by Leone Ross
Before I met Prince in 1995, I liked to think we’d had a moment. I think it was the year before, at some wrap party. So long ago. There was a rumour he was in town, but after several hours skulking around the room, waiting, with other hopefuls, I gave up and left. As I walked out onto the pavement, cursing, I suddenly saw him dart out of a side door. We both stopped: I am sure my mouth fell open.
He twinkled at me and then dived into a car.
On the day of our interview, I kept him waiting because his security wanted to frisk me and there was no woman to do it. When I walked through the door he grinned like a little boy and said ‘Yes, a black woman!’ No one can ever again tell me I am not black enough because PRINCE TOLD ME SO. He smelled sweeter than any man I have ever been close to: patchouli. He was burning far too much incense. He moved on the balls of his feet, like a dancer. We sat on a sofa. Our knees touched. The room was a ridiculous Arabian nights parody: draped material in pinks and purples. I did not want him to think I was crazy. I wanted to be professional. I was 26 years old and I could not fucking believe I was breathing the same air in the same room as Prince.
I earnestly thanked him for the music and tried to ask my first question. He interrupted: What’s your favourite song? I said: Old Friends 4 Sale. He laughed: ‘Now where did you get that?’ This was when you could only get it on bootleg. I said, ‘C’mon now, Prince,’ and he winced. I said: ‘What do you want me to call you?’ He said: ‘My friends don’t call me anything.’ I rolled my eyes. I rolled my fucking eyes at Prince. He laughed. He wouldn’t take his dark glasses off. As we sank into it, I complained. I told him I couldn’t see his pretty eyes, that I had been waiting on an island to see them, all my life. He shook his head, teasing me. So I looked straight at him through those glasses for the rest of the interview, so he would have the impression I was looking into his eyes. He realised what I was doing; became amused, restless. Wagged his finger at me: ‘You’re clever’. Took the glasses off. Sighed at my delight: like a strip tease. Put them on again.
He wanted to know about Jamaica. I told him we were listening to him. I told him I once dated a man because he was a Prince fan.
Prince: ‘Did you sleep with him?’
Eyebrow. ‘Because of me?’
Me: ‘No, I loved him!’
Prince: ‘That’s the right answer.’
He was so funny. We laughed so much. At one point, he laughed so hard, he fell into my lap. In. My Lap. And I couldn’t even be aroused, by this man who had aroused me for so many years, because I was so shocked. Hours passed. There were other journalists outside, waiting and cussing, and Prince kept sending his frantic publicist away with a flick of his finger. He kept switching and changing topics: trying to confuse me, trying to control it all. Such a control freak. He was so kind. I asked him if he’d ever fucked Kylie Minogue. Just like that. He said: ‘Somebody wrote that shit.’ He told me that he spent every Sunday at Rosie Gaines’ house and ate fried chicken, but nobody was writing about that and why not? I knew he was telling me that because I was a big woman sitting in front of him; I also knew he said it because he meant it. He told me that his next video [Most Beautiful Girl In The World] would deliberately include women of all colours and shapes, and that Warner never let him do that.
He cussed the music industry. He played me Pussy Control and Gold from his then-unreleased album. He suddenly slapped my thigh and said: ‘I know you!’ and then told me about our wrap party moment: completely without prompting: ‘Girl, your face!’
He talked about his relationship with food; everything in that description sounded like bulimia, to me. He looked sad, shaken, thin, then. I touched the back of his hand. It was the moment of the interview: the most authentic. You learn that, as a journalist. When they forget the interview and talk like humans, then gather themselves and go off the record.
He was so political. He was so fucking black. He reminded me of every black man I have ever loved: brothers, lovers, friends. The publicist came in: I had been granted 20 minutes and it was over three hours. We were gazing at each other: nothing sexual, I was just trying to hold him there by sheer force of will. And then I had a moment: Jesus fucking Christ, I’m talking to PRINCE. And my gaze wavered. And he wavered. And the cursed publicist beseeched. And then it was done. We were standing up; he was hugging me, this amazing, bruised, astonishing person and I believed everything, anything was possible.
But then he always made me feel that way. I could be light-skinned and black. I could be bisexual and fine. I could be mischievous. Men could wear eye-liner and heels. Women could talk about sex.
The first song of his I ever heard was I Wanna Be Your Lover. He gave me permission to feel the heat between my legs, man. With NO shame. I realise now that the very first time I saw Prince, I experienced him as a breathing embodiment of my own sexuality. That was why it felt so profound and strange. Part of me always felt like a big-brown-eyed, high-heeled, shimmying, whip-thin boy. His existence validated my androgyny.
After the interview, I reeled out. ‘He liked that,’ one of his people smiled at me. ‘He said if all interviews were like that, he’d do more.’
Later, I watched him onstage, front row. I was the only person in the room who could sing along to Pussy Control with him, because I was the only one who knew the lyrics. He laughed with me from the stage and touched my hand.
I have such wonderful friends: but the subset of us who were children of The Revolution hold a special place in my heart. People are sending me messages like Prince was my family. Saying they’re sorry for my loss. It’s not strange: everyone who knows me – and some who don’t – associated me with him. Which I find funny. See, I love Prince to my marrow – and yes, I was that girl who wore a jaunty raspberry beret throughout my first year of university – but I stopped being obsessed with him on a white-hot level years ago. Ever since I met him and accepted anything was possible. Which was his very best gift to me. A little girl from Jamaica fulfilled her most unlikely dream.
As my mum said, the day I met him: ‘You can die happy, now.’
And I thought: ‘No, I’ve got things to do.’
That was 20 years ago, and I’ve been doing those things. I publish fiction now: my first love. I was on my way out to do a reading when I saw the news. I froze. I thought: he’d want me to go. I am sure the man forgot about me years ago. But he was a perfectionist, like me. An artist. Like me. Jesus Christ, Prince. I am like you.
So I went. And I did a fucking amazing reading.
I just can’t stop shivering.
I knew one day he’d die. And that I’d cry until I puked. Or something. I fervently wished it would never happen. I wanted to die before him. I did, I did, I did.
Prince is not dead. He is not dead.
Too much anniechristiandomebaby7joyinrepetitionstarfish&coffee1999darlinnikkiforyoupopliferaspberryberetthieves
If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’ll understand.
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Leone Ross is a critically-acclaimed novelist, short story writer, editor and teacher. She has been doing these things for more than thirty years. Her collection, Come Let Us Sing Anyway, will be published by Peepal Tree Press in Spring 2017. She is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Roehampton University in London. Her first novel was named after a lyric in the Prince song, Race. Her next novel, This One Sky Day, is about a chef addicted to hallucinogenic butterflies. It is all multi-coloured and strange and playful, like the way she imagines the inside of Prince’s head. (leoneross.com)
The Morning Papers is a collection of pieces about Prince. In April, Music lost a singer and musician, but we writers also lost a poet. Whether it was his characters, or his line by line precision and intimacy; Prince was every bit the alchemist of words as well as music. In this space writers were invited to talk about the artist, in whatever context they desired. Curated by Sharmila Chauhan.