So here we are, yet another celebrity death in this curious year that seems littered with far too many thus far. This came as a shock though, particularly as the Purple One has been looking in good health and performing in recent weeks. He even lately appeared to be Benjamin Button-ing and growing younger. So on a day the Queen’s 90th birthday was being celebrated, you 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. He was not just a musician but a fantastic songwriter, producer, entertainer and all around creative. With ease, he personified the image and guitar playing prowess of Hendrix, the Funk and dance moves of James Brown, the fashion and sexual ambiguity of Bowie and the lyrical prowess of Dylan in one small package.
Personally, he was my main musical inspiration and spurred me on to learn to play numerous musical instruments like him. Before Prince, musicians generally were master of one instrument and dabbled with other instruments, after Prince, the bar was raised. Multi-instrumentalist was the name of the game, meaning you didn’t just stopped at the guitar lessons, you had to carry on. 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 came onto the scene.
His influence on the industry a whole really cannot be overstated, virtually all R&B songs released in the 80’s had the prince mark on them is some way or the other, whether it be in the synth chords, the synth riffs or the funky Stratocaster rhythm guitars. He spurned an entire generation of musicians emerging out of Minneapolis and single-handedly put that city on the world 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 since 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 watch him 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 even practice it or buy it.
He did not just dance, play and give you a show, there was a message in the music too but it wasn’t preachy. He was lyrically was a cut above the rest. Whilst mere mortals were writing songs with the typical rhymes like treasure and measure and promising the moon and the stars, he had a message delivered in cleverly written lyrics, lines 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 Appolonia, 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 he has a distinct sound like any musician would but the 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. He had many styles, from deep Funk to R&B to Punk 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 allowed him dabble in these different genres and also in the world of filmmaking. This gave birth to the academy award winning ‘Purple Rain’ as well as the conversely Raspberry award winning ‘Graffiti Bridge’ and don’t forget ‘Under The Cherry Moon’ which wasn’t for everyone though I loved it. I think time will prove that film to be a cult piece.
This 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 moolah, 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, 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 versus Michael Jackson spat, which was actually preceded by the Prince vs Rick James one. Luckily that was in an age where 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 everyone rather than choose camps to fight for. Camps probably instigated by marking men. But I digress…
Finally, the hype back in the day was that Prince wrote 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 untainted by new technology or flavour of the moment rapper’s 16 bars so we can enjoy some vintage funk from the purple one the way it was intended, uncut.
Rest in peace big man. You were my number one musical inspiration. Creative genius.