2016 strikes again and man, this one stings as well.
I confess it has been a few years since I played any Prince music. The last album I bought was LotusFlow3r, a three disc set that really didn’t do it for me. The 80s stuff was an important part of my personal soundtrack in my twenties but those gated drums and cheesy synths hadn’t worn well. So yeah, it wasn’t until this past weekend that I played any Prince music.
It is a damn powerful catalog he has left us. That run from Dirty Mind to Sign o’ the Times is pretty much brilliant. He swaps genres like a schizophrenic, plays more instruments than anyone has a right to, and his voice ran from a powerful baritone to a gospel falsetto that never failed to raise the hackles. The songwriting was as powerful as anyone in his day and better than most. His bands were diverse, dressed as fab as their leader, and damn, they all could dance. And nobody could dance better than Prince. Back in the day people would talk about what a great dancer Michael Jackson was but his was always highly choreographed and other than the occasional crotch-grab, safe. Prince was spontaneous: knee drops, spins, swinging the mike stand around his legs, and splits, most of the time while holding a guitar, often while playing guitar.
If there is one thing that sticks in my mind after all the videos I’ve watched and songs I’ve listened to in the past 72 hours it’s what a guitar jock he was. He just loved to play. Even his lesser material could be redeemed by a screaming guitar solo. Prince may not have been the innovator that Hendrix was but we will likely never again see an African American guitar hero like this again. Look at that footage from his Superbowl halftime show. While most halftime shows are tightly choreographed he’s just soloing what the hell he wants to play, making that performance one of the greatest halftime shows ever.
Me and my wife spent almost twenty years in the Twin Cities and we’d hear Prince stories. A coworker of my wife had an aunt from Prince’s old neighborhood that did his hair and makeup. If he got to uppity she’d call him Roger to his face. A coworker of mine spotted him once, sifting through used soul records at Cheapo’s. He approached his Royal Badness using a the name of a mutual musician acquaintance as an entry. The supposedly unapproachable star got into an animated conversation, “ah hell, he was a way better guitar player than he was a drummer”. See even though he moved away at different times in his life, Prince would always return to Minneapolis. He created the Minneapolis sound and he was its most fervent curator, the true Chairman of the Board. From Paisley Park all things flowed.
Now he’s gone and the world is again a darker place, with a lot less purple, glitter, and flash. I hope there’s a heaven and that Prince was greeted at the Gates by Bowie and Mercury, offering a couple pots of makeup and maybe some hairspray. They’ve got a show to do. Wish I could see it.