I have been fortunate enough in my lifetime to witness, or to have heard some of the greatest musical entertainers ever. Michael Jackson comes to mind immediately; Stevie Wonder follows not too long after that. Sam Cooke, Ray Charles. Marvin Gaye. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. David Bowie. Earth, Wind & Fire. James Brown. P-Funk. Miles Davis. George Benson. Led Zeppelin. Eric Clapton. Santana. Elvis Presley. Public Enemy. Aretha Franklin. Luther Vandross. The Temptations. Smokey Robinson. So many great artists, and that list is leaving out so many, many others. And for as great as all of those artists and groups were, and are, there were none like Prince Rogers Nelson.
It was as if he had studied every nuance of so many of the great musical masters and movements of the previous years of rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, funk, singer-songwriter pop and so much more. Took what he needed from each of them and discarded what he didn’t; then combined what he had into something unlike anything music had ever seen. Once he was ready, at the age of twenty, his first foray into the music business was unleashed. The album, For You, released not long after his twentieth birthday, didn’t announce that an amazing new talent was on the scene, but the signs were there. The fact that he wrote, arranged, produced and played every instrument on that album was a staggering achievement in itself; the single “Soft & Wet” showed a gift for synthesized funk. What we didn’t know, because this entry in the legacy was so small, was that a giant was about to be unleashed into our midst.
Musical growth was coming by leaps and bounds through his first albums; his next album was his first to have a top ten single (“I Wanna Be Your Lover”), the next garnered high critical praise, and also introduced an element of salaciousness (Dirty Mind). And while Controversy wasn’t exactly a giant leap forward, it wasn’t a step back either. By the time 1999 came out, there was no doubting his talent; his reach never exceeded his grasp. All of this was prologue to his masterstroke, the soundtrack to his movie debut, Purple Rain.
After that album, he was a superstar, and to me, a musical superhero. He could play any kind of song he wanted in any style he wanted. His versatility knew no bounds. Restlessly creative, the music just oozed from his pores. He lived it, and breathed it, and he had to release it to us. He couldn’t hold back. For some, that may have been seen as self-indulgent, but to him, it was his gift and he shared it with us. One thing Prince did was he defined himself. He didn’t let us get too comfortable to define him, didn’t want us to say what he was. He would do that himself; and he used his music to do so.
When I heard the news that he had passed, I instantly gravitated to social media for the reaction of my friends and others around the globe. All were stunned that this life force, this amazing musician of unlimited talent was gone from the earthly plane. While he may not be here with us anymore, his rich musical legacy remains. Rather than make a list of songs that I loved by him, which are too many to name, I’ll just remember the memories his songs gave me. Praying that the radio would play the full version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Dancing “the Carlton” to “Private Joy” whenever the mood struck. Playing the 1999 album and watching the spindle on the turntable stick through his eye on the record label. Being amazed that there is no bass on “When Doves Cry.” Going to the movies and watching Purple Rain, and seeing the hands waving in the air at the theater when he performed the song in the movie, like we were at the concert in the movie. Blasting “Erotic City” once I got a copy of the song. Watching the video for “Kiss” on MTV every damn day for months. Playing Sign “O” The Times so much through senior year of college just to get me to the finish line. Dancing with a special someone to “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man.”
There is so much more I could write about Prince, but I think I’ve done enough. He was one of the baddest motherfuckers to ever do it. And I was lucky enough to be alive to witness it. Rest in peace or relax in paradise, Prince. You may be gone from us down here, but I’m sure you and your guitar are about to take your place on the heavenly bandstand.
(I apologize for the use of the expletive. But that is what he was to me.)