Once again we've lost a music legend and I just don't know where to start.
A week has gone by and I still don't know how to adequately write about what Prince meant to me. Guess I'll just take it from the beginning.
It was somewhere towards the end of middle school. My eventual Prince fandom was something of a nuclear event. His hits just kept piling up until they reached critical mass with me and it all blew up. I had been on his periphery for a while as R&B wasn't quite my thing, but I started to see that the guy could also rock. I mean just shred the guitar. I think that's what ultimately hooked me in and got me to buy his music. Purple Rain was actually the fourth record I ever bought and I did so based on the title track. Only after listening to it at home did I realize just how much of a disservice the radio edit was and I found myself screaming at DJs "No! You need to play the whole thing! All seven minutes! The entire guitar wail!"
In retrospect I suppose it was a natural fit. After all, my love for Duran Duran was already in full swing. How could I not follow an artist who combined guitar with synthesizer and embraced gender fluidity with long coats, frilly shirts, and heels? It just fit. Pretty soon, I was scrawling "Prince and the Revolution" (in the same stylized font as the record cover, naturally) next to Duran symbols on folders and school desks.
I stopped following him for a while after "Kiss" was released. After all, I was going metal or at least that's what I wanted myself and the rest of the world to think. That didn't last long and found myself returning to my alternative (whatever that means) roots with Nine Inch Nails in the early 1990s. One day I was reading the liner notes to Pretty Hate Machine and saw that Trent Reznor mentioned Prince as an inspiration. Why would that be? I read around a little more and found that like Reznor, Prince did almost everything himself in the studio. The composing, the arranging, and the playing of damn near every instrument. This inspired me to return to the Prince catalog with fresh ears and eyes, to look past the butt-less chaps, the controversy, and the hypersexual content and to really listen to the music. I began to discover how truly intricate it was and how it mashed up nearly every style there is. As someone who loves slamming seemingly disparate genres together, I began to appreciate the artist on a whole new level.
Then in 2004 I was fortunate enough to see him live. It remains as one of the greatest concerts I've ever seen. The consummate musicianship, the showmanship you just couldn't take your eyes off of, the little surprises like his version of "Nothing Compares 2 U," you just couldn't ask for more. But he gave it anyway. He stretched that night from his R&B funk off of Musicology to rocking out with "U Got the Look" and then crooning an equally powerful acoustic version of "Little Red Corvette."
I'll put it this way. When the second song in your set can be "Let's Go Crazy" and then not have a low moment after that, you know you're the dope. This man who was notoriously short and thin in physical stature held an arena full of people completely in the palm of his hand by his pure presence alone.
Then exited the stage in an equipment crate.
What did Prince mean to me? After mulling that over for the past few days, I'm continually noticing the parallels he held with Bowie. Like David Bowie, Prince was not only immeasurably talented and gifted with an artistic sensibility that places him well within the realm of genius, he was also genuinely fearless. He was going to do what he was going to do and he didn't seem to care what people thought of it. Eff your gender standards of what a man should be. Prince was going to embody the sexual personas of both genders at once and if your redneck mentality couldn't handle that, that was your problem.
"I'm not a woman
I'm not a man
I'm something you'll never understand"
As we find ourselves embroiled in ridiculous arguments over public washrooms and bigotry against people, Prince's artistic statements resonate stronger than ever.
In addition to amazing music, a spectacular concert, and his true genius...as if all that wasn't enough in and of itself...I think that's the main thing I will always remember about Prince. Fearlessness. I can only hope to be the same in my own creative endeavors. In fact, that might be the only way to get anything real and authentic done. Maybe that was part of his message to us.
I sure will miss him. I would have sprinkled YouTube clips of his songs throughout this post but...well, you know how it is.
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