The Purple Prince
Prince Rogers Nelson, AKA Prince, AKA The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. The eccentric, funky, musical genius who colored my teenage years purple with his voice and his lyrics and his rhythms. There are people who love him, people who hate him, people who just don’t “get” him. But no matter what side of the fence you’re on, you have to admit the man has mad skills and talent.
He wrote his first song on piano when he was seven years old. He signed a contract with Warner Bros. when he was nineteen. He wrote, produced and arranged all but one song on his first album, and played all the instruments (at nineteen). He wrote hits not only for himself, but Sinead O’Connor, the Bangles, Chaka Khan, the Pointer Sisters, Sheena Easton, Martika, and Madonna. He did four movies, studied dance at the Minnesota Dance Theatre, and sold 130 million records. Oh, and his use of symbolism and metaphor is masterful (he is, as Caroline Kepnes wrote in You, a poet).
Prince liked to experiment with sounds, both vocally and in his production and arrangements of music. As a vocalist, he evoked different moods with various tones – soft and gentle, rough and growly, boyish, manly, girlie – whatever the song called for in the moment. During the recording of “When Doves Cry” he decided to remove the bass track because it sounded too contemporary. That song (a dance/pop song with no bass line – who ever heard of such a thing?!) became his first #1 single.
When I was in high school, I swore there were only three guys in the world I would ever consider marrying. Prince was on that list. His immense talent and platform shoes made up for the fact that he’s seven inches shorter than I am. I mean, he simply oozed creativity and confidence and charisma. He was the epitome of cool. It doesn’t seem possible that he’s been gone over four years now.
Prince left us with a vault full of unreleased recordings and videos. His estate released a delightful treasure from that vault in November of 2019. It is a never-before-released stripped-down demo of “I Feel For You” – a song Prince wrote when he was twenty, that ended up being a huge hit for Chaka Khan. This raw demo – just Prince and an acoustic guitar – is funky and chunky and vibey and way cooler than the Chaka Khan version (or the Pointer Sisters version). It’s even better than the studio version Prince himself did for his second album. Because Prince is one of those beautiful people who needs nothing but himself to create magic. In the demo, you can hear him turn on the tape recorder and pick up the guitar, and if you close your eyes, you can almost imagine you’re there, in the room with him.
Growing up, Prince’s parents had a jazz band called the Prince Rogers Trio (Prince was named after his dad’s stage name, “Prince Rogers”). His father played piano; his mom sang. It’s obvious he inherited (and thirstily absorbed) his parents’ musicality. In this clip, Prince runs through the Gershwin jazz standard “Summertime” (made famous by Ella Fitzgerald) with the band before a show. I could listen to him play piano all day (I pretty much have, just ask my husband).
And one more, because I adore his casual, comfortable rapport with the audience, and that devilish, boyish sense of humour.
Ah, Prince. Forever in the hearts and souls of so many. We lost you much, much too soon, but your spirit and humor and art live on in the music you blessed us with. May you rest in peace knowing you made a difference in the world with your music and art.