Prince was (was…what a terrible word) an amalgam of Great Others. He was Sly Stone. And James Brown. And George Clinton. And Lennon & McCartney. And Jimi Hendrix. And Little Richard. And Marvin Gaye. All of that in a slight 5’2” frame that somehow never looked tiny, wrapped in purple 60s London Mod and yards of lace, and atop high-heeled boots that no other earthly man could ever hope to expertly navigate a stage in. But he wasn’t a bland copy, he was a fearless and cocksure pioneer that bent his influences into his own creation, a swirl of rock, soul, R&B, pop, rap, torch, gospel and psychedelia, stamped in paisley and delivered with love, baby, from Minneapolis.
To me, someone that grew up in neighboring Iowa, that’s what was so great about Prince. He wasn’t from LA, Miami or New York. He was from Minnesota, a Midwesterner that lived, made his music, and (heaven help us all) died here, in the middle of it all. He never left us, and I love him for that.
Never left us until now, that is.
It’s strange to think of him as gone. As crushing as David Bowie’s death was, it made some bit of sense, after the initial shock wore off. He was 69 years old, rumored to be in ill health for over a decade, and ingested otherworldly amounts of drugs in the 1970s. The toll on his body had to be tremendous. But Prince? He was only 57, but looked half his age. He was a committed vegetarian and didn’t have any reported addictions, other than stellar songwriting and women.
His death makes no sense. A world without Prince makes no sense.
I suppose Prince and Bowie will now be macabrely linked – like Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison before them – two titans of music unexpected passing within months of each other. But it could be argued that Prince is America’s Bowie, a prodigious songwriter with a multitude of influences and evolving sound, coupled with a fearless willingness to push the boundaries of music, sexuality, fashion and identity. Where Bowie famously jettisoned his Spiders from Mars, Prince did the same with both The Revolution and the New Power Generation, then one-upped the Thin White Duke by changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. If you can somehow morph Ziggy Stardust into an unpronounceable symbol, I yield the floor to you.
Prince wrote Nothing Compares 2U and Purple Rain. He wrote Take Me With U and Alphabet Street. He wrote Diamonds & Pearls and Paisley Park. He wrote Let’s Go Crazy and U Got The Look. He wrote Darling Nikki and Sexuality. He could sing and dance beautifully, could very well be the most underrated guitarist in the history of the world, made a movie based on his life when he was 26, and was one of the greatest and most accomplished stars to ever walk this earth.
Prince Rogers Nelson, I will miss you. Look up in the air, there’s your guitar.