What Prince Meant To Us

The FADER’s staffers, freelancers, and friends on why we’ll never forget him.

What Prince Meant To Us Illustration by Dewey Saunders

Words might not be able to do Prince justice, but sharing memories of his impact on our lives feels good anyway. Here’s how he’s shaped some of The FADER’s staffers, freelancers, and friends, and why we’ll never forget him.

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How to be yourself in public is what Prince taught Rawiya.

There is an episode in the first season of Everybody Hates Chris, Chris Rock’s long-canceled semi-autobiographical ABC sitcom, in which Chris, teenaged and perpetually awkward, dresses up as Prince for Halloween to impress a girl he has a crush on, at a party he wasn’t actually invited to. “The girls love that guy,” his best friend Greg tells him by way of encouragement. And so there was Chris, dressed in a purple suit and frilly shirt, trying to be cool. That he didn’t quite pull off the look, but so desperately believed he could, is fundamentally a part of Prince’s legacy—an artist so singular that regular kids, weirdos in their own ways, could find divine inspiration in his existence. No person embodied the kinds of cliché inspirational quotes about self-acceptance, so often tossed around half-heartedly, more than Prince did: backed by immense talent, he turned his idiosyncrasies into a mesmerizing power. All by following his gut, his heart, and his third eye. For me, a fellow weirdo half his age, he was a guiding light who made the idea of being yourself in public feel like something to aspire to, not something to fear.—RAWIYA KAMEIR

It was the way he sang that first spoke to Ruth.

Long before I got the political punch of Prince’s songwriting, I was seduced by the playful way he used his voice. Quite often he’d stretch it in a dozen different directions within the space of a few seconds as if he was trying to reach every part of all of us. When I was stumbling towards love for the very first time in the early ’00s, the pouty lows and those desperately lusty falsettos of “If I Was Your Girlfriend” made thrilling sense to my maturing sexuality.

Around the same time period, I remember dancing furiously to “Controversy” at a friend’s party in a bar in Leeds. It was a Sunday and supposed to be a chill-out event, but the song's provocative yet almost naively heartfelt attitude had always grabbed me—People call me rude, I wish we all were nude/ I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules—and I shook my body like there was no tomorrow. Looking back, I realize Prince’s music helped me learn how to be an adult: how to dance out anger, how to navigate sexual desire, and how to reject the status quo to find your own way in the world. His songs make me feel alive, and that’s a gift that I’ll treasure forever.—RUTH SAXELBY

For Chantal, loving Prince was about shared expression.

Ever since I moved in with her in 2009, my first roommate Audrey and I have been Prince fans together. Every concert, every album, every Prince-themed DJ night in Toronto, we showed up for. She would tell me stories about signing “Pussy Control” on the school bus in sixth grade; I'd scream a little to Musicology in our tiny apartment, and she never once complained.

It took me a couple of years to realize this quality of shared fandom, which isn't specific to Prince but is particularly indicative of what made him such a gift beyond his pervasive influence on how music is written and performed: it’s the permission of expression. This means a lot of things for different people who have loved Prince, and I'm sure has had a more deeply felt impact on lives other than mine. But being able to love something incandescently and in earnest—especially with someone, and particularly if it isn't largely celebrated in the environment around you—is such a valuable and rare thing.

Shortly after I moved out of our shared space I started hosting a themed party in December called Princemas, just between Christmas and New Year's. Every year, plenty of friends are more than happy to come over for tacos and tunes, but Audrey is one of the very, very few who knows what's up. The first year, she came over with a copy of Sign O' The Times Live for screening. Another, she showed up in a symbol T-shirt. So long as we're both living in the same city, I will continue to have them. Who else is going to comment on my deep cut tracklists?—CHANTAL BRAGANZA

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Owen appreciated his understanding of how exciting the human body could be.

In the late ‘90s, my male pop idols were the kind of guys who’d tie cherry knots and might broach first base with you if you were lucky. I felt some kind of attraction to those Top 40 stars, but they never grabbed me in the way Prince might have done if I’d been a teenager in 1981, the year he put out Controversy. In a pull-out poster included with the release, he adopts a traditional pin-up pose in a shower, wearing only leather underwear and doused in water. Prostrate with hand behind his head, this man humbly submits himself for approval—he wants to be your lover, and you want to peel off those briefs.

In the artwork of his albums from Prince (1979) to Lovesexy (1988), he offered up his body with tender assurance, yet seemed safe in the knowledge of its raw appeal. Sometimes his imagery looked like the cover of a trashy romance novel, at others it had the subtlety of a watercolor painting. He always knew that strength didn’t equal aggression—he understood how exciting the human body could really be. That’s important for queer kids to be aware of, but it's a cool thing for everyone to keep in mind, too.—OWEN MYERS

For Jordan, discovering Prince as a teenager felt like a miracle.

For a confused, teen-stashed young man in the mid-’00s, a miracle manifested in the discovery of Purple Rain in a used CD bin. What makes this a miracle is not that within five minutes of buying it, the girl who noticed his purchase looks past his too-big Billabong shirt and asks him out (although he’ll mentally file this away as miraculous evidence). The miracle comes later, animated by the Windows Media Player visualizer as the album is played over and over. Even on the first listen, it’s apparent the creative life of this artist exists to translate our sexualities and genders, our religions and politics into his own language. They are made alien and familiar by his idiosyncratic presentation, the absurdity of it chipping away at any dogma lingering in the subconscious. A young man struggling with these issues can feel the weight significantly lifted when he sees an artist transforming them into a beautiful new skin, as natural as lavender. This is a miracle for the young man—for me—because something much, much older than the pain of a death has told him he’s gained a friend and a teacher, when he needs it most, for the rest of his life.—JORDAN DARVILLE

He was one of the few artists that Aimee and her parents agreed on.

"Raspberry Beret" is my mum's favorite Prince song. It's not a deep cut, or a unique choice, but it feels important to note—Prince's hits are one of the few musical choices my parents and I could agree on on the car stereo. His incomparably Prince way with a pop song had a way of transcending generations, so that I feel it's much part of mine as it is my parents'. He was always unapologetically different to everything else in the cultural landscape, and that's what made even his most ubiquitous hits so precious. And it seems poignant to listen to him now singing the words: If I had a chance to do it all again/ I wouldn’t change a stroke.—AIMEE CLIFF

An acid trip awakened Amy to Prince’s unifying vision.

Prince is a unifier in the way that life's most inarguable pleasures are. When I was 18, I took acid with a stranger with whom I was going to share a room for the next year. We didn't know anything about each other, so we figured it would get us to the heart of the matter quickly. The next day, we woke up and discovered we had turned our room into a shrine to Prince. A poster of The Revolution hung above her bed. The Purple Rain album cover was stuck to the ceiling. The iconic 1979 photo of Prince against a sky-blue background on his self-titled album cover was taped over our television because, when we were tripping, we decided we wanted to only watch Prince. He stayed there all year.

Prince was what the world always needs: A talented, beautiful, and unique leader to remind them that lonesomeness, mental stagnation, and hatred aren't just harmful or, like, immoral—he hated them because they were dull. Prince continually reminded us that instead of answering to those boring feelings, you can change your name to an illustration, invite the entire city over to dance with itself whenever you want, jack off babes in the back of the movie theater, and, in Prince's case, play guitar better than anyone else in the world. It's so simple, Prince showed us. You don't have to be anything but free.

As we celebrate this person who had closer access to personhood's most inarguable joys—sex, music, movement, beauty, art—than most, and so generously shared his interpretations of them with us, I think of the final lyrics from "Around the World in a Day," the opening track of his 1985 album of the same name. The song ends with Prince calling for global communion in this form: A government of love and music boundless in its unifying power/ A nation of alms, the production, sharing ideas, a shower of flowers. He showed us how that might look in practice. We are so lucky to have witnessed Prince's unifying power, and to convene in wild love as we remember him together. (That can be a euphemism if you want it to be—I'm confident that Prince would want us to remember him in that way, too.)—AMY ROSE SPIEGEL

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“Darling Nikki” helped T. Cole realize that sex wasn’t shameful.

Aside from the deep impact on the way I came to think about music, Prince also impacted the way I thought about sexual identity. One of my earliest Prince-related memories is listening to Purple Rain in my cousin’s bedroom, and hearing her and her teenage friends trying to suss out what the lyrics to “Darling Nikki” were actually all about. For a bunch of very sheltered kids living in rural Oklahoma, Prince was like this exotic angel. He was the first artist to ever make me think about sex as something that wasn’t shameful, but rather as something fun and liberating and potentially transformative.—T. COLE RACHEL

Those same lyrics also inspired Madison.

I wrote my final college paper on Prince. Specifically, on how his song "Darling Nikki" from the album Purple Rain was so controversial that it's part of the reason why Parental Advisory labels exist for explicit music. I knew a girl named Nikki/ I guess you could say she was a sex fiend/ I met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine it starts, and the significance of these sexually charged lyrics is that they came during Reagan's America, when conservatism was thriving. And that's the beauty of Prince. It's rare for an artist to remain so uniquely individual and unapologetic in an industry that forces people to fit into a cookie-cutter mold; Prince was never not genuinely himself.—MADISON LACLAIR

His Coachella set reminded Sam to stop being too cool to enjoy the good stuff.

We get obsessed with music because of how it makes us feel. Whatever it eventually starts to mean—a.k.a. when it becomes more about the social aspect than the music in front of you—the root is always that sounds can change your emotional state. In 2008, I saw Prince close out Coachella. At that point, going to a music festival was something everyone I met expended a lot of energy on hating. It was hot. The sound was bad. The fans were bad. Whatever. Being sort of shitty about your experience was a rite of passage. If you were there for work, it did not feel especially cool to enjoy your time. The one exception that year was Prince’s closing set. I was what felt like 100 miles away from the stage. Far enough away that even the Jumbotron was distant. The whole weekend, my colleagues and I groused about how it was dusty and the food was bad and it was scorching hot. But when Prince came on—even all the way back there—everyone shut up. We listened. We cheered. We danced. We were feeling the most uncool emotion of all: excitement, and it was because we were watching someone who loved music even more than any of us ever could. He never even had to say it. We could all hear it.—SAM HOCKLEY-SMITH

And it was Prince’s dedication that Amos admired.

I never loved Prince like people love Prince. I respected him from a distance; I never found myself inside. I'm glad, in a way: I'm gonna have the rest of my life to dig further and further into that wondrously overstuffed back catalog. I did see him live, once: it was an unscheduled, unofficial appearance during a New Power Generation set at a small venue in downtown New York, and the crowd would have lost their mind forever off the man just walking on stage and waving. Instead, he played for hours: he took the stage at 3 a.m. and didn't leave until the sun was damn near up. I was writing about it then, so I wrote down what he said. He said, “You gotta wake up and go to work tomorrow. This is my job. This is where I work.”—AMOS BARSHAD

What Prince Meant To Us