Archive for May, 2016

Saying goodbye to an electric talent

Posted in Uncategorized on May 16, 2016 by Todd

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Prince Rogers Nelson, his Royal Badness, the genre shattering Purple One from Minnesota, was the last true rock star worthy of that title. There is simply no other living musician who comes close to embodying his almost supernatural combination of instrumental and songwriting prowess, showmanship, forward looking fashion sense and unflagging work ethic. And that’s to say nothing of his very real, and very vital, eccentricity and mystique, that sense of otherness that seems to envelop many of the most talented among us.

I missed out on the heyday of much of my favorite music from the past. I wasn’t even born yet when the Rolling Stones released “Honky Tonk Women” in 1969 and I was barely out of kindergarten when punk finally broke through the morass of stadium rock in the mid-’70s. But I was damn sure there in 1983, sitting in front of the TV in my parent’s living room, when Prince and his band, The Revolution, appeared on the ridiculous pre-MTV pop music show Solid Gold to lip sync their way through one of his earliest and greatest hit singles, “1999”.

I was 12 years old, my parents were out of the house, and I remember stopping whatever it was I had been doing to stare at the TV when those first, orchestral synth riffs came leaping from the screen. Clearly, this was something new, and if the song itself didn’t make that clear enough, the musicians themselves certainly did. The female keyboard player, who sang the first verse, writhed suggestively in some sort of barely there latex outfit; her counterpart on the opposite side of the stage jammed away in a green doctor’s smock and sunglasses. And then there was Prince himself, decked out in that iconic purple trench coat and the funkiest jerri curl ever seen, already clearly a mega star, if only in his own mind at that point.

This band was male and female, black and white and…whatever Prince was; frankly it was hard to tell. For me, and I’m sure for many others watching that night, this was a Moment, one of those rare instances when something genuinely distinctive and modern crystallizes right in front of your eyes.

A little over a year after his Solid Gold appearance, Prince was, arguably, the most famous musician in the world, with both a number one album and movie, Purple Rain, and a growing reputation as one the most gifted players and performers in the world. At least for me, Michael Jackson simply could not compare.

I couldn’t have intellectualized it at the time, but this Prince character had somehow synthesized a lot of disparate elements of music and fashion that were part of a loose New Wave/ post-Disco scene at the time, everything from the electronic experiments of Kraftwerk and Devo, to Parliament Funkadelic’s synth infected funk and the minimalist punk stylings of The Ramones. At the same time he was also a throwback to Little Richard (the scream, the hair and makeup), James Brown (the dancing and funk jams), and Hendrix (that insane guitar facility), musicians who also prided themselves on being performers par excellence.

He was also, unlike many performers who find massive success, determined to test himself and his audience. This is, after all, the guy who stripped the bass part from maybe his greatest song, “When Doves Cry” at the last minute, despite protests from his music label. And when’s the last time you heard something as weird, stripped down and freaky as “Kiss” on the radio?

It speaks volumes about the man and his talent that musicians from every branch of the sound spectrum have offered their appreciation for Prince in the wake of his death on April 21 at age 58. A few hours after I heard the news of his passing, I read a comment to the effect that the world had lost its finest singer, guitarist, drummer and performer on the same day. That’s hyperbole to a certain extent, but not by much. If you don’t believe me, just watch any of his live performances that are available on YouTube, or the Saturday Night Live special that was given over to his appearances on the show over the years.

On the stage, the man simply burned. Just consider that much of the Purple Rain album, including the majestic title track, was recorded live. I’d go so far as to say that Prince may very well have been the most gifted guitarist since Jimi Hendrix and probably the single greatest showman American popular music has ever seen. He really was that incredible.

And he was sharing that gift until, almost literally, the very end. Which makes it that much sadder that he should end his days alone in an elevator, having apparently overdosed on pain medication prescribed for injuries sustained over years of performing

A larger than life rock star who was also a diminutive, extremely shy man. A fabulously wealthy celebrity who chose to remain in his home city most of  his life. An utterly enigmatic diva and, apparently, one hell of a basketball player. Male, female. Rock, pop and funk.

Prince contained multitudes. We’ll never see his like again.