Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes, sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last...
In Prince’s 1986 movie, “Under the Cherry Moon,” his character — an American playboy in France named Christopher Tracy — dies just as he finds love. And one of his most beautiful songs, a piano-driven ballad, “Sometimes it Snows in April,” soulfully paints our grief.
It has been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it at age 9 on a laser-disc at my auntie’s house. It was funny, a black-and-white movie in the era of color, a French-inspired love story. It’s a mainstay on my watch list because it brings out the deep belly laughs.
But today I cried. Because today Prince died. Now I know what it means to snow in April.
If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s like I did, your pop star superheroes were something like Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Whitney Houston. Three of the four are gone too soon. Sure, we have a lot of living legends. We’ve got auntie Patti LaBelle, diva Aretha Franklin and rockin’ Chaka Khan. There’s Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen. But for my generation, those are the greats we respect — not the ones who directly connect our dots.
I’ve memorialized Whitney and Michael. They were huge, inspiring parts of my childhood and their early deaths put my heart in a choke-hold. But Prince Rogers Nelson, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, the symbol? My spirit is wailing a guttural kind of scream for the 57-year-old man who was nothing less than a gift from God.
“Unapologetically black” is a buzz phrase we use a lot right now to describe a loud and proud blackness in all its layers a la Kendrick Lamar’s artistry or Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance. “Carefree black” is another one we use to describe the busting of the boxes built around our blackness, a defiance of stereotypes and limitations. It’s often linked to the Janelle Monaes, Solanges, Jaden Smiths and Pharrells of the world.
Keep it real: Prince didn’t need a hashtag or a movement. He is the originator of unapologetic and carefree blackness. In his chiffon and lace and heels with hair coiffed to perfection, he was everything: androgynous, rebellious, sexy, spiritual, rock-and-roll, hip-hop, soul, punk, funny and brilliant.
I first knew him as Prince and the Revolution. But the truth is Prince was a revolution. He broke gender rules, race rules and waged a war with corporate record labels. Over a decade before Janet Jackson’s boob fell out on national television, Prince proudly and purposefully bared his bottom on the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards. Because, Prince.
He was the ultimate example of being yourself. Maybe that’s why my parents let me watch “Purple Rain” on a VHS tape when I was just 6 years old. It’s also why I got in trouble in school for inappropriate conversations and re-enactments and they got a phone call.
But it was worth it.
I just can’t believe all the things people say
Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?
Do I believe in God, do I believe in me?
Because of him I tried new things, I wore what I want and even when kids didn’t understand my style or friend choices, I danced to my own rhythm.
I was 10 when Tim Burton’s “Batman” came out in 1989. Prince did the entire soundtrack. It was a superhero movie with a superhero singing its songs. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.
Like a superhuman, Prince taught me the importance of advocating for yourself. Most recently, he did that by teaming up with Tidal and talking about the importance of having our own resources. But way before streaming services and the Internet gave artists the freedom to create their own fandom without label politics, Prince was talking about the importance of independent artistry.
Around the time that Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” introduced my 13-year-old self to pivotal moments in black history, Prince was writing slave across his face in ’93 to symbolize the way corporations try to own artists. He changed his name in an effort to liberate himself from that ownership. And the world respected it.
It was in 2000 when I finally saw Prince in concert. My friend Jenell and I drove two hours to Richmond, Va., to see him perform with a mystical energy that seemed to unite the audience. It was the first time I didn’t whisper the words to “Darling Nikki” and I openly cried as I sung along to “The Beautiful Ones.” That was Prince’s power. He unlocked inhibition.
When I first came to Kansas City as an intern during the summer of 2001, I was 21 and covering an ‘N Sync concert. A young girl tried to buy my Prince T-shirt off my back. I refused. Not my shirt. Sell a piece of his paisley majesty? Nah.
A few years later, when I was a full-fledged Kansas Citian, my sisterfriend Pam and I would see Late Night Theatre’s hilarious love-sexy spoof “The Show Formerly Known as Purple Rain.” Not long after that I joined my friend Tiff on stage at The Brick to sing “Kiss.” I can’t think of a time in my life where I wasn’t singing his lyrics, mimicking his moves or referencing him in some way.
Throughout his career Prince preached peace, love, dance, faith and freedom. These are things that didn’t just rock my body through song, they rooted themselves into my soul. I remember my first time in Minneapolis, dancing in First Avenue, the club seemed to be filled with a magical force — the kind of spark that comes from experiencing the space where his greatness was born.
But no matter how otherworldly Prince seemed, he was a man. He wasn’t afraid to show his humanity. Sometimes that meant laughing at himself, other times it meant taking a stand for others.
When Dave Chappelle did that Charlie Murphy basketball skit in 2004, not only did Prince confirm the game happened, he used Chappelle’s impersonation of him as artwork for his “Breakfast Can Wait” single.
And last year, he showed just how human he is when he went to Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s killing to perform a free show and sing his song, “Baltimore.”
Nobody got in nobody’s way
So I guess you could say it was a good day
At least a little better than the day in Baltimore
Does anybody hear us pray
Peace is more than the absence of war
Absence of war
Prince inspired us to be our most free selves. Beyoncé definitely studied his moves. She recently released her stylish sportswear collection: Ivy Park.
“It’s anywhere we create for ourselves. For me, it’s the place that my drives come from,” she told Elle. “I think we all have that place we go to when we need to fight through something, set our goals and accomplish them.”
I love Bey and I’m going to let her finish but Prince’s Paisley Park is the ultimate representation of unapologetic and carefree dreams. No purchase necessary.
Today, it snowed in April. But Prince will dance in the Purple Rain forever.
“Purple Rain” screening
Monday, April 25. 7 and 9:55 p.m. $10. Alamo Drafthouse, 1400 Main St. All ticket proceeds benefit the Midwest Music Foundation, which offers health programs and resources to area musicians through outreach, support, education, and health care opportunities in Kansas City. www.drafthouse.com.