My Tribute to Prince

In high school I spent hours reviewing the movie Amadeus, a biographical picture about Mozart’s life, and checking the facts for accuracy. This was not something I just decided to do, on some persnickety whim to blow twelve hours of my life, it was an assignment. For which class, I surely can’t remember. But, I’m sure it was a good one . . .

Likely the radio was blaring in the background while I was pulling my paper together. Madonna, Aerosmith, David Bowie, Guns N’ Roses, the Police and Prince were  on the song rolls for that long weekend.

And I am sure I was singing my heart out with them . . .

Prince was someone who was so clearly talented, with a different sort of sound that seemed even to rock the rock world. I loved Purple Rain, “I only want to see you laughing in the Purple Rain.” The song was such a diversion from his other hits like Let’s Go Crazy and 1999. Though as a teenager, I didn’t quite know what to do with his flamboyance and suggestive lyrics, I loved his music.

My favorite song was When Doves Cry, which won an Oscar and sold 13 million copies. I thought the song unusual and brilliant!  The opening guitar solo, the repeating instrumental part that, rhythmically, sounded to be what we could imagine as a strutting dove.

I loved how Prince used his vocal guttural sounds as an instrument, almost like a buzzing bee, the overlay of the musical parts, the chorus . . .

“How can you just leave me standing, alone in a world that’s so cold. Maybe I’m just too demanding, maybe I’m just like my father, too bold. Maybe you’re just like my mother, she’s never satisfied. Why do we scream at each other, this is what it sounds like when the doves cry.”

And, really, what do doves sound like when they cry? Was this a metaphor for something? I was intrigued. Completely intrigued.

I was intrigued by an artist who seemed to reflect upon why he was the way he was, someone who was curious about himself and what made him tick. Someone who seemed a little psychologically-minded, capable of self-reflection. I liked that. To me, this meant he possessed a certain kind of personal integrity.

Now as an adult I think about these things as I have learned more. I have perused music videos, live performances, interviews, news commentary, and Saturday Night Live spoofs.   Watching the live performances I notice the Artist’s astonishing vocal range. I am awed by his stage presence. Performing as if he has merged with the music, his entire being a musical conduit.

I see how effortlessly he slides the notes from his electric guitar, fingers moving imperceptibly. I notice that those lyrics still make me flush a corvette red . . .

In my quest to know more about the Artist’s person, learned that Prince was bullied as a child. And so, to cope with this, he dressed as flamboyantly as he could, and was as noisy as he could be. This came up in a 1999 interview with Larry King, who was kind of a bully himself during the awkward interview, even referencing Prince as “weird” to the camera, as if Prince were not even sitting in the room!

Al Sharpton praised Prince as “focused and brilliant” and someone who had the “courage to be different.” Despite challenges he encountered in his childhood, Prince Rogers Nelson  persisted in who he wished to be and left us a treasure trove of musical jewels.

Now, you may be wondering where we left Mozart in all of this. A composer of more than six hundred pieces, writing his first piece at age five, playing many instruments, wearing the elegant clothing he loved so much. Likely shaking the shock of hair from his face as he counted measures, maybe humming along in his tenoric, soft-spoken voice . . .

It seems there is a similarity there, though separated by two hundred and fifty years . . .

Prince is described as “driven by his ideas and his singularity of vision.”   Having the capability to make his ideas happen quickly, having recorded and mixed three songs in one forty-hour studio stint, as well as having more than one hundred and thirty-five never-released songs in a vault.

One. Hundred. And. Thirty. Five.  Prolific . . .

It is a normal thing, I think, to reflect deeply on the effect someone has had on our life in the light and shadow of their death. Since The Artist has left us, I have been mulling over his impact on my life and have been pulling his music deep from the pillars of my past.

There is so much about him we will never know, but my quest to reconnect with him in the event of his death, has been an uplifting experience.   I am taken by the genius in his music-writing, the instrumental talent in his performances, his vocal genius, as well as his humanitarian interests and his generosity towards others.

What would the next ten and twenty years of his musical life have been like? Which songs would become our new favorites? Which concert would be the new inspiration? What additional hilarious pranks would he play on his friends? I wish we could know.

But in the meantime, the doves and myself, we are crying for the artist formerly known as Prince . . .