Portrait

The world is still not ready for Prince.

By Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Remembering the sexy MF

Dear Beautiful. In the seconds after I heard you’d departed this world, half my life passed by, in whirring projector and glitter-flecked amateur montage. You, in my childhood lounge room, filed down the other end from Joan Armatrading, Fine Young Cannibals and Gloria Estefan. Saliva pooling in my teenage mouth as I covertly slid your shiny cardboard spine towards me for just another look, just another look, into those cedar-brown love-bled record-jacket eyes.

Dear Beautiful You. In a black-buttoned midriff tank top, circa The Revolution. Eyes rimmed black with kohl. Caressing your own face: your backward jazz-hand fingers curled back to brow like, Damn, ain’t I just too beautiful for you to believe.

I memorised your place on the shelf. The Pointer Sisters were on your left. I mean, they were beautiful but you were Princess of them all. Elegance, and chiselled cheekbones, and a confidence that defied camp brown boy catcalls. Dear Prince. You were Superglam, the same way James Brown was Superfly. Sexless, while being sex on a stick. You were everything all at once, but nothing cancelling the other out. You were ascertainable enigma.

Dear Prince. Remember the green cane couch in the lounge room of my childhood home? Soft and wet. Soft and wet. Every time I’m with you, you just love me to death. Fingering me slowly in heaven-sent falsetto, from the grooves of my parents’ vinyl. Oh God, Dear Beautiful, when I heard, half my life flickered.

I was not the only one who conjured you. There were a million lounge rooms; a million fingers; a million sighs. Ruler-straight girls lifted your likeness from Smash Hits magazine. Slim-hipped queer brown boys wore heels and glitter polish: you made it okay saying, Look Ma, I’m Prince, when saying, Look Ma, I’m anything else would have earned them belt-wuppin’. Dear Beautiful, I know you feel me. You were girl enough for butch brown girls to get away with loving. All the straight boys wanted to be Prince, because damn, didn’t he have the most beautiful women. You were every Prince, to every body, every time.

You smuggled yourself into our lives, the same way you smuggled yourself into our parents’ lives. Tight-lipped and innocent eyed but oozing it. That coy you-know-what-I’m-about, yeah-you-dig-it smile. I carefully removed the centrefold staples and Blu-Tacked your red boa-ed bare chest to my wall. Mum looked at the poster and said “God, Prince!? Now do you know how old-school he is. He is post-generation!” But nothing could make me believe that you’d been hers the same way you were mine.

Dear Beautiful. The record companies are cranking up another run. The cinemas, they’ve got you looping right on out ’til dawn. Straight folks are saying, Nah, he was post-gender – he never identified as gay or queer. White folks are saying, Prince belonged to all of us man, He was post-racial, you hear? Brown folks are saying, Remember back in the ’80s when he wouldn’t claim us, he used to say he was part Italian or some shit. Well, he’s ours anyway, he was that good you KNOW it’s true. Queer folks, are saying, like they always have, Yeah he was our king. And everybody’s talking about you died a Witness, and damn if the church won’t own his masters now.

Dear Beautiful, it wasn’t that you weren’t enough. You were too much of everything. Even as we mourn, the world is still not ready for who you are. Were.

Dear Beautiful, I had a wake of sorts. It’s true. Me and my friend journeyed across town to try to find you. Every music venue dug you from their vault, promised they would spin you, all night long. At the first bar the scratcher didn’t know the classics; he was so young, it was almost sacrilege. There was no raspberry beret, no whipped cream in sight and your memory is worth so much more than just some last-minute DJ set to kick a happy hour into flight. The next joint gave us “Manic Monday”, and “Love… Thy Will Be Done”, but Prince, we wanted you. Not a catalogue of songs you wrote, that other people had crooned. We raised martini glasses full of fancy cocktails anyway, we smiled sadly, and clinked, and whispered your name. Prince. Long-lashed and ushering in the hot-blooded revolution between the warm thighs of us ’90s ethnic girls steeped in blues.

The evening drew on. Small wooden dance floor. Your beat seeping into our veins. Your velvet voice ethereal, and our bodies keening. You sexy motherfucker ... Sexy motherfucker shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass.

Dear Beautiful. Early morning, the day right after you passed, I found myself in yet another yellow taxi cab, on my way to spill my words on yet another stage: fuchsia feathers threaded through one earlobe, pre-show adrenalin coursing through my veins. Low black clouds unfurled angrily across the sky. The 7am sun struggled to burn through, and a sudden downpour showered me in silver-lilac rain.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 30, 2016 as "Kingdom come". Subscribe here.

Maxine Beneba Clarke
is the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil.