A few words about Prince

tumblr_n9qvk8570x1r3s3a3o1_500There are so many threads to this complicated human being. The blend of committed spirituality and enthusiastic sexuality (which, tbh, Mormons have no right to be offended about). His intense introversion and control issues, paired with bright-as-the-sun charisma and onstage courage. The way he flouted social conventions about gender, race, even geography. (Can there any cool thing come out of Minnesota? Yup.)

He could have been any age. He could sing in every register. He could expertly play every instrument.

From what I can tell, Prince applied that creativity and flexibility to everything he did. Beyond being a musical genius, he was a business genius and a technological genius. He hacked and reimagined existing structures to fit his needs (he basically broke the radio promotion and metrics system). He incorporate new technologies into his work (he was always the first to incorporate new sounds, new instruments, and digital tools). And he completely rejected industry trends that he felt compromised his work.

That combination of big abstract creativity + systems thinking is crazy to me.

He could look at a complex process or industry, and evaluate whether it helped advance his work and his creativity. If not, he would subvert it (the radio industry), reshape it (genre charts), bully it into submission (the filmmaking process for Purple Rain), or simply reject it (the online streaming revolution—casual fans had a difficult time yesterday finding his music online).

And this is completely hearsay, but from what I understand he was very kind, surprisingly grounded, and always willing to help people out with money or mentoring or whatever it was they needed.

I’m of the generation that was too young for most of Prince’s work in the ‘80s (I got my first taste of Prince through the Batman soundtrack). By the time I was musically aware enough to know anything about him, he was already living in the ether. Not a real human, but a concept called “Prince.” I can’t picture him eating breakfast. Or watching New Girl. Or tweeting. My first thought upon hearing about his death yesterday was that he’d probably pulled a Yoda move, and simply evaporated into the universal consciousness.

Of course, that isn’t actually what happened, and yesterday was an intense, unexpected day for his family, friends, and fans. I believe we honor the deceased by grieving for them in the way they would have wanted. In Prince’s case, that probably means appreciating each other and celebrating our differences, and the freedom we have to be different. And he’d definitely want us to listen to more Prince music.

Comments

  1. For whatever it’s worth: “Like Bowie, Prince was an enormously talented musician, whose stupendous skills were often lost in the dizzying way he would change his style, his look, and his sound. Unlike Bowie, he vainly insisted on fighting the contemporary pop music machine, rather than just outlasting it, and so lost years of effective communication with his audience during the whole TAFKAP nonsense. But oh well. He wrote, he produced, he sang, and he played–man, could he play! So here’s my offering, to be tossed on the funeral pyre along with hundreds of more which are bound to come.”

  2. Shoutout to the Batman soundtrack (as a youngster I would always let the credits role so I could listen to “Scandalous” in its entirety). But tbh, I really became a Prince fan after seeing Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet when I was like 14. I bought the soundtrack and became obsessed with the “When Doves Cry” cover, which sent me down the long rabbit hole of Prince’s discography.

  3. I imagine they’re having some fascinating conversations now, Bowie and Prince. They’re two of the most important aesthetic figures of the 20th century, and I miss both of them terribly. I am glad they are both free of pain.

  4. One of the things I love about those two artists is the general lack of artistic angst they seemed to suffer from. Prince definitely DEFINITELY took his creations seriously and worked incredibly hard to perfect his craft(s), but never seemed tortured by his talent.

  5. Despite not being a real Prince fan, I always did respect his musicianship and creativity. Part of the lack of connection, it turns out, is only obvious to me now. Prince was his own genre, that I couldn’t plug into Motown, classic rock, or the blues. He defied categories, ignored others expectations of his abilities as an artist, and created his own sphere of influence, that clearly his fans connected with. I recognize him as a singular artist, another great loss at way too young of an age.

  6. I love all this, and am grateful to see a thoughtful Prince post on BCC.

    But a word about Minnesota. It is also the land that brought us the Replacements, Husker Du, and the Coen Brothers. Oh, and Bob Dylan. Just sayin’.

  7. I can’t really explain my visceral reaction to Prince’s death except to say that he played an important part in the soundtrack of my youth, a soundtrack that, depressingly, has been largely relegated to the local oldies station. I felt the same way when Michael Jackson, Adam Yauch, and David Bowie died; era-ending events.
    Listening to all the tributes yesterday on The Current, a MN station from my MN days, I found myself laughing at myself. Boy, was I clueless about the sexual explicitness of his songs! Now I know what got Tipper so fired up.
    Which, I guess, is my own unique tribute. To a young, white Mormon girl living in Orem, Utah in the 80’s, Prince wasn’t the fashion icon/sex symbol/musical savant/industry subversive for which he’s rightly being praised. He was just the guy behind the songs that spoke to me, somehow making it through all the weird filters that a YWMG had to navigate.
    Fwiw, if he’d shown up on my doorstep with a Watchtower in hand, I would’ve totally let him in.

  8. sgnm: Yes. And Eddie Cochran. And F. Scott Fitzgerald. And Garrison Kiellor. And Charles Schulz. And several notable Andersons (Louie, Loni, Richard Dean, for example).

  9. The height of my listening to Prince was my freshman year at BYU, where my roommate and I had him on pretty constant rotation. As a music major, I loved how scandalized the classical musicians would be when I announced I’d been listening to Prince all morning.

    Having listened to all of the tributes over the last couple days, listening to my Prince albums and Vocalo tonight, and finding the rare songs on YouTUbe, I have to say: I was right. He was a singular pop genius.

  10. Brother Sky says:

    IMHO, the two greatest musical minds of the 20th century: Copland and Prince. The first time I heard “Purple Rain,” I knew I was changed forever. Godspeed, my friend.