By Anita Stewart, Rock At Night Tampa Correspondent and “Yes She Rocks” Columnist
In a land long ago and far away…was a very young woman. By day she was working in Air Force Intelligence three floors underground behind a heavily guarded vault designed to withstand a nuclear blast. She was stationed in the heartland and one of those dedicated people that had sworn an oath to her country and she was certainly very proud to wear her uniform. By night, she transformed into a wild woman as she explored music, dance, cutting loose in dusty and dingy bars and dance clubs and communing with the people that frequented them; she smoked, partied and drank lots of alcohol.
Yes, I admit, that young woman was me! And it was in one of these dark and dingy dance clubs that I first heard two incredible songs: I Want to be Your Lover and Controversy. Incredible driving beats, danceable, head bopping, movement–like nothing I had heard before– guitar work like Hendrix, synthy sounds, erotic, sexual…but was it funk or punk or was it rock or was it rhythm and blues or was it pop? Keep in mind, this was pretty underground music for this time, meant to be heard while on dance floors and not necessarily on the radio. The music was way too blatantly erotic, the licks, the hooks and even the lyrics to not sit up and take notice. Someone at the bar told me that this artist could play all the instruments. Well curiosity got the best of me.
The next day I found myself in my favorite record store in Omaha to look this artist up. I gazed at the Purple One’s photo on the cover of the Controversy album and wondered, “Was he gay or straight, black or white?” Hmmm, can’t put the music in a genre, can’t figure out who the artist is or WHAT he is…but the music ruled over my curiosity, questions and pre-conceived notions. After all, it was all about the music! I became a Prince fan right then because he dared to be different!
His songs started being played in all the clubs, not radio and not MTV, which was brand new back then and did not play videos of black musicians; VH1 wouldn’t be created until a few years later. And as the underground fans of Prince’s music got into his “controversial” groove from his first three studio albums, I “PCSed” overseas.
No digital anything back then. No computers, little access to land lines, no cell phones, no MTV, no cable or Dish, and only four channels on Greek TV. Definitely no radio stations that played American or British music, as the media was state run; only a few pirate radio stations that would be on the air one day and off the air the next. They broadcasted in basement studios in houses on the hills surrounding Athens. TV and Radio did not include anything close to variety shows or music programming. And all of it was broadcasted in Greek. Musical isolation unless one went to the clubs to dance and then much of what was heard was British and European dance music, new wave, post punk. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.
Fast forward six months to early spring of 1983. I lived in the barracks, a difficult thing for a mid-shift worker. My work shifts were from midnight to 8AM or 2AM until 10AM. I remember the two swing shift girls in the room next door that insisted on blasting their stereo in the late morning hours and what started their day was the 1999 single and Little Red Corvette, the first two cuts off the newly released album 1999. The girls would then proceed to play the rest of the album on their very powerful stereo with Bose speakers. We didn’t know it, but back in “the World” (the US), MTV had started airing Prince’s videos based on the popularity of these two singles.
The “pop–iness” and hook of Little Red Corvette was so driving I would be singing the song while trying to get back to sleep. Very soon, even though I did not own the album myself, I knew every cut and every lyric from that album. A pair of flightline earplugs was the only thing that eventually solved my sleep deprivation.
The auto-biographical movie and soundtrack Purple Rain exploded on the scene a few years later and cemented him into the global entertainment world forever, the soundtrack going platinum thirteen times over and Prince receiving an Oscar and Grammys. Being overseas, we got the recorded cassette tape before the real vinyl album or CD was even sold in our Base Exchange. The movie video was even harder to get but thanks to good friends, someone mailed a bootleg and a party was quickly arranged with good friends for the initial viewing. It became a movie that we watched over and over.
On February 2nd, 1985, there was a terrorist attack at Bobby’s 2 in Glyfada, a suburb of Athens. This was a popular club with the British and American military and it was a very packed Saturday night. I was there drinking coffee until 10PM (2200 hours) and took a cab to the base to work my mid shift. I got news about the explosion at the bar through the office’s walkie-talkies. After my shift, as we convened at friend’s houses, confusingly trying to find out who had been hurt and who had been medevaced to hospitals in Germany, we played Purple Rain over and over. Somehow in the middle of all of that fear and confusion, hearing Prince’s music connected us to a sense of comfort, home, familiarity, our families and made us think about love in the middle of chaos.
Two days after the bombing of Bobby’s 2, I was informed of my husband’s death, he was also active duty and stationed in Texas. I felt like I was in one of Shakespeare’s tragedies or in a very sad film noire as I was called into the commander’s office, with Red Cross, squadron NCO’s and my immediate supervisor present and the commander read the very proper memo from the “comp center.” I broke down and no amount of consoling could make me stop crying. As I waited for twenty four hours for my flight back to “the world” to make my husband’s funeral arrangements, I stayed with friends who put the bottle in front of me and I drank and again, Purple Rain played over and over again on the turntable. This album and the poignant message of love and loss became very personal for me.
I will never forget the memories that Prince continues to give to me through his music. I have followed him ever since, a lifelong fan of his take on culture, art, fashion and especially his music. Prince’s music drew people together. His collaborations with others were rich and vibrant and gave credibility to musicians, technical people and others in the music business that were just starting out. What is still amazing to me is the fact that he gave away so many songs he wrote to other artists so they could have a hit record and become “known.” He was generous–and he wanted others to succeed too.
His support of female artists, those in his band and independent artists too, was legendary and the gift of his music created and refined these women’s art.
I am still shocked that he has left us. His life was remarkable and there was no one like him. I hope he and my husband have saved a place for me in that big jam band in the sky as I plan on joining in as soon as I get there!
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