I come from a singularly unmusical family. My mother loved Elvis for his acting fer crissake. I owned the only record player in our suburban home, and when holidays came around my family would always remind me that I could ask for “something good” NOT just records.
But all I wanted was records…Hell, I already HAD a horse.
I’ve never met a person battling mental illness who did not cling to music as an absolute lifeline. We do without meds, without medical or psychiatric care, without money, food, or shelter…life without those things is part and parcel of being mentally ill. But we can’t hang on without our music. I’ve needed and needed those magical sounds since a babysitter gave me a stack of her ‘outgrown records’ when I was very small. (and I’ve never ‘outgrown’ some of those records…Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” was in that stack.)
But the Christmas when I turned twelve, I didn’t ask for records. I asked for headphones. Because I had heard this music on the radio…and I wanted to ask for the record for my birthday…but I knew if my parents heard the music even one time, that I would never get to hear it again. (Thank you, AC/DC for teaching me that lesson early! I only heard ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ one time prior to high school) Anyway…I got the headphones for Christmas. They were HUGE and heavy and they retained the oddest plastic-y smell. They had a curly cord like a phone cord, but best of all…nobody could overhear what you were listening to. We tested the headphones extensively between Christmas and my birthday to be extra extra sure.
The next step in my plan was to think of a lie. It was necessary. My parents feared black people, homosexuals, sex, and Democrats in seemingly random order. But I knew those things were not gonna fly in our house…so began the longest-running lie of my life.
“Seriously, Mom…he’s from India!” (believe it or not, she bought it)
So Prince entered my life. And I wore out two copies of “For You” it was so good…still is. All the hospitalizations of my late teens and early twenties were accompanied by Prince cassettes and my faithful Walkman (remember those things?) I have listened to his music on endless cycles of repeat when I was frail, freaked out, totally crazy, and desperately suicidal. That little ‘pop’in the guitar part, that bounce, that thing the experts assure me is funk. The range of the voice, the depths of his songs, the sheer diversity of his creative output.
Prince’s music has always spoken gently to the raw wounded places I keep hidden away from a world that is often cold and unfeeling. He could hang a guitar solo in the air that blazed like a shooting star…and that shooting star was so real that I felt like I could tuck it in my pocket like a good luck charm. And yesterday, that star finally blazed out. And I feel it. Jesusmaryandjoseph I feel it.
I’ve never been in a mental hospital that didn’t have a music listening group that you HAD to attend. And I’ve never seen one of those groups where someone didn’t pick a Prince song. Whether it was “Sign O the Times” or “Thieves in the Temple” or “When Doves Cry” all the crazies would sit quietly and listen. They would nod their lunatic heads. Any other artist might garner some moaning and complaining, but not Prince. Among all his other acclaims, he was a prophet to crazies.
And we sure are gonna miss him.