Life is just a party: Celebrating Prince at the Blind Pig

Wednesday, May 11, 2016 - 12:20am

NOSELL

Paisley Park Records

 

First of all, I had no idea this many people liked Prince. I mean, obviously, the outpouring of love and grief in the days following his death was overwhelming, but among people my age, that I actually talk to? We had never said much of anything about him beyond maybe “Kiss.” Prince was one of my mom’s favorites, and I really only knew and enjoyed him in that context.

But The Blind Pig’s Prince Dance Party last Saturday was packed, and not just with older folks. It might have been as much as 75 percent kids in their twenties, with the rest filled out by middle-aged fans who were in their teens and twenties when Purple Rain came out. They were all excited and ready to dance.

I don’t quite love Prince enough where I can go at it with his music for three hours and know every single minute, but wow, I don’t know if anyone can scale the heights of his best songs. Even if I don’t know the albums front-to-back, tracks like “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Controversy” and “Delirious” all killed, effortlessly guiding our bodies into sweaty frenzies. There was a great moment when the DJ spun “When Doves Cry” and tossed in the first verse to “Little Red Corvette” during an instrumental break. As “Doves” concluded, it led right into that 0-to-60 chorus of “Corvette,” blowing up the whole room in the process.

Beyond that, “Darling Nikki” and “Kiss” were both highlights. The former, a song so nasty that it’s the reason those “Parental Advisory” stickers on CDs exist, was surprisingly easy to dance to, even with its slow, grinding tempo. “Kiss,” meanwhile, is the tightest, funkiest, most ecstatic three minutes ever put on tape, and it caused such a commotion that my friend even hit somebody in the face during her rush to get back to the dancefloor (everyone was fine).

Then there was “1999,” for my money the best song about partying ever written. Composed during peak nuclear anxiety in the early ’80s, “1999” recasts parties not just as mere diversions or excuses to get crazy, but rather as the best possible response to annihilation. The song has a brilliant beat for dancing, but it gets its power from the conviction that parties are the natural high point of life, not a frivolous distraction. Given that we were having so much fun at the Blind Pig that night, “Life is just a party / And parties weren’t meant to last,” was a line that hung over the whole night.

I left a little too early to hear what surely would have been the main closers: “Raspberry Beret,” “I Would Die 4 U” and, of course, “Let’s Go Crazy.” But my night ended on “Purple Rain,” which was totally fine. It’s never been my favorite Prince track, but in a room where everyone was a little drunk and primed to belt it out, it was a beautiful thing. I ended up between two middle-aged women who were dancing with their husbands but kept reaching over to each other and singing together. And then one of them ran her hand through my sweat-drenched hair.

The night was amazing, but I must admit to having some mixed feelings about it. It was, essentially, a funeral. We were all gathered in the room because an artist had died, and we all felt this was the best way to celebrate and remember his life. Is it weird that we were dancing at what’s traditionally a somber occasion?

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I don’t think so. When Bowie died earlier this year, I spent hours and hours listening to his music, mostly by myself, kind of somberly reflecting on who he was and what he meant. In retrospect, it felt more like dwelling than mourning. I honestly didn’t feel like the process was complete until I was at a party a few months later. “Let’s Dance” was on the playlist, which I had helped put together, but it ended up accidentally being the extended dance mix version that’s seven minutes long.

Ordinarily, putting on a remix like that of an ’80s song would kill a party, but that night it was perfect. People got up on couches to dance and bond and overcome anxiety and just do their thing to a great beat, even if it was long and unfamiliar. It was caused by Bowie, and it was one of the highlights of the night. To me, that’s now a huge part of his legacy — how he brought people together with his art, not just because it was critically beloved and legendary, but also because he got friends cheering on other friends dancing on couches in a city he never set foot in.

I’ve listened to so much Prince in the days since he passed — probably more than I ever did when he was alive. It has been mostly a private experience, but the Blind Pig, I think, is where the real truth of the artist became clear to me. I know nothing about Prince beyond the music he gave to the world, so there’s no way we can know for sure, but I really believe he would’ve smiled if he had seen a diverse group of Michiganders going non-stop to all his songs. Prince never played the Blind Pig — I’d be surprised if he’d ever even heard of it — but his spirit was still in all of our movements. Like Bowie’s legacy lives on in those couches in that house on Ashley Street, Prince will forever be in a disco ball on 1st.