It was a shocking blow to learn that one of my most revered and enjoyed music legends, Prince, passed away this today. The way I came to even know Prince’s music was due to one of my most ugly acts as a human being. It was around the third grade, and being one of the older and bigger kids (height wise) in school, I adopted the athlete/bully-mentality, and when pressed competitively for the first time by an African American student, I used the n-word for the only time in my life, leading to a fight.
A fight which we both walked away from, later to become best friends throughout elementary, middle-school, high school, and into adulthood. But when I got home that day, I bragged to my older brother about what I just did earlier in the day. He smacked my face, threw me up against the wall, told me to never use that word again, and then sat me down to his collection of Prince records.
Maybe not the best remedy, but boy did it have an impact. I was amazed at the sounds, the lyrics, the production, the imagery both on the record covers and those the jaw-dropping lyrics played in my mind. After about 2-3 hours of a Prince intervention, not only did I now understand the color of a human being holds no indication to them as a person or their abilities, and that I was a complete asshole for acting in such a way; but I also discovered Prince wasn’t like the rest of us in regards to creating music.
This was circa 1982, the collection included Prince, For You, Dirty Mind, Controversy, and the newly released 1999. From that point on, I was a fan for life, I got to see Prince perform numerous times over the next four decades, my first in 1983, my last time in 2010.
Prince’s synthesis of his influences (Sly & The Family Stone, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Doris Duke, Duke Ellington, Lyn Collins, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Archie Bell & The Drells, etc…) was so unique, just a few chords and beats would give away the maker’s identity. I quickly became an addict, and sought out my purple-fix any way I could, legal or otherwise.
I was a huge bootleg fan. For those unaware of the Prince bootleg universe, I could literally write a 10 page dissertation on it, but for brevity sake, it goes like this. Prince was constantly producing new music, playing live shows, and all that music was being recorded. A lot of it is unreleased still in Prince’s vault, but a lot of it also made its way out through the decades in various forms and illegal channels.
I first had to go to little record stores, in various trendy cities, to find that backroom or side display of what appeared to be homemade covers of Prince tapes. Live shows, outtakes, unreleased B-Sides and studio tracks.
The quality would be from horrible to pretty damn good, especially for the time 1984-1993. I had a huge collection, and still do to this day, filled with amazing music by Prince.
Enthralled with how Prince could play one song over and over again, but have it sound unique and original each and every time, had me wanting for more. My parents probably thought I was on drugs, spending all this money on just a few cassette tapes.
Growing up during the ascension of Prince during the mid-1980s was magical, the music was boundary pushing, and nobody pushed that boundary harder. Was Prince white or black, straight or gay, on drugs or straight edge, a heretic or a saint? It was wild, exciting, and transforming. His bands would consistently be a mix of colors, genders, and sexual preferences, which flipped the script on everything that was occurring at the time. As Prince once wrote, “Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day”, and I couldn’t stop watching it as it drove down the road.
And that was just the imagery of it all, the music, my god, the music is impossible to describe in such a short piece, but it ranged from classical to new age punk, but always with a Prince touch.
That touch, later branded as the “Minneapolis Sound”, was a large bag of unique drum patterns, sexy multi-layered vocals that ranged from dolphin squeak to a Larry Graham baritone, to the chicken-grease laden guitar licks, and orgasmic bass lines that don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the millions of sounds you will hear within Prince’s music.
The slightly delayed synthesizers, the virtuoso piano playing, the incorporation of live horns in ways that revealed Prince’s influences like those of Fred and The New JB’s. All of it was intoxicating and led to me to explore so many different musical avenues, and push the boundaries of my own sensibilities as it pertained to sexuality, spirituality, living life, how I treated and view others, etc...To say it was transforming, is putting it lightly.
Prince’s most cherished music for me were his collaborations with the deceased Clare Fischer, ‘Power Fantastic’, ‘Old Friends 4 Sale’, ‘Condition of the Heart’, ‘Venus De Milo’, and the unreleased ‘Adonis & Bathsheba’. I also cherished his acoustic sets and songs, some of his acoustic guitar playing reminded me of my own Father’s playing, bringing back memories of his life, and the time I got to spend with him, Prince was able to produce those moments constantly for me. My biorhythms agreed with his beats, it goes beyond music.
Prince’s recent offerings had me very excited once more for where Prince was heading, and where he was taking us. His partnership with Tidal, his branching out and allowing others to produce his music for him for the first time, all very exciting. I am so sad that his chapter has ended, incomplete in many ways, but full of so many offerings only a greedy fool could not be appreciative of it.
Now looking back, listening to a few of his most recent bootlegs from his ‘Piano & Microphone’ concerts (yes, I’m still an addict), which were amazing by the way, there were times when Prince was flubbing lyrics, almost sounding lost in the sounds and the moment, which was very non-Prince like.
He was the ultimate performer, holding bands and seemingly human physics in the palm of his hand and on a dime like no other in my lifetime. Giving a huge concert, to thousands of fans for a couple hours, and then emerging at some after-club to only play an even better set until dawn, for the “true” fans lucky enough to attend – nobody has, or will ever again, do it like Prince did, not even himself towards the end of his life.
Perhaps those “flubs” of lyrics were the signs of an ailing man who looked and acted 20 years younger than he was, but Prince died as he lived, on a different level than everyone else, shrouded in secrecy and mythology, he will never be replaced, and his music will never be forgotten.
Listening to “Sometimes it Snows in April”, his lyrics in this song are so apropos, “All good things, they say, never last”.