“We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life”: Remembering Prince

Aretha to 2 Pac to Pink my music collection is an eclectic mix of not just artistes but musical platforms. From the cassette tapes of my younger years to the CDs of my adult years to now the playlist on my computer. In that collection, there are five physical Prince albums – Prince and the NPG’s Diamonds and Pearls on cassette which I would have got in either Puerto Rico or New York in the early 90s when I was old enough and monied enough to (finally!) start actually buying the music I loved. I have the Hits – because I was playing catch up, collecting the music I’d grown up on but never had the means to acquire. It was a two cassette set, but I can only put my hand on one – and not the one with When Doves Cry. But then I don’t have the means to play cassettes anyway, right, so those are mostly just souvenirs. When Doves Cry is on the Very Best of Prince – which I have on CD – and which includes many of my favourite Prince tracks, pre-Purple Rain through to Diamonds and Pearls. I have the three CD Emancipation collection (which he did while he was still the Artiste formerly known as Prince) and finally another three CD set, Lotus Flower (that last one was a gift from a friend, a now departed friend who like me loved Prince’s music…though Michael was her forever boo…will the rivalry never end lol). It’s actually less than I remember having (I remember having the Batman soundtrack on cassette for one; where’s that?) and not nearly enough to reflect the musical output of the man who was as prolific as he was profound. For the former consider the sheer volume of music he produced not only for himself but for artistes like Chaka, Sinead, the Bangles…(and try to deny that I feel for you, Nothing compares to you, and Manic Monday are among your favourites performed by each of the named artistes). For the latter (his deepness), I have only to look to tracks like When Doves Cry which my 10-11 year old self would have absorbed when the local TV station had it in heavy rotation back when, making him along with MJ my tween obsessions. That’s a song that’s grown with me in the way that songs do when you grow from singing the words as you hear them (in the often sexless way that you hear them) to singing them as they are to seeing the deeper meaning (which with a song rich in imagery and symbolism and complexity like When Doves Cry there is plenty of) to transforming the meaning in your mind.

Prince’s death is being transformed in my mind to the death of an essential time in my life, my coming of age, maybe my youth. It’s not gone yet but it is being chipped away with the extinguishing of each bright light that represents that time to me. I had an inkling of this feeling when Bowie died (Let’s Dance was in heavy rotation too back in the day) but it had been brewing since Michael, since Whitney. With Madonna, Cyndi, Bruce, Janet…a handful of artistes (just think the cast of We are the World), this is literally the music I came of age on. Sign of the Times, indeed. It’s weird to think of it as something in the rear view. It didn’t help that Prince like Sade hardly seemed to be aging, creating the illusion of that era being a forever time, unyielding to the press of time.

Of course, nothing is, is it? Time outlasts us all. And as my newsfeed floods with Prince’s music, and references to his movies, even Under the Cherry Moon (which I loved!), and the acts he mentored (Sheila E!), as I tune into music networks that somehow now remember their mandate to play music, as he distracts the easily distracted media from the Orange one for the length of at least a 24 hour news cycle, I feel oddly hollowed out (a familiar feeling from a much more personal loss mere months ago), not yet able to take joy in the musical legacy, yearning for a wall to wall eighties party where the best music that ever was reminds of the best time that ever was even if it was only so in the subjective imagination of those of us who came of age in that time (as it is for all young people of the time in which they come of age).

Yes, the music of the 80s hits me with a certain affection and so the death of Prince is jarring to put it very, very mildly. That said, I remain a lover of music, period, not stuck in that time (just ask the guy who was shocked to hear me rapping Biggie Smalls the other day, though he claimed it was because he didn’t think women were in to Biggie). And like few 80s artistes Prince transcended the time I first came to know him. He embraced the music that came before him and created music (created as in wrote, composed, arranged, sang-sans-auto-tune, and played damn near every instrument not in the let me sample that for a second way of too many of today’s ‘creatives’) long after he was no longer dominating pop radio, up to the time of his death, really. He was a creative force and that (more than any nostalgia I might feel) is what’s gone out of the world. And that’s always a sad day.

RIP Prince Rogers Nelson, icon and iconoclast, who blurred so many lines – gender, race, musical genres, sensual/sexual/spiritual, pop/political – and, while so doing, solidified yourself in our collective conscious as the creative force of our times. Well, except for that one kid who asked who is Prince?
These are for him:

This one from the Bamboozled soundtrack is one I listen to a lot. It is political Prince, no filter. Radical Man.

This next one (sorry can’t embed but here’s the link) I like because it’s a behind the scenes of Prince’s Superbowl performance, impressive for so many reasons, beyond the pouring rain and the real danger that posed to the live performers; like Prince’s on fire delivery of Let’s Go Crazy, Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower, and Purple Rain – all favourites. “It’s profound and it’s loud and it’s funky and it’s just one performer shaking the entire world” one of the commenters says in the video, and it’s all that, and in some ways feels like another day at the office for an artiste whose default was greatness.

This is Prince with the NPG on Get Off. So much to love about this song – the funk, Rosie Gaines’ powerhouse vocals, Prince pushing boundaries and killing us with the lyrical and visual sexiness (not Kiss level sexy but still). Did I forget to mention the yellow ass-less pants?

I’m gonna leave it there as far as the vid links are concerned. Prince was one of those artistes whose music is oftentimes impossible to find online and with good reason, he was always an advocate for artistes (whether from exploitation by labels or piracy by fans) and I want to respect that. Because I agree with him, artistes should own their voice and be fairly paid for their work; just know I’d really, really, really like to share When Doves Cry with you right now.

“Dig if you will the picture…”



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