Prince – R.I.P. The Purple One.
So here we are again, another celebrity death in this curious year that seems littered with much too many thus far. This one came as a shock though, particularly as The Purple One had been looking in good health as well as performing in recent weeks. In fact, if anything, he appeared to be doing a Benjamin Button and growing younger on us. Furthermore, on a day the Queen’s 90th birthday was being celebrated, one could be forgiven for expecting the Prince to be around for a long while yet.
The world has lost the greatest musician of his era and a modern day Beethoven, end of story. He was not just a great musician but also a fantastic songwriter, producer, entertainer and all around creative. With ease, he personified the look and guitar playing prowess of Hendrix, the Funk and slick footwork of James Brown, the fashion and sexual ambiguity of Bowie and the lyrical prowess of Dylan, all in one small package. He was all of the the greatest musicians all bundled into one.
For me, he was simply my main musical inspiration who spurred me on to learn to play numerous musical instruments just like him. Before Prince, musicians generally were masters of one instrument and dabbled with other instruments. After Prince, the bar was raised. Multi-instrumentalism was the name of the game, meaning you didn’t just stop at the guitar lessons, you had to carry on with the bass, then the drums, then the piano, etc. He established the same trend for producing your music by-your-own-damn-self which is commonplace today but was a novelty when he first burst onto the scene.
His influence on the music industry as a whole, really cannot be overstated, virtually all R&B songs released in the 80’s had the Prince mark on them in some way or the other. Whether it was in the synth chords, the synth riffs or the funky Stratocaster rhythm guitars, it was all too evident. He spurned an entire generation of musicians emerging out of Minneapolis and single-handedly put that city on the map. Credit to the measure of the man that he never left his roots for the lure of the East or West coasts; instead he made the world come to the Mid-west.
Just looking at the top Black music producers of the last 30+ years, his influence is all too obvious. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis were his protégés right out of his camp, LA and Babyface were blatantly influenced by Prince (and Cameo) and even today’s top dog, Pharrell Williams, has Prince all over his music, from his falsetto vocals to the funky 80’s grooves, punctuated with Prince-like rhythm guitars.
I was fortunate enough to see him live twice when he played his 21-night stint at the O2 Arena in London in 2007. The first time, I went with someone, just to appreciate the music. The second time I went purely as a student of music, checking out the techniques, the stage pacing, the showmanship, the instrumental solos, the musical arrangements, even the equipment used. Suffice to say I left the O2 telling myself what I always knew, I will never be as good as Prince, he was born to do this, I can’t practice it or buy it, it was given to him from above.
He did not just dance, play and give you a show, there was a message in the music too and it wasn’t preachy. He was lyrically a cut above the rest, whilst mere mortals were writing songs with the common rhymes like treasure and measure and promising the moon and the stars, he was consistently delivering clever lyrics such as:
In France a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same
– Sign of the Times
Dorothy was a waitress on the promenade She worked the night shift Dishwater blonde, tall and fine She got a lot of tips
– The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last
And let’s not forget the dude was super cool. The mysterious ‘less is more’ aura which surrounded him, the glide-bounce way in which he walked, the easy low tone manner in which he spoke, the stylish dress sense and of course the array of stunning women he seemed to always have by his side. From Vanity, to Apollonia, to Carmen Electra, too many to list. How could you not wanna be like him? Okay, maybe aside from the stiletto heels….
The dude was creative as hell. Sure you could tell a song was made by Prince because like any musician, he has a distinct sound, however his songs all sounded different. ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ sounded nothing like ‘1999’, which sounded nothing like ‘Alphabet Street’, which sounded nothing like ‘Sign of the Times’, I could go on. His styles varied from deep Funk to R&B to Punk and to Rock, although I confess I personally subscribed more to the funkier side of Prince. This creativity meant being brave enough to stray outside of his comfort zone which enabled him dabble in those different genres as well as in the world of film-making. That particular sojourn led to the academy award winning ‘Purple Rain’ as well as the not so fantastic ‘Graffiti Bridge’ and ‘Under The Cherry Moon’ which wasn’t for everyone though I loved it. I’m sure time will prove that film to be a cult piece.
Prince’s courage was also evident in the manner in which he took on the recording industry during his ‘The Symbol’ and ‘The Artiste formerly known as Prince’ period. He was fearless in his fight, eventually emerging with his freedom from the ‘slavery’ of the music industry. I sincerely hope that in his passing, his music doesn’t fall into exploitation for the moolah, his songs very soon providing the backing track to the latest Chicken Tonight advert on TV. My one very slight beef with Prince was his banning of his music from Apple Music, SoundCloud, YouTube, Deezer, etc. Not that I disagreed with his reasons for doing so, afterall it’s his music, it’s just that as a consumer it made it more difficult to conveniently access the music. Fortunately, I happen to own the vast majority of his albums so it was merely a question of ripping CD’s and vinyl from the loft.
Speaking of beef, I remember the days of the Prince vs Michael Jackson spat, which was also preceded by the Prince vs Rick James one. Luckily that was all in a day when beef didn’t spill past the stage or at worst your plate, otherwise we could have lost these guys even sooner. It’s funny that these guys are all gone now and you realise you probably should have just appreciated and enjoyed their output rather than choose camps to pledge allegiance to. Camps probably instigated by the marketing men….but I digress.
Finally, the hype back in the day was that Prince knocked up a song a day and had this vault full of fantastic music. Let’s hope it’s true and that there are some gems, particularly from the 80’s that will get released someday soon. Untainted by new technology or the latest flavour-of-the-moment rapper’s 16 bar spit, so we can enjoy some vintage funk from the Purple One the way it was intended, raw, uncut, the whole Funk and nothing but.
Rest in peace big man. You were my number one musical inspiration. Creative genius.Share: