Today is one of those freaky days that unfolds with all the predictability of a stepped on rattlesnake. On my bicycle ride to work I dropped my wallet near the intersection of Crackhead and Junky in West Oakland.
I was nearing a stage five freakout thinking about how god damned irritating it is to replace a wallet when a nice lady at the bank called and said some cool, unknown person found it on her way to work and dropped it off at the Grand Lake branch. This is the kind of shit that never happens in San Francisco, a place I now refer to as Techno Mordor.
I keep getting surprised by the warmth and generosity of Oakland. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are kids out there with the disposition of Liberian child soldiers and you couldn’t leave your grandma in an unlocked car and expect her to be there when you get back, but every single time I think I’m about to have a serious problem with someone, they end up smiling and saying, “how are you doing today?” It’s the weirdest damn thing.
Part of my hesitancy to move to Oakland had everything to do with how much like New Orleans it is: high crime, tolerance for decay and filth, degenerate liberal government run by the willfully ignorant, shady pastors, burned up cars, and animosity towards anything that might improve neighborhoods if it’s done by anyone who wasn’t born there.
But people say hello here when you pass them here. I can’t tell you how refreshing that is after spending 15 years in a city defined by the callousness of the successful and the politics of the uninformed.
Just like New Orleans, Oakland has a certain spirit that is glorious to experience and available to anyone with the right amount of patience and hope. I’m still figuring it out here and just about every day I find something new to like while I’m stepping over piles of garbage and half burned mattresses. It’s complex and it challenges all expectations. There’s faith and despair. Beauty and blight. Culture and entropy.
I think this is why Prince was so charmed with Oakland. He played two shows here recently and even sat court side at a Warriors game. I tried to get tickets to the last show here, but that shit sold out fast. The lesson here is if you want to do something, make it happen or there might not be another chance.
My mom actually got me into Prince. I found Prince’s 1999 on tape in her convertible’s ashtray after I crashed the car into another at the age of 15. For some reason I grabbed it and stuffed it into my pocket right as I got out of the wrecked car. If you’ve never had the pleasure of totaling a vehicle, you’re missing out on the strangely disorienting feeling only a freshly popped airbag provides. When they deploy, there’s some sort of smokey powder that flies everywhere and makes it seem like the car’s on fire for a hot second. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt (thanks again for the guidance mom) and that bag blasted me right in the money maker.
Over the next few years I listened to that album over and over again, but it didn’t have the case, so I didn’t really know anything else about Prince. I was incredibly shocked when I read the liner notes to NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine to see that Trent Reznor thanked him. If you go back and listen to that album you can definitely hear some of the influence.
Prince was in the background of a pretty sizable chunk of my time living in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District. Two close friends, Eric and Susan, were super down with the purple one. If I recall correctly I watched Purple Rain at Eric’s house. Ever since then I’ve wanted to build a replica of the bike from that movie.
I don’t really have much more to say about Prince. The dude was an all time great and the world dimmed when he left. I hope some young people recognize how original he was and strive to be that good, because if not we’re going to be stuck with bullshit autotuned Disney dorks. And that ain’t no kind of future worth living in.