When I worked as a dominatrix, I had a friend who would bring me in for doubles in a sleek downtown NYC studio. I joined her once, I think around 2012, for a session with a client who liked to dress up in cream-colored, old-fashioned lingerie. Clearly, his erotic glee emerged from shocking us with his total commitment to his diva persona — a slutty Southern belle. He would get dolled up in the bathroom and emerge with a flourish, looking like Colonel Sanders and speaking like Blanche Dubois. “I do declahre!”
We were his audience as he flounced about, fanning himself, putting on airs, describing encounters with strange men in Penn Station bathrooms. Unlike most clients, he delighted when we laughed with him, not at him, and when we matched his camp.
He asked us to curate music for him to “put on a floor show.” I cued up “Toxic,” and “I Just Wanna Make Love to You.” We sat and watched and clapped as he danced with the stiff enthusiasm of a man who did not often move his body but really wished he could.
When his session hour was almost up, I told him he had time for one last number. I chose “Kiss.”
“Puuh-rince!” he exclaimed, fluttering his fingers about his garishly made-up face:
“The patron saint of all sssslllluts!”
Did Prince make me a slut? Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? It would be more accurate to say he made me a whore, and I’ll tell you why: He simply demonstrated that it could be done exactly the way you wanted to. Prince showed me that your performance is for you, even when you lust for an audience, and that seduction is in tension and timing.
I usually didn’t play Prince in session. A few strippers have written beautiful tributes to his universal club appeal, but I could never quite get away with anything quite that frank in the dungeon. So while I played sinister instrumental jazz, I was all Prince up in my mind, striking poses, nailing jokes, squatting deep and swinging low.
After all, I became a dominatrix for the same reason I became a Prince fan: because I have a flamboyant, libidinous, brightly-colored, shape-shifting sex, a sex whose best outlet is in stories I can tell with my body, my voice, and well-designed instruments. This is also how Prince made me a whore: he showed me that my exhibitionism could be my occupation, that I could sublimate and sustain my pornographic imagination into art.
On Thursday April 21st, I was on a 14 hour flight home from Taipei. At what would have been about noon EST, I signed off from the overpriced wifi, put the “Hamilton” OCR on my headphones, took a pill, and fell into a crick-necked, snoring, dehydrated sleep. When I woke to a bumpy landing at JFK, I didn’t know Prince was dead, but everyone else did. I turned on my data and was flooded with frantic messages: Are you ok? Do you know? Honey, did you hear? And that is how I came to sob a Xanax hangover sob in a plane on a tarmac, my final revenge against my manspreading seatmate.
I’m always telling people that I rarely cry, but of course this is compulsive internalized misogyny. Just like everybody else, I cry when things move me deeply. I cried a lot when David Bowie died two months ago. Reading his last email to Brian Eno, singing the backup “wonderful” while strangers sang “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” at karaoke, walking down Atlantic listening to Blackstar with a cold new context — death, the only context there is. My Bowie grief was all about my own mortality. I understood anew that artists raised me up as much as my family did, and that I would have to design my own kind of mourning when they passed. Prince has been different. My Prince grief is more of a jet lag nightmare. Bowie was devastating because I had to accept that death comes for everyone. Prince is devastating because I’m realizing death can come for you at any moment, that you gotta let the elevator take you down.
In about 2009 I played guitar and sang in a punk band called Autobahndage in Oakland. My drummer had perfect pitch and anytime we wanted to cover something he would come to practice with some skrunky tablature for us to learn. We had a hard time with “Dirty Mind.” We weren’t sophisticated enough to get that robotic groove. But accuracy wasn’t what I wanted anyway. I wanted the porn. I wanted the Chuck Berry double entendre about a car and the come-on. And I wanted to catch what Wesley Morris, in his Times obit, called the horny ghost, the end of the bridge where Prince scream/chant/pleads, “You just gotta let me lay ya gotta let me lay ya, lay ya you just gotta let me lay ya gotta let me lay ya down.”
My favorite Prince song of all time, I think, is “Let’s Go Crazy.” It’s really hard to sing the fast part about the purple banana, but I will get it one day. What this song says is this: music is the same as sex. Death is inevitable, so let’s get high on rhythm. Not intoxicated per se, but losing control on the ecstasy of music and fiction and love. Let your body be free.
Prince is porn and porn is Prince. I don’t actually think most of Prince’s lyrics are personal. I think he was a fantasy-maker and a role-player: “When you were mine, I used to let you wear all of my clothes.” “Incest is everything it’s said to be.” “If I was your girlfriend/Would U let me wash your hair?” “She had so many devices, everything that money could buy.” “Thought I’d take you to a movie show/Sittin’ in the back and I’ll jack you off.” “But I just a virgin/And I’m on my way to be wed/But you’re such a hunk/So full of spunk/I’ll give you head.”
I only saw Prince live once, at the Oakland Coliseum, in 2011. I bought a shirt, which was tight then and tighter now. Prince fingering a guitar neck, staring out at you from the undercurve of my tit. I bought black leggings, too, with his name in bright white; tight then and tighter now. Thin, low-cut, but I still wore them on my bike the other night. Knowing my boxer briefs would hang out, I wore purple ones.
I could tell you about the Oakland show, but what could I tell you? I have never seen a more diverse group at an event that size. Young, old, queer, straight, hip, square, dates, families, squads. We were on our feet in the nosebleeds and we weren’t blocking anyone’s view. On that enormous glyph, he danced, he shredded, he wailed, he humped his purple baby grand, and he grinned. He ceded the spotlight to the women in his band over and over. Afterwards, in the car, drunk on excitement, we stopped for In-N-Out Burger. There was a white limo in the parking lot, but we didn’t dare hope. After almost an hour in line at the drive-in, we reached the window, where the woman working looked a little happier than you would expect someone on the drive-thru nightshift after a Coliseum show.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” we had to ask, “did you just serve Prince?”
“Yes I did!” she screamed, and we all screamed, too.
I don’t actually believe in patron saints, but I do believe in the healing power of ceremonial ecstasy. So I fucked in bed all morning the sunny day after Prince died. We sprung for Tidal, because all my records are still in California: just put on the catalogue, and hit shuffle.
My favorite guitar solo of all time is the last minute or so of “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad,” and I swear, we came in fountains during that solo, pouring one out (sorry/ain’t sorry) for the purple one. Rock’n’roll is ecstasy, and instead of wondering how much time we’ve got left, we should ask how much of our minds, our hearts, our cunts. When you love music, it always loves you back; and when you fuck music, it fucks you back. And you’re never on your own.
Prince drawing by Katie Diamond