“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Electric word, life. It means forever and that’s a mighty long time, but I’m here to tell you there is something else…” That’s how he called us all to attention on the opening track of Purple Rain. Letting us know that what was to come after would be like nothing else and that, if we completed the journey, we would be forever changed. Then he blew our minds. So, with a nod to the purple one won’t you please join me now as we stand and make, the Afterlife.
It was 1984, I had a lot going on. I was in middle school, a little older than my son is now. Thinking about that is frightening, when I consider the sort of things that troubled me in those days when I was trying to figure out who I was going to be. When we weren’t looking out for Orwellian subtext, we mostly rode our BMX and 3-wheelers, maybe played a little Lemonade Stand and Tai-Pan on the Apple IIe, you know for education. I joke, but as I help juggle “just in time” inventory issues, forecast sales projections versus inventory on hand and allocate resources, maybe that time wasn’t wasted after all. Better than dying of dysentery, anyway. I remember when my dad brought that vinyl copy of Purple Rain home. I could not wait to fire it up on the big Fisher stereo in the den, the one with the equalizer and the speakers mounted on the wall. Track 1, Side 1 was “Let’s Go Crazy” with that amazing call to action in the opening and an absolutely face blistering guitar solo to close things out and nothing but purply goodness in between. I loved cranking it up when no one was home and playing air guitar in my Underoos. That opening chord on the organ always makes me smile and I can’t help singing along. It happened this morning as I listened to my son act his way through the opening on the way to the office. He’s got it down, hand gestures and all. I did that. Yeah, totally my fault. Not sure if I should apologize to him or say you’re welcome. I guess he will have to figure out what to do with the things I have handed down.
Naturally, the name of this one made me think of Prince. I stumbled across it while looking for cocktails using Fireball “whiskey” or cinnamon schnapps. I was intrigued by the ingredients and when I saw the name I immediately heard that organ fire up. Of course, the lyric actually references the afterworld, but we aren’t going to let a little detail like that stand in the way of a good hook. We had some luck with a fireball infused, liquid version Cinnamon Toast Crunch, so let’s see if our good fortune holds out.
Grab your tins and pop in 1 1/2 ounces of tequila, I chose Lunazul Reposado; 1/2 an ounce of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, 1/2 an ounce of Fireball Cinnamon “whiskey” or cinnamon Schnapps, 1/2 an ounce of fresh squeezed lemon juice and 2 stabs of Angostura bitters. Add some of those artisanal ice cubes and shake to the beat of “Let’s Go Crazy“, as if there could be any other choice today. When your tins are well chilled and a bit of frost begins to form, strain over pebble ice into a chalice fit for a Prince. Toss in an expressed lemon peel wrapped around a cinnamon stick, if you are feeling fancy, and serve.
That’s interesting. Light, refreshing and surprising. The tequila sort of fades back, letting the lemon, cinnamon and Frangelico take center stage. If I did not know any better I would say that this has apple in it, but I know better, so I am not going to say that. Maybe apples are made of cinnamon and lemons. how would I know? I’m no botanist. I spent my formative years playing video games, riding bikes and surfing the fine line between making the house shake and blowing my dad’s speakers. It’s a good drink, though. A nice sipper, not terribly nuanced, but not everything has to be.
Watching the kid sing along this morning I could not help feeling some trepidation. I know what he has got coming up over the next few years and I hope that I have dropped enough actual wisdom and life skills in there to help him navigate it, along with that penchant for the dramatic. There are a ton of lessons he’s just going to have to learn on his own and I hate that. I wish I could save him the heartache, but that’s not how it works. I can’t upload the experience and as much as you try to teach, some lessons just have to be lived. It’s like my grandpa used to say, “Those who can’t hear, can feel.” He was right. He taught me a lot and he tried to teach me so much more. All those things that I did not really understand until after I messed them up on my own. Lessons that could only be appreciated in retrospect. I could not hear, so I got to feel them.
I learned a lot from him and I am still surprised and secretly pleased when I catch myself doing something Pa would have done. He always said to “get as rough as you need to, to get the job done, but no rougher.” That was true whether I was trying to break loose a rusty bolt, dealing with a bully or leaving behind a life that no longer worked for me. Most of his lessons had more than one application. He got rough, but only when he needed to, which was pretty rare. He was known for his storytelling, his ability to fix most anything and his kindness. One of the things I remember most was just how tenderhearted he could be. Often when telling stories of friends and family who went on before him, he would tear up, sometimes having to take a moment before continuing. He’d just take his handkerchief out of his pocket, wipe his eyes, blow his nose and go on. Never apologizing or even really acknowledging his tears. They were just just a natural response to sadness and nostalgia. That may not seem like much to you, but to me, that was huge. I had been sold on a different idea of what manhood would mean and I often had trouble being tough and hiding my feelings. Here was a grown man, an eminent member of his community, crying openly, without apology. No one thought he was weak because he showed his emotions. In fact, his openness showed me what true strength was; it takes real courage to be open and honest with the world. He did not realize he was teaching me how to be more fully myself by his example, but I was listening and feeling, though I may not have known it at the time.
I was blindsided by this a couple of weeks ago when I went to the library for the first time in a while. I had to check on a book I placed their collection many moons ago with the help of a dear friend from college, who was circulation director at the time. She passed three years ago and I miss her more than I admit, even to myself. We had one of those wonderful friendships where we would not talk for months and then just pick up where we left off. I turned to her for advice way more than anyone realized and I just loved her spirit and open approach to life. We were kindred spirits in some strange way that I could never quite define, but we just got each other. I found the book on the shelf where expected and while reading the liner notes aloud to my wife and son, I was overcome with grief and began crying, right there in front of everyone. I took a moment, to regain enough composure that I could speak without too many sobs and then went on reading words I wrote about my friend way back when we thought we would live forever. They weren’t even good words, just a simple thank you for her support. In that moment, though, it all hit me, in a way it did not at the funeral. The idea that we would never meet up for one of our random coffee and conversation sessions, that she’d never call me to insist that I drop everything and go read some book, right now. That we would never finish our pen pal correspondence; a series of letters going back and forth for years between two imagined characters, that we never once acknowledged or referenced in real life. No more late night chats looking out at the city lights from Love Circle or sobering up at Hermitage Cafe. All of that and more, all at once. It was a lot to process, too many feelings, the loss made suddenly real, so I cried.
My family is used to seeing me cry, that was no surprise, but the way it came upon me all of a sudden was a shock, for me as well as them. When I finished the passage, the boy immediately began hugging me and asking what was wrong. I told him that it’s hard to understand, but I was only crying now because I had been so blessed before. That the pain I was feeling in that moment is just the memory of the love I felt for my friend. That grief was the cost of love for the ones who remain and how lucky I was to have friends who I cared about that much. How the memory of loved ones is in itself a sort of afterlife and the pieces of yourself that you share, the memories you create with others in life will live on beyond you. I am not sure if he was listening, but over time he will feel that lesson. As we walked out, I could not help but think of Pa and how he’d be overcome when talking about friends who had gone before. There is a part of me, who had to smile, proud that I was able to cry in front of folks with my head held high, another of those things I learned from Pa. My cheeks still stained with tears, I though about how he always had a handkerchief, just in case. Maybe I should have paid attention to that part of the lesson, as well. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane my friends.