I’ve waited for a few days, to let the wave of Purple Rains and Crying Doves on social media settle down, but I feel I have to pay a debt to a man who’s been quite important in my musical life. Of course he wrote great songs (it’s hard to pick one as favorite), had a unique and powerful stage personality and was a very accomplished instrumentalist (on more than one instrument). But for me he’s crucial for other reasons.
He walked precisely in the path of a tradition, and although he took that lineage in very interesting places, he has always been clear on where he came from. He was (exactly, inch perfect) James Brown, Little Richard, Chuck Berry (Smokey Robinson, Arthur Lee, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder – the list is endless), and he was very proud of that, solid. So he was able to further that tradition, not just making amazing music, but also taking the outrageous aspects up a notch. When he wore make up, panties and stockings, and sung in falsetto about Soft & Wet stuff, he was not Bowie or Lou Reed. He was transforming the language of Little Richard and James Brown into his own. Staying 100% true to the culture. In a way, he’s the last of the Ancients (the last so far).
Musically, he covered a very wide spectrum of black music, from Soul to Rock to Funk. I’ve studied some of his work very closely, trying very hard to copy it, and mostly failing. Now, I might not be very accomplished, but I’ve read the same thing from many musicians: the way he built his arrangements was truly innovative (yet solidly within a tradition), and very hard to copy. You had to be him to do him, just like you had to be James Brown to do JB.
Then of course he was excessive, way too baroque, often megalomaniac, his movies mostly sucked, the quality of his later albums was intermittent. But in that immense repertoire (39 studio albums, often double or triple CDs, plus endless collaborations, remixes, b-sides, etc.), and in the flood that certainly will come at some point (he might have left as many unpublished songs as all the ones he put out in his career), there is gold, diamonds and pearls.
Thank you Prince.