photo courtesy of factmag.com

When I was going to school at the University of Louisville, one of my good friends at the time, Stacey, had picked up a record – well, actually it was a CD – from some record shop somewhere in Louisville. She handed it to me… or rather, presented it to me as a gift. The cover was one of those colorful, swirly illustrations of musicians playing music, you know, the kind of stuff that’s in the Rhapsody in Blue sequence of Fantasia 2000. The bass player in the artwork, as if to make the picture complete, being tall, black and female, and playing an upright bass, was an absurdly accurate caricature of Stacey herself. The album? The Rainbow Children. The artist? Prince.

Seems kind of almost fated that such an obscure (and delightful) record should be my introduction to one of my favorite artists of all time. At the time, I was like, “What is this?” but I knew what I was holding was special. (Thanks Stacey.) When I put on the CD in my car, the strains of an avant-garde jazz saxophone, accompanied by some drums, bass, and electric keyboards, incited my curiosity even more. “This is Prince?” I’d never really listened to Prince, truth be told. I’d been vaguely familiar with some of his hits, though I couldn’t have named names or even probably identified the Artist. But this stuff was.. different. In fact, the whole album was different. A cosmic mish-mash of jazz, funk, and unfairly solid pop tunes that shook me to my core. I mean, this record did something for me. It was weird.

Who was this Prince guy, anyway? And what business did he have invading my consciousness in my early 20’s, when I thought I had already run into all of the best classic stuff out there (yes, ignorance comes with youth)? It was an assault, I tell you. There was some sacred, undeniable energy here, something I couldn’t define. This guy played every instrument, sang every note, and wrote every song. And, apparently, he could dance too.

The discovery of Rainbow Children sent me on a fast, reckless journey where I furiously scrambled to make up for the fact that I had been unaware of Prince so long. I soaked up all of his hits, did my research, watched a documentary. I went off into some uncharted territory when someone showed me The Black Album. I drove around with Prince playing in the car all of the time. Some of my friends thought I was a little weird, but I didn’t care. Prince was the shit.

A few of my all time favorite Prince songs: “Uptown,” “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “I Would Die For You,” “Little Red Corvette” (which I had always heard but never knew it was him), “I Feel For You” (which I had always heard but never knew it was him), “Nothing Compares,” and “Darling Nikki,” to name a few.

But my all-time favorite Prince song would have to be “Last December,” the final track of Rainbow Children. What an amazing song. The guitar riff at the beginning, I can’t think of another one I like better. The song itself is such an uplifting anthem – fusing rock, funk, pop and gospel in a way that makes the hairs on your arms stand up. He’s singing about, essentially, what will you do before you die. “In your last December / Hey, what did you do?” It’s more than a song, it’s a call to action – and this becomes apparent with the refrain, “Oh, in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son / Oh, we need to come together, come together as one.” How could you listen to something like that and not be moved?

I have the utmost respect for Prince. He was a consummate musician, on top of being his own artist. He got offered a record deal at, I think 17 years old and refused it because he wanted to make his music on his terms. He didn’t want to be bought and sold, and he never once sold out. Everything you hear, every single note, when you listen to a Prince song, was all Prince. He was a composer. And he was a smart businessman. You couldn’t throw the whole “D.I.Y.” spiel at him because he was already miles and lightyears ahead of you. He was ahead of the industry, ahead of his time, ahead of himself. He couldn’t have slowed down if he’d wanted to. He could have only gone out the way he did.

Aside from all of this, he is one of the most prolific recording artists in the history of history. With thirty-eight studio records, he exceeds everybody, I mean everybody. With the exception of maybe Harry Connick, Jr., and a couple of others (I’m sure I’ll get some vehement corrections). But you’ll believe me when I tell you the other thing, which is that doesn’t even count the shit he never released. I’m sure now, they’ll scour the vaults, and find another couple hundred. Yeah, he was recording shit in his house, stuff he never published, never released, and storing them in underground vaults. The guy was a madhouse of productivity.

I really don’t think it gets any more serious than Prince. If you want to talk about sheer, old-fashioned, grit, the guy had about as much of it as all of the John Wayne movies. Or more. He didn’t mess around. Everything about him, from his music to his appearance, was impeccable. He knew who he was, even when he was that weird purple symbol that nobody could pronounce.

There’s so many avenues I could go down, writing and thinking about Prince, I don’t even know which one to pick. I could write about his music being great in and of itself, how it transcends style or genre and flows out into this other universe of sound. I could write about his approach to sex and sexuality, how his at times androgynous and at other times feminine persona was analogous to his ideologies, that we’re all just human, men and women are not so different, and equally beautiful – and that could extend to race as well (and I’m sure that was part of it). I could commiserate about his artistic integrity, his eccentric lifestyle, and the over-the-top flair with which he carried himself through the world. I could do a treatise on his religious nature, and the fact that he was a devout Jehovah’s Witness and how that influenced his music and his otherworldliness. So many facets, so many angles to this man. Was he even a man? More plausible, perhaps, that he was some transcendent synthesis of man and woman. Or something else altogether.

If Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, then Prince was undoubtedly the… well, Prince of Pop. His status in the Great American Annals of Popular Music was and is iconic. His stuff obviously spoke to the 80’s, but he continued to write and churn out songs and records long after. Until the day he died, in fact.

When I heard of his death, I was immediately in denial. I couldn’t believe it. A couple of short years ago, I had seen a picture of him on the cover of Ebony magazine, looking as young and healthy as ever. In fact, his photo had the uncanny appearance of someone who had not aged a day since 1985. Of course he hadn’t. He was Prince, and he would live forever. And, as far as I’m concerned, he’s very much alive and well in my mind. A guy can’t write and play like he did and then just be gone. It doesn’t happen that way.

So yes, I’m still in denial about it. In fact, I don’t believe he’s actually dead. I believe he’s on a beach on an island somewhere, smirking to himself, in a purple bathing suit, eating raw fruit and getting pampered by an ever-present entourage. I believe he just had enough of the whole society thing, and wanted to live out the rest of his days in peace. So he faked his death and hopped on his private jet. That’s what I’d like to believe, anyway. And is it really so far-fetched? I mean, if he really wanted to…

Prince has me somewhere between wanting to quit playing music altogether, and continuing to strive to be the best I can be. He obviously did the latter, and took it to such a height of perfection that I see Prince as the definitive example of the Ideal Pop Star. He holds just as much entitlement to that position as Michael, in my opinion. Maybe – and I know some of you will shun me for this – maybe even more. He wrote, he sang, he played, and did each of these things better than the other. He had an enormous knack for getting it right, and “right” was always his way, always him. He never apologized for who he was and what he was about. Let’s face it – Prince sang about sex, sex in all its forms, from the most unsavory “box full of Trojans and some of them used” to the most heartbreakingly wonderful. To Prince, sex was an act of the spirit, the union of two bodies, but also two souls, for the glorification of God. It didn’t conflict with his religion, it confirmed it.

I’m confused, heartbroken, and a lot of other things at the loss of Prince. He was a hero of mine. I loved his music, and I loved what he stood for. I have a feeling that a lot of folks thought he had a big ego, or that he did too much “peacocking.” I don’t know, maybe so, but that was just who he was. He was the shaper of his own reality, and he got what he wanted, for the most part. He had a crazy, wild career from age twenty-three, when “1999” took off, to age 57, on April 21st, 2016. He did and saw more things in that short time than, well, nearly everyone will. For that, I’m happy for him. I just wish he could have stuck around a bit longer. I wasn’t prepared for this – it “took me by surprise.”

Prince – Thanks for the boldness, for the courage, for the MUSIC. Your stuff did something to me, and I don’t know what. Maybe they’ll forget, but I won’t. You got the look. You got the whole package. Keep doin’ your thing, wherever you are.

 

 

  • – From A Fan

 

In your last December

Hey, what would u do?

Would anybody remember

2 remember u?

Did u stand tall?

Or did u fall?

Did u give your all?

 

Did u ever find a reason

Why u had to die

Or did u just plan on leaving
Without wondering y?

Was it everything it seemed?
Or did it feel like a dream?
Did u feel redeemed?

In the name of the Father
In the name of the Son
We need 2 come 2gether
Come 2gether as one

Did u love somebody
But got no love in return?
Did u understand the real meaning of love?
That it just is and never yearns?

When the truth arrives
Will u b lost on the other side?
Will u still b alive?

In the name of the Father
In the name of the Son
We need 2 come 2gether
Come 2gether as one

In ur life did u just give a little
Or did u give all that u had?
Were u just somewhere in the middle?
Not 2 good, not 2 bad?

In the name of the Father
In the name of the Son
We need 2 come 2gether
Come 2gether as ONE

 

 

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