The Teenager Formerly Known as Me: Or How Baby Got His Groove On by Cheryl Dumesnil

"You'll never guess what Jess' dad offered me." Through the phone, I heard the freeway rushing past Tracie's open car window, warbling the sound of her voice.
"What?" I asked, sitting on the edge of our bed, short of breath from rushing my seven-and-a-half-months pregnant self down the hall to answer the call.
"Tickets to the Prince concert."
"What?! No F-ing way."
My wife, Tracie, works with children with autism. Occasionally the grateful parents of one of her clients will bestow upon her an unexpected gift. Well, this time her client Jess had scored an appointment with an impossible-to-see specialist in Chicago on the same day that his parents had tickets to see Prince in Oakland. The little boy's dad called to see if Tracie would be interested in the tickets.
"Yes way," she confirmed, laughing. "Perfect timing, huh?"
Oh man, perfect indeed. Having successfully cleared most of the worry hurdles of this pregnancy—the "don't tell anyone yet" first trimester, the genetic screening, the gestational diabetes test—we had begun discussing some less pressing fears about our son-to-be. For instance, last night's dinner table conversation: What if our kid can't dance? While many forward-thinking pregnant mamas were strapping classical-music-blasting headphones to their bubble bellies to stimulate genius-level brain development, Tracie and I had decided that our son needed a steady diet of old school funk to inject some rhythm into his blood.
And now this. "Perfect," I laughed. Baby, get ready to meet a master of funk.
Prince. A little history: as a fifteen-year-old, white, suburban, Catholic schoolgirl, I had what some might call an unnaturally strong craving for Prince. I mean, I did some "normal" fan things—posters and rare 45s tacked to my bedroom wall, a highly prized, complete collection of his albums (vinyl, of course). And then, I did some things that kicked me over to the "obsessed fan" category, like the clothes. My wardrobe included high-necked Victorian lace collars, rhinestone broaches, an array of lace stockings and gloves, a blue satin tux-style jacket with tails, a silver smoking jacket with black lapels, and—my favorite—a full length, crinkled satin trench coat, black. All of this I wore to school with pride, making sure that my outfits didn't break the conservative dress code in terms of sleeve or skirt length. Basically, I took all my fashion cues from Prince and his side-kicks, Wendy and Lisa, including the black eyeliner and the tidal wave of hair combed over to one side of my head and affixed there with, not barrettes, but Aqua Net Extra Super Hold.
But—here comes the embarrassing part—the obsession didn't stop there. No, I was not just a fan of Prince. On some level, I actually believed we were psychically connected. Here's proof: One day, as my sister and I were driving around in her Mercury Lynx, listening to the radio, a Bangles song came on. I said, "Oh, remember this song? I know this song . . . Where did I hear it before?"
My sister shrugged, "I don't know, I've never heard it before."
But I knew the song sounded familiar to me. Then the radio announcer chimed in, "That was a brand new one, ‘Manic Monday' sung by The Bangles, written by Prince." A swirl of déjà vu overtook me as I recalled this scene: Prince had come to me in a dream. He wanted me to hear a song he had just written, "Manic Monday." You see, I really was important to him—his confidant, his first critic. He pressed play on a tape recorder, and I listened. I told him, "I like it, but it doesn't really sound like you."
End of dream.
Now, the realist in me said, "Cheryl, you sleep with your radio on. You probably heard an interview with Prince while you were sleeping, and that explains his voice in your dream." Ah, yes, but Prince didn't give interviews. So how could that be possible? And a fifteen-year-old listening to her realist voice? Equally impossible. No, I was sure of it: Prince had spoken to me in a dream—proof positive that he and I were spiritually connected, meant to know each other. Maybe I'd be the next Sheila E., Apollonia, or Vanity? All we had to do was meet.
Which is why it was such a blow to me when my mother, whose introduction to Prince's music happened while we were tooling around in her Audi 5000 listening to the Purple Rain soundtrack, refused to let me go to the Prince concert.
"What? Why not?" I insisted.
"I don't think he's appropriate for you."
"But Mom, that's what people said about Elvis and you liked him."
"But my mother didn't let me go to his concert."
"So. This is your chance to be a cool mom. How could you not let me go to Prince?"
But I already knew the answer to that question. I had made a mistake. Not only had I boldly affixed the "Prince laying apparently naked in bed with a purple satin sheet pulled halfway down his bare ass" poster right next to my own bed, I had, when listening to Purple Rain in my mom's car, slipped and forgotten to fast forward past the song "Darling Nikki." My bad. Mom, only half listening to the music, caught the words "saw her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine" and yelped, "What did he just say? Turn that off." Not only that, but Prince was the man who had inspired my mother's pink-Izod-shirt-and-plaid-Bermuda-shorts-wearing daughter's transformation into a satin, lace, and black eyeliner freak. No, definitely no, I—the biggest Prince fan at St. Francis High School—would not be going to the Prince concert.
Mom's Prince ban extended to the movie Purple Rain as well. But sneaking into a movie was a lot easier than getting to a concert on the sly. So I defied orders, enlisted a friend's seventeen-year-old sister to buy us the R-rated tickets, and sobbed wildly when the film ended. Truthfully, I remember very little about the movie, other than a vague sense that Prince's character was abused and unhappy, which meant I, as his spiritual mate, felt abused and unhappy with him.
I cried again, weeks later, when my friends who had attended the concert brought me two t-shirts (which I still have) and a silk flower that had fallen from the sky during one of Prince's signature prop drops. The closest I would get to my intended.
These days, I can see Mom's point. Who wants her attention-hungry, fifteen-year-old daughter exposed to a live show of exhibitionist sexuality? Not my mom. Back then Prince was my messiah—god of taboo breaking, gateway to all things sexual and sensual. No one talked about sex in my house—not straight sex, and certainly not gay sex. In fact, at the time, to me gay people seemed like mystical creatures, characters that showed up in the background in movies and books, but never took center stage, rather like Prince chicks Wendy and Lisa. I mean, I had heard that lesbians existed, but as far as I knew there were, like, six of them and they all lived in New York. Suffice it to say I didn't really even know how to be curious about my sexuality. Repressed, repressed, repressed. Then along came this guy—who looked rather like a girl, I might add—bumping and grinding, rubbing his crotch up against his guitar and telling us what that felt like. His lyrics were the equivalent of on-stage masturbation. I was entranced.
The trance, however intense, didn't last long, though. Within a few years Prince moved though my life like my earlier attractions to unicorns and soccer had. For no apparent reason, I stopped collecting albums after "Kiss" hit the airwaves. Eventually, I packed up the Prince posters and records, and they sat in my closet, and now sit in my garage, reminder of that dark and loamy awakening of sexuality.
Jump ahead 20 years, and here's my wife calling me on the phone, telling me we have tickets to see Prince. Good tickets. Fifth row seats. "What? Really?" I rubbed my basketball-pregnant belly with my open palm. Yes, after a long hiatus, the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince was back in my life. Beneath my hand, the baby gave me a couple arrhythmic kicks. Tickets to a Prince concert. This was going to be good for my kid and for me.
Right under the line that said "No cameras, no bottles," the tickets advised, "wear purple." So I did -- a gauze tank top stretched grape-skin tight over my rather large baby bump. Why not? Though I had wondered if attending the concert would send me spinning headlong into a cocktail of remembered teen angst and retrospective adult shame, walking up the steps to the venue, surrounded by other later-thirty-somethings clad in lavender tones, some toting their tween-aged kids, I chuckled. A lot. Palpable, the emotional chasm between present-day me and the fifteen-year-old-girl me who would have attended this concert's distant ancestor. At the security check, the guard pointed to the water bottle in my hand, opened his mouth to tell me to dump it, looked at my thirty-fourth-week girth, and said, "Forget it. You can keep it." Strange to feel completely beyond suspicion, especially with my teen rebel ghost self tagging along right next to me. (Note to people who want to sneak alcohol into concert venues: put the clear liquid in your pregnant friend's water bottle.)
Teen me did show up, though. Pre-show, waiting in the drink line in the lounge, I heard a familiar sax riff floating up like memory from the stage downstairs. "Oh. My. God."
"What?!" Tracie reached out to touch my arm, worried I was having a contraction.
"Oh. My. God!"
"What?! What?!"
"It's okay. Wait here," I told her, "I'll be right back."
Skipping out of line, I grabbed the first usher I could find. I mean grabbed, by the arm. "Who is the opening act?" I asked, breathless in my anticipation of her answer.
"The Time," she responded, half smiling at me, waiting to see what this wild-eyed prego would do in response.
"No way. You're freaking kidding me." Morris Day? Jessie? Now, now Jerome?
"Yes. The Time." The teenager took over. I ran. Not kidding. I actually ran, back to Tracie. "I've got to get down there. Meet me at our seats." And then I was gone, descending the stairs faster than a person in my condition should, laughing all the way.
Pure joy. That's what I felt, five rows back from the stage. Close enough to count the earrings in Prince's ear (eleven). Tracie and I sang. We danced. When I sat for a moment to catch my breath, I felt the baby gettin' his own groove on. "Take notes, Kiddo," I advised.
At one point I turned around to look at the crowd behind me. Rows and rows of people busting the same moves they'd debuted on their high school prom dance floors in 1984. What would the ghosts of their twenty-years-ago selves look like? More eyeliner? Fingerless lace gloves? Exposed bustiers? I made eye contact with another very pregnant woman three rows back. We pointed at each other, smiled and nodded like people who had shown up at a club wearing the same shirt or sporting similar tattoos.
Then, in a nausea-like wave it returned: the brewing self-hatred, the rebellious anger that had fueled me as a fifteen year old. Had my mom relented, had I attended the Purple Rain tour, I would have spent the entire time stewing in a desperate sense of lack, hoping to fill it with some recognition from the Purple One—a wink of an eye, a sweaty towel tossed from the stage. I know this because I remember how I had freaked out at the New Edition concert at the Circle Star Theater. And they weren't even my favorite band.
I know fifteen-year-old me would have wasted the whole Prince concert obsessing about getting on stage or backstage. Somehow. Anyhow. Even if it meant amateurishly (and potentially dangerously) seducing a security guard, begging for one fleeting second of eye contact from my soul mate up there humping his guitar amp under the flashing lights. Perhaps my mom knew this too, knew her girl had temporarily but forcefully lost touch with that all-important self-preservation instinct. Had I made it to the Purple Rain concert twenty years ago, returning to Prince in 2004 would mean confronting memories—yes comical, but also painful—of desperate behavior from a girl slowly coming unglued. Instead, as a Prince concert virgin I could enjoy the music free of the specter of public embarrassment. (Thanks, Mom.) Now thirty-five-year-old me could welcome that crazy fan girl home, show her we know how to have a good time without self-destructing. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Two weeks after the concert -- and four weeks early -- our son Brennan was born, purple as an eggplant, screaming, and sending an arc of golden pee across my belly as I lifted him to my chest. Now that was a good performance. To our delight, three years later, he continues to perform, with a deep passion for music, but with no discernable rhythm whatsoever, despite the in-utero tutorials. He composes his own songs, with titles like "You Wi' Trains Soon as Night" (I confirmed that spelling with him) and "Carback 6" ("the number six," he tells me, "not the letters s-i-x").
These tunes he beats out in his avant-garde anti-rhythm, on his Navaho drum, using chopsticks from the local sushi restaurant as drumsticks. Or he plays along on his guitar, refusing convention, laying the instrument flat on the floor and strumming the strings along the neck. And as for his musical taste, he no longer likes James Brown ("because the ‘Wow!' scares me"), but he'll dance all night to the rest of the funk masters, gleefully practicing his signature move: galloping in a tight circle in front of a floor-length mirror, stark naked. Though Brennan's early musical forays indicate a proclivity for German performance art, this move suggests that the Prince concert made its impression after all.