Prince. The Greatest. Period.
Today, April 21, marks one year since Prince Rogers Nelson took his last breath on the planet. Found dead inside his Paisley Park estate in Chanhassen, Minnesota, the 57-year-old singer-songwriter, record producer, writer, composer, actor, poet, director, philanthropist, multi-instrumentalist died from an accidental drug overdose.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. Time flies.
Growing up you could like both Michael Jackson and Prince, but when it came right down to it, you had to choose. I was an MJ guy. Early Prince, was harder to “get”, to listen to “Controversy” was to hear a unique sound, infused with passion and perspective, but it wasn’t something a young boy could grasp. It wasn’t poppy. It was raw. It was a new dialect.
As Prince’s sound evolved so did I. My palette grew more refined and I grew up, coming into greater understanding of his musings on sexuality, artistry, politics, religion and more. I don’t know if he changed as much as I changed. In part, by this great American poet. A poet like few who came before him, who would pull consciousness with him, like an intertube — on the back of a speed boat.
His reach was brought into critical focus during the few days following his death when across the globe buildings, bridges and other attractions were lit up in purple.
Today, “Prince” events are taking place across the world, but most fittingly there are celebrations at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, and the First Avenue night club in downtown Minneapolis.
A short time ago, Governor Mark Dayton declared that today will be known as “Prince Day”. Minneapolis, Prince’s hometown, Interstate 35W Bridge will be lit purple. The Minnesota Twins have planned a “Prince Night,” scheduled for June 16 at Target Field.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith shared, “Through his playful, humorous, original, and prodigious talent he defined the ‘Minneapolis Sound,’ and left an indelible mark on music and culture not only in Minnesota, but everywhere.”
You don’t really realize how much you loved him, how prolific and brilliant Prince was, until he was lost to the world.
If a picture is worth a thousand words then this snapshot of Prince’s Instagram account, titled “Princestagram,” says it all.
Following? — 0
And Princestagram? Of course he named it Princestagram. It flows. Fits perfectly. Like it was made for him. It’s like his “sound”. Blues, rock, funk, opera, gospel and R&B were around before him; there for the masses to generally hack through. But when Prince grabbed the ax, somehow it felt like he was unlocking secret chambers, never before known to mankind.
Princestagram is the perfect distillation of how Prince imprinted on the world. Something so original yet somehow so familiar. So obvious. It’s the paradox of originality and inevitability. Alfred Hitchcock said of his stories, the more specific, the more universal. Prince did that. Prince was that.
Oh, and he produced more than a few things. I mean this cat was prolific. You ever try writing a song? One coherent 3 minute tune worth listening to again? And again?
Prince produced 39 studio albums, 3 live albums, 6 compilation albums, 17 video albums, 13 EPs and 1 remix album. And that was just the stuff under his own name.
He wrote for a plethora of artists, many of them women. These would yield some of the most recognizable songs of their careers. Did you enjoy Alicia Keys singing “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”?
That was Prince.
You like Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”? That’s Prince when he wrote it for his funk band side project, The Family.
How’s about The Bangles singing “Manic Monday”? Prince again.
“Love Song”? Cowritten by Prince for Madonna’s 1989 album “Like a Prayer”. In addition to writing the song, the Greatest also sang and played guitar when Madonna rolled up to Paisley Park.
Chaka Khan’s “I Feel for You” was my break dancing anthem growing up. That was Prince. Wrote the tune for Patrice Rushen, but ended up recording the song himself for his 1979 self-titled album. The song was also performed by the Pointer Sisters and Mary Wells.
Then there’s “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks.
Prince wrote that song.
Morris Day and The Time’s “Jungle Love”
Morris Day didn’t write that. It was bleeping Prince.
Don’t remember much about “With This Tear” by Celine Dion, but many people do. That was Prince, too.
“Love…Thy Will Be Done” with Martika singing?
The list goes on and on.
Then there were the hundreds, yes you read that right, hundreds of songs he didn’t release, for whatever reasons he had.
“Deliverance,” a new album was released recently. There will probably be more music released from his vast library of songs, but that’s more an after glow. A tether for us to hold on to something.
That word “genius” is used far too often and far too casually. With Prince, it’s simply the best word available to describe him. Prince reveals the word “genius” as a flawed expression of a higher ideal.
Prince “got” it. Holistically. His work ethic was as amazing as you would imagine. But it wasn’t just around his music. He understood his image. His “brand” before brand was really a thing. He was an innovator and a frontiersman across many different categories including but not limited to fashion, music publishing, filmmaking and more.
He fought for his and other artists’ rights, even changing his name to a symbol during a contractual dispute with Warner Bros. The name change symbolized a break from his record label, with whom Prince had signed a reported $100 million deal. The prolific artist released a torrent of work and WB pumped the breaks, concerned that so much content so fast would oversaturate the market. Prince responded by retiring, albeit shortly, from music and changing his name to the now-famous symbol.
About that symbol, also known as the “Love Symbol”. A visual portmanteau of man, woman, and… other….
“It is an unpronounceable symbol whose meaning has not been identified. It’s all about thinking in new ways, tuning in 2 a new free-quency,” he wrote in a statement at the time.
Just who else but Prince would, should, or could do it?
There has never been a wo/man so prolific, brilliant and diversified to walk this country’s soil. Few in the world have soared in that rarified air. And no one did it whilst leaping from 10-foot tall amplifiers, spinning around, dropping into and back out of the splits and then grabbing the mic to croon to an adoring and packed stadium. Song after song. Night in. Night out. And Prince did it in heels. All while pushing boundaries in his lyrics, actions and dress; wearing sexually explicit, ambiguous and provocative clothes.
Last year, as the lights faded up during the intermission of a “Purple Rain”/”Sign Of The Times” double-feature last year at the great Aero Theater in Santa Monica, I looked around and found many people in the theater around me shared the same set of complicated emotions I was experiencing. Utter awe at this amazing musician and performer, who was legitimately a great athlete, albeit on the stage; and also sadness that this athleticism, courage and dedication to his high and excellent vision, probably was a contributing factor to why he was no longer with us. The painkillers, he reportedly was taking in heavy doses, a response to hip issues, probably sustained while performing across the globe for nearly 40 years.
40 years. He went hard and fast.
A Great American
Prince embodied what it means to be a great American. Strong. Fiercely independent. Successful. Unique. One who made the world a better place.
This great country has never seen an artist more prolific, unique, socially aware, politically outspoken, and musically brilliant than Prince. And he’s probably tops in a few of those categories alone.
You would be hard-pressed to find a composer who bests Prince in output, quality and longevity. This musical polyglot, this profound hyphenate was the greatest American composer ever.
Sure there’s Aaron Copland, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington and more. But no one, no one, stretched as far and went as high as Prince.
When you stack him up against some of the all-time greats, he does well.
Xian Xinghai, Johannes Sebastian Bach, Fela Kuti, Guido D’Arezzo, Ludwig Van Beethoven. All of them amazing in their own right, but where Prince came from and what he did? Think about it.
When trying to find silence, time and space to quantify just what he meant, it becomes easier and harder to get a proper handle on the magnificent and stunning array of his production.
Prince was beyond great. He was the greatest. Quantifying the parameters of the “what” is a little tougher.
You could say he was “The greatest black American composer/musician ever.”
Nah. Too wordy.
You could say he was “The greatest American musician ever.”
True, but incomplete and yet too much.
You could say he was “The greatest American musician ever.”
Yeah that’s about right.