it. But what was I to do, return it?
Fuck that. I took it as a sign from above, and went to the show.
Actually, my attitude wasn’t quite that cavalier. I was a shy 21-year old who had moved to San Francisco for a sentimental education at a state school in a city that promised dance, music, sex and gay romance. Prince didn’t record D.M.S.R until the following year, but that mantra played in my head even though I may not have realized it had anything to do with him. Or with how significant a figure he would become as my marker of all of the above.
I knew there would be something liberating about Prince, and The Time, who opened. That was 34 years ago, gasp, and I only recall fleeting details—feeling lost and alone in the cavernous space, the crowd dancing on the main floor to songs that were only just becoming engraved in my mind—When You Were Mine, Head, Dirty Mind, Do Me Baby. Controversy. Performing them, Prince prowled the stage like a mixed race jaguar anbd he played his instruments like lovers. I danced, with my own sort of sweaty freedom, a small fraction of what he advertised. Was I dreaming or did he return my glance?
He asked much better questions that were so of the era: “Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?” Clearly a flirt, he wasn’t about to answer conclusively. He knowingly played both sides of the fence. His stage demeanor gave me direct permission to ogle his ass and the alluring hair on his chest—even if there was never substantiated evidence of male lovers in his entourage (it took decades for Frank Ocean to fill that zone). He seemed so confident, so alive. I was in awe, and in lust.
After the show, the sweat cooled quickly in the San Francisco night as I walked alone up Polk Street to the apartment where my roommates were undoubtedly watching MTV videos late into the night. It was a first encounter and I didn’t quite know what hit me other than the fact that I was in the presence of greatness at an early stage. I suppose I could have predicted that the music he would go on to make would have such a profoundly joyous, erotic influence on my life— and so many others. There would be countless nights of dancing, of singing karaoke at the top of my lungs, of obsessions with his style and protégés. How was I to predict seeing him decades later and basking in his amorous glow in a stadium full of those whose psyches he penetrated with songs I heard that magical first date?