I’m sure that you’ve now had your fill of rare concert footage, interviews, tributes and articles telling you which Prince tracks you should listen to right now…
“Did you know that Prince wrote Manic Mo…”
Yes, for fuck’s sake. Yes. I did.
I don’t feel remotely qualified to write a proper tribute, so I shall voice only my own reflections. You have your memories, and they’re more precious than anything I have to tell you.
Already the press are gleefully plumbing what they call Prince’s “bizarre life at Paisley Park,” finally getting their revenge for his refusal to play the media game for so many years.
Prince embodied his art. He became a monument to it. He dedicated his life to learning new instruments, exploring new sounds. Even when he was on top, he continued to work like a youngster desperate for his first break. In his well-publicized battles with the industry, he stood firm for the rights of all artists – this at a time when he could have simply fallen back in line with everyone else, stayed quiet and collected his checks.
Already the press are gleefully plumbing what they call Prince’s “bizarre life at Paisley Park,” finally getting their revenge for his refusal to play the media game for so many years. Yet Paisley Park was not a folly, and there was nothing bizarre about it. He simply built his dream workshop, as would any passionate craftsman who struck it rich.
For music-makers, Prince’s legacy is a testament to hard work, of striving for perfection in the full and clear knowledge that perfection is impossible. Surely the mark of a truly great magician is when other conjurers can’t fathom his illusions. So it was with Prince; he carefully constructed and rehearsed his performances so that they felt magical, superhuman, even to those of us who do this for a living. He allowed us moments of innocent wonder, while the same time playing on our sexual urges, somehow equally magnetic to all regardless of gender or orientation. And now he’s gone.
With each passing year, artists we love and respect pass away. I’ve posted tributes before, I’ve obsessively listened to back catalogs, I’ve even shed a tear. With all that said, I’ve always been able to retain some perspective; after all this is not a friend or a family member. Besides, they left me with all this wonderful music, so I’ll simply celebrate their life and work.
Magic is real. Those of us who saw The Purple One perform live, we know this. We owe our children a chance to experience it for themselves.
I was on a train, traveling back from a recording studio when I heard the news about Prince. I felt empty and panicked. Something was different this time. Something bigger was going on. What was it?
In an effort to marshal my thoughts, as so many of us do in moments of confusion (for better or worse), I took to social media. My feeling of disquiet began to reveal itself. My mind’s eye kept picturing the closing scene from a nature documentary in which the last, tiny herd of a once-proud and plentiful species disappears over the horizon, possibly for the final time. I typed this:
All the losses this year have really forced us to let go of parts of our childhoods, teenage years, pieces of who we are. But in the grand scheme it’s part of a process of renewal. It’s a process of waking up and realizing how sick popular culture has become. For me at least, it wouldn’t cut quite so deep if the void was being filled by new entertainers of a similar caliber. We need to foster real talent. Allow artists space to grow and realize their potential. Stop worshiping false idols. Because right now I feel like greatness has skipped a generation. Magic is real. Those of us who saw The Purple One perform live, we know this. We owe our children a chance to experience it for themselves.
The reaction was instant and overwhelming. I guess many others were feeling the same way. In the days since, I’ve got a real sense from across the music community that we are all struggling again, reeling again, just like when Frankie passed.
Why is this? Surely there’s a talent-gap emerging in the top tier of music; the current climate simply doesn’t allow for truly original minds to flourish. Would Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix or David Bowie be able break through if they were starting out now?
It’s easy to blame the big labels, the songwriting factories, the EDM bubble, the media. Certainly they have all settled on a sausage-factory formula which works for them, at least on a short term basis.
But I have a nagging suspicion that perhaps we need to look at ourselves too. As a culture, are we guilty of looking only to the past for greatness? Raw talent is just as abundant as it ever was, in every town and city across the globe. Perhaps what’s missing is meaningful support at a grass-roots level. Artists need time and money to solidify their ideas and enter the marketplace with some bargaining power if they are to have any creative control.
And yet in the supposedly fresh, resurgent world of vinyl, Pink Floyd, Nirvana and The Stone Roses all featured in the best selling LPs of 2015.
Perhaps our pile of old records is blocking the door, while we’re sitting here wondering why nobody is coming to the rescue. Just a thought.