If you couldn’t figure it out by now, “That Guy”, as he was called here on The People’s Vault, is Prince.
And Prince, is one of the greatest songwriters, greatest instrumentalists, greatest artists in general, the world has ever seen.
We were all privileged to experience his gift to the world.
I hopefully did not need to tell anyone reading this these things, but just in case you wondered, there it is, in the most plain language I can muster.
I can recall last year, in the month of April, attending a show by Nicolay, one of my favorite artists of recent (and a devoted fan of Prince), joking about how “sometimes it snows around this time of year”, on a night where it indeed had snowed.
In the weeks leading until the Darkest Hour, dedicated fans such as I, who still kept up with whatever he had been doing, received ominous news about his health, a “scare” if you will, when news of an emergency plane landing had to be made, when he was on tour.
Yet, nothing could prepare for the unthinkable.
On the dismal morning of April 21st 2016, a good friend, my “plug” into the Purple World texted me with very disturbing news coming out of Paisley Park, the home base of the guy whose music had enraptured us pretty much all of our lives: there was a fatality on the property. No other details were available at the time, but the news never got better. Eventually, we learned that the “fatality” was Prince himself. Everything after that was a blur.
I remember struggling to make it through work that day. I had no intention of leaving home that evening, if not for the aforementioned friend of mine inviting me to meet with others who were mourning, over the thing that had brought us together. The music.
I imagine this experience was similar, if not the same, for everyone, who felt the same about the man and his gift, going through that day.
In the year since, there’s been an emptiness that defies description.
I’m of an age where Prince was always a presence in the public sphere, for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are tied to his songs, knowingly, and unknowingly. On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., as I waited to hop on the Metro train, I listened to Prince, and remembered how it was in that very city that I first really felt “locked in” to his music. My cousin that lived there, had that infamous poster from Controversy on her wall. I heard the key songs from Purple Rain while there ad infinitum. To this day, I wonder how Prince made it through my mother’s “content filter” at the time, considering the things I wasn’t allowed to watch. Even though Purple Rain was relatively tame following the albums immediately preceding it, it was enough to disturb the mothers of “Middle America” at the time to ask to get labels for content added to albums. I remember a nightclub in the sleepy New York town that birthed me, called “1999”. At the point in time it existed, it could not have been a coincidence. One could count on -something- Prince-related to pop up every year, just about. Whether it was any good, was anyone’s guess. But at least it was there. Now, there’s a lot of uncertainty.
Prince recorded music like a jazz artist, for the most part; he has over 30 albums to his name (is it 40? I lost count). For the long-timers, each album came with a hope that he’d found the muse that brought us into the fold in the first place. One of his last offerings, 2014’s ART OFFICIAL AGE, contained a song, “Time”, which while clearly recorded in the present, evoked memories of the off-the-wall, mesmerizing, impactful works of nearly three decades prior. The album itself was a fun ride, but that song? Reminded me, reminded us of what made Prince “Prince”. This guy who would just pull music out of his ear and plop it on the table and leave you amazed. For the first time in a while, Prince seemed like he was less concerned with “fitting in” (a major criticism of his post-Lovesexy work) and back into his own bubble of weirdness that usually lead to something wonderful.
That feeling of “what will he do next” has been missing these last 365 and that may be the worst thing about losing him. Prince was forever about his music, his life’s work. I remember being quite excited for what would be his final tour, his “Piano and Microphone” run. Prince, notoriously forward-looking, was actually opening up, revisiting compositions from early on, adding a personal touch, revealing more of himself than he had ever done until that point. There was even talk about Prince releasing his memoirs to the public. A more “personal” Prince would have certainly been a change over what we had seen up until that point…
Prince’s passing has left, unsurprisingly, a purple haze (pardon the expression). There’s been a lot of reminiscing over 1984, which is cool (I’m not particularly hostile to the “Dove Criers” as some older-heads are), but I do lament that the career surrounding that pivotal year doesn’t get as much love. Not even 1982, which I felt was one of the best years of Prince ever (The Time’s best album. Prince making the “Prince” sound for real, codifying the “Prince” look that everyone thinks of when you say his name, so on and so forth). Not even 1987, 30 years later (Prince got, as we tend to say nowadays, “Kendrick’d” — in reference to the Grammy snub, even though U2 was not as egregious a choice as Macklemore). There’s a lot of weirdness around his estate and the rights to the music both released, and unreleased in his life, and I’m sure some wounds left to be reopened regarding the nature of his death, as investigation goes on. I even lament that it took Prince’s death to get proper copies of the movies in which he starred not named Purple Rain on easily accessible home video. But I should have known that, considering the way things went with him in life.
Thankfully, his music hasn’t left. At least the “streamers” finally have access to Prince’s most pivotal work, the first decade or so on the Warner Bros. label. If there’s anything I could recommend to someone new to Prince, is to start at For You and go forward, until you feel you need to jump off. Because I lived through most of that, it was no problem for me; when I first buying music with my own money, Prince was one of the first I explored. After the nostalgia wore off, I realized that this was someone that was much more than the image and the videos, and the movies. I hope that more of Prince’s music, as released in his life, becomes accessible. Though there is much, much more to sift through, and most of it came during the frankly indulgent era of the CD format, there is much to follow after the “core” period of Prince. More music is certain to come, but it won’t feel the same without Prince’s intent behind it. I’ll enjoy it, buy it, even. But it won’t be the same.
I’ll still listen to the podcasts, join the discussions, consume just about anything I can, related to this guy’s work, because it was just that compelling. Through the work of Prince, I’ve made a lot of unlikely friends, gained a lot of notoriety myself, found a lot of light in the darkness, as funny as that sounds. He will be missed. But at least he had something to leave behind, so that he isn’t forgotten. Surely the record labels will do their part, now that they can move as they tend to do in this regard. But us fans, need to do so as well. The dude is a legend, unfortunately no longer a living one.
So if you asked me, to name 5 albums of Prince (besides Purple Rain, because everyone knows it) that I’d recommend for a starter?
Dirty Mind (1980)
Sign “O” The Times (1987)
This, of course, is a fairly safe list, which omits Controversy (1981), the Prince album I’ve listened to the most. My real answer is: Start with For You (1978), go all the way to Lovesexy (1988), and don’t forget The Black Album (recorded and originally released 1987, snatched and shelved until 1994). Don’t forget the albums by related acts (The Time, Sheila E., Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, The Family, Jill Jones, Madhouse — so on and so forth).
What about albums after the “golden era”? Well, here are some I’d choose:
Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
“Symbol” Album (1992)
The Gold Experience (1995)
Chaos And Disorder (1995)
The Rainbow Children (2001)
ART OFFICIAL AGE (2014)
if you can find things like The Undertaker (1994) or Crystal Ball (1998) with The Truth in tow, add those to the list as well. Some of these will need to be handled with care. The first track of The “Symbol” album from ’92 is one that has no business being there, and IMO, the album really begins with track 2. I also wish most of the Tony M.-related content from the ’90s was removed. But the general feel of these albums are better than what was advertised (even by Prince) in the period.
There is a lot of Prince to go around, so as I always say, if you like what you hear, keep listening.
All these years later, I don’t regret it.