Prince live at Madison Square Garden, December 2010; photo by Jason Gross
Dearly Beloved- What Made Him A Force of Nature
by Jason Gross
Prince was much more than just a cultural icon.
It's wasn't any individual quality that made him one of the greatest musical figures of the last few decades. Consider the incredible make-up of his work:
- That amazing voice, once said to make "Stevie Wonder sound like a struggling ventriloquist"
- His astonishing guitar skills: witness the oft-shared clip of him decimating several generations of rockers at a Hall of Fame ceremony (see clip below)
- His ability to become his own one-man band- his 1978 debut lists him playing about 30 instruments
- His songs that became hits for many other artists, much like Dylan
- His mysterious persona which barely changed in the social media age
- How he could cram so much feeling/thought/ideas into one song: think of "Let's Go Crazy with it spirituality, comedy, sex throughout plus the infectious keyboard hooks and chorus chant and the rock star guitar solo and slowed down vaudeville-like moves at the end
- His unique, breath-taking drum sounds that influenced numerous producers
- The way he blurred racial and gender lines
- His prodigious output- about 40 studio albums, not counting side projects, soundtracks etc..
- How he kept using online technology effectively for his own means
- How he was a hip hop pioneer, argued by no less than Questlove in Rolling Stone
Sure, all of this made him a once-in-a-generation wonder, but it was the combination of all of these things and the fact that one person could accomplish all of that that made him seem super-human.
THE GRIEVING PROCESS
But for anyone like me who grew up listening to, buying and singing to his albums along with plastering his posters and record sleeves on the wall (I had a bootleg cassette, vinyl and CD copies of The Black Album before I bought the briefly-available legal release), there was something more going on here. There was something very personal about Prince's death- it's not just because he was much too young and it was such a surprise to hear about this from someone who didn't seem to have serious health issues. As Ann Friedman in the Los Angeles Times and Alex Petridis in The Guardian very neatly laid out, the loss of someone who was such a public figure but who also didn't want to be known on a personal level (much like Elvis) is devastating because we feel like we're losing part of ourselves and our happiest years when they're gone.
GREATEST LIVE ACT EVER?
Along with filing my college years with great music, I also have the Artist to thank for three shows of his that I caught, which might have been the best I've seen. First one was the 'Jam of the Year' tour in 1997 at Jones Beach. The theater there is just at the edge of the bay and right before the show, a boat was circling the water just to the side of the stage. The boat pulled up to the side to dock, Prince jumped off with his guitar in hand, ran into the middle of the stage and blasted into the first song ("Jam of the Year")- best entrance I've EVER seen. Along with James Brown's "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing," he rolled out some great B-sides ("How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore," "Erotic City") and did some hilarious emotional bits at the piano, getting choked up for great effect.
For his 2004 'Musicology' tour, I caught him at Madison Square Garden where they handed each of us a copy of Musicology right after we got our ticket scanned. He started out with a bunch of Purple Rain nuggets, followed later by Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" and then a solo guitar set with "Little Red Corvette" and "Cream" (where he also sneaked in an Elvis riff and a joke- "Before you get to be a King, you gotta be a Prince") and another romp with his band for "Sign O' The Times," "U Got the Look" and Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" before encoring with "Nothing Compares 2 U" and "Purple Rain" itself. Basically, this Purple Majesty was giving us a musical tour and lesson to remember.
For the last show I saw, at the Garden again in December 2010 (seen in the pic above), he had a warning for us concert-goers beforehand for his 'Welcome 2 America' tour- "Bring your friends, bring your children... and bring foot spray, because itís going to be funky." Delivering on that promise, he performed on a giant version of his special male/female symbol, doing a Sly and the Family Stone medley, marching up and down the stage with Larry Graham.
Just imaging all that and reliving it in my head makes me happy. I've probably seen somewhere about 3,000 live shows and he's easily one of the greatest entertainers I've ever laid eyes on.
(If you need more proof, relive his 2007 Superbowl half-time performance here)
Of course, there's much more to be said about Prince and it's filled several books already (start with Touré's brief but comprehensive I Would Die 4 U) and will fill several more books in years to come. Thankfully, he left us a full legacy of dozens of albums and hundreds of songs, and hopefully, we'll get more from his fabled Vault. Even then, with everything he left, we'll still be kept wondering what else he could have conceived of if he had more time- workaholic that he was (putting out 2 albums each in 2014, 2015 and touring right up to his last days). Sure, some of those records-to-be would be just OK (anyone with that much output is still mortal) but some of it would also be manna.
Much respect to the Artist Who'll Always Be Known as Prince.
SEE THE OTHER ARTICLES IN OUR PRINCE TRIBUTE
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