It was after midnight on January 8, 1980 when Wolfman Jack introduced a 21-year-old Prince in his first television appearance on NBC’s Midnight Special.
I was 13 years old at the time, too young to see this appearance and without even a vague knowledge that the television series existed. I wouldn’t even become aware of this appearance until the days following Prince’s death, some 36 years later, at the gone-too-soon age of 57.
As I find myself pouring over every sound byte, every interview I can find on the internet for details of a public-eye life I knew (we all knew) so little about, I realize I never did before because, well, why would I?
Why would I rush to cram information (like I did as a student on the night before a big exam) when Prince was still so larger-than-life vital and we both, clearly, had so much more time—him to make music and me to delve more deeply into the things in life that matter to me?
Only we didn’t. And we don’t.
Prince’s death came as a shock to me because I had not invested much time in learning about him, in listening more to his music, in seeing him perform live.
He had given a solo concert—just His Royal Badness and a piano—at a relatively intimate venue just seven miles from my home less than two weeks before his death. But the show was on a Thursday night, the ticket prices were high,and I was so sure that there would be another chance later.
Only there wouldn’t be.
At only seven years my senior, Prince wrote, produced and performed the soundtrack of my youth.
At the age of 10 (the same age at which I kicked dirt as I dragged my sorry feet to my weekly piano lessons), Prince was teaching himself not only how to play the piano but, quite actually, hundreds of other instruments. By 21 (the same age at which I was graduating from college), Prince had already dropped two albums under the Warner Bros. label and this was after he had been serially turning down offers from other labels for four years because they wouldn’t let him produce his own work.
At the age when I was making out at drinking parties with his music playing in the background, Prince was already curating and parsing volumes of his own body of work, all the while bucking the music industry in order to zealously guard control over every aspect of his personal industry.
At the age when I was first learning the term “sublimation” in my Psych 101 class, Prince was practicing it.
Only we didn’t know he was.
The Prince we knew was flamboyant, outrageous, evocative. Sexually ambiguous yet sexually omnivorous. Physically smaller than most yet iconically larger-than-life. A behemoth gift in a tiny shell.
But this was just the tip of the Prince iceberg.
Beyond the sheer, inarguable genius of his work, Prince’s work ethic was superhuman.
To those who toured with him, he was a pharaoh-like taskmaster, but at whatever level he demanded (and received) from others, he extruded exponentially greater parts from himself.
Referred to by one of his production managers as “a swirling purple column of pure energy and talent,” Prince would keep a grueling schedule on tour, day after day after day. Starting with a sound check with a full band, cue to cue, for three hours before each concert-venue show, he would proceed directly from playing a full-length (three+ hours) show to an after-hours club (preferably with no curfew) where he would jam until the wee-est hours of the morning, followed by a recording session at a studio (kept on 24-hour hold for precisely that purpose) to lay down tracks from sketches and ideas from the after-show. And then he’d do the same thing all over again the next day.
When not touring, he was known to record at least two original songs per day, most of which he would vault.
His vault is storied to house thousands of secret songs, albums, music videos and full-length movies, as well as footage of every one of his live concerts—enough material to release an album per year for the next hundred years.
The sheer magnitude of this life opus is almost unfathomable. Considering that over the span of his 38-year musical career he published only 10% of his work, this is the literal equivalent of a tithe. He invested in his public account just enough to maintain his status in the world of musical performance and kept the rest within his exclusive control.
He gave just enough to keep us wanting more, and even in parsing what he gave us, he was considered beyond prolific. And this is how he led his entire life, holding his cards close to his chest, flashing the slightest glint of his Ace of Spades.
We would learn only after his passing that, beneath the public surface, Prince was deeply religious, comedically genius, musically collaborative, ubiquitously available when friends were downtrodden and unwaveringly devoted to humanitarian efforts that supported “poor people, struggling people, and the African American community.”
He also highly elevated women, both as performers and as sexually embodied beings in their own right.
I did not, could not, know all of this about him before he died. And it is only in knowing all of this about him that I can fully appreciate the gifts he gave to us all—the gifts of his music, philanthropy, courage, his wholeness as the sum of his public and his private lives.
Only now do I finally understand that love isn’t love until it’s past.
Like so many people who write their own bios to accompany their work, Sarah Rosenberg struggles with referring to herself in the third person. Nontheless, she enjoys finding the space that surrounds each of life’s struggles to breathe, explore, laugh, and grow. Sarah believes in fairies, unicorns, soot sprites, and the occasional opportunity life provides to end a sentence with a preposition without fear of reproach. Find her at www.saraheverosenberg.com. She’s there right now.
 Notably, and somewhat presciently, this popular 1970’s and 1980’s American late-night musical variety series that aired well past the bedtime of my 13-year-old self was the same television series to have aired The 1980 Floor Show (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Orwellian classic, 1980-floor), the last performance of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, in 1973.
 Nicole Lyn Pesce for the New York Daily News, Prince’s secret vault of unreleased music could produce albums for another 100 years.
 Allison Glock for espnW.com, A Prince among women: Remembering the artist’s celebration of what was possible.
Photo: Wikimedia: Micahmedia