When I saw the headlines a day ago about ‘Prince’ being ‘dead’, my first thought was that the 67-year-old Prince Charles had popped his clogs. And he’d done so with impeccable timing. Expiring on April 21st was the perfect way to upstage the celebrations going on in the UK for his mother’s 90th birthday.
Alas, the dead person in question turned out to be Prince Rogers Nelson, i.e., the singer and musician Prince; who for a time used the moniker ‘the artist formerly known as Prince’ and who was sometimes represented by this squiggly symbol, half-tomahawk and half-bugle:
People around the world have reacted to news of his death with shock, but personally I’m not surprised that Prince has passed away. The wee man just didn’t seem to sleep, which can’t have been good for him. Rather, he spent 24 hours a day living life to its creative full. And then some.
By this year he’d composed and recorded enough songs to fill nearly 40 albums, and I’m sure he’s left vaults crammed with enough unreleased material to keep a posthumous Prince-albums industry going for decades to come. And he played most of the music on his songs – it’s said he had mastery of 27 musical instruments. And he produced records. And when he wasn’t toiling in the studio, he was on the road, doing 28 tours in 37 years, playing gigs that lasted for hours at huge venues like London’s O2 Arena and huge events like the American Superbowl (where his 2007 half-time gig was hailed as the best ever) but also in tiny late-night clubs and bars. And he was writing his memoirs, and doing the odd bit of acting and directing, and chapping on doors on behalf of his local branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and funding public libraries in black neighbourhoods, and partying, and, ahem, possibly indulging in some heavy duty love-action with the ladies – such as Vanity, Sheila E, Kim Basinger, Madonna and Sherilyn Fenn from Twin Peaks.
Yes, in human years, he was only 57 when he died. But in Prince years, he must have been well into his nineties.
(c) Paisley Park Records / Warner Brothers
It seems unlikely that someone with my musical tastes and outlook on life could get into Prince’s funky, soul-infused brand of psychedelic pop music in the 1980s, but that was the pint-sized Minneapolitan’s charm – he could appeal even to people like me, whose idea of bliss was to sit in a darkened room with a crate of Newcastle Brown Ale listening to Happy When It Rains by the Jesus and Mary Chain.
And I did get into him for a time. He was responsible for great albums like Purple Rain (1984), Around the World in a Day (1985) and Parade (1986) and great songs like Let’s Go Crazy, Pop Life, Raspberry Beret and Kiss. In 1987, he reached his high-water mark with the release of the double album Sign o’ the Times, whose title song is one of his best – it remains splendid despite the fact that Simple Minds did a cover version of it. The album also featured the salacious If I was your Girlfriend, the belting Housequake and the rocking U Got the Look, which is splendid too despite the fact that Sheena Easton sings on it. Thinking about it now, Prince did well in the late 1980s to survive this conspiracy by duff musical acts from Glasgow to ruin his reputation.
It couldn’t last, of course. Lovesexy (1988) and Graffiti Bridge (1990) suggested that things were getting wobbly, though I really like Thieves in the Temple and Melody Cool from that latter album. And in between the two, in 1989, he released the Batman soundtrack album, which was, frankly, pants. No wonder that in Shaun of the Dead (2004), while they’re rifling through his vinyl record collection in search of some anti-zombie ammunition, Simon Pegg gives Nick Frost permission to chuck a copy of Batman at an advancing ghoul.
(c) Working Title / Universal Pictures
Thereafter, Prince never stopped churning the records out and I kept buying them: Diamonds and Pearls (1991), The Black Album (1994), The Gold Experience (1995), etc. It seemed I couldn’t avoid buying them, as there were so many of the bloody things and they turned up everywhere, including at the second-hand music shops and record fairs where I did so much of my musical shopping. Their quality was variable, but there was always something on them that I liked – for example, Pussy Control on The Gold Experience, a song so lewd I suspect even AC/DC would have turned it down on grounds of taste.
When someone dies, we’re usually urged not to dwell on the sad fact of the person’s death but to celebrate their life instead. And that’s actually easy to do with Prince, because he lived such a hectic, endlessly-creative and no-second-wasted life.
He talked the talk and he walked the walk. Which is important when your songs are mainly about bonking.