P is for Prince at Lincoln Center – And That Time I Woke Up Locked Inside Avery Fisher Hall

Every day in April I will be participating in the A to Z Blog Challenge. Each day I will write a post dealing with an issue that is near and dear to me that starts with the letter of the Alphabet the corresponds with the day of the month. Neat right? Today is April 16th so the letter of the day is P.

P is for Prince at Lincoln Center. And How I Woke up Locked Inside.

Red-eye flights are a bitch, amirite? You never sleep as well as you think you will, and even if you do, who goes to sleep at 11pm and wakes up at 5:30am? Nobody I ever wanna be. Kinda wish they would schedule them for 2am-10am. That would fit my sleep style. I can face the world if I get started at 10am. 5:30am, not so much, I still gotta get home from the airport and take another nap. But that’s cuz I’m at the ripe old-man age of 39. In my 20s, I’d just get loaded at the airport, drink a few more on the plane pass out for a few, and play on through! I lost the interest and / or ability to do that in my 30s, but thankfully this story takes place in 2001, when I was just a pup at 28.

I had been in LA for a few days, no doubt falling victim to the inescapable soul-sucking that has limited recent visits to 72 hours. Twice as long as I can endure Las Vegas!! I had a red eye flight back to JFK, then headed straight to the belly of the best… the bowels of the former paper factory at 161 Hudson Street aka my windowless shared basement office of the Wetlands. I really had made it in the glamorous music business back then, hadn’t I?

I may not have been raking in the dough – but on that particular day the fruits of my labour had been juiced into a single ticket to see Prince at Lincoln Center. Then, as now, being able to see Prince was a rarity. Seeing him in anything smaller than an arena, almost an impossibility. I’ve seen Prince 25-30 times at this point, but back then I was at 6 or 7, so I was super fucking excited. After a long day of taking beer deliveries, answering hippie queeries on the phone, and occasionally making time to book a band or two, I headed uptown to the place where classy people went to see classy music. Lincoln Fucking Center. I don’t have pics to verify what I was wearing that night, but surely it wasn’t appropriate.

To this point in my my life, the overwhelming majority of my nightly outings consisted the four corners of passable entertainment. Places where I could:

1. Hear people playing loud, distorted guitars
2. Get free drinks
3. Find someone who would wanna fuck me
4. Get free drinks

So of course it blew my mind that not only were the drinks EXPENSIVE at Lincoln Center, you couldn’t even bring them inside the theatre! Muthafackos! I looked at my watch I had 13 minutes until showtime. How many double Jack Daniels on the rocks could I buy and drink in that time? More than I could afford, which was probably a good thing – so I dropped all the cash I had, guzzled most of what they gave me, let some run down my chin, and stumbled into the middle seat of a middle row of the first tier center balcony. Sweet spot. Dead-on view of the stage.

But it quickly dawned on me that I didn’t wanna see what was happening there. Seeing Prince live for a long stretch in the 2000’s meant not knowing what you were gonna get. It seemed he was going all Bob Dylan and only appeasing himself, and purposely not giving a fuck about his hits, which is what people were buying tickets to see. Unbeknownst to me, or to anyone in the crowd, Prince had swan dived his pretty little ass brain deep into the whirling pool of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I hear he’s still swimming in that pool, too. God bless him and his little high heeled boots. Nowadays if I go to Prince show and get an uninspired jazzathon while he talks about the joys of Jehovah-ism, I’d understand that’s a chance I was taking when I put my money down. But that night, I was a more than a little bit surprised, shocked, saddened, and, due to not sleeping and all the god damn Jack Daniels, shall we say, sedated.

Prince took the stage and from the outset it was pretty obvious we wouldn’t be getting a greatest hits set. He was playing sole, meandering Jazz, and before long he launched into a tiring monologue about God and Jehova, and witnessing some sort of shit. Honestly he had lost me at God, and I sunk down into my seat and thought maybe I could pass this part of the show with a little bit of shuteye. I must have slumped a bit too far down into my seat because the next thing I knew, I woke up inside of a completely empty auditorium. Completely empty. Empty seats, empty stage, not even a lowly fuckin broom pusher. I felt like I had woken up inside a Kubrick film. I had no idea where I was or what was happening. I reached for my phone, and found it, but it’s battery was a dead as the silence of room I had awakened in. Whoops. Slowly, the double barreled sting of the whiskey and the cobwebs began to recede my memory made up some ground. Right… I had been here to see Prince. But where the fuck was he? And where were the thousands of other people?? And the band? And the instruments?? And the fucking sound system??? There was literally nothing left. No trace of there having been a concert what I imagined was still that night.

I had no frame of reference for tie or space at that point. You could have told me that I had slept for a week or that there had never even been a show and both would have been perfectly plausible to me. After a few minutes trying to gain some sense of composure, I figured it was time to get the fuck out of there. I made my way up the stairs to the back of the balcony and pushed open the doors… CLANG! they were chained shut. From the outside. Like how they used to do at my middle school auditorium. I stumbled over to another set of doors… Chained shut again. Every set of doors in the balcony were chained shut! Fuck. I thought about just laying down and spending the night in the theater, but then imagined the awkward explanation I’d have to give in the morning when someone finally found me, and decided I was going to get the fuck out.

the only way out was down. To the floor. And it wasn’t an easy drop. But fuck, I had plenty of experience falling. So I positioned myself on the edge of the balcony over the empty aisle on the floor, and climbed over the ledge. With both feet over I lowered myself down til I was dangling in the air and… Just. Let. Go. I collapsed to floor with a massive thud, and spent the next few minutes on my back admiring the intricacies of the acoustical ceiling of the hall. When I was able to breath regularly again, I tried to stand up. Shit. That worked too. Now one foot in front of the other til I find a fucking exit. Which of course was tougher than I thought. Same shit downstairs. The whole place was on lockdown. Next time they are building a new auditorium at Lincoln Center I’m gonna become a fucking chain salesmen.

Like the song the Allmans stole from Elmore James, I knew there had to be One Way Out, so I climbed up onto the stage. I hopped up there, and it never even occurred to me to sing a song. I was just hoping to follow my nose towards a few sniffs of fresh air. I found a hallway that lead off the back of the stage and to the dressings rooms. Every single one of them was empty. Not a trace of the Purple One. Not even a whiff of lilac remained in the air. I wandered deeper into the bowels of the backstage, and in an appropriate nod to Spinal Tap, came across and old black janitor who barely looked up at me when I asked where the nearest exit was, and pointed me towards it. When I finally came across the exit there was a big signs on the door that said EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY – ALARM WILL SOUND. I literally kicked the door open and stepped out onto West 66th street. As I sucked in my first breath of that fresh, free, Upper West Side Air, I heard sirens coming from down the block and imagined they had to be for me… but I didn’t stick around to find out. All my friends had planned to go see George Clinton and P Funk in Times Square that night, where Prince was rumored to be going after his own show as well. I didn;t even have any clue as to what time it was, so I ducked into the subway station and boarded the #1 train uptown for Harlem. When I finally got home I found out it was only 2:30AM. Even if Prince had shown up and raged with P-Funk, I was positive that I had the more memorable after party.