Death of an Idol: My Strangest Relationship — Soma Ghosh

I wanted him to choose me. That’s why I wore that simple, silver shirt dress, rippling as I walked to my seat: a sophomore Bianca Jagger. Everyone thought Prince wanted sex but I had actually listened to him. Among the twizzled leggy lycra at Earl’s Court, 1995, I would be his moonbeam. Waiting for the lights to go up, B and I were grinning and swaying, supplicating the giant screen playing Prince’s ‘Gold’. B was a closet Gujurati gay from Amersham – and my sometime boyfriend. I was the disgrace of my private school, secretly dating disreputable older men—Muslims, blacks, closet Gujurati gays—and reading Shakespeare in the bushes. Prince was the idol of teen misfits like us, all the sleazy, suburban, spiritual seekers—provided you had the moves. And we did. We began dancing, to demonstrate full possession.

A phalanx of suits headed up the gangway and turned into our aisle. “Y’all wanna dance with Prince?” they asked me.

“Excuse me?”

I was marched away. In a mildewed side room, half a dozen lawyers told me I had been chosen. Towards the climax of the show, a ‘devil’ would fly into the screaming crowd and carry me, on a wire, onstage, to Prince’s bed. Might I sign a contract surrendering my family’s rights to compensation if I were killed during the stunt? I balked. The dancer playing the Devil tried to tempt me. “You’re gonna be in his crib, you’re gonna be his girl. Don’t you wanna suck fruit for Prince?”

“I do. But it’s not fair on my parents. They’ve put up with a lot already.”

“I bet,” muttered a lawyer.

The suits disappeared and reappeared, glowering. Prince wanted me in his bed. No other girl would do. In the end, they blacked out the lights and, supervised by the angry lawyers, I ran backstage, mounted silk sheets and sucked mango and strawberry in Prince’s direction. The Devil purred that I was going to make him come. Forty feet away, Prince cavorted, sang and played his guitar. He was a natural phenomenon, sweat flying in gold flecks from the epicentre of his meteor. I was inside the shrine and God couldn’t see me. A screaming tide of 18,000 fans crashed somewhere far away on the shores of the planet Earth.

As I left the stage, someone invited me to the afterparty at The Astoria. Clearly, Prince liked me. After closing the set with a boggling ‘1999’, playing so hard and fast with the guitar it seemed it might break, Prince sat on a sofa with his beautiful girlfriend Mayte, cosy and quiet. He had gentle eyes. This was the moment to introduce myself. We had not quite brushed fingertips when a bouncer hustled me out of the club.

The next day, the Devil telephoned me. He asked if I might tour the U.K with them, sucking fruit. They were in a hotel in Birmingham.

“Will I get to meet Prince, properly?” I persisted.

“Well, uh, y’know, Prince is very private,” said the Devil. “But I just can’t stop thinking of you with that strawberry.”

“You are not going to sleep with the Devil to get to Prince,” B scolded me. This was unnecessary; I had retained my virginity—quite an acrobatic feat, over the years—for the transcendent moment I would merge with Prince (and perhaps Mayte). If not Birmingham, then Minnesota, or Paris, or some day.

Someday never came. On Thursday 21st April, someday died, in an elevator. B was the first one I called, when I read online what I hoped was a stunt. “It’s a fuck,” he said, bitterly, while I lay on the hearth-rug with my hands over my eyes, ribs constricted, my diaphragm convulsed and everything else limp. The fire roared. I shivered with shock. B is now a clean-mouthed gay husband to a handsome French man. His obscene choice of word expresses Prince’s oft-misunderstood view of fucking: it’s an auxiliary to love, self-knowledge and God, not a destination in itself. “Fuck” is not where Prince was supposed to end.

Though no other musician has written so minutely about masturbating, licking, sucking, Prince’s music is not about sex. It’s not about the boring, one-two-spurt. He yearns to dissolve into the “silence/to imagine what silence looks like”. Prince inverts the language of music, tipping pastiche into gospel, pornography into marriage (‘Head’), loudness into nothingness. It’s wry, skippy, knowingly wrong—“faire l’amour” rapped as “faire la moue.” It’s an outside-in experience, hitting you with the heavy electronica of ‘Hot Thing’ then throttling the sax, mingling strings, wind, street sounds, jazz, rock, soul. Prince is forever reaching inwards, whilst simultaneously wanking the surface.

If losing Bowie felt like losing my father; Prince’s disappearance is like losing my mother; irrational, womanly, fundamental. On ‘When we’re dancing close,’ Prince sings, “I can almost taste the thoughts within your mind.” He doesn’t analyse; he penetrates. This delicate, futuristic song from 1979, a cousin to ‘Low’, juxtaposes a piano chord progression redolent of church bells with an acoustic guitar raining on a lily pond (yes, Prince made guitars rain). “I want to come inside of you, I want to hold you when we’re through”. The repeated piano refrain urges the listener beyond orgasm to intimacy: wet sounds, heartbeat, warm flesh, falling stars, fireworks. Prince placed imagination in the body—and now I can’t breathe and I can’t dance.

Prince is the Romantic’s disco: like Mother, he is everything you need. Like Mother, the relationship oversteps boundaries. The only artist to be forever associated with a colour, Prince erases name and gender, twinning himself with the feminine. He asked choreographer Cat to spoof him in a mini skirt on ‘Sign O’ the Times’. He even has a female alter-ego, Camille. He confuses social bonds—“I wanna be more than your brother, more than your mother, more than your lover”—and the grammatical person: “I think it’s U. And u thought it was me… Do u know who u are?” Prince wants sublimation. He wants moonbeams.

Three hours after I’d learnt of his death, I peeled myself off the hearthrug and went out, drawn by a peculiar light. I cried to my lover to look at the moon rising our hill. Its halo had divided into two, like a heart breaking. As we watched, a teardrop of moonlight blazed into a giant Prince symbol, inverted as though ascending. The moon was playing homage. It was a freak of nature—elemental and sacred, like an idol.

This heavenly miracle didn’t surprise me; it was so very Prince.

Prince is not a pervert: he’s a pilgrim. In songs riddled with choirs and prayers, he calls for washing each other—and for God. Long before he became a Jehovah’s Witness—following the death of his newborn son – Prince staged a paradise of merged opposites “Does it matter who ate of the apple?” he asks. “The end result was negative.” Through blurring the boundaries of rock and jazz, male and female, profane and sacred, Prince returned us to Grace before the Fall. He made me a flamboyant recluse, love addict, paradox-chaser. And, Prince Rogers Nelson, I’m still falling.

Soma Ghosh lives on a hill in Shropshire. A regular contributor to literary journal The Keep, she has won a joint Wellcome Award for drama, been short-listed for the David T.K. Wong Prize for fiction and previously wrote for The Evening Standard.