Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here Today

In a bit of a funk at the moment, not the good kind. Very similar to the one I was in back in January after David Bowie’s passing. Like you, I first started seeing the tweets about Prince earlier today, and after a few uncertain minutes saw it confirmed that he’d passed away at 57.

Like Bowie, Prince was one of those genre-blending artists that managed to capture just about all of us at some point or another. And in a similar fashion, once he did capture us we were destined to remain under his spell thereafter.

1999 would have been the first Prince record I heard, way back in 1982 when 1999 was the hard-to-imagine distant future. Soon after that I’d collected the earlier LPs, with Dirty Mind always getting the most plays, a record I once wrote about over on 33 and 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute.

Then came Purple Rain. Kind of like what happened a dozen years ago when everyone suddenly was playing poker, everyone suddenly liked Prince. It is simply a perfect pop/rock record, already cinematic in scope even without the accompanying film. I think at one time or another each of the nine tracks has had a turn standing out as a “favorite” for me on that particular disc, and each for different reasons.

Was writing recently about old concerts I’d seen, and in fact among those I did happen to see Prince and the Revolution during the Purple Rain tour in November 1984. I remember the white “cloud” guitar with the handle and (of course) his culminating a solo once with a stream of something flying out the top and out over the crowd as though it were a sexual climax. (There are certain things you just don’t forget.)

Vera Valmore happened to have seen Prince at that same show -- or one of them, anyway, during the three-performance run in Greensboro -- back before she and I had ever met. We were just talking about that concert last weekend when in Asheville, in fact.

During that conversation I mentioned how I probably wouldn’t be able to find online any audio files of those shows as I had with the Springsteen one from ’85. If you’ve ever looked for Prince stuff online or on YouTube, you’ve discovered it to be relatively scarce thanks to his considerable efforts to protect his product -- to have some measure of control over his art and how it was made available and received.

An exception is this performance at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame from 2004, where Prince joined Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison’s son Dhani in a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the performance occasioned by Harrison’s induction. Prince takes over the song’s latter half, and you gotta love his wry whaddya-think-of-that look near the end after his preeminence has been well established.

Stuck close with Prince all of the way through the mid-’90s where (as with Bowie) I lost the thread for a while before picking it back up again more recently (with Musicology and 3121). Then went back even before the beginning for those ultra-funky, impossible-to-sit-still-through Loring Park Sessions 1977, recorded just a year out of high school.

As with Bowie, Prince has had a permanent spot for me in the ongoing life soundtrack, and will continue to do so. Many will spend the next few days describing his combining and reimagining rock, pop, jazz, fusion, funk, R&B, and other styles, as well as other elements of his many cultural contributions. I think the thing we connected with most, though, is the effort and production of a genuine artist, someone who (relentlessly) created and inspired.

And as a result added considerably to this thing called life, helping many to get through it.

Photo: “Prince playing MadCat, Coachella 2008,” Scott Penner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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