Prince dead aged 57 – a personal reflection on the legendary music superstar

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Prince - credit: Nandy-McClean

Prince – credit: Nandy-McClean

Prince has died aged 57 at his Minnesota home, Getintothis’ Peter Guy pays tribute to the incomparable music legend.

“I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray…”
My love affair with music began aged seven. And it began with Prince.
My history-loving, teacher parents used to drive around northern France visiting chateaux after chateaux leaving me to absorb a compilation tape compiled by my Prince-adoring auntie.
Her insatiable appetite for all things Prince was soon imbued in myself, as I devoured his otherworldly talent with relentless voracious wonder.
And the magnificent aspect of being a Prince fan, the banquet of musical riches was forever overflowing. For this was an artist who was simply irrepressible.
Born June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to jazz musician parents, Prince Rogers Nelson was a musical prodigy from the off – mastering piano, guitar, drums and almost everything in between. Such was his innate talent at seemingly everything, he could, despite his diminutive stature, have played pro basketball. But music was his chosen path – and he would go on to alter the face of popular culture forever.
Signed to Warner aged just 17, he was the first artist to be given exclusive full creative control resulting in a debut which saw Prince produce, arrange, compose and play all 27 instruments on the recording of For You.
The dawn of the 1980s saw Prince begin a run of unparalleled recording output; beginning with the raw post-punk-pop of Dirty Mind he mutated through disco pop (1999), progressive psychedelia (Around The World In A Day), taut funk (Controversy) and wild experimentalism (Parade) making him universally recognised by critics and fans alike as the definitive artistic talent of the times. While Madonna and Michael Jackson completed the holy trinity of 1980s pop – neither could match Prince in terms musical ability or indeed creative output.
But it was the albums Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times which would cement his status as a true music great; the former sold over 22 million copies and ensured he was the only artist in history to have a concurrent number one album, single and film while also earning him an Oscar; the latter a magnum opus double album which showcased his expansive array of music styles few could manage in an entire career. Both albums, characteristic of his entire career, would be supported by epic global tours earning him the title of the world’s greatest live artist – indeed Rolling Stone magazine quoted, ‘Prince makes Michael Jackson look nailed to the floor‘.
Yet, it was never just about the music with Prince. An undeniable, singular performer and musician, Prince managed to blend important political messages into his music few musical contemporaries could match. Such was the provocative sexual lyrical content, the industry created the Parental Guidance stickers for the front of albums. He was also quick to address AIDs, gender issues (continually confounding with his ambiguous stage costumes and appearance), sexuality and racial equality. He questioned prejudice, poverty and united with themes of Dance, Music, Sex, Romance. Of course, there were many who didn’t like this Imp Of Perverse – but Prince simply didn’t care. For a period he was unstoppable.
But outside of the music, his lasting legacy will perhaps be remembered for changing artists freedom to own their music. When in 1992 he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol due to a contractual label dispute, the media (and some peers) were quick to mock him – yet his lone fight to ensure artists could own their own copyright and recording masters led to an overhaul in the industry – and musicians were no longer ‘slaves’ to their labels.
While his erratic nature and flights of fancy had the tendency to overshadow his music, it was often forgotten just how much of a funny, shy and charismatic charmer Prince truly was. Cheeky turns on The Muppet Show or more recently a cameo in New Girl showed he wasn’t the out-of-touch lunatic the press liked to portray him as.
However, there was one aspect of Prince that fans and critics were unanimous on: his live performances. Cemented in the early days with his band rehearsing in a basement for sometimes 48 hours with no break, Prince was a military-like in his delivery of stage craft.
Tours were renowned to include rehearsal lists of up to 200 tracks – with the mere click of a heal or bat of those Bambi eyes to signal which song the band were instructed to play. I was lucky enough to see him nine times. On one occasion he played around twenty 30 second clips of some of his most famous tracks on piano before jumping on to the keys tip-toe-ing an intro to another before leaping to the lid of the instrument riffing off a wild guitar solo jumping down into the splits before returning in one move back to the piano stool. It was an act of ridiculousness both in terms of fitness and also insane technical ability.
Only Hendrix and Jimmy Page could match his ability on the guitar (an appearance at George Harrison‘s tribute gig sees Prince pull off the My Guitar Gently Weeps solo in what has now been famously coined on YouTube as ‘The Greatest Guitar Solo Ever‘). His voice was even better.

In 2007, during 21 consecutive sold out nights at the Millennium Dome, I saw Prince perform nearly three hours in front of 20,000 fans for three and a half hours before returning to the stage at 1am at a private party which went on until 4am including medleys of the Beatles, Sly & The Family Stone, Led Zep and a particularly moving Nothing Comes 2 U which left everyone watching in floods of tears.
It was these tracks he composed for others which further extended his greatness – he tossed out classics for Chaka Khan (I Feel Four You), The Bangles (Manic Monday – a track which saw Prince at number one (Kiss) and two in the Billboard charts; a stat matched only by Elvis and The Beatles), Sheena Easton and Sinead O’Connor (Nothing Comes 2 U) and so much more.
His radical approach to song-writing extended elsewhere; he invented ‘text speak’; he made a multitude of films (from the sublime Purple Rain to the awful Graffiti Bridge), he released albums through daily newspapers and along with David Bowie was the first to release an album through his online fanclub; he toured but rarely unveiled the dates until the very last minute – sometimes playing venues the size of a front room – much to the delight/anger of those who could/couldn’t get in; he rarely gave interviews – and when he did the reporters weren’t allowed to write anything down; he refused to have a contract making it almost impossible for the industry to do business; in essence he reinvented all rule books both musically and professionally.
His Royal Badness. The ultimate pop star. Prince had no equal.
Like many people, music brings me more joy than anything else in life. And when I think of music, I think of Prince. I feel so privileged to have had my life enriched by his talent. The sadness I’m feeling now is incomparable to the indescribable emotion he’s brought into my life on an infinite amount of occasions. Big love Prince, nothing compares.
Prince – 1958-2016.
Sometimes it snows in April, Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad, Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last, All good things that say, never last, And love, it isn’t love until it’s past.

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  1. Peter, I know exactly how you feel. I know you are a massive Prince fan and you have written a great piece there on what it means to have been a Prince fan. As a huge Prince fan myself since hearing When Doves Cry on TOTP and thinking, “what on earth is that?”, and following his career and seeing him about 15 times including queuing in the rain for 5 hours in the rain in Manchester 3 years ago and the many gigs in between (including at the 02 and the last night after show) Prince has been music for me since they he early days. I remember going to se SOTT on the old Odeon in ’87, seems bizarre now but it was fantastic. Listening to SOTT, Lovesexy, Parade and others in the golden period was incredible. Other musical phases and interests have come, gone, and remain, but Prince was just so incredible I never lost interest, even after some of the dreadful output, like New Power Soul and 2010. Recently there has been some great stuff and to think there will never be any new music, apart from the vault, and never seeing by far the greatest live act I have ever seen again, is an awful thought. I can’t believe he is gone. It’s just too awful.

  2. Beautiful tribute Peter. I couldn’t tell you when exactly I fell in love with Prince’s music because it seemed seamless and there wasn’t a song that I didn’t like or a performance that didn’t have me open mouthed and riveted to the floor! There was a dearth in my life of musical heroes and he was definitely the only one, and the last one from that time on. I still get goosebumps listening to him.

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