Prince Rogers Nelson was a genius. The same way Albert Einstein was to science, Edgar Allan Poe was to literature and Bobby Fischer was to chess, Prince was a genius to music.
He was a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. He created a sound like no other and a niche that only he seemed to fit in. He was extremely respected by his peers and the world over and he when he died on April 21 of this year it hit me hard.
I have never met Prince but I felt like he was family. His music had been the soundtrack of my life. I can remember being a little kid and wanting to be Prince. He was so cool. I remember making a makeshift Prince stage complete with his members from the Revolution out of an empty shoe box and other items I could find in the house. Every time a Prince album would come out meant another trip to the music store.
When I would say grace at the table I might start off by saying ‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today for this amazing meal made by Mom and Dad’. Or other times I might say ‘If anyone needs me I am going to purify myself in Lake Minnetonka aka the shower’ (A true Prince fan would get that joke.)
As I got older this fascination didn’t go away it just modified. I wasn’t looking for empty shoe boxes anymore but I was still completed enthralled with him, as I would affectionately refer to him, ‘the funny little man’.
Prince was very interesting to me as, for the most part, he avoided tabloid fanfare. It was always, as it should be, about the music. Yes many people will talk about Purple Rain, justifiably so, but this man had over 35 albums. Prince had a well-known ‘vault’ of music and seemed produce an album just as easy as someone producing a points card at the checkout. He would show up at awards shows, Academy Awards, Grammys, Tonys, Emmys and the reaction was always the same: standing ovation. Prince commanded that type of respect.
His early music was somewhat controversial. Ok, check that. It was only controversial insofar as he tackled taboo subjects, but Prince’s music seemed to reflect his current mood and the mood of the times (or, should I say, the “Sign o’ the Times”). When he got married he gave us ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’, when he felt the music industry was out of touch he gave us ‘Musicology,’ an album for true music lovers, and when tensions between the police and blacks in the US were rising he gave us ‘Baltimore’. Prince has always been timely and relevant.
His guitar solo on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was legendary. He performed one of, if not the greatest, Super Bowl halftime shows. I couldn’t even tell you what two teams played in that game but that the performance blew the world away. His set that was performed in the rain raised the bar to another level.
Prince was eccentric, which I believe was part of his genius. Unlike current ‘celebrities’ he didn’t seek paparazzi or a steady flow of front page articles, he let the music speak for itself.
I often hear of people being compared to Prince. This amuses me. Prince was, in my opinion, the greatest musical artist of all time. I mean no disrespect to fans of Michael Jackson, or Elvis Presley, or anyone else for that matter but to me there is no comparison. Unlike those two and many others, Prince wrote all of his own music and many times performed all of the instruments. He constantly reinvented himself and showed that no two albums were really alike. He didn’t try to fit into an already established mould but he created his own.
Many artists attempt to duplicate his sound but there is no fabricating or mimicking this man. You simply can’t. Prince wasn’t a once in a decade or once in a generation artist. He was a once in a lifetime artist and performer.
I had the privilege of seeing him perform 4 times live. The first time was in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre where he performed for 4 hours live and then went to one of the local universities and performed for another few hours. The second time was at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. He was about 90 minutes late but did he make up for it with a non-stop 3 hour thrilling performance. The third time was in Montreal at the Jazz Festival. His show started at 11:30 pm and by 4 am, yes 4 am, he was still playing a game of ‘chicken’ with the audience to see if Montreal really could party all night. The last time I saw Prince perform was in Ottawa at Scotiabank Place (what it was called at the time). I saw three of those performances with my father, something I was happy to share with him. On those occasions I gave my father a new challenge. He wasn’t asking me to put my makeshift Prince shoebox stage away, no he was trying to get me to leave the arena as I always thought, ‘He might come out once more.’
The audiences at Prince’s shows were always so diverse. Not specifically to race or gender but age. Teens, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty year olds filled the seats. Prince was an artist for everyone.
The news of his death hit me like a punch to the stomach and I felt winded. Celebrities are people and people die all the time. I don’t put value into one life over another but Prince’s death affected me because he was like a member of the family. That may sound odd but keep in mind that his music was, like I mentioned, the soundtrack of my life. First school dance, first kiss, first drive in my new car, death of a loved one, having a girl over for dinner, the list goes on and on. During these events Prince’s music was there to support me.
I know that Prince was odd. To me it was all about the music. Shelling out $15 for a CD didn’t give me the right to judge how he lived his life. His cause of death, while sad, wasn’t the main issue for me. The main issue was that he was gone. The genius was taken from us.
Prince Rogers Nelson was a genius. A once in a lifetime artist who blessed us with some of the greatest music I have ever heard. I miss him but am truly grateful that I got to experience his gift.
These are the reasons why I find Prince fascinating.