I had a moment in front of my computer that I didn’t wanna have last night. The moment where Prince’s death became real in the way that no blog headline, tweet or update could possibly make it. Real in a way I couldn’t conveniently avoid. Maybe it’s self-centered to relate a pop icon’s death to a moment in my own life, but I guess right now that’s what we’re all doing, at least privately. I have a lot of those moments when it comes to Prince, as many of us do.
Sitting at the dinner table at our Weekend 2 Coachella pad besieged once again by a swarm of music journalists, I clicked on one of the few live clips of Prince you can still find on YouTube. It was his performance of Radiohead’s “Creep” at Coachella 2008. Donning a white dashiki with glittery gold trim, I watched footage of His Purple Majesty throwing a guitar over his tiny shoulder and plucking the first few notes of the tune to a rolling sea of fans. I felt like smiling and tearing up at the same time, the way that looking back on the most amazing memories of your life can feel like a grenade to the gut.
This year I’m celebrating my 10th consecutive year at Coachella. It’s not a huge, earth-shattering deal. But one that at least moves the needle in my world. The festival has now been a constant in my life since before I could legally drink a beer. But without Prince, I guarantee this anniversary wouldn’t have happened this year.
In 2008, I was a 22 year-old senior at Cal State Fullerton. Like a lot of college students, I was broke pretty much all the time. And though I’d experienced two years of Coachella in 2006, and 2007, 2008 seemed like a bum year to me. Blame my immature tastes. Blame it on my lack of greenbacks, or too few hip-hop acts and too much Jack Johnson on the bill. It felt economically justified for me to save my money for something more grown up, like paying a bill, rent, or car repairs.
Though we’d gone together last year and had a blast, my best friend Art and I were ready to let 2008 Coachella grudgingly pass us by. Then, as if by some act of divine intervention, Prince was announced as a late addition Saturday night headliner. It’s not really in my best interest to admit this, but I screamed like a schoolboy bitch the minute I saw the news flash on my computer. Right away I called Art, a fellow Prince fan, on my old school 2004 Nokia cell phone. Without much of a conversation, it was decided: We had to go to Coachella to see the Purple One.
The catch: We’d have to drive three hours to the festival without tickets and find a way in.
To this day, I credit Prince for getting Art and I in the car that sweltering afternoon. For giving us the hope that a foolhardy attempt could somehow magically workout. Hey, maybe we could even sneak in? To a couple of naive college kids, anything was possible.
Three hours later on Saturday, we were parting the dust in the dry, sun-cracked maze of the GA parking lot of Coachella after blasting Prince on the stereo of my toaster-shaped, maroon Scion XB the whole ride there. We parked and walked along the entire parameter of the festival’s gated barricades, looking about as suspicious as, two 22 year olds trying to sneak into a festival possibly could.
Sweat dripped down my face as I tried not to get phased by every siren or festival cop who trudged past us. The goal was to find a chink in Coachella’s armor and slip in before dark. But the closest soft spot we got was looking over a horse stable about a mile away from the polo field. As each hour passed, the festival booming from over the rows of swaying palm trees, a reverse Shawshank Redemption didn’t seem to be in the cards for a couple of law abiding amateurs. We’d walked about 3 miles in the desert sun around the entire festival, only to finally just break down and walk back to the will call booth with our life savings that we’d scraped together—$100 each.
It turned out that this should’ve been our option 4 hours ago. The will call booth had just released a few hundred tickets, and gave us ours for exactly $100 each.
As the will call worker handed me my ticket, not even the total depletion of my bank account could deflate my excitement. Paying to see Prince was a privilege in and of itself and was a small price to ensure that for at least this last two hours of the festival would be meaningful enough for me to say I was actually there.
From the time he walked on stage with a coy smile and hand over his mouth and he surveyed rows of joyous, sunburnt faces Prince’s show was the stuff of legend.
Looking back at the video, I don’t just remember “Creep,” though it was an amazing moment in the set. I remember watching Prince bring out Morris Day during the very beginning of his show as the pimpish, smooth talking foil with impeccable dance moves churned out classics “The Bird” and “Jungle Love” to get the crowd going along with the goddess Sheila E. taking the spotlight on the “Glamorous Life.” I remember the costume changes. I remember puffing on a joint during “1999” and hearing the crowd shout all the words to “Little Red Corvette.” Above all, remember Prince captivating the entire polo field with the proclamation of his presence. “Coachella! I am here!” To this day, I think he’s the only headliner I’ve seen who could get away with saying that in a way that only made him seem even cooler.
But during “Creep,” the party paused for a brief moment and became something spiritual as Prince decimated the chords of the song, melted its structure with incredible solos and howled “What the hell am I doing here?!” at the moon as if something from the great beyond might actually answer him back. But instead it was the cheers of tens of thousands of adoring fans that night that hopefully gave him the answer he was looking for.
There are times over my 10 years when I still think about that set and Prince’s influence on the music world, I’m always finding myself remembering the ways his music brought out a true spirit in me that has remained unbroken, fearless and willing to rise to any occasion, even the idea of sneaking into Coachella. Yeah, it was a dumb idea, even back then. But I also knew that no matter what I wasn’t leaving until “Purple Rain” washed over me in the desert.
I learned a lot that day. I learned that sometimes the money doesn’t matter, the extra time and effort you spent doesn’t matter, the pain and suffering doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, when the odds are against you, it’s the mission that matters. And if it took all of that extra bullshit my friend and I endured to see Prince at Coachella to learn that lesson, then despite whatever we gave up to get there, we still came out ahead.