Prince, R.I.P.

As all or most of you know by now, Prince has passed away.  I don’t listen to him nearly as much as I did in the eighties, but songs such as “When Doves Cry,” “Dirty Mind,” “Glam Slam,” “Starfish and Coffee,” and (most of all) the acoustic, CD-single version of “Seven” still stick in my mind, among others.  I think his “dirty little secret,” if you will forgive the pun, is that once you get past the first album he wasn’t much of a true Dionysian, but rather a playful polyglot who assumed various poses.  Most of all I was impressed by his urge to create, and how strong and how internal that drive seems to have been.


"And if the elevator tries to bring you down--
Go crazy, punch a higher floor"

from "Lets Go Crazy", on the album Purple Rain

Let's not forget part of it....every single gal on earth wanted to f**k that guy, I mean all of em, including all y'all's wives.

he wasn’t much of a true Dionysian, but rather a playful polyglot who assumed various poses.

Did he mean any of his poses? I would guess that as a small, thin, rather fey, young Black male, he felt the need to adopt a certain macho pose. However he does seem to have lived it. Certainly his music revolves around the idea of Prince being irresistible to women.

He would never win a Nobel Prize for his lyrics which are juvenile when they are not silly. And also often don't make sense. Which pretty much sums up most of his films. But when it comes to making music, the man was unbelievably talented. One of the most important figures in modern music.

What is interesting was his grappling with the internet. On the one hand he wanted to escape the Big Producers and so he pioneered a way for artists to release their own music. On the other he went after people who uploaded his music on the internet. Picking fights with your fans can never be a good idea. I would guess most of us were introduced to music in our teens through illegal copies of one sort or another.

What he missed, I think, is that most musicians are not as talented as he was. The studios do play a role for the vast majority of artists. They win some and lose some too. So they need to average out all their artists. Which means people like Prince pay the studios to cover their less talented artists. He might be better off without them but would the rest of us?

I admit I have not bought a Prince album for a while. But it is a loss he is gone.

Also Charlie Murphy.

I knew a guy who tended bar in early Prince haunts. It worked for him, from the beginning. Even then the audience was mostly beautiful women. The guy I knew even said it that way "I couldn't believe it, this skinny little guy ..."

Which languages did that polyglot know?

Purple Rain stands out to me as one of the classic albums from my youth. I remember being both impressed and surprised w/ Prince's guitar playing - the guy could shred convincingly - somewhat surprising because he was a "pop" guy doing this "rock" album and it was authentic. That one album was the only one that really resonated with me, and he went different musical directions afterwards, but it's still one of the all time classics. As I type this I hear "Let's Go Crazy" in my head - I love the crunch of that riff and the screaming guitar solo. I wish I could link it here, but there doesn't appear to be a video I can find that's authentic.

I also think of this Chappelle Show skit about Prince:

Is that the one about playing basketball with Prince and his entourage!? I love that! "Shirts vs. Blouses"!

"Why don't you purify yourself in the waters of lake minnetonka?"

Hilarious skit

Prince is perhaps the most underrated guitarist. I can't stop re-watching his Super Bowl performance and marvel at how he shredded the guitar with Hendrix worthy licks in the rain


Literally the best musician and performer ever in all of the genres that make up modern pop: rock, soul, funk, gospel, pop, as in the best at doing everything playing everything in all of those are a very high level....

Can't name another like that to even compare him to.

"would guess most of us were introduced to music in our teens through illegal copies of one sort or another."

My mother's bootleg Frank Sinatra albums.

He was only a few months older than me, so I'm very curious what he died of.

The way he unified all the different styles of popular music: R&B, funk, pop, rock, ballads, instrumental music.

Sui generis.

His guitar playing alone was incredible.

This clip is over the top. Its also unbelievable:

The misreporting and misinformation on Brittany Murphy's similar untimely death lasted for years. While middle aged people do, from time to time, die from the flu tout court, particularly poor middle aged people in winter in underheated unhygienic homes, or in the heart of summer in the swampier regions of the South and the West, the usual dispositive contributor (for middle aged flu death) is simply this: previously uncharted and unexpectedly powerful side effects from over the counter and prescription drugs, sometimes even used according to the (independent) instructions.

I suspect it is bloody tricky to ensure that one will die before hitting 60. Smoking, heavy drinking and drug use seem to be required, and probably several of these. Think about Prince. He was active and fit for at least much of his adult life. It's not easy to wreck that foundation "naturally". I expect we'll find out...

'Ensure'? People die in middle age from car wrecks and from random strike cancers quite often.

".....curious what he died of."

Drug Overdose, according to news reports this Friday morning.

Prince seems to be the top story across the U.S. news media. Apparently not much else going on in the world. Media intense emphasis on vacuous celebrity pop culture grows quite tiresome.

Thanks for insulting my culture. I bet your parties are great.

Unfortunately, America has become decadent.

LOL another jealous foreigner upset at the attention given to the passing of literally (yes) the greatest pop music musician of all time, from any nation. American through and through.

One of the great curiosities is how many absolute classics Prince released as B-sides or not officially on any album. They were often so peculiar that they couldn't really fit on any album.

But songs such as "Erotic City", "She's Always In My Hair", "17 Days", "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore", "Crystal Ball", "Girl", "Power Fantastic", "Shockadelica" are just outstanding -- and he buried them.

Thank you for being one of the few MR commenters who understand music. His B sides and his more "out" material are what elevates him to the status of a great artist. In my opinion, Prince's music transcends taste.

She's always in my hair is one of my favorites :)

He was a damned good guitarist. When George Harrison was posthumously inducted into the Music that Jann Wenner Wants to Signal He Likes Hall of Fame, Prince played a couple of ripping solos on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"; my immediate reaction was "Eric who?"

His songs were quite coverable too; my favorites are the Art of Noise / Tom Jones cover of "Kiss", and the brilliant cover of "Raspberry Beret" by the Hindu Love Gods - aka the late great Warren Zevon backed up by REM minus Michael Stipe. A blast.

A stunningly good guitarist, who never seemed particularly wrapped up in that fact. If he had set out to be "a guitar player" he could've been remembered up there with Hendrix. But for him playing guitar was just one of the tools in his kit.

Does this cause you to contemplate ever more forcefully on your own mortality, or to avoid the thought ever more aggressively?

The last album he did with a hit single that I recognize was Lovesexy back in 1988. Is any of his material good after that?

I love Rainbow Children -- mostly because lyrics don't have to be great for me to enjoy a record, and the music on Rainbow Children is spectacular.

Come is very underrated. Great album.

Batman, Graffiti Bridge and the Love Symbol album are mostly great.

Gold Experience is very good.

And I think Art Official Age is very good too.

The song "Cinnamon Girl" was good (not great) and that came out in the mid-2000s.

Almost half of the 3121 album is great (the first 4 songs and Fury).

Another example of an Intellectual Property creator getting shafted, meanwhile derivative work creator (sampler) gets all the credit.

Ho-hum, the history of IP is littered with these people, who are the rule, not the exception. No wonder people say: "do what you love, not for the money". And meanwhile economics professors try to drill into their students the first rule of economics (observed mainly for trivial stuff like buying low and selling high, not important stuff like inventing, the bedrock of progress according to the Solow model for growth): "People respond to incentives". What a joke... listen to the doves cry.

"a playful polyglot who assumed various poses"

I think the same could be said of David Bowie, another performer who I considered to be very good but not as great as most of the rest of the world seems to think.

They both had a lot of good memorable works -- but none that I found I truly liked listening to again and again and again. (Except for Suffragette City, Bowie's one truly great song.)

Bowie had the better sense of visual style than Prince, better verbal conceptualizing skills, better looks (especially as he got older, healthier (i.e., less drugged-up), and more masculine-looking -- Bowie's looks peaked in his 50s), and Bowie was better at working with people who pushed his music in new directions, like Brian Eno and Robert Fripp ("Heroes") and Nile Rodgers ("Let's Dance").

Prince had much more musical talent.

Bowie was a better rock star, Prince a better musician.

"Bowie was a better rock star, Prince a better musician."

Very true.

Yeah, Bowie didn't even consider himself a musician. Doesn't take away from his output in any way though. I just don't know if Prince really was that influential compared with Bowie.

Less influential for sure. But just apples to apples talent for making music of this era, unarguably the best ever.

How is he going to influence people? No one can touch what he does.

Your use of the word "better"...

Prince and Bowie share certain proclivities: shape-shifting, gender-bending, identity-fluidity (Bowie/Ziggy, Prince/Camille). They also enjoyed mentoring/writing/producing for other artists. But the comparisons end there.

Would you say Basquiat had a better visual sense than Warhol? When you say "better" you misunderstand one or both artists or music in general.

Bowie was not really in the music business I think. I think he was in dramatics. He saw what he did as acting rather than singing.

But Prince was a first class musician. And a lot of what he wrote is worth listening to again. I also think that visually he was more interesting than Bowie. But part of that was that the video clip had moved on. Bowie did a lot of early work and then not much. Prince kept working. He also worked hard on his image. It seemed to work. His clips are instantaneously recognizable.

He was also an incredible taskmaster. He would record all his shows, review them back at the hotel and sometimes haul the band and crew out of bed in the early morning to work on something he thought needed improvement.

What languages exactly was that polyglot fluent in?

I'm not sure what you're trying to ask with that question, but the answer would begin with rock, funk, R&B, soul, and pop, and would continue from there.

Yes, all of here know what the word "polyglot" means,

Just curious from an anthropological perspective: a person who considers David Bowie and Prince "good but not great," which rock/pop artists does such a person think deserves to be called great? Beatles, Dylan, who else?

In addition to those two, The Who and the Rolling Stones without question. For some (slightly) less obvious choices: the Ramones, Chuck Berry, Elvis Costello, probably Joni Mitchell. Most likely the Beach Boys. I waffle on Led Zeppelin. Oh and Hendrix and Joplin although their strengths were more in virtuosity of performance. I give points to Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen for covering entire places (the San Fernando Valley, New Jersey) that had been pretty much ignored by rock 'n roll although I suppose one could argue that in the end they were at the Bowie/Prince level.

A range of different strengths there, but they either have music which is either so interesting or innovative or reflective of differing even conflicting influences (i.e. the Ramones, who are typically called a punk rock band which I think does not describe what they were doing) that they bear repeated listening, just so the listener can figure out what's going on in their work, or decide what to think about the work. Or the music is just so pleasureable to listen to that I want to hear it again and again.

I came to this realization about Bowie when I decided to buy one of his albums. Listened to it once and realized that yes it had many fine songs on it but I'd heard them plenty of times before and didn't feel a great need to listen to them again. I had no objection to hearing the songs again, they've very very good, but I put the album on a shelf and it stayed there because I didn't feel a compulsion to hear them again.

Stan, as long as you are just curious - in no particular order - and sticking to artists whose main language is English - the greats include: Karen Carpenter. Best voice, best understanding of words, ability to speak to people. Celine Dion and Sammy Davis - human charisma that reaches men and women even when they are semi-high in Vegas. Smoky Robinson - understood the basics of what the sort of person who loves pop music wants better than anyone else. Bobby Rydell - listen to a few songs. Bobby Vinton. Frank SInatra, who taught lots of potentially over-artistic pop stars how to sing without being annoying. Amy Grant. Elton John, despite the prevailing kitsch he holds so dear in his heart, and despite his passive-aggressive arrogance, every once in a while - probably because of his painful youth (most stars were treated like wonderful people even when they were young, not Elton) , reaches greatness. Louis Armstrong did some pop music late in the day, as did the uncriticizable Johnny Cash. Helen Forrest. Peggy Lee. Mildred Bailey. Brian Williams. Donnie Hathaway. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Harry Nillson, Mel Torme. Hendrix fails at being great because he pretended when young to have a deeper musical soul than he had - nobody likes a pretender - and did not live long enough to grow into the blues role he was born for. And Hendrix was better at guitar than Prince, most people say. Dylan fails at being great because he never reined in for long enough his admirable but less than fascinating love for better artists and poets than himself, such as Hank Williams: there is too much of an academic slant to all but his very best music, and while I enjoy Ben Jonson in addition to Shakespeare (whose funeral took place 400 years ago later this week, by the way) , most people don't, and listening to a Dylan album for me is sort of like showing up at a college professor's dinner party where I don't know anyone. And Dylan was a better lyricist than Prince, most people say. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were fun but basically , except on their very best days, pasticheurs and epigones. Going way back, Bix with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra was not "good but not great" but was "great". And that was pop music. It is no insult to say someone wasn't great, I would have hired Prince or Dylan or anyone else I mentioned here as being less than great in a second if they had offered to lead a wedding band at a wedding I was promoting.

Thank you both for your replies! I agree that most of the artists you both mentioned are great, particularly Joni Mitchell and Louis Armstrong. "Great" encompasses a different set of traits for different people. For both of you it seems greatness in music is derived mostly from your feeling that a) the musician originated a form or b) practiced an established form in some pure way. You can say an artist is great because they were "innovative," but I think that assessment arises from the opinion that they are great because of a or b. I consider The Ramones to be great AND innovative but they were also continuing a trend of reduction started by The Sonics, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, MC5 among others (who are all great by the way). Further to originating/perfecting a form I submit that modulating, evolving, recontextualizing a form is as valid a measure of greatness and requires a different skill set that I have a high appreciation for. You say "pastiche" I say postmodern. All forms mature. Innovation is still possible after a form matures. I consider Prince and Bowie to be two of the most innovative and great artists in music. Art Tatum is great, Kieth Jarrett is also great. Bach is great, Gorecki is also great. I think innovation and greatness can still be found in music today just harder to hone in on given the overwhelming signal to noise ratio. In fact, I would distinguish music I think is "great" from music I like, the space between being filled by autobiographical factors (that song was playing when...) and maybe a knowledge gap (I'm not a fan of Sinatra but I haven't explored his catalog beyond the "hits" and acknowledge the importance of In The Wee Small Hours, but I would not opine on his greatness due to a lack of knowledge). My definition of greatness differs from yours, I think the definition can be widened as art forms cycle while remaining a discerning listener/viewer/whatever.

Thanks for the thoughtful post. I just now came across this article: bicyclists in Portland OR had made the Bowie-Prince connection years ago. This article is from January, triggered by Bowie's death:

The next Bowie-Prince mass bike ride will be in June.

"Most of all I was impressed by his urge to create, and how strong and how internal that drive seems to have been."

Yes, Prince never seemed to have the wind at his back in terms of the zeitgeist. He had all sorts of strong and eccentric tastes (e.g., purple paisley) that didn't fit in well with the dominant trends of his time. For example, changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol so he'd have to be described as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince in the newspapers was a major career blunder. But he had so much pop music talent that his career endured the fact that he was kind of uncool.

Putting aside the business dispute behind the whole name thing, not sure how much of a career blunder it was. Most popular musicians have a similar career trajectory: some time spent building a name/awareness; a breakthrough period of topping the charts and then a decline to either stasis or irrelevance. Prince had a pretty amazing ten-year run from '1999' to 'Diamonds and Pearls' in 1990. Considering where popular music went in the 1990s (rock went grunge and then Indie, black music went towards hip hop, pop music went towards the teenie boppers), not sure that Prince could have had another ten years like the previous.

At a certain point, it becomes hard to keep old fans interested in new music. That doesn't necessarily have much to do with the quality the music itself.

He was also #1 on the Fithy 15 list (Parents Media Resource Center). Provocative at the time...

How quaint that seems these days.

I vaguely remember him as a dandy who seemed of the same ilk as Michael Jackson. The theatre critic John Simon once offered that he despised criticism of rock music because it amounted to intellectualizing about rubbish. One does get that impression now and again. RIP.

He was much better than Michael Jackson...

As with Bowie, it depends on what axis you are measuring along.

Bowie's music was quite engaging.

No one mentioned here the Gold Experience album from the 90s .... definitely a MUST!

It's odd that almost no one mentions "1999" (one poster did above) which was THE Prince song/video of the mid 80s, played incessantly by MTV, on the radio and by DJs in clubs.

I propose that people prefer celebrities dying to celebrities not dying, because it lets them participate in this giant celebrity fart huffing contest that we find ourselves in once again.

What further delights will 2016 offer the empathymongers?

It's also good for cranks like you who get off on standing in opposition to the steeple.

I mean sure, I'm a crank on this. But a lot of good men and probably a few great men die every day; it just takes an androgynous, multi-ethnic pop provocateur for people to get really excited about it. I've read encomium after encomium and can't make heads or tails of why this guy is a deity. Behold the greatness:

Does it say nothing to you that people's two favorite memories of this guy involve Kim Kardashian and a unitard with the ass cut out? Oh he's soooooooo bold. Wake me up when Bob Dylan dies.

People care about the musicians who make songs that the people liked when they were growing up. And it makes a difference when the musician dies at a relatively young age.

Yes, that was good.

'Wake me up when Bob Dylan dies.'

He has already been collected by an angel, in a video fitting to mark the death of an artist - (Yep, that's Dylan's Victoria's Secret ad)

In a timely coincidence, the Washington Post had animators create short clips to accompany poems. This poem, "Not Fade Away", may need to be updated.

The animation:

The full poem, as well as nine other poems:

Hmm, its structure is so simple I can compose an additional stanza myself:

Haggard Bowie all alone
Will Prince ride to heaven's throne
Or on Kantner's Airplane fly
Eagle soaring like Glenn Frey

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