Prince: A Purple Eulogy

By April 22, 2016Blog, Exercise, Philosophy
prince performing

When Doves Cry

Yesterday, Prince died. Coming off the heels of other respected artists dying, this hits me hard. To date, Prince was the best concert that I have ever been to. Right after Musicology came out, he went on tour to promote the album and even included a copy in each ticket sale. Not only that, but he played for three solid hours and never let up.

He mellowed the performance out in the middle, by playing an acoustic set, center stage. All the old hits. “Little Red Corvette,” “Cream,” and “Raspberry Beret,” among many others. He even took back his song “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and slayed it. His encore of “Purple Rain” was an emotional moment and a stellar note on which to end.

Prince and Me

I never met the guy. But without him, I wouldn’t be as musical or even like music as much as I do now, if it weren’t for him. As a guitarist he was a bad mother fucker and underrated, until later in his life.

He can also play 20 plus instruments, and actually had to prove it to Warner Bros. before he released For You in 1978. After that, he went on to release four more albums before he became a fucking star with the release of Purple Rain in 1984. With that, his music was as proficient as you could ever want. If a musician spent her time learning a fraction of Prince’s catalogue, her musicality would improve by leaps and bounds. Her ear for harmony, too.

More important, he didn’t compromise his values at the time just to sign on with Warner Bros. This is the lesson I learned, as a musician, that any other musician can benefit from.

Cultural Impact

Dirty Mind Album Cover

The 80s gave us MTV. When 1999 came out, Prince was one of the first black artists to get played on the station. After Michael Jackson released Billie Jean, MTV thought they might need a little revamping on the musical selections at the time.

Not only that, Prince blurred gender lines in a time before it was commonly accepted.

  • He appeared in a thong on the cover of Dirty Mind
  • On Sign O’ the Times he made a female alter ego, Camille, to sing parts of some songs. All by speeding up the recording to raise the pitch of his voice. And then crediting the performer as Camille.
  • He wore bad ass frilly shirts and danced his fucking heart out in high heels.
  • He wrote “Manic Monday” and “Nothing Compares 2 U” for some bad ass women you might have heard of.
  • He addressed the media treatment of all this on his album Controversy. And he didn’t in a way that told us he would keep it up for years.

Musical Style

This is where his talent shines through. In addition to writing a shitload of songs for Morris Day and The Time, he helped cultivate a sound distinct to Minneapolis. Besides that, he basically released an album every year since 1978. Not to mention countless unreleased volumes in his archives. He also mixed spirituality and sex in the mix. Sometimes at once, sometimes separately. His music reflected these changes. Like 2001’s The Rainbow Children. Fresh off his religious conversion, Prince released his 24th album which covered race, spirituality, and sex, and it was Jazzier than any of his earlier work. More live drums, more horns, and some longer songs all along with it.

When the 90s hit, he adapted once again by incorporating the New Jack Swing sound into the mix of gospel and rock music stylings. For those unaware, New Jack Swing is defined as

a fusion genre spearheaded by Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle that became popular from the late 1980s into the early 1990s. Its influence, along with hip hop, seeped into pop culture and was the definitive sound of the inventive black New York club scene

and was an amalgam of that smooth R&B vocal sound over a hip hop beat. Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” is a great example, along with Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation album.

When he split from Warner Bros. In 93, his style became more eclectic, and he released a string of bad ass rock songs. “Chaos and Disorder,” off the album of the same name, comes to mind. Made to fulfil contractual obligations, it is a fun record. One that sounds like he was having a good time just being musical and playing his guitar.

These adaptable qualities are what make a musician stand the test of time. But they aren’t the only things.

Prince the Feminist

One of the things that stood out the most to me then, and more so now, was the sex positive messages in a large body of his work. Sex positivity for women sung about by a man in the music industry, who was androgynous and ever questioning of gender lines. It doesn’t happen much now, with songs like “Blurred Lines” topping charts, and Rick Ross rapping about date raping women.

No, back in 1984 Prince was writing about women taking charge of their sex and their lives. In “Darling Nikki” he writes about how he met a girl masturbating in a hotel lobby. She took him home and had a good consensual time. Long before Christian Grey was ignoring safewords and beating Ana.

No objectification. Told a good story. And in the video he humped the stage.

In “Pussy Control” he tells the story of a woman who got jumped “for her clothes and her rep.” After that, she told them that when she gets rich she will rise above them. Then the song details about her straight A college career, and then her MBA. After that, she hired the bullies in an attempt educate and empower them.

This all serves to portray women as not only sexual beings in and of themselves, but it also serves to show that their desires matter just as much as the partner’s desire(s). In his catalogue, to get a woman off was an admirable act. As well as being open about it with your friends, like he talks about in “Gett Off.” In short, Prince sang about getting fucked as well as fucking.

The Vault

Despite his death, it is safe to say we will have music for years to come. One of the most prolific talents, he kept hordes of music locked away. Some of it did get released, like when he was waiting to get out of his contract with Warner Bros. Some of it also got released to online customers, since he made digital music a thing before most artists jumped on that bandwagon.

Ever the pioneer, he will be missed.

 

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Peter Baker

About Peter Baker

In addition to being a fan of music and heavy metal, I am an avid player of table top RPGs, and I am a personal trainer in Tampa, FL as well as a graduate of the prestigious University of South Florida. Formerly, I was a prefect for House Slytherin.

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