Prince Rogers Nelson 1958 – 2016

Prince has always held a special place for me. I spent my summers growing up with grandparents, an hour north of the suburbs of Milwaukee, where I lived. In 1984 I was 11 and I still remember walking to the record shop to purchase my first record, Prince’s Purple Rain. Years later, I would joke that if my grandparents or parents knew of some of the lyrics on that album, I would never have been able to buy it.

Darling Nikki

I knew a girl named Nikki
I guess you could say she was a sex fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
Masturbating with a magazine
She said how’d you like to waste some time
And I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind

Growing up in the golden age of MTV, my fandom would continue. Raspberry Beret continues to be one of my top ten songs of Prince. U Got the Look, his collaboration with Sheena Easton, will always be emblazoned in my mind from the video. In 1989, when the first Batman movie was released starring Michael Keaton, Prince’s Batdance was a sensation. There was nothing like it on pop radio. Diamonds and Pearls was released in October 1991, a month after I met my girlfriend and later wife. The Love Symbol album was released just a year later in October 1992 and both of these albums would feature singles that I would sprinkle through the mixtapes I made Kelly over this period.

I moved from Milwaukee to Madison in late 1992. I worked as a supervisor in a Best Buy store and Barb, a customer service rep, worked for me. If I had to guess, she was in her early 40s and worked Monday through Friday from 9-2. She knew I was a Prince fan and one day, out of the blue, she asked me if I wanted to join her and her husband on a trip up to Minneapolis. It turns out her son, Jamie, was a choreographer working for Prince’s new protege. Jamie didn’t have any formal dance training. Every day growing up, he would come home after school, turn on MTV and learn the dance moves to all the videos playing on MTV. Jamie would later go on to become one of the five touring dancers on Michael Jackson’s Bad tour.

I joined Barb and her husband on the trip to Minneapolis, my first time there. It was about a four to five hour drive. A local radio station was hosting there annual party called the Star Party. We had a VIP table close to the front where it was Jamie, Barb and her husband, and…. Carmen Electra. (I bet you didn’t remember that Carmen Electra started as a protege of Prince, did you?)

The Star Party was at Glam Slam, the club owned by Prince in downtown Minneapolis. Carmen Electra was slated to go on second to last and we sat at the table watching the other acts performed. Shortly before Carmen Electra was to go on stage, two huge bodyguards approached our table:

He is going to come to the table in a few minutes. You don’t look at him, you don’t talk to him. Understand?

And then he was there. You knew Prince was short but he was even smaller in person. He ignored all of us and whispered in Carmen Electra’s ear. She giggled, clearly enjoying the attention. And just like that, he was gone. A few minutes later Carmen would go backstage to get ready for her performance, of which I remember very little as it was forgettable. After the show, she came back, signed a record for me in lipstick, and kissed it. For years, as I moved apartment to apartment, cross country and back, I kept that sealed and signed record. At some point, I got rid of it. I kick myself on two fronts for that: first, the novelty; second, I would buy a turntable in 2008, and would have been able to actually listen to it.

After the show, we drove out to Chanhassen to drive by Paisley Park, before driving back to Madison. I only remember that I was very tired and it was a half hour drive to his studio through corn fields out in the suburbs. Who knew that in 1999 I would buy my first house just ten minutes from Paisley Park, where I still live to this day.

A few years later when watching the Oscars telecast, I noticed in the credits:

Choreographed by Jamie King

Hey, I met him!

A year or two later I would move to Minneapolis with my future wife. I was still working at Best Buy, and now so was she, in stores about ten minutes apart. There was a security guard who worked at both of our stores who also moonlighted as security at Paisley Park, where Prince would throw impromptu concerts from time to time. This security guard had a crush on Kelly and even asked her out. I didn’t hold this against him as he got me on the list for Paisley Park a few times.

Seeing Prince perform at Paisley Park is like nothing you’ve ever seen. He would rarely play any of his hits. Most times it was things stored in the vault or it was a one hour jam session with his band playing whatever he wanted. Whatever it was, it was magical and special and I’m so glad to have been one of the hundreds in attendance at those shows.

I would only be in Minneapolis for a year or two before moving for another promotion at Best Buy. Two albums would get me through the cross country drive. One was The Hits, a three album best of and a disc of B-sides, released in 1993. The other was ABBA’s Thank You for the Music, their four disc best of collection. (Don’t judge me).

In 1996 I was now a district operations manager for Best Buy in Philadelphia. The Gold Experience, released in September of ’95, was my constant companion in the car as I drove from store to store.

We would move back to Minneapolis in 1997 and in 1999 we bought our first house in Chaska, just ten minutes and one suburb over from Paisley Park, which we still drive by all the time.

In 2008, I would buy my first turntable. Searching through all of the record stores in Minneapolis, I was always on the lookout for Prince albums. Being in Minneapolis, Prince albums, with the exception of Purple Rain, were usually difficult to find and overpriced. But I would buy every one I could get my hands on.

Prince Vinyl

After years away in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Prince returned to Minneapolis in a big way the last few years. He would throw more parties and concerts at Paisley Park. There was little notice given – usually a week to just a couple of days and you had to follow social media to find out. I would tell a co-worker who lived in Silicon Valley that he had to come out, as he really wanted to go to one of those shows. But buying a plane ticket on short notice? Ouch. You never knew if Prince was actually going to take the stage or not, and if he did, what time he would. Some of those first shows when he was back, doors would at 10 p.m. and he wouldn’t appear until 3, 4 or 5 a.m. I kept telling myself I would go back and never did.

Now I never will.

I drove out to Paisley Park mid-day yesterday after the announcement of Prince’s death. There were already hundreds gathered, grieving. The tributes along the Paisley Park fence were touching.

After the news broke, I was trying to explain to my oldest son what Prince met to me, and I broke down. 89.3 The Current played Prince non-stop starting in chronological order at 1 p.m. yesterday, and at 4 p.m. when Purple Rain hit the airwaves shortly after I got home from Paisley Park, I choked up again. Just writing this, tears come to my eye. Only one other artist’s death, Freddie Mercury in 1991, touched me in the way this has.

I’m so glad to call Minneapolis home. The impromptu concert last night on the streets of Minneapolis, as the city closed off blocks downtown surrounding the legendary First Avenue nightclub where Purple Rain was filmed, was awe inspiring as thousands filled the streets. First Avenue opened a dance party at 11 p.m., which was packed all night with people still waiting to get in at 3 a.m.

Prince called Minneapolis home, but he belonged to all of us, all over the world.

Photo: Prince by Peter Tea under a Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0 license.

Bloom County 2015

Since I was a kid, I’ve been a fan of Berke Breathed’s Bloom County. Over a dozen years ago while on vacation in San Francisco, I visited a number of used bookstores and completed my Bloom County book collection. I own every Bloom County book published, including the collections and the Library series. I even bought the Humble Bundle a year or two ago to re-purchase everything digitally so I can view it on my iPad.

So when Mr. Breathed brought Milo, Opus, Steve Dallas and the rest of the gang earlier this year as Bloom County 2015 I was through the moon. I took a picture of my stuffed Opus with a collection of my books and tweeted out my excitement.

I don't know who is happier today, Opus or me. #bloomcounty

A couple months after re-launching the comic strip, a store was launched to buy signed copies of the daily strips, merchandise and more. A daily strip costs $110 and a Sunday strip in color costs $150. It’s a steep price, but each strip is signed and Breathed also personally draws a pencil sketch of the character of your choice on the strip.

One of last week’s strips sealed the deal for me and I pulled the trigger and bought it today. Bloom County 2015 #76 features Cutter John trying to avoid the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer due to spoilers. Bloom County and a Star Wars reference together? These are two of my favorite things! Like Cutter John, I had successfully avoid Star Wars spoilers for the new movie… until the trailer came out and I read a scene by scene breakdown of the trailer with all the spoilers.

It will be a month before my personalized comic strip arrives. This will be a perfect addition to my new office in the new house.

I love Minnesota Music

As a transplant to Minnesota from Wisconsin, I’ve now spent over half my life here. I’m a cheesehead through and through, but if there is one thing that Minnesota has that Wisconsin has never had, it’s the music. The first album I ever bought was Prince’s Purple Rain and my first ever trip to Minnesota I actually met Prince, which is another story for a different time. A few years later I was living here and I won tickets on Rev105 to a local music showcase at First Avenue. There I was introduced to Zuzu’s Petals and the headliner, a band called Pleasure, which would later be known as Semisonic.

In the last few weeks I’ve been treated to both the stars of the current local scene and the past. First up, was Minnesota Music on a Stick at the State Fair Grandstand hosted by The Current. Featuring country favorites The Cactus Blossoms, the indescribable Har Mar Superstar, Cloud Cult, punk legend Bob Mould, hip hop collective Doomtree, and the rapper Brother Ali, only The Current could bring together such a diverse group for one show.

I brought Zoe to the show for her first rock concert. She was surprised how loud it was, but we got up close and personal for Har Mar Superstar’s set and Doomtree. She’s more into pop music, but she listened to all of the artists before we came and Doomtree was her favorite. It being her first concert, we had to buy her a concert t-shirt.

If I had to pick one, I was there for Bob Mould first, with Har Mar Superstar and Doomtree being close behind him, not to mention Cloud Cult. We sat in the bleachers for Cloud Cult and Bob Mould, which was probably the right call considering how loud Bob Mould can get. Twenty songs in 60 minutes? No problem for Mr. Mould and his rockstar band. It’s the second time I’ve seen him in the last couple of years, and he’s not one for a lot of chatter during his show, which is just fine as he played a great selection of songs from Hüsker Dü, Sugar and his solo material. Sitting in the bleachers, the program director for The Current, Jim McGuinn, was in the row across from us, and as we left the bleachers to down to see Doomtree, I had to thank him for how much I value The Current. (I would see him again at The Replacements, but I don’t want him to think I’m some kind of crazy stalker).

Har Mar Superstar’s stage presence is amazing and he brought rising star Lizzo along for the entire set. I’m pretty tempted to get tickets to his upcoming show at First Avenue. Volunteering at The Current almost ten years ago for an afternoon, they gave me a few CDs to go home with, one of which was Har Mar Superstar, and I’ve been a fan since. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but most of the people there only seemed to know of his last album, the soul music throwback Bye Bye 17. When Almond Joy and Tall Boy should have had the crowd moving, it seemed as if only 30% of the crowd knew of his classic dance songs.

We went down into the crowd for Doomtree and tried to find a spot where Zoe could see over all the adults. I’ve been a fan of P.O.S. for ten years and Dessa for the last few years, so it was quite a treat to see them all together. I was pleasantly surprised how almost all of them each also did a song from their solo repertoire, with the highlight easily being Dessa’s Warsaw for me personally.

And this past Saturday was The Replacements. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t already been said, but it was just amazing. As a teenager, the Say Anything soundtrack introduced me to so many bands, and The Replacements were one of them. Within Your Reach may be one of their slowest songs and it was quite the pleasant surprise to buy one of their albums at age 16 and find out they were a punk band. I quickly fell in love. Out of the all concerts I’ve been to in my life, it has to be in my top ten. They played almost everything they could in their first homecoming in 23 years. Seeing The Hold Steady open for them was just a bonus, but Saturday night was all about The Replacements. A sold out show to 14,000 or so fans, a few years from now I think 50,000 people will claim they were there that night.

Achievement Unlocked: Geek Dad Cred

I took the kids to Captain America: The Winter Soldier this past Sunday. You know it’s going to be a blockbuster when the theater is 75% filled at a 9:30 a.m. showing on a Sunday morning. I usually like to take the kids to the early showing as the theater is almost empty on Sunday mornings.

Warning: Minor Spoiler

Two thirds of the way through the movie, Natasha Romanova (Black Widow), played by Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Rogers (Captain America), played by Chris Evans, enter an abandoned military base with an ancient mainframe computer system. Natasha Romanova turns to Captain America, and asks in a monotone, “Would you like to play a game?” Right out of the 1983 movie WarGames. Zoe turns to me in the theater, her face all lit up, as she gets the in-joke, mostly in there for my generation.

We had just watched Wargames a couple months ago on Netflix, right before it was set to expire. (Alas, it’s still expired and not available for streaming.)

That was definitely a warm fuzzy knowing I’ve contributed to my kids geek credibility. Achievement Unlocked.

Why Dungeons & Dragons Matters

40 years of using your imagination.

Ethan Gilsdorf has a fantastic essay up on Boing Boing: At 40 Years Old, Dungeons & Dragons Still Matters. As the original Dungeons & Dragons turns 40 this year, I’m guessing we’ll see many great tributes to the grandaddy of all role playing games, and Mr. Gilsdorf’s essay really resonated with me.

Along the way, D&Ders like me learned about stuff. We discussed hit dice and saving throws, ballistas and halberds. We studied, without encouragement from our parents or teachers, arcane subjects such as architecture, history, languages, and statistics. I learned how to draw and map. I learned battle tactics, how to bargain, how to empathize and negotiate with those not like me—be it undead kings or jocks. And a lot of introverted, socially-inept kids found friends and fellowship. I got socialized, and I learned how to be a leader. Bored and dissatisfied with my real life, I created a more exciting one, again and again, where I got to save the day and have agency.

The tools of D&D gave me permission to imagine a better me, and a better story for myself. They gave me the courage to imagine a different future. And taught me how to change myself. Not happy with lowly Level 1 Ethan, I worked hard to level up to my better, stronger, faster level 17 version today.

This is the key to role playing and I learned similar things playing D&D in the ’80s. I introduced my two youngest children to role-playing with rpgKids a couple years ago and this year we’re transitioning to Pathfinder. I’m hopeful they will learn the same things using their imagination to role play, and it helps to unplug them from their screens as well as challenge them mentally while encouraging them physically with the athletics they are involved with. Balance is good.

D&D is still my springboard into dreaming. Me and four other guys, all in our forties, embark upon these imaginary adventures on Sunday nights. How can I give this up? I leave my computer behind and dip into an amorphous, enigmatic current of magical thinking that humans rarely swim in: something epic and unknown.

I had the chance recently to re-connect with a friend from high school whom I haven’t talked to (or anyone from that period of my life) in over 20 years. He still plays D&D regularly with other friends from high school, including the one who introduced me to D&D. I find that I’m jealous of that; both the camaraderie of friends staying connected like that and the discipline of having a weekly gaming group with the chance, as Mr. Gilsdorf says, “[to] leave my computer behind and dip into an amorphous, enigmatic current of magical thinking that humans rarely swim in…” My oldest son regularly plays Pathfinder (and Magic: The Gathering) with his group of high school buddies and I like to think I had something to do with that. I’ll continue to play with the two younger ones and I hope they learn the same things Mr. Gilsdorf and I learned from Dungeons & Dragons.

Photo by Davi Silva under a CC-BY 2.0 license.