april snow has come
early morning news Prince gone
sometimes I wish life
I live in Japan. In my home Prince reigns musically. “Purple Rain” is one song I own in a karaoke room. When I brush my children’s teeth, I sing “Purple Rain.” They ask for it now when it’s tooth-brushing time. I am a Prince fan. I drove across the United States primarily listening to the “Emancipation” album. I have his music on vinyl, CD, cassette, and of course, digitally. My affinity for Prince goes way back. Heck, we shared the same birthday, June 7th, along with Nikki Giovanni and Gwendolyn Brooks.
Yet, I know I am not the biggest fan, because I have friends who are bigger Prince fanatics than me. I have friends who knew him. I have friends who worked for him. I’ve seen him perform about five or six times. I met him once, thanks to Jerome Benton at an after party in Los Angeles. My connection to Prince, his music, his creativity will never wane.
I grew up in West Baltimore. I was a bit of a misfit, but a good kid, an awkward teen. I liked books. I wanted to be a doctor. I rode my ten-speed bike all over town. I was digging girls. I liked the color pink. And, I liked music. On my record or cassette player in heavy rotation were Michael, Madonna, and Prince. They were the big three. But, it was the music of Prince that changed the trajectory of my life.
I dug the sound that Prince created and remember the early hits, “Soft and Wet,” “Controversy,” and “Do Me Baby,” but the first album to actually speak to me was “1999.” I was around fourteen/fifteen years old. And, seeing Prince on “Friday Night Videos,” “Soul Train,” or “American Bandstand” (because we didn’t have cable, thus no MTV, nor internet) told me that it was okay to different – to be myself.
Being a teenager when “Purple Rain” was released was electric. That album and movie was a cultural phenomenon. I can’t count the number of times I have seen the movie nor listened to the album. For teenaged me, it had an impact. The music was a message.
A group of friends from high school and I would gather together in a basement and have these jam sessions. To be honest, I wasn’t really a talented musician, but I could write poetry and sing a little. So, we formed a band called New Society. There was Greg on keyboards, Andre on lead guitar, Bryan on rhythm guitar, Eric on drums, and Joe on bass. We were definitely influenced by Prince and The Revolution.
New Society played covers and eventually wrote some of our own songs with titles like “Look for the Chariot.” One of my favorite original songs was titled, “And Rain Cries Too.” I am certain there’s a cassette tape of that masterpiece somewhere. We even had our own drama, when Bryan left the group to be in a band with his cousins, who could really sing. We even had our own “Vanity” when a girl named Cassandra joined the group. But through it all we had fun. They were great memories. We were good enough to land a couple of gigs, but we weren’t ready for the world.
It was this band, this group, because of our love of Prince and his music that changed my life. I had worked all through high school to become a doctor. Then one day I realized that wasn’t the path I wanted to take. I was riding my bike and heard a voice say, write a movie about the band. I had no idea how, so I went to the Enoch Pratt Free Library and checked out my first book on screenwriting. The creative spark was lit. I haven’t looked back since.
That script won an award when I was in college. It was called “The Search,” which was the name of the band in the story. It was a coming of age story about a young nonconformist teenager trying to find his way and finding his voice via this group of friends and music. Maybe one day I’ll pick it back up. I’ve been fortunate enough to write my own feature films and for a couple of TV shows, as well as theatre. I continue to write. I write a haiku or something everyday, and to be honest, writing this is hard. I write a lot, but Prince was the personification of prolific. Anyone who creates, strives to reach that level of vibration and output.
Now, with his passing, I am certain there will be accolades and people talking about his musical genius. He was an artist, a modern day Mozart, an icon, and I am certain, over time, we will hear more of his music from the vault. Some of my favorite songs are not the even the hits – “Another Lonely Christmas,” V”enus de Milo,” “Free,” “The Question of You,” “Starfish and Coffee,” “7,” “Sometimes it Snows in April,” and “The Love We Make.” But, for me, this kid from Baltimore, Prince was more than his music. He was a role model. By virtue of his being and life force, he said it was okay to be different, to think different, to be creative, to do you.
Just like millions of people around the world, I am gutted. I have shed tears and mourn his ascension. I am sad and heartbroken that Prince Rogers Nelson is gone, but I also celebrate the spirit of the life he lived, with such verve and vibrancy. But, in the morning, my children will wake up. I will brush their teeth and hope they don’t notice Poppa crying, while singing “Purple Rain.” But if they do, it will be okay because, I am free to be myself.
Darryl Wharton-Rigby is a filmmaker from Baltimore, MD. He has written for NBC, BET, MTV, and NHK in Japan. He is in post-production in his latest feature film, Stay, which was shot on location in Tokyo. He lives Japan with his wife and three children and working on the documentary, ‘Don Doko Don: The Yamakiya Taiko Club Story.’ You can find him on Twitter @whartonrigby