Today I heard that my favorite musician of all time, Prince, died at the age of 57. I’ve never felt the way I feel right now after the loss of someone I didn’t know. And I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because Prince, more than any other figure, represents my home state of Minnesota. Maybe it’s because he is truly larger than life in every way and to associate death with someone like that is difficult to comprehend. Maybe it is nothing more than the fact that his music is so amazing that I’ve grown a one of a kind emotional connection to it. Maybe it is something entirely different. I don’t know. But, I’m already struggling to envision a world without Prince, and it’s been about 3 hours.
It would be impossible for me to pinpoint the first time I heard Prince. I was born in 1981. Controversy came out that year, 1999 a year later, and in 1984 Purple Rain was released. To say that Prince was everywhere at that time would be an understatement. So from the ages of about 3 to 7 when a kid is learning what music is, Prince was an ever present figure on the radio and MTV. So, As far as I’m concerned, Prince was just always there. There was no first time.
By the time I was old enough to start making my own decisions about what kind of music I like, probably about 9 or 10 years old, the decade of Prince was just wrapping up. Prince was headed into a different direction with “Diamonds and Pearls” and the ‘Artist formally known as’ era (an era I, admittedly, never liked much). Meanwhile, my musical tastes were headed down the road of Pearl Jam and My Bloody Valentine. Over the course of the next decade or so my journey through the world of music was immeasurable. But through that time all those same Prince radio hits of the 80’s like “1999”, “Purple Rain”, and “When Doves Cry” were still the radio hits of the 90’s. Looking back on it, it’s amazing how much I still heard those decade old hits on the radio. And on every station. The Classic Rock station, The Pop station, the adult contemporary station. All the stations. Prince from the 80’s was still everywhere. More than a decade later. Everywhere. And the thing about it was, I loved it. I’d hear “1999” or “Let’s Go Crazy” come on in the car, and I’d crank that shit up every time. But, not just me. Everyone. The thing about those songs was, liking them was not a personal preference. It was Universal. I simply can’t imagine someone telling me they don’t care for “1999”. It’s too good. All those songs are just too good.
It wasn’t until around the end of high school that I began to dig into the music of Prince on more than just the surface level. Around this time I had purchased three albums – 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign O’ the Times. It was here where I changed from someone that likes Prince songs when I hear them on the radio to a genuine Prince fan. I would listen to those albums, specifically Sign O’ the Times, repeatedly. There was a long stretch where every time I got in the car, one of those albums was in.
While owning these albums, I began to notice a reoccurring theme in the credits. “Prince – All Vocals and instruments, except where noted.” And those notations were few and far between. Prince wrote everything. Prince played everything. All the instruments. All the time.
Prince’s multi-instrumental talent, combined with his over the top eccentricities combined to create one of the longest running and hilarious inside jokes of my life. One Sunday morning my friend John and I were coming back from visiting a high school buddy for the weekend who was going to school at Gustavus. One of us, in conversation askes the other, “What do you think Prince is doing right now?” The answer, “I don’t know? Probably in his pajamas, eating breakfast, and sprinting from instrument to instrument” provoked an hour straight of hilarious gut-busting laughter between the two of us for the rest of the ride home. Now, I get that while reading this, this may not seem like the funniest thing that you’ve ever heard, and the hilarity may only be shared by he and I, but you have to admit that imagining the sight of a tiny five-foot-two-inch man, dressed in eccentric jammies, holding a plate of pancakes, and sprinting around his house to the point of exhaustion playing thirty-seven different instruments is amusing to say the least. To this day, some ten to fifteen years later, It would be difficult for one of us to ask the other, “What do you think Prince is doing right now?” without cracking up.
Prince was a lot more than his music, though. Prince had a style. Prince had a message. Prince was cool. Prince was cooler than anyone before him, and Prince will be cooler than anyone that comes after him. If there is one thing that you can look back on his life and learn, it’s to be yourself. You’ll never be as cool trying to be someone one else as you will be by being yourself. He did not dress, play, act, or think like anyone before him. He did not want to be the next Jimi Hendrix, he did not want to be the next John Lennon. Prince wanted to be the next Prince. You did not get the impression that Prince was looking around the world trying to figure what people thought was cool or hip, and then trying to emulate that. Prince never wanted or needed to copy anyone else. He already knew what cool was. It was the rest of the world that didn’t know. He just had to show us.
Throughout Prince’s music, he also had a reoccurring message. One that today’s untimely passing only accentuates. Life is short, don’t forget to live it. Whether it be in the overtly sexual lyrics of songs like “Little Red Corvette”, or the apocalyptic “1999”, or every word in “Let’s go Crazy”. Do what you want to do, be with whoever you want to be with, live the life that you want to live and don’t let anyone else tell you how to live it.
I suppose, I never really got around to talking about my favorite music of Prince’s, being everything off of the Controversy and Dirty Mind albums. But, I guess we don’t have time to talk about everything here. If you wanna talk about those sometime, there’s always a seat for you on our porch and a beer(s) for you in our fridge. Stereo is always on, come over any time you want.
So, with that said, I’ll just leave you with the words of the almighty Prince and be on my way.
We're all excited
But we don't know why
Maybe it's 'cause
We're all gonna die
And when we do
What's it all for?
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door