Prince’s Purple Reign Is Not Over
Earlier today, the world heard the news of the death of Prince Rogers Nelson. After about half an hour of pacing and talking to various people expressing our disbelief and our utter dismay, I have decided to remember Prince as I experienced him in my life. This is a daunting and terrifying task, how can I pay homage to such an iconic and influential (not to mention downright funky) artist? I’m not sure I can. As The Hits/The B-Sides reverberates throughout my house, I’m going to give it a go.
My experiences of Prince were limited until only two years ago. All I knew of Prince was that he was a man of small stature and big character. His hit songs Purple Rain and 1999 were of course on my radar, but not in any way that would indicate how important he would grow to be to my musical taste. My parents would play their funk albums and in my naivety it would all blend in to one indistinguishable groove. It was in late 2013 that I stumbled upon a video on YouTube of Prince’s blistering solo at George Harrison’s memorial. I’d like to go into a big clever bit here about how his technique and musical prowess drew me in but if I did I’d be lying, he was just so fucking cool. After a couple of weeks of hitting the replay button, I started to branch into his back catalogue and I could hear that coolness permeate his music.
This set the stage for what I can only describe as fate. Prince’s Hit n’ Run tour around London in early 2014 was blowing up twitter day-in day-out. By the second week of his ghostly gigs, I was hooked on the mystery and mythology that he had created around himself. Even the absence of Prince was a cool one. So when word reached me that Prince was scheduled to play an intimate gig here in Manchester, I freaked out and had Twitter on constant refresh for around two weeks. Unfortunately, problems with public transport and intermittent signal (free wi-fi my arse) meant they sold out before I could get my hands on a pair. I was gutted…
Fast forward to the day of the gig, February 21st 2014, it is rumoured that Prince has reserved tickets on the door for people who didn’t quite make the cut with the online release. Cue the rush down to the venue, and the four hour wait (which was by no means the longest). Cold and tired at around 8pm, we made our way for the bar expecting the man himself wouldn’t be on for at least an hour. How wrong we were! No more than 15 minutes after getting in the place Prince sauntered on stage and we were left pushing for a half decent spot. Prince was electric, he strutted around on his stage as though that small dark sweaty room was the only place in the world that existed. He whisked the entire crowd along on his nearly three hour wave of pure funk and enthusiasm, shredding and serenading; behind the piano he was Mozart, on the guitar he was Hendrix, as a performer he was Prince.
Thats what Prince did, he invited you into the dark and glorious world he created where sex and God met and where nothing mattered but getting the next fix of Prince. He was a writer, a performer, a musician, and someone who studied the world. He had said he loved music lovers because they want to know about the world, as opposed to being told what to think. Prince’s music was a way of learning about the world through the eyes of a genius. His style of composition was second to none. He intricately interwove layers upon layers of sound to perfection, he wasn’t a man for simplicity. Yet for all of his musical complexities, he managed to tap into something that everyone could relate to. Sign O’ The Times is the perfect example of a tune which threatens to stay in your head for days after you catch it on the radio, but discusses some of the darkest corners of social life in the 80’s: the rise of Heroin and the resultant AIDs outbreak.
The death of Prince (not to mention Bowie and Rickman amongst others) reveals a strange social phenomenon. The visceral gut reactions that many of us experienced over the death of such a great musician is testament to the power of what the man could do. He felt familiar to us as he helped soundtrack some of our greatest nights out with our friends, or most incredible music experience of our lives. He kept you sane on those long train journeys and whistling his tunes absent mindedly as you hoover the house. That is the power in a great musician, the power to infiltrate the every day lives of people with the music they create. So yes, the death of Prince is a tragedy, but it is one in which his true influence on the world as one of the greatest artists of all time will become all the more clear. The Purple Reign is not over.