Kathryn Rathke

As the obituaries and critical appreciations of the inestimably great artist who will forever be known as Prince continue to roll in, we thought a more appropriate tack was a focus on the personal role he played in our lives.

It's one thing to like and admire a given artist's body of work, couple of songs, couple of records, a video or two, maybe you even saw them play live once or twice. But Prince is in a very small category of artists with a legitimate claim to having defined the aesthetic and cultural (and therefore commercial, and therefore political) framework of a generation. One forgets what it felt like to have a true musical all-the-way genius who is also the greatest imaginable performer who is also a tunesmith of the highest order who also happens to be a transgressive avatar of race/gender/sexuality/class/genre who is also funny be at or near the top of the charts, in your radio, on your turntable, in your headphones, on your TV screens, and in every magazine all at the same time. It couldn't help but leave a mark on the five writers who contribute below. Prince wouldn't have had it any other way. SEAN NELSON

Do I Believe in God, Do I Believe in Me?

I was 6 years old when Purple Rain was released. I don't have that many vivid childhood memories, but I remember watching the video for "When Doves Cry" for the first time. It made parts of my body tingle. I sat on my heel, rocked back and forth, and watched in wide-eyed wonder.

Prince made me feel weird, mostly because he reminded me of God. I was a good little Catholic girl, and there was Prince in a steamy bathtub wearing a crucifix around his neck, staring at me while a lurid guitar solo threatened to rip me open. Then there he was, wet and crawling across the floor in front of a stained-glass cross, telling me to touch his naked stomach. He seemed to be at church, which is probably the only reason my older brothers, 9 and 11, somehow managed to convince our mother that allowing us to rent and watch a Betamax tape of Purple Rain was an okay idea.

My brothers and I watched silently in our den—enraptured and confused—until my mother walked in at the exact moment Apollonia peeled off her leather jacket to reveal her beautiful bare breasts. The movie was abruptly shut off, though soon after I found a way to watch it and became forever enthralled by Prince's music, body, and movements. A few years later, my adolescent faith already in decline, it was time for me to become an adult member of the church through the sacrament of confirmation. I was told to select a confirmation name, perhaps a saint who represented the type of Christian I wished to be. I chose Apollonia, patron saint of dentistry, a martyr who was tortured by having all of her teeth violently pulled out. (My mother, no dumb cookie, put a quick end to this as well. I ended up with Anne.)

In college, regular visits to church behind me, I spent hours listening and dancing to Prince with my roommates Avi and Patty. "If I Was Your Girlfriend"—as much a celebration of our intense friendship as cunnilingus and female orgasm—was one of our hymns. "I'll do it so good, I swear I'll drink every ounce / And then I'll hold you tight and hold you long," Prince promised, giving me faith that eventually I might find a like-minded partner.

Prince was, in fact, a sexy MF. But there was always something transcendent and divine about his eroticism. He taught me sex wasn't filthy. At its best, it's generous and holy. ANGELA GARBES

Let's Pretend We're Married

I’m certain my husband and I weren’t the first people to do this. Prince has to have appeared at countless weddings in this way. But I’m pretty sure this particular Prince appearance was a first for Polebridge, Montana.

The town is remote and off the grid, meaning it has no sewer system and its electricity comes from either solar power or generators. The Polebridge business district consists of two businesses: a log-cabin-style saloon and a red-painted mercantile. The end. At night, a lot of the lights are of the sort created by a match held to a propane-fed mantle.

We were in Polebridge because it’s a wild, beautiful spot on the edge of Glacier National Park. But it was way out there.

The ceremony was held in a field facing the mountains. The reception was in the same field, on the other side of the log cabin we were staying in. The music came from an iPod hooked up to speakers powered by a gas generator. The guests came from rural and urban America, and a lot of them had never been to a gay wedding before. Polebridge, we were told, had never seen a gay wedding before, either. It was August of last year, a month and a half after the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. It was also a few years after my now-husband dressed as the Purple One, circa Purple Rain, for Halloween (black leggings, hand-dyed purple blouse with ruffled collar, generous mascara).

After dinner, before the dancing, I hit play on the benediction: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…

It echoed loud across the field, the voice of a freaky genius who’d long ago risen above his country’s culture wars by bending people on all sides to his will and talent. Everyone—rural and urban, young and old, gay and straight—knew what to do next. Go crazy. ELI SANDERS

Family Affair

This lovely line is from Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle: “A naked man on a naked horse is a fine spectacle; I had no idea how well the two animals suited each other.” If only Darwin had lived long enough (just a little under 100 years) to see the spectacle I saw on the back of an album cover in a Washington, DC, record store. It was the image of a beautiful man on a winged horse. He was naked, brown, and so otherworldly. And I did something that day that I had never done before: I bought a record. It was made by the blurry brown man on the white horse. The name of the album was his name, Prince. And the track I could not stop listening to was “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and not just for its rocking post-disco funk beat, but also because it had a line that really mystified me.

I understood perfectly what Prince meant by “I wanna be your lover” and also “I wanna turn you on.” I thought I understood the meaning of “I wanna be the only one you come for.” But what in the world was this: “I wanna be your brother, I wanna be your mother and your sister, too”?

My 10-year-old brain could not make sense of it. Was he still talking about the lover? Why would a man want to be his lover’s sister? Again and again, I listened to this brother/mother/sister line with the same uneasy enchantment with which one would stare at a half-human/half-fish creature floating near the bottom of a pond in the middle of a dark-green forest.

I have never broken the spell of Prince’s enchantment. Indeed, its power intensified during my teenage years with songs like “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “Erotic City” (to say nothing of “Sister” from Dirty Mind). It was a spell that vaporized stable orders like boyfriend/girlfriend, man/woman, friend/lover. My sexual development would have been so colorless without the music, the taboo moods, and the androgynous beauty of Prince. CHARLES MUDEDE

A Child Once Thought I Was Prince, and I’m Still Laughing About It

In the summer of 1983, I was finishing a long run through my neighborhood in Southfield, Michigan, when a boy of about 5 or 6 saw me and shouted "Prince!" as I strode past him. This exclamation, uh... surprised me. Granted, our skin tone and hair color and hairstyle were fairly similar back then, but nobody had ever made that comparison before, nor has anyone done so since. I was flattered and, if I weren't running, I would have ROFL'd. Thirty-three years later, it's still one of the funniest experiences of my life. Back in 1983, Prince's fame was so rampant, even kindergartners knew about him.

Growing up in the Detroit area, I had access to WGPR (and later WJLB) and diligently tuned in to cult DJ Electrifying Mojo's show for a nightly dose of freaky funk, soul, new wave, electro, and techno. To say Mojo was a Prince champion would be like saying the Purple One admired Sly Stone—a hyperbolic understatement. Mojo's show introduced me to Prince in 1980; he had nearly every track from Dirty Mind in heavy rotation. They all sounded staggeringly libido-liberating. Dirty Mind is still my favorite Prince LP, because funkiness and sexiness have rarely conjugated so blatantly and freshly.

When Controversy came out in 1981, Mojo played the hell out of it, too—sometimes spinning the title track many times in a row. He could do that, because he was a radio law unto himself. I don't think many complained. Mojo's listeners became very intimate with Controversy, and after the tumescent one-two thrust of Dirty Mind and Controversy, I made sure to follow Prince's slick moves throughout the 1980s, a decade he ruled with a velvet fist. If there was a spike of births around then, some of the blame must be laid at the guitar pedals of Prince Rogers Nelson. DAVE SEGAL

Jack U Off

I maintained a respectful and dignified silence when Antonin Scalia died, because I had nothing nice to say about the man and I wasn't sad about seeing him off the Supreme Court. I went quiet when David Bowie died, but not for the same reason. He seemed like a great guy, and I appreciated his politics, sexual and otherwise, and I enjoyed him in The Hunger. But I wasn't a big fan of his music. So I maintained a respectful and dignified silence while his fans, my husband included, flooded onto Twitter to grieve.

I felt the same when Prince died. I had nothing to say.

Well, there was one thing I could've said.

Prince touched me in a very specific, very personal way—we shared one very special moment, long ago, although he never knew about it. Hopefully we've reached the "share funny stories" about the departed time of the wake, so here goes: In the summer of 1984, when I was 17 years old, friends dragged me to see Purple Rain. And that night... in my childhood bedroom... I had my last wet dream ever. Prince was the only pop star I ever had a wet dream about. As a teenager, I lusted after Andy Gibb and Leif Garrett and Shaun Cassidy, and... nothing. Get dragged to a movie I didn't want to see starring a singer I didn't care about one way or the other and... BOOM.

Prince's sex appeal was that strong, strong enough to break through the shaggy-haired-white-boy blinders I had on. I never liked his music, but Prince helped me to realize that I was attracted to more types of guys than I realized or had allowed myself to realize. And for that I'm grateful. DAN SAVAGE