PRINCE 1958-2016. I Wish U Heaven.
Of all the million platitudes ever written about Prince, mine is one. There's nothing I can say that is better or more insightful and unique. But what we have now is a world without Prince. A world that, even a week ago, seemed as utterly unlikely as a world without sunshine.
The planet lost a genius. The word genius is tossed around liberally by people that wouldn't know genius if it blew up their mediocre planet. Prince was a goddamn genius.
There was nothing he couldn't play, apart from horns. The man was a self-actualised God, being what he wanted to be, and not what anyone else wanted him to be.
You'll never see a talent like Prince again. The next Prince will have to be packing boxes on a six month Work Placement for the Department Of Cruelty in order to get unemployment benefit, or starve to death in sanctions for attending a funeral. Even if he did, the X-Factor zombies would never allow someone so goddamn weird to be famous again.
Grief as always is selfish. I don't grieve Prince... yet. There's so many records that even though I've heard and know all of them inside out (apart from 2003's awful N.E.W.S.), I still feel like I don't know them completely yet. When I'll grieve it'll be different from Bowie, who completed musics greatest disappearing act for a decade. Bowie had already gone, in the slow process of grief that had started years ago. We'd prepared for David. Prince wasn't just unexpected. Prince dying was a spiritual impossibility.
Prince was.. omnipresent. He was everywhere. Always released material. Always touring. Always … out there. And now he's nowhere. And that's what'll hurt is that there won't be a Prince at 67, or 77. No new songs. Every Prince song ever has already been recorded and sits in a vault in Minnaepolis. You might never hear a new Prince song ever again. And every time you do, you'll be listening to a dead man.
Fuck you, death.
If you'd've told me at Christmas that Prince. And Lemmy. And David Fucking Bowie, would all be dead by April I'd be in a state of disbelief. I still am. It's hard now to even listen to David Bowie, let alone Prince. Today whilst working I've scooped through almost every Prince single in order of release (there are 104 of them), and had to stop somewhere around the transcendent and barely known “Gold” because I was meant to be working.
The Work, after all, was a catch-all phrase used by Prince many times. What he did was make The Work look like the best goddamn thing on the planet. I first hit Prince – or more correctly his genius first hit me – when a diminutive purple sex midget leaped out of a huge silk vagina on Channel 4 late at night when I was 14 years old during the simulcast of the Dortmund Lovesexy show : a show that bafflingly still isn't on DVD. From there, Prince and I grew up together. We weren't always close, and on occasion, veered wildly from each other (largely the early 2000's, when Prince's work was largely jazz, a limp live release, and six albums of wildly descending quality in less than a year). But I always came back to him.
Whilst I have to check my privilege, being a white male in a working class family in an industrial town in England, what did I have in common with Prince – neither woman, or man, but self-chosen autodiadact that could play 27 instruments before he released his first album, and clearly did not give a fuck what you, or anyone else, thought? Prince marched to the beat of his own drum. Except it wasn't a drum. It was some new weird machine he'd invented. I had nothing in common with him. But for one thing. The same thing that many of us who loved Prince had.
We felt that we were made for a different world. This one was too boring and too normal. That was what I had in common with him. We were in a world not of our choosing, and looking for our own world which felt like home. Prince found his. As He said in 1999's Larry King interview “I live in this world, but I am not of this world.”
Like Bowie, but not, Prince was an alien. But whereas Bowie was many people at the same time, no matter what Prince did – be it the luxuriously dense funk-pop, classical, acoustic, dirty rock (Chaos And Disorder is a stone dead classic that hardly anyone remembers), or jazz, what was clear was that whatever Prince did, became Prince, by virtue of the fact that Prince did it.
It's known by some as self-actualisation : the process of becoming ourself, realising what you are. Prince taught me something. That we are who we are : not who others force us to be. If Prince wanted to wear orange and blue, and make a gold guitar sound like an orchestra, and then release some of the lewdest hit songs of all time in Get Off and Sexy Motherfucker and Erotic City and Irresistable Bitch, Horny Pony, Sex!, the Sex Of It, Pussy Control, Good Pussy, Scarlet Pussy, Mad Sex, Love And Sex, My Sex, Sex In The Summer, Sex Me - Sex Me Not, Lovesexy, Sex Shooter, Sexuality, Sexual Suicide, Sexy Dancer, , , then godammit, why not? If he wanted to change his name to an unpronouncable post gender ampersand, or release a five CD, mail order only box set of funk jams, classic pieces, and a gorgeous acoustic record The Truth , then why not? If he wanted to form his own record company, and build his own universe paradise of a self-contained recording studio and film studio, or cancel a full album a week before it hit the shops with thousands of copies destroyed, then.. he could. The Black Album finally escaped years later to escape a contract, but there's more than enough Prince albums that never did, Prince always followed his own muse, however disastrous that would be, and he was right to do it.
That's what he taught me. And many of us. To be yourself. To, if you can, not compromise. With every album he made – so many in fact I can't even digest them all, but something like 40 released albums in 38 years, alongside the countless others released only on MP3, or streaming on his website, and the 17 or so concert sets he released – what is apparent is that Prince was, creatively ablaze, and always running ahead of himself. His only concession to a legitimate greatest hits records was a three CD box set with 20 or so b-sides on and several new songs, released the same year he also released a studio album under an alias of Goldnigga, and the same year he also recorded two other albums. His output was astonishing. In 1995, for example, his live sets all contained material that was less than 5 years old. In the midst of this unstoppable output, he'd casually record and shelve countless fully completed albums, songs & videos – including at one point a 10CD $700 Set of copyright-free samples and jams designed for listeners and musicians to sample.
In the midst of all this, Prince as person was probably indecipherable. Almost as if he were a human conduit for sound, about the only element he didn't master was mortality itself.
It's all there, in The Work. The 40 or so studio albums. The 700 or so songs he released in his lifetime, not taking into account the whole albums he seemingly wrote in the blink of an eye for dozens of others. Even if he'd never released a note of his own, and merely been known for the songs he wrote for others, he'd still be one of the best songwriters on the planet. Nothing Compares 2 U. Love Thy Will Be Done. Manic Monday. Those alone changed lives. Let alone the high watermarks of The Time, Apollonia, Vanity 6, The Family, the Sheila E records.
The hurt comes from the fact that Prince was obviously, nowhere near done with music. Reports indicate he died of complications from pneumonia. Two summers ago, I suffered the worst illness of my life : a recurrent eight week chest infection that turned into Bronchitis that that evolved into pnuemonia that, at one point, saw me rushed into A&E, and later involved some fairly major surgery. I felt like I was drowning on the inside, lost my ability to talk, and lost two stone in weight. Quite how Prince felt he could battle something like this whilst touring – his last live show was barely a week ago in Atlanta – is testament to his strength. I thought we had longer. Another twenty years. What we have now, and this is just one of thousands of platitudes, are memories, recordings, and, above all, a guide.
Prince always did what he felt was right. Always. You couldn't dim his flame. At all times, Prince followed his path, stayed true to his muse, and himself. He showed us it was Ok to be yourself, however goddam weird that person might be. He was sometimes criticised, for being weird, eccentric, difficult, demanding, uncompromising, and all the things that are meant to be uncomplimentary – but to me, they mean a man in control of his own destiny. And isn't that what most of us want to be?