Author Archives

Kevin Sampsell is the author of a memoir, A Common Pornography, and the novel, This Is Between Us. He works at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon and runs the micropress, Future Tense Books. His writing has appeared in Salon, Hobart, Paper Darts, apt, Wigleaf, Tin House, Longreads, McSweeney's, Portland Review, The Rumpus, Poets & Writers Magazine, Best Sex Writing 2012, Best American Essays 2013, and elsewhere. He also makes collage art, which has appeared in Black Candies, Chicago Quarterly Review, Ohio Edit, 7x7, Kolaj Magazine, and other venues.

The Revolution…Without Prince

Illustration by David Wilson

Kevin Sampsell| Longreads | April 2019 | 11 minutes (2,777of words)

Prince’s “Erotic City” was one of the most played songs at dance clubs in the mid-`80s. If I were with my friend, Angie, and the DJ played this infamously dirty B-side, we’d be on the floor immediately after that first sexy note — a lone string plucked and whammied, dreamlike. Prince was the bond in our friendship, one that started when we were horny teenagers and has lasted in some small way or another throughout the years. Even though we live in the same state, we don’t see each other much. I guess you’d say we’re more like Internet friends these days. We chat about parenting, old friends, or jobs. But back in the day it was pretty hot and heavy, and it seemed like the good chemistry between us was heavily influenced by our love for the one and only Prince Rogers Nelson. Which is why it felt oddly appropriate when Angie messaged me on Instagram last year to see if I wanted to go see Prince’s most popular backing band, The Revolution, at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. “It would be a cool flashback if you wanted to go,” she wrote.


I have to admit, I stopped paying attention to Prince around the time he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol (in 1993), but Angie had stayed a superfan. She interacts with people on Prince message boards, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and newsletters. She has a wardrobe of Prince t-shirts, tank tops, leggings, necklaces, and earrings. She saw him in concert eight times, most recently in Oakland in 2016 on his Piano and a Microphone tour, and before that, in Portland in 2013, when his backing band was the all-female group, 3rdeyegirl. He died less than two months after the Oakland show. Mournfully, she flew to Minneapolis shortly after his death to see The Revolution reunite and perform his songs at the legendary First Avenue nightclub, where scenes from “Purple Rain” take place.

I saw Prince perform only once, at (in my opinion) his creative peak, in 1988 on the Lovesexy tour. Just a year after Sign O’ The Times received rave reviews but before his oddball choice to record a whole album for a Michael Keaton Batman movie. The concert I saw was an elaborate stage show in Seattle, with a horn section, Sheila E. on drums, a seductive dancer named Cat I was obsessed with, and gratuitous stage props like a basketball hoop, a bed, a fountain, and a Ford Thunderbird. Even though The Revolution was not his band at the time, they were his band on his two best studio creations (Around the World In a Day and Parade). I guess I should say “arguably his two best” because when it comes to Prince, every other detail, achievement, and rumor concerning him and his work is argued about.

It took me just a few seconds to reply to Angie and tell her I wanted to go. I didn’t know exactly who would be singing the songs, but just the idea of seeing Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Brown Mark (Mark Brown), Matt “Doctor” Fink, and Bobby Z. (Robert B. Rivkin) on stage together, locking into one funky groove after another — circa 1979-86 — seemed amazing enough.
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Unpacking Forty Years of Fandom For a Losing Team

David Durochik / AP Photo

Kevin Sampsell | Longreads | February 2018 | 18 minutes (4,605 words)

The last time I cried about a football game was in 2009.

When I was a kid, though — oh man! The waterworks from the coiled frustration and utter heartbreak of losing a game, or ending a season with a sad thud, was often too much for me. I’m not sure what is considered normal blood pressure for junior high and high school dudes, but mine was probably pretty high.

If you’re a sports fan, you don’t need me to tell you that watching a game can elicit conflicting emotions. Some times it’s dull, others, exhilarating. It can run the gamut from mildly stressful to utterly exasperating. We tell ourselves it’s fun to watch games — whether it’s the lightning-fast college basketball Final Four, a tense knuckle-biting World Series, or even the high drama of an Olympics figure skating face-off. But is it really fun? Is watching a game, especially football with its rash of injuries and hyper-macho façade, truly enjoyable in the moment? Or do we just endure it so we can process the positive highlights later?

As a sports kid who eventually blossomed into a book nerd, I surprise a lot of people with my unflagging loyalty to a game that is often seen as barbaric, anti-intellectual, and sponsored by horrible right-wing corporations. For a long time, whenever I’d meet someone new, I wouldn’t reveal the fact that I’m a football fan right away. It was like a weird secret. I’d talk about more “intellectual” subjects: poetry, indie films, twee British music, or collage art. Often I would be looking for clues in these conversations, maybe a word or a name mentioned that would reveal that they knew what a linebacker was, or an onside kick. If I found out someone was a football fan, they would often become my new best friend, at least for a while.

I find it utterly refreshing to meet another man or woman “of arts and letters” who admires the sport like I do, and I glow inside with that feeling of camaraderie. Often though, if I slip up and admit that many of my Sundays are spent worshipping guys in full pads and helmets groping and tackling each other while rich old men tally their bank accounts in their executive suites, I am met with pained expressions and confusion. I counter that surprise by trying to illuminate my humanistic connection to the game — my love for discovering the players’ personal stories of overcoming adversity; the bonding community of fandom; the sheer unpredictable nature of all sports; and yes, indeed, the amazing beauty and skill of what these players are able to do on the field. I can still remember plays that happened decades ago and recall them as precisely as my favorite songs.
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Forever Yesterday: Peering Inside My Mom’s Fading Mind

Fauzi Anna Md Salleh / EyeEm

Kevin Sampsell | Longreads | August 2017 | 15 minutes (3,752 words)


Every time I talk to my mom on the phone, just as I’m getting ready to say goodbye, she slips in an abrupt update about her parents — my grandparents. Sometimes they’re in Switzerland. Sometimes they’re in Loma, Montana. Sometimes they’ve gotten “mixed up with bad people.” Sometimes they’ve completely disappeared or died mysteriously. Sometimes it sounds like a government conspiracy — a murder plot. At first, I didn’t know what to say in return. I’d ask how they died or what they were doing in Switzerland. In more recent conversations, I tried to place her back in reality. I’d say, “Mom, your parents have been dead for forty years.” I’d ask her how old they were and she would say 60, 70, or 75. She’s not sure. She says that all the time: I’m not sure. “How old are you?” I ask, and she laughs and says, “Oh, I think I’m about 25.” Once she said she was 18. She’s actually 88 years old.

For about two years now, my mother has been fighting with Alzheimer’s and the dementia that comes from that disease. She’s had years of struggle with diabetes and epilepsy — but her mental condition was always sharp. A lifelong democrat and the mother of six, Patsy loved sewing, making quilts, reading mystery novels, and watching Seattle Mariners baseball while enjoying a Pepsi (never Coke). I am her youngest son.

In 2015, she fell off a street curb and hit her head. She didn’t tell me about this until a week later. She prefaced the story of this accident by insisting that she was fine and only suffered some scrapes on her face and arm. I asked if she went to the hospital to make sure she didn’t break any bones or have a concussion. She said my brother, Mark, her main caregiver, took her to the emergency room but she left when they wanted to do some tests on her. She has long believed that doctors were just trying to take her money — which she has very little of anyway. I tried to chide her for not staying for the tests, for some kind of care, but she was stubborn and said it wasn’t necessary.

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