I can’t necessarily wax rhapsodic about Prince the way I did with Bowie or Lemmy. I was indeed a fan, but not someone who was as invested in his music as others. That said, news of his untimely death yesterday afternoon did indeed take the wind out of my sails. Like Bowie and Lemmy, Prince wasn’t someone you expected to die, especially not at 57.
As I mentioned back on this ancient post, my first brush with Prince was seeing the breathless video for “Why U Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” which, if I’m being honest, did not make me a fan. I then remember staring at the back cover of… I guess it was Controversy or Dirty Mind and not getting it either. My sister then developed an affinity for “Little Red Corvette,” which also failed to really win me over. Bear in mind, however, that when that single came out, my favorite albums were Plastic Surgery Disasters by Dead Kennedys and Killers by Iron Maiden.
Then I heard “1999,” and it all clicked.
I think the most profound impact Prince’s music had on me, however, was seeing how it affected others -– specifically girls.
For the most part, the music I gravitated to as a kid was usually described with adjectives like “angry,” “noisy,” “dark,” “sardonic,” “difficult,” “anguished,” “histrionic,” “melancholy,” “off-putting,” “disturbing,” “juvenile” and variations thereof. Some might suggest that some of those adjectives could be applied to me as well, but that’s a whole `nother story. But while I certainly grew up enjoying my older sister’s Parliament, Brass Construction and Earth Wind & Fire records, funk wasn’t always my go-to comfort zone. I preferred the fang-bearing wrath and gratuitous power-chords of metal, the splenetic intensity of hardcore, the bug-eyed vitriol of Punk and the doomy posturing of Goth. I liked music that grabbed you by the lapels, slapped you around and dragged you across the room. I liked music that made you want to punch the walls red and defenestrate furniture. Still do. But Prince’s music does none of that. What it does do, however --- more so than the music of virtually any other artist I can name -– is inspire the most amazing movements in the opposite sex … something the adrenalized gallop of Iron Maiden and the amphetamine-fueled frenzy of the Exploited never could and never will. Prince’s music seemed as close to sex as one could get without removing their Levis.
This dawned on me in a manner of ways, notably from watching a certain pair of girls a couple of grades above me (and multiple light-years out of my league) grind with each other at a high school Halloween dance to the lulling, electronic strains of “The Beautiful Ones” off Purple Rain. It was the music that made them do that.
I saw that same scene play out quite a bit.
I remember, back in the summer of 1987, being in a somewhat schlocky disco in Florence, Italy called – if I recall correctly – Central Park, funnily enough, and hearing the signature bass lick of “Sign ‘O’ the Times” come throbbing out of the sound system. I was in Europe as one member of a 21-teen bicycling gaggle (six guys … I being one of them … and sixteen girls). When that title track to Prince’s then-latest opus came on, each of those ladies started grooving in a way that beguiled my 19-year-old self and my five fellow males, prompting us to follow suit with all speed.
I recall being at a mid-90's New Year’s Eve party in TriBeCa in a loft that belonged to a then-boyfriend of a friend of mine. Proceedings seemed to be winding down (it being well after midnight, by this point), so I appointed myself as de facto disc jockey. Certain tracks like “Fool’s Gold” by the Stone Roses and something or other by Blur were somewhat enthusiastically received, but when I put on “My Name is Prince” from 1992’s unpronounceable symbol album, it was as if the whole room had been administered a weapons-grade shot of libidinous adrenalin. The joint, as they say, started jumping.
This is all why when I spotted this outstanding piece in the Onion, I couldn’t help but laugh.
No –- just like with Lemmy and Bowie –- we shan’t see Prince’s like again. Let’s just be thankful we still have his music.
To borrow a poetic turn of phrase by my friend Erik, … Rest in Paisley.