Writer Kat Moore got the experience that I was forbidden: The irreplaceable joy of being 14 and seeing Prince in concert during the Purple Rain tour. I am extremely jealous of this story — and extremely grateful that she shared it with us here.
“I was 14. It was 1984 and I was taking advanced biology lab. I was partnered with Carrie Davenport, the weirdest girl in the 8th grade. Our lab bench was in the very back of the class. Being her lab partner, Carrie had to speak to me. Otherwise, she never spoke, and she wore clothes that reminded me of a tomboy purple-clad Madonna with chains. On the first day of school, she was wearing tight black jeans tucked into purple velvet booties with a black vest, lace shirt and a chain that went through her nose and ear piercings. She had on sparkly purple eyeshadow and lots of black eyeliner. I was not allowed to wear makeup, and owned nothing in my wardrobe akin to her poet-pirate ensemble. She looked wonderful.
Carrie had a Sony Walkman, and she wore the headphones on the back of her head underneath her long red hair, so no one could see she was constantly listening to music. When I asked her who she was listening to, she smiled secretively and whispered that it was banned music so I could not tell a soul. Then she handed over the earphones.
I slid the earphones under my hair, like Carrie did, and bent my head over my biology book. Carrie pressed play. A sound came out… a sound like no other…
Is the water warm enough?
Shall we begin?
The guitar was different and the lyrics made me think of things I was not supposed to. Carrie was smiling at me when I looked up at her at the end of the song. She mouthed, “Just wait ‘til the next one….” It went straight into “Darling Nikki.” Holy shit! No one ever told me that artists could be so sexy, that guitar riffs could inspire people to grind. She let me take the cassette home that night. I waited until Dad was in bed before I put it on, and I listened to the whole album all night long. The next day was Friday and in biology I made a date to meet Carrie at the mall on Saturday afternoon.
We went to Sharpstown Mall, straight to H&H Music, where I bought all of Prince’s albums on cassette. Carrie said to start listening from the beginning, as if he was telling me a story: For You, Prince, Dirty Mind, Controversy, 1999, and my very own copy of Purple Rain. I spent more money than I wanted to, but Carrie was right—it was worth it. His lyrics were sexy and sad and the music made me want to jump and dance and scream and masturbate and close my eyes and never stop listening.
When Carrie said that Prince was coming in concert in January, I knew we had to go. We had to. My aunt had taken me to U2 and David Bowie at the Summit, so I had already been to big stadium shows. Carrie was in, but she and I both knew that not one adult in our life would allow us to go, or go with us. Prince was controversy. Parents were banning his music in all the households in the suburbs of Houston. I had hid the rest of the cassettes in my underwear drawer after my father walked by my room one afternoon and heard the song “Sister” from Dirty Mind wafting through my closed door.
He burst in, horrified. “Katherine! What the hell are you listening to?!”
“It’s Prince, Dad…”
“Well, no more in my house!” and he promptly popped the tape out and broke it half.
I replaced it several weeks later.
Carrie and I made our plan. January 13th was a Sunday, a school night, so… tricky. But luckily, I was allowed to babysit until 11pm on school nights. Carrie’s parents were divorced, so she had it easier. The night of the event, I dressed in normal clothes—jeans and a sweatshirt—but underneath were black tights, a white lace scarf I had stolen from my mom, and a tight wife-beater undershirt. In my backpack were my coveted purple suede boots, a black leather vest, a brush and hairspray. And in my wallet was $120 dollars of babysitting money that I had earned over the Christmas holidays. The plan was to meet at the grocery store in the front of my neighborhood; Carrie was getting a ride from her mom and I was riding my bike. When we met, we went into the store’s restroom and changed, then Carrie applied our makeup and we called a taxi.
I remember sitting in the back of that car thinking how lucky I was to have a friend like Carrie. She looked so beautiful in that backseat and I loved her for being my friend and for turning me on to the first love of my life. When we pulled up in front of the Summit, Carrie was suddenly alive, her shyness hidden by her makeup and the crowds. There were hundreds of people dressed just like us, some much more elaborate with heavy lace and purple velvet suits. These were all our people.
I had seen scalpers when I was walking into U2 with my aunt, so I kind of knew where to go. On the walkway from the parking lot, we found the nicest-looking scalper. I said I wanted his two best, together. He laughed and asked, “Where are your parents?” I gave him my best babysitting ‘You’re in trouble’ stare, and he acquiesced, “I have two on the 8th row, but they’re $75 dollars apiece.” We had just enough between the two of us. It left us with no cab fare home — but it was the 8th row!
As we walked in, the lights were dimming… and out came the warm-up act, Sheila E. She made me a bit jealous; she was so close to Prince. But even so, she was great, and we were close enough to see her sweat.
Then, the stadium went completely dark. All around us people stopped and held their breath. A lone spotlight lit the back of the stage. And there he was.
You know that feeling when something is sucked out of you… and then there is nothing? That’s what I felt when he started the first chords of “Let’s Go Crazy,” as if I was the only other person there and everything else had dropped away. Somehow I could hear my own breath; all was in slow motion — and then the Summit exploded.
“Dearly Beloved: We are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life life life….”
We were gathered, and when the drums started, we started…we pulsed, we jumped, we played air guitar, we screamed it out, “GO CRAZY!” I looked at my new friends. Nothing was gonna break us down.
Carrie was crying, I was crying. Lisa’s voice was real and Wendy’s voice was real. The ‘doctor’ was there, barely moving. I was delirious.
I know they played “1999” because I remember thinking, “I will be 29 in 1999,” and as I heard the song live for the first time, 29 sounded so old. (The funny thing was, when I played that song 15 years later, out at sea on a sailboat on December 31, 1999 —when we were all gonna die because it was Y2K — I felt young and sexy and alive.)
That night during the concert, I fell in love with Wendy and Lisa; when they sang, I held my breath. “Computer Blue” was still my favorite song, since it had been my first. “Darling Nikki” was so sexy, and ‘The Beautiful Ones’ made me close my eyes and sway and shiver and moan with ecstasy — as much as ecstasy as a 14-year-old girl can muster. But it was “When Doves Cry,” the first encore, that made me cry — and I cried with 15,000 other people.
Then Prince began to wind up to the final encore, and we all knew it was coming: “Purple Rain.” I sang the song to him. For him. I sang to lift him up. I knew that anyone who could write those lyrics was someone who would always be there for me. We reached out to each other. We hugged everyone around us, swaying and singing in unison with our god, with our Prince. We raised our hands. We lifted it up.
When it was all over, I stood there and waited for more, for something else. It didn’t come. Nothing ever came to me like that again. It was my first time with greatness, the first time that I was one with him.
Somehow, we found a taxi driver who would drive us back to the suburbs for 7 dollars. My bike was still there, waiting for me to change back into my babysitting clothes. But I didn’t. I rode home with my purple and my lace, crying for more.”