I woke up this morning to the news that Prince had died.
Which sucks. It really, truly does. I’m quite upset right now, and when I’m upset, I tend to write to clear my head… so this.
Update: Didn’t entirely work; I’m still somewhat obsessed, although I guess that’s understandable given my long time fandom of the man. Funny, though — he reportedly disliked the idea of “fans” because of its closeness to fanaticism.
Then again, the thought did strike me that while I’m sure I’ll listen to plenty more music in my life, I’ll never have quite the same long-term obsession with an artist the way I did Prince.
At the same time, though, it’s become very apparent to me that a lot of my friends “knew” me as a guy who was forthright about his Prince fandom; I’ve had more than a few people I’d essentially lost touch with get in touch just to check if I was OK, which was lovely in its own way, while still being sad.
Also, my lovely wife pointed out that I could have gone for “Forever In My Life” (our processional wedding music) just as easily as “Friend/Mother/Sister/Lover/Wife” in my selections. The beauty of Prince is that I could have gone for hundreds of songs. No prizes for guessing what I’ve been listening to over the last 24 hours or so…
My own Prince fandom is… well, it’s complicated. As a child born in the 70s I was aware of Prince in the 1980s — how could you not be? — but it was only in the early 90s that it suddenly clicked, and I tipped over into proper obsession, tracking down each and every bit of his music I could find.
Case in point: I walked 30 minutes each way (didn’t drive at that time) to buy the maxi-CD of “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”, because this was something I needed to do. If there’s an official album, I’ve got it, and if he were still around he couldn’t complain that I hadn’t supported him financially through the years. Yeah, even through the shakier later era albums, although there’s a lot of hidden gold in there too.
The death of famous people affects a lot of individuals, although of course we can’t say that we “knew” the person involved; simply the public persona they projected. I can’t say I “knew” Prince beyond listening to his creative output a lot and being in concert venues with him twice — once at the Sydney Entertainment Centre for a fairly stripped down raw show, and then out at Sydney Olympic Park for a more “stadium” feel show. Both awesome live shows, of course.
There’s already a heaping load of obituaries out there, as well as salacious tabloid muckracking, including shoving cameras into the faces of his ex-wives and anyone else who knew him. I don’t need to point out how inhumanely crap that is, do I? God, I hope not. I feel the loss of the artist and the music, but they feel the loss of someone they actually knew.
Inevitably, people circle back to the music, but if you were to ask me about my favourite tracks, you could be here a long time, and realistically, the answer would vary day by day and sometimes minute by minute. Hearing of his loss, and feeling morose, though, if I were compiling a 12-track album of songs to “explain” Prince, this is what I’d pick. At least for today.
Song: Let’s Go Crazy
From: Purple Rain
Why: How could you start a Prince explainer without it?
Why: The subject matter’s difficult (it’s about Prince’s view on Lesbians, more or less), but that guitar riff is just plain awesome. A simple go-to pick me up track, which I feel like I need today.
Why: It’s terribly trendy to rip on Batman as Prince’s “lazy commercial” album, but there’s some really good tracks that get overlooked, none more so than this.
From: The Gold Experience
Why: Prince wasn’t just a fine musician; he was also a fine lyricist. Plus, y’know, the music is really good too. I’m especially fond of the live version on “The Undertaker” VHS, but that’s a tad tricky to find these days.
From: The Gold Experience
Why: Again with the later-era stuff (sort of). A lovely track about what’s actually important in life.
Song: Rock ’N Roll Is Alive (And It Lives In Minneapolis)
From: Gold (EP version)
Why: Prince’s B-sides could vary in quality, and this is kind of cheesy, but it’s fun cheese.
Why: Prince stripped back to basics. I’m still failing to learn guitar, but learning to play this simple song is in my definite to-do list.
Song: Right Back Here In My Arms
Why: Not enough people listened to Emancipation. Sure, it’s stuffed with slightly-less-than-perfect tracks, because Prince’s self-editing wasn’t superb, but there’s an easy gold-star album, maybe two in there.
Song: My Name Is Prince
From: Symbol Album
Why: Anyone else with this style of track would come across as ludicrous. Somehow, Prince pulled it off. Nobody else was Prince, and nobody else could be, even if he was in the process of becoming TAFKAP at the time.
From: The Hits: The B-Sides
Why: Removing Prince’s faith from his songs is a daft thing to do, even if his own religious thoughts were, let’s say, complex. God, a B-side most easily found on the first greatest hits compilation, is a lovely simple track that I’ve used in discussion with Christian friends before. Plus, let’s face it, in 2016, God is assembling one very fine band indeed.
Song: The Question Of U
From: Grafitti Bridge
Why: Again, another stripped down Prince track, and while the movie’s not up to much, the soundtrack more than makes up for it. Hauntingly beautiful.
Song: Sometimes It Snows In April
Why: It’s my favourite “sad” Prince song, and, naturally, quite apt today.
What the heck. Let’s go for the double album, because that’s a very Prince thing to do.
Song: Sign ‘O’ The Times
From: Sign ‘O’ The Times
Why: Again, the perfect album opener, a statement on Prince’s political views, and still a classic.
Why: Although DMSR is a close second when it comes to an opening track. The perfect crowd chant song, which is probably why he performed it in concert quite frequently.
Song: Money Don’t Matter 2 Night
From: Diamonds & Pearls
Why: Probably his last “popular” album, Diamonds & Pearls is stuffed with commercial fare, along with this rather more simple track.
Why: Because above all, Prince was all about the music.
Song: Raspberry Beret
From: Around The World In A Day
Why: Cheerful, bright, and a song he was willing to have fun with along with The Muppets.
Song: Starfish And Coffee
From: Sign ‘O’ The Times
Why: Again, an upper song, because I think I need that now.
Why: A reflective, quite deliberately Revolution-esque track from the later catalog. Again, seems appropriate for today.
From: Planet Earth
Why: Planet Earth was a sod of an album to get legally, and it’s very uneven, except for Guitar, which may as well be Prince’s marriage vow.
Song: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
From: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World (maxi-single)
Why: Despite the fact that they never formally met, I remain convinced that this is a song specifically about my wife.
Song: Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother, Wife
Why: I danced with my wife to this song at our wedding. No more explanation needed; a personal pick.
Song: Count The Days
Why: Prince was so damned prolific that he had to go out and create side acts just so he could release what he wants to. That makes me worry for what will happen to the vault tracks (allegedly thousands of songs). For now, though, this is a fine track from a lesser known NPG album.
Song: Purple Rain
From: Purple Rain
Why: Yeah, like I wasn’t going to close with this. Especially electric live, which makes me (selfishly) sad that I won’t be able to experience it again.
Image: Thierry Ehrmann