purple rain

Ah, geez.  Well there are a million obituaries popping up all over the internet, and it would be a waste of time for me to throw my hat into that ring.  So I’ll talk instead about the time Prince came to visit me in hell.  Let’s back up for a minute and start this story at the beginning: with karaoke as an institution in Taiwan.  It’s a big god damn deal.   There are these massive skyscrapers that dominate the commercial districts of Taipei, each one basically a luxury hotel, all of them devoted exclusively to karaoke.  It’s a really big god damn deal.

The American model of getting drunk and embarrassing yourself on stage in a public place, a model where you expect and basically invite ridicule, has no place here.  This is much smaller, and much more serious.  You rent these hotel-room-sized spaces, replete with couches and menus, then order up food and drink.  It’s intimate, and straight-faced, and there’s no giggling at singers allowed.  I had a friend who would sometimes rent a room and do karaoke by herself when she felt sad — that was actually the sanest thing about her (the final straw was her mailing, physically mailing, an envelope to my parents in the US with pictures and a note she had written pretending to be me… but, I digress).

So anyways, you’re in this room, and the music is terrible.  I cannot stress this enough.  Except for an exceedingly tiny, exceedingly awesome bohemian subculture, the sound-track to modern Taiwan is big-hair-blowing pop stars beating their chests and professing their homogeneously generic love/lost love.  It’s just, gag.  I know, commercial music is bad everywhere, and cultural relativity, etc… but I’m sorry, straw man who is judging my judging, you didn’t have to sit through it.  I did.  So I would sequester myself in the elbow of the L-shaped couches with a bucket of beer and a bottle of whiskey, and get absolutely smashed in an attempt to blunt the assault of super-serious banality, at which I wasn’t even allowed to poke fun.  It was relentlessly awful.

But before all of that, before getting wasted and before the night devolved into whatever blurry mistake those sweaty rooms became for a blackout drunk, I made sure to grab the booklet and leaf through to the small section of English songs.  Most of these, of course, were abysmal boy-band shit as well, but, without fail and for whatever reason, they always had Purple Rain.  And so it went to the back of the queue, behind all the Chinese pop songs, sorted and forgotten.

At that point in my life, I was only going out to escape the hellscape inside my head.  I was there because I couldn’t stand the destructive, spiraling, heartbroken darkness I was living in alone anymore, and so I sat, and tried not to visibly hate everything, and drank.  Hours later, as the room was starting to dim and smear, the sound of that purple guitar rolled from the speakers like a revelation.  Mid-conversation I lurched across the couch, over an irrelevant number of unfortunate people, and grabbed the microphone.

For a kid drowning in the quicksand of written-by-committee, soul-less, art-less, commercial garbage, drowning himself in darkness and demons and dead dreams, Prince appeared as a pair of purple wings.  This raw virtuoso, who played every instrument, who sang with such an infectious passion you couldn’t help but feel, man, when that guitar came on… Well, like I said, I was very drunk — It got emotional.  Whatever else happens, whatever you’ve had to endure, there are no truly terrible nights in which you’ve sung the entirety of Purple Rain.  That’s just fact.

So rest easy, sweet The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.  Rest easy you gender-bending, multi-instrumental, sex-symbol, rock-god prodigy.  I’ll always remember you as the sultry purple angel in my hell.

“I never meant to cause you any sorrow…”

[ed: they keep deleting the video — find it here if the embed is gone.]

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