Apr 16

4 U

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prince Six days ago I was about to do an EMP talk and I saw rumours about Prince on Twitter. I thought for a second about what I would do if I had to break the news that Prince had died to a room of women and men who loved him. Only for a second, because the answer was very obvious. I would tell them, and end the presentation, and we would all go to the bar and talk about Prince. Prince had not died. Prince has died. I would prefer to be with the friends I was with then, not in an open-plan office which feels like the least Princely place in the world right now, without any of his music to play. Prince is a star who makes most sense with people – dancing, talking, gasping at his ideas, sharing ideas and memories. There are probably other things you might think of to do with other people that involve Prince.

But I also wish I was there, talking to Americans, because for me Prince was America. My first idea of America as a place that could be wilder, stranger, funkier, deeper, more committed to itself, more religious, more dangerous than where I lived. British stars I understood. Prince was a myth, a creature of scandal and rumour; from Smash Hits I understood Paisley Park as a city of music, an Oz. Prince’s records sounded electric and frightening. At that time he was the centre of pop’s map and its edge at the same time. Nothing I learned about him later changed any of that, or of my sense that he was a key to America’s music and its secrets.

He was a star, I want to say the first, where that dynamic of incomprehension turning into awe hit me, very strongly with “When Doves Cry”. “Do I like this”, “I love this”. The pop uncanny. Without that, pop is just things you like and things you don’t. Prince gave me things that made no sense then suddenly did. Every so often in the decades since I’ve heard something and thought, ah, pop has come back to Prince. He was a meeting point of all the ideas America had about pop, soul, and rock music and the ones it was about to have. This will go on for decades more, there are futures to mine in Prince beyond easy reckoning.

That’s what he meant to me, a long time ago, and as an adult. There is so much more to say and learn. I will read the stories. Thankyou to Prince.


  1. 1
    Phil on 21 Apr 2016 #

    that dynamic of incomprehension turning into awe hit me … “Do I like this”, “I love this”. The pop uncanny

    Nicely put. Some of my favourite albums were a struggle to get through on first listen; in a couple of cases I almost had to physically restrain myself from taking them off. (Never had a reaction that extreme to this guy, though.)

  2. 2
    weej on 21 Apr 2016 #

    Just to say that the albums he released in the last couple of years are a real return to form and definitely worth a listen. A shame he constantly scrubbed everything from the internet so dilligently that its hard to check them out.

  3. 3
    Tommy Mack on 21 Apr 2016 #

    RIP Prince: you made my daughter dance before she could walk and when 1999 finished she shouted wordlessly at the stereo until we put 1999 on again, so if it’s possible to have a favourite song and a favourite singer when you’re not yet one year old, then that and you, were hers.

    Not got a lot beyond that: I’ve only really been listening to him properly for a couple of years and not yet got much beyond the greatest hits. I can’t claim to have anything like this sort of relationship with his music or mythos.

    My earliest memories of him were of the scurrilous rumours doing the playground rumour mill which, even back then, made Prince seem kind-of badass in a pervy way (I hope this isn’t too crass a way to remember a musical icon but obviously sexuality was a big part of his ethos and kids will engage with that in the only way they can I guess: my point, such as it is is that even when we were sniggering about what a perv Prince was, we were impressed by him. Similarly, my brother and I when we heard how dirty some of his songs were: again, respect is the feeling that sprang to mind: the brass neck on the man: I mean, how much swaggering cocksure confidence must you have, I thought, to just bust out a line like ‘pop pop pop, got a pistol, bang bang bang, got a gun’ with a totally straight face.)

    Other memories filtering through: dancing to Raspberry Beret at my wedding (Mrs Mack and my favourite Prince song) – hearing Most Beautiful Girl for the first time and thinking ‘he’s done it again’ – the Slave thing at the Brits – learning of his mind-boggling work schedule in the 80s – seeing him do Kiss on TOTP (is this one even a real memory?)

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 22 Apr 2016 #

    I’d been aware of Prince since his first UK gig in 1981was reviewed in the NME and had seen various clips and videos pop up on TV. With the release of ‘Purple Rain’ his music got wider exposure and chart success. I liked ‘When Doves Cry’ and bought ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ but it wasn’t until 1985, when I went to work at a Summer Camp near Toledo, Ohio that I really ‘got’ him and his music. There were three LPs available to play over the Camp PA system and the Purple Rain soundtrack was one of them. Repeatedly hearing the libidinous joy and discipined innovation of the music in the context of the straight conservative culture of Mid West America made its power and daring much more obvious. When I returned to the UK I started buying LPs and singles and trying to convert my friends to his genius. Such was my devotion I paid to see ‘Under the Cherry Moon’ at the cinema. :-s I got to see him live in 1986 and 1988 – that second time (on the Lovesexy tour) from the second row – and he was extraordinary in his showmanship and musical virtuosity.
    It frustrated me that he didn’t get the support and exposure that (I felt) he deserved on UK TV and radio. He was initially portrayed as the weird one in contrast to the more mainstream Michael Jackson. He did NOT perform Kiss live on TOTP. Despite the song being outstanding and doing well in the charts it took the programme a couple of weeks to even show a video. I do remember hearing the debut of Sign ‘o’ the Times on Radio 1’s Round Table as I drove up to Manchester, and having to pull over to take in how extraordinary it was.
    It’s worth remembering Prince’s sense of humour. If the videos start reappearing on Youtube or wherever it’s worth checking out ‘Raspberry Beret’ where his staged performance is disrupted by an (equally staged) coughing fit. When I saw him perform in 1986 as he lay on the stage simulating sex he interrupted the song to comment ‘If you’re taking this seriously you’re crazier than I am’.
    It’s an immense loss in a grim year – I feel like I’m experienceing Celebrity PTSD

  5. 5
    Tommy Mack on 23 Apr 2016 #

    “Every so often in the decades since I’ve heard something and thought, ah, pop has come back to Prince” – similarly, when I got round to checking him out, I found myself thinking ‘that’s where that idea started’, ‘that’s where that drum sound came from’ etc.

  6. 6
    Tommy Mack on 23 Apr 2016 #

    I’ve been caning The Very Best Of Prince for the last two days (and on-and-off for the last two years) It’s time to dig deeper. Which albums would people recommend to start with?

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 23 Apr 2016 #

    @6 I’d recommend ‘Sign ‘O’ the Times’ as a good place to start – it covers a range of musical and production styles and has some wonderful songs and performances. I’ve always liked ‘Around the World in a Day’ which gets labelled as his psychedelic album but its more eclectic than that. ‘Parade’ has some wonderful string arrangements and ‘Purple Rain’ has the hits plus ‘The Beautiful Ones’ which is the song that opened my heart and mind to his music. I lost track after ‘Graffiti Bridge’ (which I would not recommend despite a few good tracks) although I like what I’ve heard from ‘Diamond and Pearls’ which to my ears sounds less eclectic and more soulful.

  8. 8
    Adam Puke on 24 Apr 2016 #

    I agree you can’t go wrong with SOTT as a starting point and ‘Purple Rain’ is most satisfying pop-wise but I honestly don’t think there’s a bad track on any of his albums between ‘Dirty Mind’ and ‘Lovesexy’. Even the occasional bouts of puerility (Tambourine on ATWIAD) and self indulgence (Annie Christian from ‘Controversy’) are entertaining.

    ’1999′ is an album that had me gripped when I first heard it, and maybe isn’t best represented by its singles. Over half the tracks are unorthodox harsh, mechanistic dance grooves underpinning a Blade Runner-esque atmosphere of dread. He was at peak filth here too.

    ‘Parade’s probably my personal favourite though, and arguably his most ‘coherent’ if not consistent. Very cinematic- each track on the first side flows effortlessly into the next in a way that’d put TRAFO Ziggy Stardust to shame, helped along by the aforementioned wonderful string arrangements. And it closes with the now more poignant than ever ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’.

  9. 9
    Rory on 25 Apr 2016 #

    Even though I was starting to get used to 2016 as the year that Death started getting his groove on (I AM A BLACK STAR), this news was a shock. Prince hit his stride just as I was first getting into pop and rock as a teenager in Australia, and was as big there as he was anywhere in the 1980s. The single-LP version of 1999 (missing “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “D.S.M.R.”) got a lot of play in our house, and Purple Rain made just as strong an impression. My favourite Prince track, though, wasn’t “1999”, “When Doves Cry” or “Darling Nikki”, great though they were, but an album cut that never makes the compilations, “Mountains” from Parade.

    Somewhere around Graffiti Bridge I lost track of the purple one, as my ear turned to indie. The contractual wrangles and triple-album sets didn’t make full-price album purchases tempting, and Princely radio singles in the mid-’90s were few and far between. So although I’ve embarked on a second marathon listen to a late artist’s back catalogue in the space of a few months, I might hit a wall a dozen albums in. Pitchfork’s guide to his late-period picks could come in handy.

    Those early albums, though: what a run. What other pop star so totally owned the Eighties? Not Bowie, who went off the boil after Let’s Dance. Michael Jackson only released two albums in the 1980s, and Madonna four. Prince released an album every year of the decade but one, including two double-LPs, and they’re almost all great; and he can be forgiven the gap in 1983 because he was making a movie (and did that again twice that decade, too).

    It was the purplest of purple patches. Prince may not have been the tallest bloke, but the man was a giant.

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