The greatest musician of my lifetime is dead. Prince Rogers Nelson was 57 when he was reported dead today at his home at Paisley Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I really don’t know what to say but I feel like I’ve got to say something because Prince has been the single biggest musical influence in my life.
I didn’t notice the whole Purple Rain thing when it happened. I was a teenage headbanger at the time and some funny-looking fairy with frilly shirts didn’t exactly do it for me. How young and stupid was I?
I was a little older when Prince recorded the soundtrack for Tim Burton’s first Batman film and it was the guitar solo on Batdance that made me sit up and take notice. I’d dismissed Prince as just another theatrical type in a decade full of dressed up ninnies but the Batman soundtrack changed everything.
The Kid could play. The Kid could do anything.
I was heavily involved with a church group back in the early 1990’s and we put on a concert as part of a local community festival. We even flew in a popular gospel singer from Adelaide for the occasion and it was my job to drive him around for the weekend (and play bass in his band). He was a bit of a big shot on the Australian gospel music scene at the time so I couldn’t hide my embarrassment when he first got into the car and Sexy MF started blaring out of my stereo as I turned the key. I couldn’t hide my surprise or my joy when he said he loved it. We had the album on in the car the whole weekend.
There have been so many great Prince albums and countless hit songs. My all-time favourite is The Beautiful Ones but I could put together a playlist that’d go well over 24 hours full of nothing other than great music written and performed by Prince. He was that prolific.
Many people think they know Prince’s music but most have barely scratched the surface. Hell, I have every album he ever released and I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are Prince songs in my iTunes library that I’ve never heard because I get so caught up in the ones I already love.
That’s OK, though. It’s more for later.
If you want to see a moving dedication to Prince, watch Alicia Keys’ speech to induct him into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame (3 minutes). It’s a bit cheesy at the start and I’m not convinced she was completely in control of her synapses that night, but it still gives me the shivers.
Wouldn’t it be good if we were all so consumed by something that we simply had to do it every day? Especially if it’s something that brings joy to others the way music does?
For Prince, and for so many others, music is like an extension of their consciousness. A guitar wasn’t simply an instrument in the hands of someone like Prince. Or Eric Clapton. Or Jimi Hendrix. Or Stevie Ray Vaughn. The guitar became an extension of their body. Playing was/is as natural to them as breathing – and probably just as essential.
Everyone should be good at something. Everyone should have some sort of passion and the chance to accomplish things in their chosen field. It doesn’t have to be something that brings fame the way music can, but something that brings happiness to the people around you. Surely that’s the greatest gift one can give to another person – happiness.
I wish it was as easy for the rest of us to bring joy to people as it was for Prince.
A few things I’ve been inspired by in my 27 years listening to Prince’s music…..
Despite the dreams writ above, few of us will ever be as excellent at anything as Prince was at music. There are people out there who are just crazy-good in their chosen field. Prince was the consummate professional. He was proficient at every instrument he put his hand to. Few of us will ever get there, but excellence is something worth striving for.
Be yourself. Be your best self. Be happy with your best self. Believe in your best self. Wear weird clothes if that’s what you want to do. Sing falsetto if that’s what gets the job done. Your true self is the light that will draw people in. Own it.
Prince wrote songs that he knew would ruffle feathers. He wrote them anyway. It’s easy to be cynical and say he wrote them precisely because he wanted to ruffle feathers. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? I don’t agree with that. I choose to believe that everything he wrote was an honest reflection of his life at the time and the willingness to put that all out there involves a good dose of courage. You might shock. You might offend. But that’s reality being real.
And as an aside, Prince was a guy who had a 40 year music career through some pretty turbulent times. It should be noted that he was never involved in a sex scandal and never had any sort of drug or alcohol-induced incidents. He never made the papers for anything aside from his music.
What’s at the heart of what you do?
If you’re a musician, it’s playing music. Prince was both a songwriter and a musician so writing and performing live were both at the core of his being. It’s always been interesting to me that Purple Rain was a film full of terrible acting but it’s got some of the most electrifying musical performances you’ll ever see. The music IS the movie.
Prince was a live performer without peer. He’d often do a three-hour stadium concert followed by a three-hour club show at a small venue in whatever city his band happened to be playing in at the time. Those club gigs were legendary and I soooo wish I had the chance to see one.
You want to see a man in his element? Check out this performance of Mutiny by Prince and the NPG on the Arsenio Hall show back in 2014. This clip shows (almost) everything that I love about Prince – a great song, brilliant vocals and an amazing, amazing backing band. The only element missing is Prince’s prodigious guitar playing.
I dare you listen to this without your toes tapping by the end….
My Top 10 all time Prince jams
The Beautiful Ones
The Exodus Has Begun
Baby I’m a Star
The Morning Papers
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World (Mustang Mix)
I Wanna Be Your Lover
Violet The Organ Grinder
I Wish You Heaven
Little Red Corvette
Days of Wild
Count The Days
Joint to Joint
My Name is Prince
The Holy River
Joy in Repetition
1000 X’s and O’s
Let’s Go Crazy
Beggin’ Woman Blues
I Wish U Heaven
Push It Up
Love 2 The 9’s
The Sacrifice of Victor
The Greatest Romance Ever Sold
Get On The Boat
Starfish and Coffee
When Doves Cry
The Latest Fashion
A top 10 was never going to be enough, was it?
I’m not trying to canonise Prince here.
I know it’s a bit strange to take life lessons from an eccentric musician and I’m not suggesting anyone should. I don’t base my life around the man or his music but I have always taken inspiration and joy from his work. The man was something special. He was rare.
His death came far too soon.