Friday, April 22, 2016

In Memoriam of Prince

2016 has already been a year of loss of so many from the music world: David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Paul Kantner, Maurice White, Vanity, Merle Haggard and more. The hardest blow yet though came this week.

As I begin to compose this post, it has been just about twenty-four hours since the news of the passing of Prince Rogers Nelson hit on Thursday April 21st. Like many, I got word around lunch time after someone at work had gotten an alert on their phone. My first response, like many, was "is this a hoax?" and a quick search of my own concluded it clearly was not. Immediately I hit my Twitter feed where I could see a few of the five stages of grief (denial, anger and depression) already in effect. So many I interact with on social media have strong music interests, and many of us have bonded over the years because of our love of Prince's music specifically.

For me, I felt an immediate numbness as if a sudden void had been created.

When I finally left work for the day, Sirius XM 80's on 8 had original veejay Mark Goodman on live, taking calls from people who wanted to talk about Prince. In between, he played songs by Prince, songs Prince had worked on with others, and just 80's artists whose music was inspired by Prince's sound. It was clearly a needed group catharsis, a way for folks to share their thoughts and feelings. When I arrived home, I found out MTV was actually showing music videos - focusing everything on their library of performances and releases from Prince's vast catalog. I sat down for an hour or so, seeing some forgotten gems and a few I had never seen from recent years. If anyone could bring videos back to MTV, it had to be Prince.

I flipped over to see what the news had to offer, settling in on Fox because former MTV veejay Kennedy was one of the hosts. I have always respected her music insights and views (I follow her on Twitter too) so I knew I was in good hands. I was really hoping we'd get more details on this sudden death, but sadly those are not yet available.

Was it truly from a severe strain of flu, which is what has been said was the reason for his quick hospital visit last week? My gut is telling me it was something more. Too many things from the past few months seemed out of place - an announced auction of personal effects including pieces from the china and silver sets from his marriage with Mayte and a tell-all memoir he had begun writing that was to come in the Fall of 2016. Then there are the oddly prophetic things - like his statement "save your prayers for a couple of days" at his last Paisley Park performance days ago, and his collapsed body being found in an elevator at his Paisley Park studio (in his hit "Let's Go Crazy" he sang "...and if the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy, punch a higher floor..."). Did he know he was dying? On Twitter, his long-time friend Morris Day said "He loved the number '7' - today is the 21st... 777". All symbolic or part of some grand design of a higher power? Time will tell.

As the night went on, the outpouring of comments grew on Twitter and Facebook. There were revelations that came to light - of people who I never would have guessed that we shared a Prince connection. In his home town of Minneapolis, Target Field stadium and the Lowry Avenue and I-35W bridges honored their favorite son by bathing in purple light. Other cities too did as well - like Niagara Falls, the Zakim Bridge in Boston, Cleveland's Terminal Tower, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, and more. I know Prince was looking down from heaven with a smile on his face, knowing he was able to bring the world together as one for one more time. His benchmark 2007 Superbowl half-time show was his largest performance, but his passing has brought together even more. And that's the thing about his music, it crossed all the lines. To paraphrase a lyric from his song "Controversy" " or white ...straight or gay..., we all come together if we are Prince fans.

In my review of his fourth album Controversy (click here for that review), I noted that my first exposure to Prince came from hearing his music on a local college radio station. That 1981 release was my full introduction to his world. Yes, I knew his earlier 1979 single "I Wanna Be Your Lover" from Top 40 radio airplay (released on his self-titled second album Prince - click here for that review), but it was through full album emersion did I come to understand his musical genius. Shortly after, Controversy came the amazing double-album 1999 (click here for that review) and his explosion on MTV with the videos for the title track and "Little Red Corvette". That is when the world all got to know his name.

By this point, I had become a fan for life. No other artist holds a more prominent place in my music library than Prince. Between his own albums and those he worked as a writer or producer for others, my library has over 850 of his compositions (nearly three days worth of listening total). He has held the distinct honor of being someone whose records I would by immediately upon day of release, without hearing a single note in some cases. He had earned my trust and loyalty. I knew that if I picked up a new Prince album that it would be worthwhile experience, even if was different than what came before.

All my friends knew how much of a Prince fan I was, even from this early stage. In high school, my best friend John put in our senior class "predictions" that in 1999 I would be the one to record a version of that classic song (I never did - I am not a musician, just a music appreciator). On Thursday night, he hit me up with a message on Facebook which read "RIP Prince, we lost a shining purple star from music's sky today" - so that told me that he remembered our many times listening to those early records. Back in college sophomore year, one of my floormates went home over winter break and returned with a gift for me - he picked up one of the Purple Rain movie posters from the theatre that he had worked. That poster hung proudly on my dorm and apartment walls for the rest of my college days and beyond.

I had the great pleasure to see Prince perform live on three occasions. The first time was for the Purple Rain tour on December 17th of 1984 at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium; a freshman girl from my floor Randi went to the show with me (I remember waiting in line for hours to get those tickets). The second time was for the Lovesexy tour on September 24th of 1988 at the Charlotte Coliseum; a huge Prince fan who I knew from a dance club shared that three hour trip from Raleigh for that show (her love for Prince was too great to allow for any other man in her life permanently - how does one compete with Prince?). The third and final time was for the "Jam of the Year" tour which accompanied his Emancipation album; this was on August 18th of 1997 at Raleigh's Walnut Creek Amphitheatre and my wife Terri let me go see the show alone while she stayed home with our then toddler son.

For many, Purple Rain was his pinnacle and except for an occasional hit single he "appeared" to drop off the map. But for loyal fans like me, his catalog continued to grow with some incredible gems. The 80's continued with Parade: music from Under the Cherry Moon, Sign o' The Times, the aforementioned Lovesexy, and the soundtrack to the 1989 Batman movie. He also released two jazz fusion albums as part of Madhouse.

The 90's brought his return to the silver screen for Graffiti Bridge, then came Diamonds and Pearls, the Love Symbol Album that came with his name change, Come, the once-lost The Black Album, The Gold Experience, Chaos and Disorder, the aforementioned Emancipation and the return to his former name, the lost music of Crystal Ball, The Valut: Old Friends 4 Sale and Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. Sixteen more studio albums and three official live albums would follow in the new millennium.

Through Prince's influence, I was also exposed to a number of other artists: Morris Day, the Time, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Vanity 6, Wendy and Lisa, Andre Cymone, Dez Dickerson, Brownmark, Jesse Johnson, Apollonia 6, Sheila E., the Family, Mazarati, St. Paul, Rosie Gaines, Tevin Campbell, Carmen Electra, Fdeluxe, Bria Valente, and 3rdeyegirl.

So I mentioned on Twitter and on my post on Thursday that my thoughts turned to his song "Sometimes It Snows in April" from the 1986 soundtrack to his film Under the Cherry Moon which we just revisited here last month. The song is so beautiful, about the death of a man at a young age. It has always moved me and one I've often thought I might play for my own funeral. Just a few weeks back, it snowed here in Michigan. Okay, it snowed two weekends in a row. It was the kind of snow that falls, beautiful in a way, but does not last. Within a day or so it is gone as the warm weather returns. I suspect Prince saw this kind of weather anomaly a lot living in Minnesota and it likely inspired that song in part. Seeing that kind of snow this month gave me another connection to the song. And now, the song reminds me even more of Prince with his death at such a young age of 57 (just six plus years older than I am).

I mentioned at the top of the piece that feeling of numbness and emptiness. I suspect I haven't fully processed this death yet. I did not know Prince personally; I only "knew him" from his music and what he shared through his lyrics and melodies. I haven't shed a tear yet (I suspect that will come at some point). I also have not yet gone back to his catalog with headphones in ears and let the great legacy he left us wash over me once more. It may take a few days until I am ready for that as well.

We all have heard about "the Vault", an actual vault he had in his Paisley Park studios where he kept unreleased recordings that might some day surface as completed songs. Like many, I hope to someday hear more via some kind of posthumous releases from his estate. I say hope here because the thought of never hearing another new song from Prince ever again is too much to bear at this point.

Prince often put at the end of his linear notes "may u live 2 see the dawn". That is certainly fitting today.

And I'll end it with a lyric from his 1988 song "I Wish U Heaven"

Doubts of our conviction
Follow where we go
And when the world's compassion
Ceases still I know
4 your every touch I
Thank U so much
4 your every kiss I...

I wish U love
I wish U heaven
I wish U heaven

Rest in peace, Prince.

For more from Prince on the blog, click here.

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