Prince, 1958–2016

My last post on this blog was in March. I didn’t intend it to be that way. Life got hard, as it does, and Prince died. Life ≠ Prince, but Prince's music was a significant part of my life. Rather than lament life’s twists and turns, I’ll just tell my Prince story and get on with doing the creative things as often as possible.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when music became a serious interest. I’d have to guess I was around thirteen, just getting used to the idea of high school, completely ignorant of the oncoming problem of after high school. Up until that moment, I’d been using my mom’s cassette-tape recorder, pressed up against an old radio (on top of my grandmother’s old black and white television, in my room, naturally) to record songs I liked. It was the kind of recorder that lays flat and you had to push two buttons for it to record.

Like this thing, but so much cooler.

Like this thing, but so much cooler.

This was during a time when there were multiple radio stations playing songs by people who were actually musicians rather than this handful of corporations who own radio stations all over the country. It was a bit tricky to hear the songs you wanted because there was so much on the radio and not nearly as much repetition as there is today. I don’t recall recording any Prince tunes, but I do remember begging my dad for a record player. It was a Yorx turntable with external speakers from Lechmere or Sears. Silver motif, smoked cover, it’d be considered “vintage” today. It was crap. I loved it.

My Yorx was something like this low-grade beast. I didn't have an eight-track player in mine, however.

My Yorx was something like this low-grade beast. I didn't have an eight-track player in mine, however.

My next task was to beg for cash so that I could buy an album. This, of course, led to Prince. The very first album I ever bought was his double-LP, 1999. (The second was Vanity 6, but that’s another story.) I played that album to death, wore grooves into it with my cheap needle and heavy turntable arm. That made it difficult for any other turntable to play it. Which was fine, because everyone had their own copy.

The title track for 1999 tore up radio stations in Boston, whether they were pop or R&B. Based on that single alone, expectations for the album were set, and anyone who’d been aware of Prince to-date was in for a surprise. 1999 feels like a logical progression from Controversy, which followed Dirty Mind. His first two albums, Prince and For You, are cut from a different cloth entirely. And the experience of a Prince album is always a mixed and ever-evolving bag. One minute it’s a funky, danceable, big beat and radio-friendly track like “1999.” The next is something like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” or “All The Critics Love U In New York.” Like a new friend, every Prince album took time to understand, to enjoy, to relax with. And since I was an aspiring artist, it led to stuff like this.

Prince, circa 1984. Anyone who was cool looked like this. So, no one was cool. (Except Prince, he was cool.)

Prince, circa 1984. Anyone who was cool looked like this. So, no one was cool. (Except Prince, he was cool.)

Like all the other kids in my neighborhood, I was steeped in R&B, Funk, and Hip-Hop. That meant Rock, New Wave, Punk and other genres of music went unheard or—to our detriment—culturally scorned. I remember a phase of life where everyone seemed to be of the mind that any music featuring guitar was “white” music and being associated with anything “white” was a capital offense. Absurd and historically ignorant. Prince wandered into the musical corner we’d somehow painted ourselves into and swung that guitar like Thor’s hammer, scattered people all over the musical map, forcing an exploration to understand this sound that he was developing in plain sight. Prince was a musical genius, no doubt, and delving into his influences is a bridge too far for me. But I am going to take a crack at those influenced by Prince, musicians who come from the same circles or have, in some ways, adopted the musical journeyman ethic that Prince embodied. 

Stay tuned…