This submissions was part of the #PurpleReigns: A Tribute to Prince event hosted at the New School, Friday, September 23rd.
Where do I start? Like many of us, I waited 18 some odd years to strategically play 1999 at 11:59 pm, December 31, 1999. I danced on New Year’s Eve, roughly ten years later to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” realizing the climax between the last chorus and the guitar solo is the most ecstatic moment of music ever. It’s just a series of arpeggios, up and down, like an elevator.
Then came his passing. Which sparked a whole new 24 hours worth of Prince memories. Like Michael and Whitney before him, I’d never been alive on this planet without Prince. But because of Michael and Whitney before him, on the day of Prince’s death, I knew exactly how I wanted to proceed with my grief:
- I immediately Listened to “I Will Die 4 U.”
- I hugged a fellow black co-worker, and cried into her bosom, saying “Can’t we have anything nice?!”
- Then I shopped. I went to a shoe store and bought a pair of loafers whose color I call “Under the Purple Cherry Rain.” There, a man told me a story about meeting Prince and his explicit kindness.
- Prince was full of contradictions: A devout Christian who wears assless chaps and is actually kind. As my friend Nico’s mom says, “Prince is Nasty y’all.”
To be somewhat heavy, lyrically “I Would Die 4 U” has all the nihilistic dichotomies of good rock music:
Messiah— but for you.
The resurrection, (sing one more time)
Or just the experience of life. Yin and Yang. Prince’s Music was light and deep, and the answer to the greatest philosophical dilemma: Overcome your fear of death.
But let’s be clear. Prince was a teenybopper y’all. So melodic and hip.
We all know a Prince song when we hear one. That syncopated, diamond dripped, synth-heavy party sound. But each song somehow has a unique tone. “I Would Die 4 U” is no exception. Let’s break it down.
- Free-fall sounding synths.
- Piano tones that both follow the melody of the lyrics and their own.
- The turn-you-around refresher of the funk guitar that restarts it all.
- The Chucka-chucka trucking of the keys that’s the engine of the song, and predates by decades the same sound Robyn uses in “Dancing On My Own.” I just know Prince danced alone to “I Would Die 4 U.” He made the music he wanted to hear in the world and loved it. I dance to this song alone.
It all plays out at the end of the song/video where Prince loses it. These wrestling melodies come to a head and ride out as Prince glides across the stage, winks, splits, gropes his way to ecstasy. The last 30 seconds of the song pulls it all together.