(On April 14, 2016, Prince performed two shows at the Fox Theatre. AJC reporter Ernie Suggs attended the 10 p.m. show, marking around the 20th time he had seen the icon. Exactly one week after his Atlanta concert, Prince would be dead. Here are Suggs’ immediate thoughts on the concert and death. Originally published on April 21, 2016.)
It would almost be too much of a cliché to say that Prince’s concert last week at the Fox Theatre was spiritual.
But it was.
Prince had just performed for more than two hours — longer than the Fox told us he would.
It was as if he didn’t want to leave and we didn’t want him to go.
After it was over, I found myself standing alone with my thoughts.
In silence, I watched as fans slowly walked to the now empty stage, adorned only with candles and a purple piano. Some took photos. Others just looked, not speaking. They just wanted to soak it all in as long as possible, although he was probably halfway to the airport by then.
Who knew it would be the last time?
Who knew that exactly a week later, the man who influenced, inspired and turned on so many would be dead?
When the news broke Thursday that Prince had died at his beloved Paisley Park estate in Minnesota, I, like millions of others, was left speechless.
For as long as I can remember — and everyone who knows me knows this — Prince and his music have been a part of my life.
In the office, I fielded so many phone calls, texts, tweets and sympathetic visits to my desk that it was like a family member had died.
And in a way, that’s what happened.
From Appreciation To Obsession
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, a child of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. I knew about Prince in the early ’80s, appreciated his music, but never owned anything.
Then, MTV started showing videos from the landmark “1999,” such as the title track and “Little Red Corvette.”
I got interested.
But it wasn’t until 1984 and the release of the stunning “Purple Rain,” and the equally dazzling movie, that I was hooked.
I was entering my senior year in high school, the time when you begin to make adult decisions about what you like and how you consume products. I didn’t want Michael Jackson’s pop anymore. I wanted Prince’s funk.
I wanted to know how someone so strange and eclectic could be so cool. Bad enough to pull women like Vanity and Apollonia with ease. Bad enough to, as someone once said, be the “only guy who could steal your girl and her wardrobe.”
Artist Formerly Known As My Cousin
I became so consumed that I gobbled up his back catalog — only five albums at the time — and studied every word, phrase and nuance.
After “Purple Rain,” I snatched up everything he produced. From his brilliant run in the 1980s, to the slave period of the 1990s, to his religious and content conversion of the early 2000s, to his prodigious output of late.
I became such a huge fan in college that people were convinced (I am not clear how they heard this) that Prince and I were cousins. Like Prince, I never confirmed nor denied it. Even though my line name when I pledged Alpha Phi Alpha was Lovesexy.
Freaking Amazing Concert
I was often asked how many times I had seen him in concert. About 15 times between Atlanta, North Carolina and Las Vegas. And that doesn’t include that one strange visit to Paisley Park last summer.
My first concert was Oct. 16, 1988. I couldn’t afford the Purple Rain concerts of a few years earlier, but I had the $40 to see “The Lovesexy Tour” at the Greensboro Coliseum.
It was freaking amazing. Prince opened with “Erotic City” and entered the coliseum in a white Thunderbird flanked by Sheila E. and Cat.
I remember every beat of that show.
The Vegas concert in the winter of 2007 was also great, but I really only remember one part.
Freaking Amazing Encounter
We had seats at the lip of the left side of the stage. At some point, Prince jumped off the stage and walked through the seated area of the club. But he started on the other side. I watched like a hawk as he took the slow walk toward us, praying that he would not turn around.
Mind you, we were the first table closest to the stage. Meaning that when he walked back to the stage, we would be the last table. And I situated myself so that I would be the last person he saw before getting back on stage.
When he got to our table, he and I stood face to face. Eye to eye.
He wore a white suit with tiny golden stitches that you could only see up close.
We looked at each other, and then I meekly stepped aside so he could proceed. But not before I delicately touched his right shoulder.
I don’t tell that story often because it is kind of strange. But I had to touch his garment.
Never Sounded Better
So a week ago, I sat in the Fox Theatre waiting for Prince, glad that I had come to the concert by myself.
Fourth Row. Perfect view.
He started with a stunning cover of the Staple Singers’ “When Will We B Paid?” — which no one could remember him ever performing live.
It only got better. With just a piano and a microphone, Prince dug deep into his vault, playing hidden gems like “Girl,” “All Day, All Night,” “Eye Love U, But Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore,” and the soaring “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”
He did the hits too, like “Dirty Mind,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and “I Would Die 4 U.”
Everyone said his voice never sounded better, even though a week earlier he’d canceled his original set of shows because he had the flu. Through three encores, I agreed.
But we all know that several hours later, Prince was in a hospital. Apparently suffering from that same flu.
Final Image Unforgettable
During his last encore, Prince reached deep into the catalog again to find one of his rawest and most emotional cuts, “Sometimes It Snows In April” from the 1986 “Parade” album.
Prince sings the song about Christopher Tracy, his tragic character in the movie “Under the Cherry Moon.”
“Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war, just after I’d wiped away his last tear,” he sang painfully. “I guess he’s better off than he was before/ A whole lot better off than the fools he left here.”
The last lines he sung of the song, before he allowed the adoring crowd to finish the chorus, were: “I often dream of heaven and I know that Tracy’s there/ I know that he has found another friend. Maybe he’s found the answer 2 all the April snow / Maybe one day I’ll see my Tracy again.”
I don’t know why Prince picked Atlanta.
I don’t know why I picked the 10 p.m. show instead of the 7 p.m. show. But I am glad and blessed to have attended his last concert.
I’ll never forget that final image. After that last encore, which also included “Purple Rain,” “The Beautiful Ones,” and “Diamonds and Pearls,” Prince sat down one last time.
He reached to pick up his jewel-encrusted cane and pimped off.
He gave one final look at the crowd and raised his left hand in a fist.
Maybe he, too, found the answer.