Thursday, April 21, 2016

Farewell, Prince

Absolutely shocking news today: one week after being taken to hospital for undisclosed reasons, Prince was found dead at his home in Carver County, Minnesota. The details of Prince's untimely death at 57 have not been released yet. What we do know is that he was one of pop's most brilliant and influential artists; one of the very, very, very few who rightfully deserves to be called a genius. He turned the communal sounds of funk into something incredibly personal with intimate lyrics about family, love, and of course, sex, and experimental production approaches that could be retro-psychedelic or ridiculously futuristic. He often functioned as a one-man band, tackling keyboards, bass, and guitar with equal deftness. His supersonic guitar work and unbelievable vocal range were as exciting as his hooks were indelible. "1999". "Little Red Corvette". "Raspberry Beret". "I Would Die 4 U". "Baby I'm a Star". "Automatic". "Take Me With U". "If I Was Your Girlfriend". "Kiss". "Sign O' the Times". "Alphabet Street". "Controversy". "Paisley Park". "7". Even "Batdance", surely the most experimental and bizarre single to ever get to number one in the US.  Each one is marvelously conceived and completely unlike anything else in Prince's trick bag.

I had the luck to see him perform twice about a dozen years ago: one a crowd-pleasing greatest hits show at Madison Square Garden, one a Prince-pleasing jazz/funk jam set at Club Black on the night he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While the MSG show was great fun because of the song selections, the Club Black one may have been even more special, both because I stood in such close proximity to Prince and because it was the ultimate expression of his refusal to follow anything but his own muse. If he had been any other way, he would not have been the great artist he was and is, but my favorite Prince moment may have been his appearance earlier in the night at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony as he strutted on stage during an all-star jam of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (George Harrison had been inducted that night too). The all stars (Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne) seemed fairly indifferent about sharing a stage with the Purple One, but Harrison's son Dhani was clearly beside himself with joy to be hearing such spectacular music. It's always the young ones who best understand the progressive nature of genius. 

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