Prince performing at the United Center in 2012 Credit: Bobby Talamine

Prince dug Chicago. In an awkward interview I conducted with him via e-mail back in 2012, he wrote, “CHICAGO IS A MUSIC TOWN. MY FATHER SPOKE OF IT OFTEN AS BEING ONE OF THE PLACES HE LIKED 2 PLAY BEST. THEY HAVE SEEN THE BEST AND EXPECT NOTHING LESS.”

Thanks to Prince, Chicagoans saw the best many times. By my estimation, he played here 48 times. (In addition to concerts and aftershows, that figure includes an appearance on Oprah, a few afterparties where he barely showed his face, and the wedding reception of Mellody Hobson and aspiring museum curator George Lucas.) Growing up on the south side, I was fortunate enough to see a bunch of them, and while I can’t catalogue the myriad moments of musical brilliance I witnessed, these were the three moments that stood out among the montage of sensory overload that overtook my brain upon hearing the news of Prince’s death yesterday. 

July 28, 1984: It will not be until December when I spend all the money I earn bagging groceries to attend the Purple Rain tour stop at the Rosemont Horizon, accompanied by two beautiful Croatian clerks enrolled at an all-girls Catholic high school. But my greatest Prince memory of that year is taking the #6 bus to the Chicago Theatre to see the second showing on Purple Rain on the Saturday of opening weekend. Outside the theater numerous south-side teens in Prince drag queue up, and when I make it in alongside these men in mascara, we have to sit in the aisles and on the steps, as very few people left after the first matinee. Inspired by the film (which I watch only once before leaving), I beeline to what I recall as the head shop next to the video game parlor off State Street (or was there a counter in the back of the arcade?) and buy a rude boy pin, a bootleg Prince poster, and a studded leather wristband.

March 2, 2002: Prince fan club members receive a morning e-mail inviting us to the afternoon sound check at the Chicago Theatre. Due to the last-minute notice and people having actual jobs, there aren’t much more than 100 in attendance, lounging in the historic theater’s plush seats. It feels like hanging out in a high school auditorium during a free period. Prince casually addresses the intimate crowd numerous times, the weirdest of which is when he announces that if anyone has lost their keys, “Billy” has them. We look to the right and see Billy Sparks, the club owner from Purple Rain (apparently still part of the Prince entourage), dangling the keychain that the thoughtful superstar is helping a lucky fan retrieve.

July 22, 2004: My wife and I are in the second row at this United Center concert in the round when, during an extended spotlight sax solo by Maceo Parker, I sort of realize that Prince himself is in front of us handing out Jehovah’s Witness tracts. I say “sort of” because my brain genuinely cannot process what is happening. Alas, the encounter fails to convert me to his adopted religion, but that bizarre moment is one of thousands that makes it clear that I’d followed the correct path decades earlier when I put my faith in that tiny purple prophet.