By Hans Ebert
Like John Lennon and Freddy Mercury, David Bowie remains in our thoughts, because his leaving is still too raw and painful to move away from and life on Mars with Major Tom continues. Some musicians, some people, even if no longer here, just live with us for very personal reasons. Maybe we see something of us in them, or more likely, we wish we could be more like them, or actually be them. I still wish I was King Arthur, which has something to do with my Guinevere fixation, a long story that goes back to the first time I dropped something more than plates back in Camelot.
Having said this, the death of Prince has, somehow, touched a nerve that’s as hard to explain as the man himself. Michael Jackson, was, without a doubt, an amazing performer. But at least in these books, he needed the genius of producer Quincy Jones, audio engineer Bruce Swedein, and musicians like Steve Lukather, Louis Johnson- both so vital to the track “Billie Jean”- Jeff Porcaro, Eddie Van Halen, Slash and Steve Stevens and the clout of Sony Music’s Walter Yetnikoff to help him cross that great divide between being a black artist and a white artist. It was Yetnikoff, below right with Jackson, who leaned on MTV to force the music channel not to pigeon-hole the ground-breaking video for “Billie Jean” in the “Black Artists Video” category by threatening to pull every other video from the music company if they did. MTV couldn’t afford to lose the latest videos from Springsteen, Journey etc.
Prince, on the other hand, was his own man when it came to his music and his career. Sure, he made blunders, but he had nobody else to blame for them. Same when it came to his successes. He owned them.
Michael Jackson might have tinkered with songwriting and playing a few instruments, but Prince conquered them all. Michael Jackson might have created the Moonwalk and had rhythm running through his entire being, but only now, are many of us seeing just what a brilliant and natural performer Prince was, too. Had he all the time been competing with, or trying to show up The Gloved One, another mega artist, but someone he’s never talked about as a musician he admired, and never ever made music with? Did MJ name his son Prince because he was the self-acclaimed “King Of Pop”, or for his admiration of The Purple One? Was Prince stamping his authority on being The Ringmaster Of Pop when, in the midst of all the inspired dancing and singing in so many different voices, he would slyly ask, “Can I play my guitar?”
Eric Clapton is supposed to have been asked what it’s like to be best guitarist in the world. His reply: Ask Prince. Even if part of pop folklore, it’s a great nod towards what an incredibly gifted and underrated guitarist Prince was, someone able to combine the styles of Niles Rogers, Jimi Hendrix and every other guitar god, except perhaps Jimmy Page, while channelling the Guitarzan from Planet Shreddo.
Michael Jackson might have played with the media at being eccentric, but, these days, these seem to be more and more contrived when compared to everything new we are hearing and reading about the life of Prince, things he always kept from view. He didn’t need Bubbles. He needed Kim Basinger.
Being reclusive is easy to say about a person, and it’s a term used too freely about Prince. But was he a recluse or someone so deeply immersed into making music that he didn’t have time for anything or anyone else- hours and hours of music he was capable of creating on his own, 24/7, and in his own studio?
Had it to do with the fact that he knew the only person who would never let him down was himself? After all, how many people can you count on? Really. If you’re going to do something, do it yourself. If not, it will either never get done, or every Shylock involved will suffer selective memory recall and want what they believe to be their pound of flesh.
There’s something about the lifestyle of Prince that traveled beyond being the orbit of being a brilliant musician and Rock Star. It’s something that many of us can also understand as ordinary human beings. Perhaps this is that certain je ne sais quoi that, everyday, makes more and more people identity more and more with this man called Prince.
Forget all his hits, but dig deeper and listen to his lesser-known music. There’s something very personal about these tracks. They’re not written to be commercial hits, something he could do with a flippant arrogance.
Like his guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” where he did it all in two exhilarating cameo breaks, writing and recording tracks like “1999″, “Kiss”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Purple Rain”, “Strawberry Beret” etc, Prince made it all seem so easy. There was an arrogant nonchalance to it all. It showed real talent versus the overrated reverence given, for example, to one of his followers Lenny Kravitz.
Not everything Prince recorded was brilliant. Hardly. There were some horribly weak recordings that only now his former band members and producers are admitting to be mistakes that should never have been released. What matters, however, is that Prince heard something in them and damn what anyone else thought. He had an offbeat sense of humour and he could have even been laughing at himself- and everyone else- with these recordings. The interview below with Chris Rock gives a rare glimpse into the man behind the artist. Make of it what you will.
Was Prince arrogant or confident or was he simply using these sometimes goofy songs with throwaway lines to give himself time to re-think and get to where he wanted and needed to go by using musical doodles to show him the way? And since the music was recorded, anyway, just release it. If the music failed to deliver, he could simply blast out another Top Ten hit overnight.
More legends in music and all other arts will leave us this year. The obituaries have already been written, and let’s not kid ourselves that these people who are still kicking around making music and touring can keep going. We just don’t want to think about them taking that last ride to the coast with those wild, wild horses.
Their leaving is going to leave a huge void in our lives because we grew up with their music, their music inspired us, their beliefs made us think, and, as I keep saying, their music is the soundtrack to our lives.
The question is, where do we go from here? Do we just sit and wait for Dr Death to come knocking on the door, or do we make one giant sweeping change to our life so it doesn’t stagnate? Boredom can be the worst silent killer. It’s not about giving up time to find a Higher Power, or trudging up and down some steps and getting nowhere. It’s not about constantly being needy and begging for forgiveness and getting kicked in the teeth for your efforts. No one ever forgives and forgets.
It’s also not about hanging out with gypsies, tramps and thieves only because misery loves company, and they’re the only company available. Nor is it giving up and getting stuck in a rut with old misery guts who has no idea what she wants out of life as she’s your Queen Of Diamonds, Desperado.
So, in a world of constant nattering and bullshit, and no laughter as there’s very little to laugh about, what’s there to do? Save the dolphins along with every tree in the Amazon and listen to a rich guy like Leonardo DiCaprio talk about whatever cause he’s embraced? Good for Leo, but what’s in it for you and me? Wait: What’s in it for ME?
All those losers unloading their clutter on you- and you listening to their sob stories. Why? They’re broke? They’ve lost their jobs? They’re just lost souls? And so? You’re meant to bail them out? Twenty years ago, maybe, but not today. Today, we’re all dropping like flies. All this “stuff” around us that we collect and put a price tag on, well, we can’t take any of it with us. So what’s the plan? Or is there none? Is it more of that inane saying about taking it one day at a time? What the hell does that even mean? It’s stupid. Ask George Carlin.
Everything is stupid and maybe- just maybe- more of us need to call it what it is like a straight-forward blast of Tourette’s. It might help to filter our lives better by getting rid of the superfluous and the superficial, stop wasting time on useless people with their stupid ideas because behind their stupid ideas are many more working the con of trying to make this garden of vapidity grow- and start to enjoy doing things on your own, especially creating anything. Do it on your own terms, do it according to your schedule, travel, meet new people who will make you laugh, travel more and more, and enjoy doing whatever it is that you’re doing. You owe it to yourself.
This is why the passing of this man called Prince has made me stop and think about myself and, well, screw the rest of the world. Prince had his problems- this is why he’s dead- but his living years after his teens seemed happy and full. Even when he took on Warner Music and became a nameless symbol, he was keeping himself busy. It was part of his daily Let’s Go Crazy routine and it was no one else’s business. It was his Emancipation.
Now, when he can’t protect himself come all the second-hand news: He died of AIDS. He was a hard drug user etc etc. In this world of freedom of speech taken to new depths of ignorance, where morons can go onto places like Facebook and say the most hurtful and hateful things without understanding the power of karma, this isn’t fucking “social” media. It’s UNSOCIAL behaviour and it only helps in creating a disparate and insular world where there’s no trust.
There are fleeting moments of Hope, but these are few and far between because of the hopelessness and stupidity and jealousy of people. There’s no “team of Hope” out there to turn Hope into Reality.
As they say, you come into this world alone, you leave alone, and the middle part is whatever you decide to make of it, according to your own rules and stick to them. And listening to all his music and reading about him, Prince lived by his own rules. He seemed happy with that after a dysfunctional childhood and no real relationship with his father. He loved women- including female musicians- as much as he loved making music, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
How much hurt he carried with him, and how much of this hurt became lost in the lifestyle he created for himself and which also gave him the power to be whatever he wanted to be and who he wanted to be around, we’ll never know. But we can guess, as many of us have grown up- or been dumbed down- with those same cards being dealt to us, along with a few jokers.
RIP Prince. And Thanks for the Purple Reign of Inspiration. May it last forever.