Prolific superstar and artist extraordinaire Prince was found unconscious in his home on Thursday, April 21, 2016. I’ve now unwillingly committed those words to print, but although it’s been days since I first heard the news, I’m still not wanting to believe it’s true. I keep thinking it can’t be real. How can a seemingly indestructible tour de force leave this mortal world in such a shocking and untimely manner?
Each time we lose an artist, it creates a feeling of loss within us, often triggering a period of mourning. Although we didn’t personally know them, that doesn’t make losing them hurt less. In fact, Prince’s passing allows us to remember how his music became a decades-long part of our lives and in that facet we feel as if we actually did come to know him to some extent in our own personal and private way. Besides, Prince was more than an artist. He was a musical genius, consummate vocalist, gifted songwriter, mega-producer, multi-instrumentalist, actor, mentor, and an electrifying live performer. First appearing on the music scene in the late 1970s with his unique hybrid of funky new wave soul in the late 1970s, he ingeniously communicated the story of his life through his music. That story cunningly contained elements which hinted at his past, present and future.
Prince flirted with controversy, taught us how to party like every day was 1999, gave us a guided tour through Erotic City, made love sexy, schooled us in the art of pussy control, exposed Sheena Easton’s sugar walls, and was the definitive master of double entendre and innuendo. He proved to us that becoming a slave to the machine was unacceptable. He also shared his talent with multiple protégés, often producing hits such as “Nasty Girl” by Vanity 6, “Sex Shooter” by Apollonia 6, and “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E. He even gave away what was to become one of his biggest hits, “Nothing Compares 2 U” to his side project The Family, featuring his then girlfriend Susannah Melvoin (twin sister of The Revolution band member Wendy Melvoin). And as if all those things weren’t enough, only after his death do we learn he was secretly a giving and selfless philanthropist.
I confess I had somewhat of an atypical journey towards becoming as a Prince fan. The Purple One initially piqued my interest in 1979 with his appearance on American Bandstand. I had already become spellbound by “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” but after watching his intense performance and brief, but coy interview with Dick Clark, I was hooked.
I practically wore the grooves off his eponymously titled second album, but shortly after, I unwittingly put him on the shelf until I heard “1999” blasting from the airwaves a few years later. I’ll also admit I was turned off by the endless hyperbole surrounding the Purple Rain era as well. Sometimes it becomes all too easy to take genius for granted.
In full disclosure, I all but ignored Around the World in a Day and Parade upon their initial releases too. I didn’t consciously pick up the Prince torch again until I heard the Lovesexy and Batman albums. After that, I hurriedly made up for lost time as I fully immersed myself within all things Prince.
It would be an exercise in extreme futility to attempt compiling a worthy list of his musical masterpieces, but songs like “Free,” “The Beautiful Ones,” “The Ladder,” “Sometimes It Snows in April” and “The Holy River” now take on new and deeper meanings.
After being unexpectedly summoned by God to make his final ascent up the ladder to the afterworld, Prince Rogers Nelson was cremated, and a private memorial was held on Saturday, April 23rd. He left our beleaguered souls behind to celebrate him and soothe ourselves with his vast, genre-defying musical legacy. I know I’m not alone in my sorrow, as evidenced by the current iTunes and Billboard charts. In the four days since his death, nearly four million Prince songs and albums have been sold, one million of which were downloaded solely on the day of his reported death.
While we’re lucky he left us with such a highly creative body of work, it’s all too painful to admit the purple reign of His Royal Badness has ended so brusquely. Although we’re never certain when death will call upon any of us, we can’t help but wonder how it will feel and what awaits for us in the afterlife. However, when I try to imagine what heaven is like, I take great comfort in knowing Prince is watching over us from somewhere up there.
“Sometimes I wish life was never-ending, but all good things, they say, never last.”