On April 19, I took off my journalist hat and put on my raspberry beret to join fans at Celebration 2018.
Sitting amidst a sea of purple on opening night, in the massive soundstage inside Prince’s creative sanctuary of Paisley Park, the lights dimmed and a young, light-on-his-feet Prince appeared on the giant screen. As the iconic opening notes of “Nothing Compares 2 U” echoed through the sound system, we watched as the newly released official video of Prince’s never-heard (at least not by me) studio recording was unveiled.
Prince, a rising star in 1984 when the footage was shot at a rehearsal in an Eden Prairie warehouse, danced with pure joy and clowned with his band, exhibiting his patented brand of Prince impishness. Watching him, my mind flashed to the emotions I felt, when, as a 22-year-old cub reporter in a small town in Wisconsin, I received a job offer in Manhattan. The world was opening up, opportunities abounded, and I had a sense that not only anything, but everything, was possible.
I’m not sure I breathed for the full five minutes of the video. I was afraid that if I exhaled, Prince might vaporize, back into the ether. The shared longing in the room was palpable: If a thousand souls could will a departed soul back into human form, it would have happened in the Paisley Park soundstage that evening.
Later that night, we viewed the second show of the Jan. 21, 2016, “Piano and a Microphone” concert, held in the same Paisley Park soundstage where we were seated. In stark contrast to the 1984 rehearsal, there was no more dancing, and no more band. But there was clowning, this time with the audience. And there were tears. From listening to the audio of the “Piano and a Microphone” shows months earlier, I knew that Prince had left the stage a few times, but until I saw the video, I didn’t realize that he was crying. After playing “Purple Rain,” he left the stage, and when he returned, he set a wad of Kleenex on the piano. It was tough to watch. Still, his voice was clear and strong. What I will hold in my heart is the knowledge that his voice never left him.
The live concert that closed out the night was Sheila E., who sensed the somber mood (in our defense, it had been a rather sobering concert video), and gave the crowd a pep talk, insisting that after two years, the time for being sad was over. Amen to that. Seeing Sheila E. bring out her niece and nephew to play keyboards made me realize: They are the New, New Power Generation.
Sheila E. did wonders in lifting the heaviness of Day One. As it turned out, the grief of that night had served a purpose: It was driving us to where we needed to be.
Next: Day Two Finds Us Ready to Celebrate