We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
Prince is dead, my friends.
Tragically, inexplicably, unfairly, cruelly dead.
He was only 57.
I had to tell my children who Prince was, exactly. They’d heard his music, but I hadn’t really talked to them about who the artist was. So this is what I came up with:
If you took James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, Robert Johnson, George Clinton, and Liberace together you’ve have something close to Prince.
Prince always appeared at significant moments of my life. I first saw him on American Bandstand on a Saturday morning. When I saw him perform I thought “That guy is going to be huge.” I was 6 at the time, I think.
Raspberry Beret hit when I was tween. It was played on every radio station and at every school dance. I sang it on a continual loop. I remember being absolutely delighted when I found a real and actual raspberry colored beret. I wore it for months.
And if you saw Tim Burton’s Batman you also got to hear a lot of Prince. He did the entire soundtrack and provided a strong musical esthetic that just made the entire film.
Do I even have to mention (Party like it’s) 1999? I think that song was on continuous loop on New Year’s Eve that year.
He was also a man of few words. Have you ever watched a Prince interview from the 1980s? He was monosyllabic. He makes a monk under a vow of silence look like a chatterbox.
Dick Clark says of his Bandstand interview with Prince, “Probably the single most difficult interview I ever did in my life.” He answered in single words and hand gestures.
His acceptance speech when he won the American Music Award for Favorite Black Single is legendary. As his name is read off Prince gracefully sails up on stage wearing a purple sparkly coat with the high Austenian collar, a side cape of purple ermine tails, a ruffled white shirt, and a sparkly lace bandana made into a make-shift eye patch. He is followed by a Nordic giant of a bodyguard. He hands his award over to the giant, says, “Thank you very much,” and leaves the stage to go back to his seat. Keep watching. No one knows what to do. Lionel Richie who is hosting cannot believe it. There is a bead of sweat that start to bubble up on his left temple and it takes him a second to process and carry on with a wonderful exclamation of “Outrageous!” It’s here at the 1:51 mark.
I loved it.
He was doing everything that I, as a surly teenager, wanted to do. Monosyllabic. Check. Insanely talented. Check. Independently wealthy. Check. Amazing fashion sense. Check. Badass. Check and double check.
He was pushing social boundaries as well as musical boundaries. He was singing about stuff that I was thinking and feeling. People loved him for it and because I was thinking and feeling the same things I didn’t feel so odd or alone.
Plus he came out of Minnesota! I mean Minnesota of all places. Nothing great ever comes of Minnesota or Iowa except for I-35 going south. To have a rock star of this magnitude rise up out of where I came from and then decide to make it his home forever is unheard of. That right there earned him a million devoted fans.
I got to see him perform for the first time when I was in college. I was selling pizzas for Domino’s at the concert in Ames and got to stand at the door to watch when the stand was slow. I almost got fired right there for getting so into the concert I was late getting a pizza pickup.
But my stand also happened to be right next to the doors down to the underbelly of the stadium where Prince’s staff was hanging out. So where do you think they were all coming for pizza?
That’s right. To me.
So I got to meet all of them. They were some of the coolest, chillest people ever. They never expected anything for free and did actually pay for pizza. And at the end of the night they invited me and a co-worker down stairs to drop off the fresh pizzas they had ordered from us.
We sat around the table and hung out while they – about 10 of them – casually ate pizza and drank sodas and talked with us like we were human beings and weren’t wearing the tackiest uniforms in the history of fast food. This is what happens when you are raised in Minnesota. You end up being a decent person even if you are in the music industry.
Or maybe just being part of Prince’s crowd kept you grounded. Like all extremely creative people, he could be very “out there” and I think maybe the staff were the counterweight. But, really, watch some of his interviews. He has very little patience for ass-kissing crap, sub-par music, or getting personal at all. He wants to talk about his music and what it takes to make great music. He doesn’t want to talk about how he’s a sex symbol or popular or an icon. He did an interview on The View and when Sherri Shepard said she’d wanted to have sex with him since forever he dropped his mic and waved them a goodbye as he left.
Some of the rumors about the extent of his eccentricities were true. His staff confirmed (this was in mid-1990s when he was fighting Warner Bros and became TAFKAP) that when you walked down the halls of Paisley Park and he was coming down the hall sometimes, if he made a signal or wore something I can’t remember what, you had to stop and look at the wall until he passed. That sounds crazy and dictatorial, but he just wanted privacy and not to be stared at every second of every day.
And by the way, did I want a job?
His head of staff was serious. Did I want a job? With Prince. At Paisley Park. We had been talking for about an hour and I have evidently impressed him as being sharp and friendly. Apparently those were the two most important qualifications to be a runner or junior junior assistant. And I was from Iowa and if you couldn’t trust an Iowan who could you trust?
That moment between his question and my answer is frozen in my brain. What if I had said yes? What if I hadn’t insisted that I had to finish college? Where would I be? What would I be doing?
But I decided I had to finish college and so here we are.
I’m sorry if you never went to a Prince concert. I saw him in Washington, DC one day after having surgery. I basically told my doctor to stitch me up good because I was going to a Prince concert. I danced so much I had to call my friend Sabrina, who is a doctor and Prince fanatic, for medical advice from the bathroom half-way through the concert. (It was all fine.)
He was electric on stage. Electric. I’ve never seen a performer like him. He was playing in-the-round and was all over that stage. Nobody had his back for more than 2 minutes. He was everywhere all at once. His fingers and feet never stopped moving. It was clear that music was his everything. He lived to play that guitar and sing. It was almost like he didn’t need the audience. We were a bonus to him. He just needed to play.
This little piece from the NFL talking about Prince’s halftime show (called by some as the best halftime show in the history of the Superbowl and possibly his best performance ever) will give you an idea of what performing meant to him. It was raining at that Superbowl. The organizers called Prince to make sure he was okay with the rain and he asked, “Can you make it rain harder?” And he just made the weather his. He owned that rain.
We have lost something, people. Some of us know what it is. Others don’t quite understand yet. But it will become apparent in the years ahead that a certain something is missing.
I will close with one of my favorite songs that he wrote. He barely performed it and so it’s hard to find a good version so I have opted to post Chris Cornell’s cover of Nothing Compares 2 U. Yes, Prince wrote this. Enjoy it.