On November 25, 1981, my father was 33 and my mother was 29. That night, they did the coolest thing in their lives: They saw Prince in concert during his “Controversy” tour. This was back when he was still considered an R&B act and would play a relatively small venue like Greenville Memorial Auditorium, where I later graduated high school and where I once saw a rodeo (those were two separate events).
A month earlier, Prince opened for The Rolling Stones in Los Angeles. His “Rocky Horror” wardrobe and sexually androgynous lyrics was met with gay and racial slurs. The crowd was more receptive in Greenville.
I was 7 at the time so I was not at the concert. This means I cannot confirm my mother’s story that when the guy next to them offered her a joint, she declined.
Prince was theirs in 1981. He became mine in 1983 when I remember taping “Little Red Corvette” off the radio. Once that happened, they had to tone down their enthusiasm for Prince. They had to be parents and openly disapprove of “Darling Nikki” while silently jamming to “When Doves Cry.” Unlike Madonna and Annie, who they never got, my parents always dug Prince. My father still has his vinyl copy of the “Controversy” album, and the “Sign o’ the Times” double CD that’s in my collection is the one my parents bought in 1987. My first Christmas in New York, they sent me the just-released “Emancipation” CD.
There was a period in college when the three albums I listened to the most were “1999,” “Parade,” and “O->.” My mother, whose car stereo I’d hijack whenever I was back in Greenville, never complained. Once, after the 1,000th listening of “All the Critics Love U in New York,” she said, “He’s dirty, son. But he’s good.” That was high praise.
Greenville Memorial Auditorium was demolished in 1997. The BI-LO Center replaced it in 1998 and was the largest arena in South Carolina until 2002. Prince returned to Greenville to perform at the BI-LO Center in 2011 for his “Welcome 2 America” tour. If my mother were alive and my parents had gone to the show, they would have agreed he still has it.