She’s falling asleep. I can hear her start to slur in the back of the car. We’re singing Old McDonald. I pause whenever it’s time to call out a new animal. She alternates between pig, cat and dog. On the seventeenth run-through of the song, she is tiring, slowing, slurring and in a loop, requesting pig again and again.
I’m singing at the top of my voice, as obnoxiously as I can.
Eventually, she stops offering me an animal. I’m close to pulling over and tickling her so she’ll stay awake. It’s too early for The Nap. It’s too out of routine for the Nap. It’s too difficult to wheel around a sleeping baby in a shopping trolley for the Nap. The big shop; it dictates the ebb and the flow of families.
What song do you want me to sing? I ask.
Purple, she slurs.
She must mean bubbles. She tends to request the song about forever blowing bubbles a lot.
Purple? I ask, incredulously.
Purple, she repeats, more animated, invested in the idea of a song about her favourite colour.
I never meant to cause you trouble, I sing. I never meant to cause you pain.
I launch into the chorus.
I only want to see you standing in the purple rain. Purple rain, purple rain.
I sing over and over, in a loop of my own, trying to concentrate on the road and my daughter’s waking state, while trying to hold an impossible note.
At a traffic light, I turn my head round to watch her busy fingers.
They are still.
I stop singing.
Again, again, she says, loudly, urgently.
I laugh and sing the looped chorus to her all the way to the supermarket.
As I carry her to the front door, I ask if she liked the song. Purple Rain, she tells me. Sing it, daddy. Purple Rain.
Days later, my mother-in-law will ask me what Purple Rain is. My daughter keeps saying, Purple Rain, sing it to me.. Mother-in-law is clueless. I tell her it’s a song that meant a lot to me growing up.
We were divided in my school. Social status heavily depended on what bands you liked, what logos you drew on your canvas bag with black pen, what drum patterns you had leaking out of the single earphone, while the other dangled wantonly around your neck – in case someone called you down the corridor.
We had the hip hop heads, the indie kids, the r’n’b boys, the bhangra muffins, the metallers and the dance twats. But we all came together over Prince. He was our universal truth.
Maybe because we all were boys and desperate to have sex.
Maybe because he took from every style and gave back to every style. Maybe because his innate Prince-ness was un-describably unifying. Whatever it was, you couldn’t go wrong with a new Prince tune. TAFKAP, we called him. The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.
Years before, Purple Rain is ruined for me. I film my friend singing that song at karaoke. I film it because he is hammered and belligerent, insistent he can hit the high notes, and I want to shame him on social media the next day. Watching it back, I realise something. I can’t show anyone this. Because only the hammered think they can emulate something so other-worldly and unobtainable, and to reflect it back to them sober is to show them who they can never be. The video echoes in my brain. It ruins the song for me for years. Whenever I hear it coming on the radio, I have to switch the channel. Prince has to become unobtainable again. He has to be that special force that unifies everyone in my school. And for that to happen, I can only experience him in my memory.
I haven’t listened to the song since. Singing it to my kid gives it a new skin. Now it has a new context. Singing it to her, young as she is, I’m comforted that while she may grow up in a world without Prince, his music will still bring us all together. It seems cheesy to say, but that’s the comfort of parenthood. The clichés, the cheesy hope, it’s all you can control with your kid. We all hit that awkward stage of life where we don’t know where we belong; feel like we’re out on a limb, alone. But he’s there. Always there. I know times are changing. And I’m scared to live in a world without Prince. My daughter knows only Purple Rain. But together, we’re reaching out for something new.
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Nikesh Shukla is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Meatspace, the Costa shortlisted novel Coconut Unlimited and the award-winning novella The Time Machine. He is also the editor of a forthcoming collection of essays by 20 BAME writers called The Good Immigrant. He wrote the short film Two Dosas and the Channel 4 sitcom Kabadasses.
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.