Yesterday we suffered another great musical loss with the sudden death of Prince. Like David Bowie, Prince always seemed immortal to me, like he wasn’t quite mortal and had just come down to Earth to give us a little more funk. To discover that he was not immune to the circle of life was as shocking as the unexpectedness of his death. In an instant, the musical landscape has been unequivocally and irreparably altered. When I was a kid, the pop stars that dominated the charts were Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince and Madonna. Now three of them are gone, all before the age of 60. It just doesn’t seem right.
I was never as big a fan of Prince as I was of the other three, but that didn’t do much to soften the news of his death yesterday. Prince was a through-line of so much of my childhood; he was so omnipresent that I probably took his genius a little bit for granted and stylistically he wasn’t quite as accessible as artists of the day. Jackson, Houston, and Madonna all had wonderful songs, but they didn’t have the complexity of a Prince tune. The poppy Prince songs that played on the radio were not representative of Prince and what he could do; to fully appreciate him and his ability to constantly evolve and change, you need to listen to his albums. As a huge fan of Tim Burton’s Batman, I remember begging my parents to get me Prince’s soundtrack for the film; when I finally listened to it in its entirety, I was not prepared for it. For someone who mainly knew Prince from his singles, it was all too much for me to handle. The integration of snippets of dialogue from the film, the various musical influences and the fact that most of the songs were simple inspired by the movie rather actually from the film was way over the head of the 12 year old version of me. Prince’s music always had struck me as a little dangerous, with its oozing sexuality often barely contained under the surface, and I simply wasn’t sophisticated enough to process it yet.
It wasn’t until I got older that I could really appreciate what a multi-faceted performer Prince was; not only was he a great singer who had hypnotic stage presence, but he was also a stellar guitar player, all-around musician, and lyricist. Not only did Price write his songs, but he wrote songs for many other artists as well. I knew that he had penned the Sinead O’Connor hit “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Prince was using “text speak” before it was even a thing), but I had no idea that he has also written “Manic Monday” for The Bangles, “Stand Back” for Stevie Nicks, or “I Feel for You” for Chaka Khan (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). He seemingly could do everything; he was effortlessly cool and was seemingly an artist’s artist. He also wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in; he was a fierce defender of a musician’s rights to his/her music, which is why it’s extremely hard to find any Prince music streaming or on YouTube. When he had a dispute with his record label, he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in protest (and sparked the phrase “The artist formerly known as….” in the process). That would seem like career suicide, but we all just adapted. On paper, Prince really shouldn’t have worked – a skinny little man in a purple suit and a puffy shirt shouldn’t have been one of the sex symbols of the 80s, let alone one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. But he was and managed to do it all and still a relatively private life. I mean, the man made Minneapolis seem like the place to be. There was no limit to his power and influence.
When the news of Prince’s death was announced yesterday, what struck me was the universal outpouring of grief. Everyone loved Prince. Doesn’t matter how old you are or what kind of music you like, Prince meant something to you. Whenever Prince showed up at an award show or when celebrities talked about seeing him perform or meeting him, people universally lost their shit. These people, who are surrounded by famous people all the time (and are famous themselves), would act no different than you or I. It was like they had just witnessed a magical unicorn in its natural habitat. Prince was a man, but he was also a myth and a legend. The words “…and then Prince showed up.” were whispered with reverence and awe. He walked to the beat of his own drum, and we all anxiously chased behind him, trying to keep up. Just when we thought we had, he’d completely change the beat on us, taking us in a wonderfully unexpected direction. We would have followed him anywhere.
Rest in peace, sweet Prince.