I learned of the tragic passing of Prince from a text sent by Jacques the Kipper. As you’ll know from the Billy Joel ICA, he’s a mate who enjoys a laugh and a wind-up, but given how much love he has for Prince I knew immediately that this particular text wasn’t a prank. Turning the TV to the news channels only confirmed it all.
I could have gone straight to the keyboard and tried to pull together a few words, but I knew they wouldn’t do the occasion justice. So I asked JtK to consider a piece for the blog. He’s done a tremendous job…..
PRINCE : NOT A TRIBUTE, MORE A WORD ASSOCIATION
Jacques the Kipper. Tuesday 26 April 2016
When I penned a very few words about David Bowie‘s musical influence on me, I never imagined that, barely a few weeks later, I’d be commenting similarly on the sudden death of Prince. As an artist, he knew how to surprise but this was unexpected on a whole new level. And desperately sad. Particularly I think for those of us of the same generation. As a result, I’ve found it really hard to put my thoughts in writing. This is my best, admittedly disjointed, effort for now. I’ll warn you that if you want comprehensive, if you want cultural analysis, if you want a detailed discography, then you’re better looking elsewhere. There’s plenty choice, much of it well researched and written. This is definitely not a tribute, more a word association.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born on 7 June 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father was a jazz musician and his mother a singer in his band. Who am I to doubt the legend that Prince taught himself guitar, drums and piano from a very young age. By the age of 10 his parents had split and he was living with his neighbours. In high school, he set up his first band. He released his first album in 1978 and pretty much the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forwarding to his death on 21 April 2016, I experienced a weird run of Prince related coincidences around that date.
Early in the week, an old college friend got a very senior job. This left me, wandering into work a day later, musing to myself how the hell could that have happened, given our collective application to alcohol rather than academia back in the day.
That inspired thoughts of our shared best friend of the time, Dave, who decamped to London, offering me the opportunity to live with him in Catford and, at the time, work with him for a used car dealer. Who knows now how life might have turned out, had I made that move. In fact, it was probably my on-off relationship with Julia Fordham girl that stopped me, not long before she made the local papers by running off with a leading councillor (who at the time was married to the Council Leader). But that’s for another day.
Anyway, as I walked, memories flooded back of one of the few times that I visited Dave in London, so that we could both go see Prince. So much did I want to see him (Prince, not Dave) that I paid (face value) more for a gig ticket than I ever had before; a record that stood for more than 20 years. We sat next to Paula Yates and her pals. That was an experience in itself. They sang and danced. A lot. So did we. Prince was awesome in his high heels. What more do you need to know?
As a quick aside, as I haven’t seen him for so long, I googled Dave when I got into the office. By his own admission to a trade magazine, he now seems to let flats to London gangsters. Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.
The day after, Thursday, again as I wandered in to work, “When Doves Cry” randomly came on the iPod. I never listen to that album, so enjoyed the experience of hearing it for the first time in ages and pondered the coincidence of thinking of Dave just the day before. Who’d have thought, literally a few hours later, I’d have heard the same song several times more on the radio or television.
For me, it was the usual Thursday evening these days, taking my daughter and her pal on the train to fitness training for her football team. Browsing social media, as you do on such trips, I noticed a breaking story that a body had been found at Paisley Park. Many thoughts went through my head – mostly, I’ll admit, to do with crime, drugs or bizarre accidents – but none of them directly associated with Prince himself. I remember wondering if he’d been there at the time and would this mean some gruesome public inquiry that he’d have to participate in with various media implications or accusations of dodgy practices… A few minutes later it became clear that the body might well be Prince himself… Obviously a fake story… Then the confirmation that it was indeed him… Shock… Sadness… Disbelief.
Without seeking to be disrespectful, I can honestly say that I never imagined that I’d hear Aretha Franklin, whom I thought was ‘ancient’ when I was a lad, paying tribute to Prince. That really brought home to me how untimely this was.
The final coincidence of the week was the day after and a pre-planned drink after work, something I very rarely get to do these days. The drink was with a friend, with whom I’d not long back seen Prince. Chatting to him convinced me to put this stuff on paper.
Why Prince actually died will apparently take weeks to be confirmed. No doubt now that we’re past the initial respectful stage, the stories will turn to innuendo and spurious, sordid, suspicious scenarios and circumstances around his death. Already I’ve noticed the lazy journalism linking Prince’s name to Michael Jackson. They are after all both black, successful and died relatively young, so – the story implies – who knows what other characteristics they may have shared.
As you’ll see from the next few paragraphs, I didn’t pore over Prince’s personal life when he was alive. I know comparatively little about him and am happy for it to remain that way, at least until his promised, but now tragically curtailed, memoir is inevitably published. Though not if it’s relying on a ghost writer to fill in the bits he hadn’t “written” yet. For me, it’s mostly been about the music.
I was first introduced to Prince about 1980 by a school friend. While he does inhabit the Internet, he keeps that pretty private, so I’ll respect that and refer to him only as The Friend Formerly Known As. The three albums he shared with me were, to say the least, eye openers. That was as much about the lyrical content as the music. It was all oddly addictive though and, alongside the standards you’d expect me to be listening to at the time – post-punk, sounds of young Scotland, whatever my girlfriend liked – I began to enjoy them more and more, and it didn’t take too long to purchase my own copies. So began a lifelong love.
Just to be clear, there is an anomaly here. I’ve just looked down the list of best selling global music superstars and (ironically for this blog) barring Kanye, there is no-one else in the top 80 or so for whom I can say I own more than, at best an album or two, many no more than a favourite track and most nothing at all. I don’t really do mass success.
I did waver a little in the early days with Purple Rain – both the album and film. It wasn’t that I didn’t secretly love the purple pomposity of it all, it was more Prince was getting just a little too popular for the indie kid I’d increasingly become. The run of singles and albums after that though was undeniably just genius. Parade and Sign o the Times remain among my very favourite albums ever, and depending on the day you ask, Kiss or Sign o the Times could well be my favourite single of all time. There are a raft of singles or album tracks from that period that I still rate as highly as anything in my vast and musically varied collection.
To be clear, unlike Bowie and one or two others, he didn’t really change my musical direction. Consciously anyway. I certainly didn’t rush out and buy lots of obviously Prince related music, though maybe it opened my mind to stuff that I wouldn’t have given a chance to otherwise. Is that why I enjoy the likes of Chaka Khan, Frank Ocean, Destiny’s Child, TLC or even Kendrick Lamar? Looking backward to likely influences on him, I do love Marvin, Al Green, Sly and the Family Stone, Hendrix… But what is Prince related music anyway? There’s funk in there sure, but soul, R&B, jazz, rock, pop, a bit of gospel too over his career. He even brought Kate Bush’s funky side out. And how could we Scots forget what he did to Sheena Easton?! Sugar Walls indeed.
Of course, I loved his androgyny. If you’ve read anything I’ve written before you know that I’m a sucker for that. Was he gay, straight, bisexual? Don’t know. Don’t care. I do know that he “dated” many famous women, much to the fury I’m sure of various macho meatheads.
It’s far too easy to write off his lyrics as pop trash. There’s much wit and wisdom and a fair smattering of politics, amongst the sex talk. I suppose it’s really the stories within so many of the songs that I enjoy. For me, he paints a picture, and usually a pretty damn colourful one.
I’m not going to say anything more about the music. You’ll either love the squealing and the shrieking, the groaning and the grinding, the bass and funky drumming, the inventiveness, the re-styling, or you won’t. That’s fine – each to their own.
As I said above, others will assess his musical and cultural worth far better than me in the many, many articles to be found across the written and virtual press. I do know that, in 39 studio albums, there’s some padding and there’s some I like much more than others. But generally I can switch on Prince at any time, at any point of his career, and bathe in the lovesexiness. Proved to some degree following his death by switching the iPod to random Prince and not feeling the need to fast forward through anything. Indeed, quite the opposite as a few lost gems see the light once more. That to me, personally, is a measure of unrivalled sustained quality.
I’m not really going to comment either on squiggles, slaves and law suits. I can’t deny that the sight in the mid-90s of a multi-millionaire trying to escape a contract just to be allowed to make more multi-millions did grate. But actually, in retrospect, I have to accept that the fight was to some degree worth it in allowing others less fortunate ultimately to benefit from more freedom of contract. In recent times, he’s taken on YouTube and the streaming sites and, largely, won. Hence the comparative lack of material being linked to from social media comments on his death.
The one thing I will agree with most writers on is that he was so unbelievably talented at so many things – multi-musician, singer, producer, arranger, dancer, sex god, though maybe not actor – that he’s probably had less credit over the years than he’s deserved. Certainly I have never seen such an astonishing guitarist. I used to marvel at Hendrix on film, then I saw Prince for real. And then he’d wander over to the piano. Or the drums. Or the various other instruments that he more than mastered.
There can be little doubt that he was a workaholic and a lover of music. If he wasn’t shagging, he was rehearsing, recording or playing live. He is the only musician that I’ve ever seen who can play a minute or so of a song – sometimes less – then just as you’re marveling at how amazing it is, cast it off for something better, then do so again, and again. And you accept it because it’s the only way to hear so much of his canon, but mainly because despite it being a medley and not like it sounds on the record, it is still bloody brilliant.
The worry now has to be that the rumoured hundreds of albums that Prince recorded and kept in the Paisley Park vaults are now cobbled together and the legacy is exploited. For me, though I know others will disagree, he left them in that vault for a reason.
More generally, while his death’s effect on the future of music is, of course, questionable, I can honestly say that there is practically no artist who has given me personally such consistent pleasure over the years. Social media has been awash with musos I like, and not all of whom I’d have associated with a liking of him, saying similar. That’s been oddly pleasing given the stick I took as an indie youth for being a fan. Even Noel Gallagher and Bruce Springsteen have done live tributes in recent days.
I’m not alone in now not daring to mention my other favourites in case somehow I tempt providence. I thought it would be a long time before some musician’s death affected me as much as David Bowie. Actually this is worse. And I can think only of a couple of further artists that I would mourn similarly.
That’s it. The end. Nothing more meaningful to say. JC can honestly pick anything he wants, though don’t be surprised if Prince’s lawyers have it taken down before you’ve listened to it. Starfish and Coffee with the Muppets is still on YouTube whatever.
Actually, talking of coincidences, YouTube and Muppets….over the last few days you may have seen Prince doing Purple Rain at the Super Bowl; Billy Joel was on that bill…
Oh and you might be wondering who now is the band that I’ve paid most to see. Well, after a short break it’s back to being Prince again. Worth every penny.
Shut up already. Damn.
JC adds……..As noted above I get to choose the tracks today. I think they are a match for the quality of Jacques’ contribution..
mp3 : Prince – Controversy
mp3 : Prince & The Revolution – Mountains
mp3 : Prince & The New Power Generation – Money Don’t Matter 2 Night
mp3 : Prince & The New Power Generation – Gett Off (Housestyle)