Golden Memories

As told by Ben Petrik

"Prince entered my life back in 1983 with Little Red Corvette. Not only was it such a fantastic song, but his image and stage presence in the video for that song captivated me—I was only ten years old at the time, but I knew that there was something otherworldly about him and was drawn to him immediately.

I remember when I bought the 1999 album, it scared the life out of me!! You’ve got his eyeballs on the record labels, there’s this mysterious photo of him doing semi-nude watercolor paintings in his bed, and the song lyrics—oh my word, the lyrics to Let’s Pretend We’re Married alone were enough for me to hurry up and put the headphones into the stereo jack!! But I loved every minute of it. It was like being transported to another world that, without Prince, I might never have heard about. After taking a day or two to digest all that I had heard, 1999 went back onto the turntable and never left my heart. To this day, it’s my favorite Prince album.

I was lucky enough to see Prince live four times: The Love 4 One Another Tour at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC; the Jam of The Year Tour at Jones Beach in Long Island, the New Power Soul Tour at Irving Plaza in NYC, and the Musicology Tour at the Hartford Civic Center in Connecticut. I was very spoiled and was never further than 20 feet from the stage for any of these shows. Musicology was my favorite. It felt like a giant celebration of not only his past accomplishments, but also his recent victories that year, like the 20th anniversary of Purple Rain, the success of Musicology, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. He made us feel like the arena was his house and we were having a big party to celebrate all of this.

As a person, Prince taught me to follow my heart…to listen to that voice in your head that tells you to do things a certain way, even when the whole world tells you otherwise. To stand your ground if you know you’re right.

Twenty years ago, people thought he was nuts to take on the recording industry, to release his music on his own label, and to stand up for the art that he created. Now, he’s being cited by musicians, even those who aren’t huge fans of him, as being revolutionary and ahead of his time for fighting those battles and making sure he had control over his art. I think THAT, more than all the accolades he received as an artist, would mean the world to him if he was still with us to hear it.

As for his music, he never wrote the same song twice; not for himself, and not for any act that he worked with. To be so prolific and to not copy yourself, he was my generation’s Mozart, and I can say that not only did I get to experience his gifts as they happened, but he also knew who I was and knew that I appreciated his gifts. Here’s how it happened: Back in 1995, I was a DJ at my college radio station, WXCI-FM in Danbury, Connecticut. Prince had a new album coming out, The Gold Experience, and our program director was gracious enough to let me do a four-hour all-Prince special to help promote the album. I played hits, album tracks, songs he wrote for other artists, unreleased music, live recordings, and I gave away copies of the new album. It was an awesome time, and I wondered how many people listened to it while it was going on.

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It turns out that a lot of people were listening.

Two days later I got a call from Warner Bros, Prince's record label at the time. Apparently, numerous Prince chat rooms (keep in mind this was 1995) were listening and talking about the show, and word of it got back to Prince. He told his record company to get in touch with me and see if I would give him a copy of the show. In return, he would send me a limited-edition of The Gold Experience that was pressed on gold-colored vinyl. 

I was speechless.

About a week after sending the tapes, I got another call from Warner Bros. It was an associate of Prince's. He told me the following: "Prince got the tapes. He's listening to them, and he likes them." And then, much like The Shadow, Prince and his team vanished out of my life, never to be heard from again.

I still have The Gold Experience vinyl, but this memory is truly worth its weight in gold.

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I attempted to make a living as a DJ and as an arts and entertainment writer, but I was very stubborn in my youth and had problems with taking orders from people who tried to get me to go along with their own agendas. I was never one for compromise. I can’t imagine who I possibly could’ve learned that from! As I look back on it, I have no regrets. If I had stayed on that path, I never would’ve met my wife or been blessed with my four amazing sons.

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Prince and his music have been an almost-daily presence in my life since 1983. The only other person I can honestly say that about is my mother, which is probably why Prince’s death has affected me almost as much as my mother’s death twelve years ago. I’m still not over his death. It’s like I lost an older brother…an older brother who I was in touch with almost every day, who taught me to be true to myself and to be caring to all the people around me. I miss him terribly."