Friday, April 22, 2016

In the Purple Reign: A Tribute 2 Prince 4 His Singular Genius

Tragically, the majestic Prince died yesterday, in of all places, an elevator.

Like millions who enjoyed his music and much else, I was terribly saddened by the news. While many are undoubtedly bigger fans of his than I was, and there are numerous musical artists of whom I am a bigger fan, even a day removed from the hyperbole that shock can bring, I would say this unreservedly:

Prince was the most artistically talented individual of my lifetime. 

As this blog reflects, probably my greatest passion in life is appreciating, and celebrating, artistic brilliance. 

In not only rock 'n roll, but many music genres, as well as musical & dramatic theater, opera, ballet, dance, fine art, film, television, literature, comedy, architecture, culinary arts and more.

And while I have far too much admiration for musicians, actors, painters, comedians and more, at all levels of achievement, to suggest true dissipation of the creative arts, as also intimated in remembrances of Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Bowie and others, my sorrow over the loss of Prince is intensified by the certainty that I won't see his like again. (No matter how good artists like Beyonce and Bruno Mars may be.)

I remember hearing about Prince as something of a prodigy out of Minnesota around the time of his first few albums, but like many, really came to know of him through the hit singles "1999" and "Little Red Corvette" off 1982's 1999 album. (Speaking of "Little Red Corvette," see Chevrolet's subtle and classy tribute to Prince nearby.)

Then in summer of 1984 came Purple Rain, both the movie in which Prince starred and the soundtrack album that many considered his masterpiece.

I loved both of them, with the film likely being the first narrative rock musical movie I'd ever seen--and still among the very best--and "When Doves Cry" truly one of the greatest pop singles of my lifetime. (By that time I had long ceased piano lessons and couldn't play worth a darn, but attempted to learn "Take Me With You" as best I could.)

Unable to recollect anyone who might have gone with me, or genuine plausibility of having gotten tickets, I can't really say I "should've gone" to one of Prince & the Revolution's five sold out shows at the Rosemont Horizon in December 1984, including the last one on a Friday afternoon...

...but I really wish I had.

Although then, and now, I was much more a fan of Bruce Springsteen than Prince, Madonna or Michael Jackson, the time when the four of them ruled the music world circa 1984-1985 will forever feel like halcyon days.

Yet while I recall loving--in real time, and ever since--great Prince '80s gems like "Pop Life," "Raspberry Beret" and "Kiss," even by 1987's largely-regarded-as-masterful Sign "O" the Times, my fandom became more selective and sparing. (Though great songs made famous by others, such as "Manic Monday" and "Nothing Compares 2 U" also deserve mention here.)

I truly believe that Prince, much akin to David Bowie, deserves great credit for forever loosening cultural mores when it comes to acceptance of indeterminate sexuality, androgyny, interracial love and just general--and meant completely admiringly--freakishness, but I can't deny that at times Prince's strange persona was a bit off-putting.

The whole thing about renaming himself an unpronounceable symbol and being referenced as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince" just seemed far too precious.

Or petulant.

I can't say I know much of the music he's put out of the past 25 years, and while I'm glad I was smart enough to seize the chance to finally see him live, first in Milwaukee in 2000--I'll never forget seeing his silhouette as he took the stage--and then in Chicago in 2004 and 2012, I felt Prince routinely undermined his brilliance as a performer by delivering wildly unstructured shows and clustering some of his best songs in medleys.

I'm pretty sure I never heard "When Doves Cry" done in full.

Prince's 2012 concert at the United Center was the only one I reviewed here, and though I generally liked it more than some rather scathing reviews, I would have preferred if it wasn't so choppy.

Far worse, I felt that keeping the house lights down for 40 minutes after the last note was played, then bringing them up to clear most of the remaining fans (including me) only to have Prince subsequently perform "1999" and "Little Red Corvette" to a near-empty house, was one of the most bush league things I've ever experienced in nearly 700 concerts attended.

That left a rather bad taste in my mouth, but such is my regard for Prince that I still gave the show @@@@ (out of 5) and have never been able to think too negatively about him. If his latest Hit and Run tour, with just him and a piano, had come to Chicago, I would have loved to have attended, though scoring a ticket would have understandably been quite tough.

Anyway, this is not a hagiographical tribute to Prince, yet one that recognizes that for whatever flaws he may have had, or missteps he may have taken, the guy was a genius.

I remember back when I lived in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, I knew a guy who was studying to be a concert pianist. His two primary musical passions were Mozart and Prince, and he would convey parallels he saw in both.

I recall how, in going to the Twin Cities for the first time in 1994, I drove around suburban Minneapolis trying to find Paisley Park, Prince's recording studio complex--and seemingly also one of his residences--where he would be found dead yesterday. (I did find it, only to discover nothing special about its exterior, which wasn't even purple. I also paid homage at the famed First Avenue club from Purple Rain.)

Heck, just last week, a few days prior to the incident where Prince's plane made an emergency landing in Moline--at this point the cause of death hasn't been released, but I'm not sure why it would really matter to me--I visited the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

After about 5 hours there, I wandered to the gallery that formally identifies the inductees, of which Prince became one in 2004, his first year of eligibility.

Prior to getting into the inductee hall, there was a video screen randomly showing highlights from past induction ceremonies.

The clip that happened to be on when I entered the room was from the 2004 induction concert, in which the late George Harrison's solo induction was being paid tribute by a rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" led by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and George's son Dhani Harrison.

About halfway through the song, Prince begins blazing away on the solo, originally performed on The Beatles' White Album by Eric Clapton.

I have seen this clip several times before, and though Prince didn't allow his own material to stream online, it can be viewed on YouTube. (Seriously, watch it if you haven't seen it.)

But although I was a bit wearied, could've watched the same performance any time on my iPhone and didn't know at that point that Prince was in any distress, I could not move.

The artist known as Prince was a lot of things.

Including mesmerizing.

And obviously phenomenal, if at times frustrating.

A prolific songwriter who gave away "Manic Monday," "Jungle Love," "The Glamorous Life," "I Feel For You," "Nothing Compares 2 U" and more, and who supposedly left vast amounts of unreleased material in Paisley Park vaults, though surprisingly didn't have a huge hit in decades.

A musician who played every instrument proficiently and probably could have been regarded as the best guitarist of our times if he didn't do everything else so well. (If there's ever been a more gifted multi-instrumentalist in rock, no one comes to mind.)

A hyperkinetic concert performer who channeled James Brown, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and more, but at times revealed too little of himself or his best work.

A multi-octave singer who merged numerous musical genres, a master musician, an endlessly inventive producer, a dynamic dancer, a skilled actor, a fashion provacateur, a cultural icon and yet, often an enigma.

A man who had (or perhaps had) affairs with Vanity, Kim Basinger, Susannah Hoffs, Carmen Electra and myriad other beautiful women, but well may have--gloriously uncaringly if not intentionally line-blurringly--been presumed by many to be gay.

The artist who pissed off Tipper Gore with "Darling Nikki," and gave the world tons of great music. 

The creator of such indelible lyrics as:

- "I'm not a woman, I'm not a man, I am something that you'll never understand"
- "How can you just leave me standing, alone in a world so cold"
- "I never meant to cause you any sorrow, I never mean to cause you any pain"
- "She wore a raspberry beret, the kind you find in a secondhand store"
- "You don't have to be rich to be my girl, you don't have to be cool to rule my world"
- "I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray"
- "You were so strange, you didn't have the decency to change the sheets"
- "Life it ain't real funky, unless it's got that pop"
- "Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down, oh no, let's go"

Lesser known, but perhaps just as important, Prince was a devoted humanitarian, and if CNN's Van Jones--who worked with him--is to be believed, an eminently humble one at that.

But for all that he was--including synonymous with the Twin Cities, the color purple and 2, 4 & U being used as words--Prince Rogers Nelson, as he was christened at birth, was most of all singular.

One of a kind.

Not to come our way again.

And though now passed, immortal.

I've never seen evidence that another Minnesota-bred music legend wrote "Shooting Star" about Prince, but as with most things, Bob Dylan says it rather eloquently:

"Seen a shooting star tonight 
Slip away 
Tomorrow will be 
Another day 
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you 
That you needed to hear me say 
Seen a shooting star tonight 
Slip away"

RIP Prince.

And thanks for the ride.

This is what it sounds like when doves cry. 

Just a snippet of "Purple Rain" from September 24, 2016 at the United Center:

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