I begrudgingly became a Prince fan. Why? Well, when you’ve got a best pal that listens only to Prince and you’re hanging out with him nearly every weekend it’s inevitable that the “Purple One” is going to rub off on you. Prior to meeting this best pal in the third grade I can remember hearing songs like “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious” on the radio going to and driving home from town with my mom and thinking “I like this but I don’t know why.” When you hear lines like “I guess I should’ve closed my eyes/When you drove me to the place where your horses run free/’Cause I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures/Of the jockeys that were there before me”, at 8 years old you’re not equipped with the life know how to understand that lyrical situation. But still, those songs got me tingling a bit. There were some feels for sure. But by the time 6th grade rolled around I was well into Ratt, Van Halen, Quiet Riot, and Twisted Sister, while my buddy was bringing over cassettes of Duran Duran, Madonna, and of course Prince.
My time frame for getting to know Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson was adolescence. Ages 10 to 14. Those albums were 1999, Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day, Parade, and Sign ‘o the Times. That was a time span of 5 years. In five years he redefined what it was to be not only a musical superstar, but what it was to be an artist. Each one of those albums were uniquely their own little worlds. Each contained massive radio hits, but hits on Prince’s terms not anyone else’s. Not only was he this Machiavellian character, he was the absolute creator of his own universe. He employed band members, and some were very recognizable in that five year time frame. His band “The Revolution”. In the studio he was the Revolution. He created those records on his own, much like some strange alien creature moving from instrument to instrument in the studio. He made the sounds he heard in his head, and then instructed others what to do live. It was certainly a crew live, but behind the curtains one guy was running the show. He wanted to shock and offend just as much as he wanted to entertain. He made funky, dirty music that was meant to titillate and make people think. He used sexuality like an instrument; and instruction tool to open eyes and minds. But within those five years he went from end of world parties to a concept album that teemed with dance pop and jazz.
The man knew no boundaries. He didn’t take no for an answer. Regardless of your feelings about him or his music, you had to respect the artistry and fearlessness in his music.
I’d have to say Purple Rain, for me, is the record that affected me the most as a kid. The purple smoke and mirrors facade that hid the fact that Prince made a masterpiece of pop music. It ranged from Hendrix-ian guitar mania(“Let’s Go Crazy”), straight up boy/girl love song(“Take Me With U”), to one of the most perplexing radio hits of the 80s(“When Doves Cry”), Purple Rain had everything. Oh, it also had some naughty bits in it for some pre-adolescent confusion(“Darling Nikki” and “Computer Blue”). There seemed to be something for everyone on that album. My parents weren’t fans of Thriller, but dammit they sure did like Purple Rain. It was a bi-partisan record, at least in our house. As I’ve gotten older Sign ‘o the Times has become my go-to Prince record, for sheer volume and artistic reach, but Purple Rain never disappoints.
So here’s to that awkward kid from Minneapolis, Minnesota that grew up to change music forever. He blew boundary lines; musical, sexual, societal, and artistic to pieces and rebuilt to according to his rules. From one Midwest guy to another, thanks Prince. Thanks for being as weird and strange as you were. And for being as beautiful as you were.
R.I.P., Christopher Tracy.
Editor’s Note: The Prince videos available are sketchy at best, so I felt this was a fitting way to pay tribute. D’Angelo did this song justice, one of my absolute favorite songs.