Still trying to come up with the words…….It’s hard. Real hard.
But I guess the one sure way I can begin is by saying this: beyond a shadow of a doubt, Prince was the reason why I wanted to become a musician.
I’m going to tell you a story my mom always loves to talk about and, well, I guess it’s time that this part of my history comes out of my closet. As a five year old I did not take into account in my small mind what exactly Prince was singing about, but his music connected to me. Me, a lowly 5 year old. It was incredible – 1999, Little Red Corvette, Let’s Go Crazy, I Would Die 4 U/Baby I’m A Star, When Doves Cry – I loved it all!
At about this time, Purple Rain just came out and Prince was all the rage. MTV was also on the front lines for Prince and his Revolution. They began airing at 9pm, for what ended up being 3 nights in a row, a video where Prince delivered an epic 15-plus-minute rendition of I Would Die 4 U/Baby I’m a Star. I was floored, absolutely floored! So much so, that I became obsessed with it. My mom, always my biggest fan and supporter, decided to play along. She made a small mic stand out of an old broomstick, with a base. When the video would come on, I dressed up just like the Purple One in that concert video, the same shaw, head band, jacket, all of it. I then proceeded to mimic the entire performance in the living room, all the dance moves, gyrations, foot stomping, spins, every little thing. For a 15-minute period, in my mind, I was Prince.
So, given my obsession with the man, when Prince decided to bring the Purple Rain tour to Tallahassee, FL’s Leon County Civic Center, my mom and dad decided that despite the fact I was really, really young, they would take me to see my idol. That’s right, my very first concert I ever went to was Prince at age 6!
The show was everything I could have imagined. He did all his hits, made the crowd go crazy with every song. I even remember a super-extended version of Little Red Corvette with about a 3-4 minute intro to the song that resonated with me so much.
From that moment on, I knew what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a professional musician/entertainer. 30+ years later, I’m still striving for that.
And now the man responsible for that life-changing moment is gone.
No warning, nothing. I think that’s what pisses us off. The abrupt departure of a soul whose very being touched us all in some capacity.
It’s also a very sobering reminder that in the end, we are all mortals. It is what we create and give to the world that lives on forever, beyond the graves, beyond time. Prince was an iconoclast who gave the world an unparalleled body of work and creativity that spawned an entire generation of musicians, performers and entertainers.
And say what people will about his aggressive protection of his work, but the man was an icon and inspiration for many musicians who simply craved the freedom to be able to do what they wanted to. The man demanded that freedom so much that he actually changed his name to something so unpronounceable, he became simply known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. A move like that could kill a career. Instead, a new chapter was born, and The Artist got to make his music, and release it his way. It ended being a body of work that was just as monstrous in size as it was in musical content.
And the fans never stopped supporting him, even when he disappeared from the mainstream.
Until 2004, when he was a first-ballot inductee to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And true to form, he became legendary once again, by delivering a guitar solo for George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps that is heralded as one of the greatest R&RHOF moments of all time.
And shortly thereafter, he delivered a performance during the half-time of the Super Bowl that was unparalleled, considered the greatest half-time show ever, and yet totally Prince.
The man could simply do no wrong. So much will now be written about him, and the list is bound to be massive.
Prince was really a cross between James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. He was a guitar virtuoso with a commanding stage presence, and a band leader who had incredible dance moves and was lightning fast on the stage.
But it wasn’t just guitar. His plethora of instruments he could play was legendary. He could play them all well enough that often times he would record albums with nobody else on the record but him.
He constantly wrote music, all the time, non-stop, and yet despite each song being different, all his stuff had a familiar sound to it.
He wrote so much that he gave songs to other artists/bands that ended up becoming smash hits, like The Bangles’ Manic Monday, and Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares To You.
A credit to why he wrote so much was that he famously wired his entire house for recording, making certain that whatever his muse decided to share with him, it would not be lost. No doubt, a lot of the sounds he used in his records probably came from those uniquely captured moments in his studio and home, from women’s voices to random noises.
He changed culture in ways no one else did, and his music challenged public norms with regards to decency, effectively pushing the envelope enough to allow future bands to be able to follow their muse, no matter the controversy.
He never liked the media, rarely made public appearances, and zealously guarded his private life and his work.
As shy as he was when it came to public life and appearances, he was unapologetically mesmerizing and supremely confident on/in his two sanctuaries – the live stage and the studio.
And oh my God…that voice! One of the greatest voices in all of pop and rock music! That sound, that style, that range! That scream! The only person who could have possibly rivaled him in voice layering and range would have been the late Freddie Mercury. Never again will we hear another voice like that.
They found him in his recording studio, non-responsive. As tragic as was the news of his passing, the one solace I can take from this is that in the end, the man died while doing the thing he loved.
For those of you wondering, I did not see his last concert performance in Atlanta – I was actually gigging that night. Amazing to know that that will be known as his last concert ever. The Purple Rain tour was the only concert I ever saw him live. My one regret may be not seeing him perform live more often, especially for someone who was as big of an influence in my career.
But often times all it takes is just one show, and that Purple Rain show at the age of 6 changed me, tremendously.
For as many influences I have had in music, from the late Keith Emerson to Tony Banks & Bruce Hornsby, from Phil Collins to Neil Peart, from Yes to Phish, there is only one artist I can declare to be the reason why I began this crazy path of professional music. One artist who, when I first laid eyes on him, I knew right then and there what I wanted to be in my life.
That man, that genius, was Prince.
As a lasting tribute to my childhood idol, below is the video of the exact concert video I mimicked when I was age 6. It’s still just as good today as it was over 30 years ago. RIP Prince.