Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series of profiles of Prince fans. If you’d like to tell your story, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At first, Krystal would get on stage at Rick’s Cabaret in downtown Minneapolis and dance while stone cold sober, she says, smiling at the sheer naivete of it all. But she quickly learned that she could stomach the act more easily after some drinks.
“I would drink with the clients first, and then get up on stage,” she says. “I rationalized it by telling myself that socializing with clients was part of the job.”
The years rolled by in a blur of cocktails and clients. Krystal was a quick study. She watched the top girls and realized that the way they made money was not simply by dancing. The way to make serious money was by providing the experience of having a girlfriend.
“You know the way Prince would have sex with your mind?” she muses. “That’s what I did.”
Through it all, Krystal kept track of Prince. As we speak, she litters her story with interjections such as, “I remember wearing headphones and listening to Come on the bus on the way to school, and it disturbed me. I thought he might die, or go crazy.” And, “When he married Mayte, I was happy because I thought it might help stabilize him, but when the baby died, I was scared he was going to lose it.”
By the early 2000s, she was a top girl at the club. One day, browsing in a bookstore, she stumbled upon Alex Hahn’s book, Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince. Reading it “revived my crush on Prince,” she remembers. She became active on Prince.org, posted regularly and became a highly visible member. Although she knew, intellectually, that Prince had a history as a womanizer, she felt that “he was the template of the guy I wanted to know. He was the ideal man.” And she wasn’t afraid to talk about it on the Org.
Krystal sometimes wondered if Prince knew of her from the Org. She mentions receiving a cryptic Org note in 2005, asking “So you dig my music?” She dismissed it as someone mimicking Prince, but later questioned herself when the same person sent an Mp3 of a song she had never heard before, to which she replied, “Thank you. Whoever you are.”
By 2007, Krystal was at the height of her dancing success. At the same time, she had erected an impenetrable façade to protect her heart.
“I just couldn’t show any vulnerability back then,” she says. “It wasn’t safe to show it.”
Then one day, Prince released “Somewhere Here On Earth.” Krystal’s stomach flip-flopped when she first read the lyrics, which were posted on Housequake and Prince.org, even before the release of the song. The lyrics about somebody putting you down, the need to heal whatever you feel, and that there would be no more hurt, “as long as I’m here on Earth” cracked something open inside her.
Still, she continued to dance for a living. At a Paisley Park concert in 2009, as she danced with her sister near the stage, Prince pointed his guitar at her and called out, “I see you, baby.” It was the closest she came to speaking with him.
As she became more successful at Rick’s, “I became a brand,” she acknowledges, “And I had started drinking more to handle my anxiety.” At the same time, she’d come to the realization that her boyfriend, who she had supported for years, wasn’t strong enough for her.
“It sounds sexist, but my biological clock was ticking and I wanted to blow up everything in my life,” she says. She broke her own rule and started dating a client who was a wealthy businessman. She continued to be active on Prince.org, where she could often be found gushing over Prince (“I’m embarrassed now by some of the stuff I used to post there,” she laughs). After getting her heart broken by the businessman client and breaking up with her boyfriend, she made one final change. She left Rick’s, and dancing, forever.
“I couldn’t be a person in that environment,” she says, “and I had to heal my soul.”
Krystal moved in with her sister and her brother-in-law and went on to marry a man she met at her gym. She stopped posting on the Org. On April 21, 2016, her husband had the day off. She was cuddled in bed with her baby son and husband when the news of Prince’s death arrived via text from her sister. She knew that a part of her heart had died that day.
It’s clear to her now that there are distinct parallels between the experience Prince provided and “The Girlfriend Experience ” as she calls it — the strategy that garnered her success in that industry.
“I was providing an emotional experience to the men, as Prince provided an emotional experience to the fans. I definitely felt like I could relate to him that way,” she says. “Also, I really hated the vulnerable feeling of my livelihood being based on the whim/moods of others … the hustle wore me out, having to depend on others’ perceptions of me or what they wanted. I felt so much pressure trying to meet everyone’s needs and mold myself to what everyone wanted. I kinda wonder if Prince felt that pressure with his fans.”
“Dancing shows you the worst in men. It was disillusioning. How can you love a man when you see what they’re capable of?” she says. It was in those dark days when she needed to look to Prince and his music as the ideal of what could be. “When I was in that world, I needed that,” she says. “I needed hope to survive, and he was hope.”