I wasn’t sure enough time would ever pass in order for me to write about the shocking death of Prince. I’m still not quite used to the reality. I’ll never go to another one of his concerts and be amazed by his preforming skills and his art on display in the form of costumes, set and dance. And while I know there is supposedly a vault of his unpublished work, somehow knowing that he is no longer on this earth, diminishes my anticipated enjoyment.
Prince was flashy and stylish, and also a regular, everyday man, who had an unfathomable talent. My fellow Minnesotans would speak of Prince sightings; at a record store, a jazz club or a restaurant. I tried to meet him. I wrote letters, tried to make connections from his old high school classmates and even asked my children to write to him on my behalf.
I always believed that one day I would meet Prince and tell him what his music and art meant to me. Some of my childhood friends met him after attending his early concerts at the Orpheum, during his early appearances at First Avenue or when they acted as extras in his movie. I could never partake of all those “once in a lifetime” experiences. His music was such a big part of my life and so it just seemed natural that one day I would meet him.
Many recall his music as the “background” of their lives—reminders of dances, first dates and club nights with friends. For me it was much less glamorous. Growing up I was not allowed out to clubs, dates or parties. Secular music, including Prince, was strictly verboten and my forbidden Prince albums could only be played once a week. Every Saturday morning, my parents left the house for a day long shopping trip. My sister Hannah and I were tasked with cleaning the house. We waited breathlessly until the family car disappeared down our street and then before dusting a single knickknack or polishing even one window, a beloved Prince record was put on the turntable. As the very first note of his music burst forth from the speakers, Hannah and I jumped up and down, moving with the beat. We had to be careful; too much movement and the needle jumped from its groove and scratched the precious vinyl.
Prince’s music cheered me through hours of chores and isolation and gave me glimpse of a world forbidden to me. His poetry allowed me to ponder and consider unknown perspectives. His imagery collected and mixed seemingly random concepts, (Purple+Rain, Cinnamon+Girl, Computer+Blue) and blended them to stretch my imagination. His messages were political, social, religious, philosophical and yes, sexual, but Prince never, ever wasted a single word or note.
Our world has very few real philosophers—a few musicians or comedians serve as our modern day philosophers. Prince was a philosopher, a poet and a musician who created real art. The loss will be even more profound as years go by and so called singers (I won’t call them artists) like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, Pink, Maroon 5, Brittany Spears and Taylor Swift, sing words and notes that are put together for them in “song camps.” More than likely any popular song has been assembled by a method called “track and hook” which basically is an assembly line to make what is being called music. You think Rihanna wrote her song, Rude Boy? Nope. Actually she only wrote the bridge. And as with most of the pop songs you like, the credit for making the song goes to two men, Lukasz Gottwald (Dr. Luke) and Max Martin who are doing the so called “creating.” [i] Instead of poetry, they use small, catchy throwaway sounds and words that are meant to subconsciously swirl around and around in your mind. “As a working method, track-and-hook tends to make songs sound the same. As dance beats have become the backing tracks to a growing number of pop songs, similar-sounding records have proliferated. The melodies themselves are still supposed to be unique, but because of the way producers work with multiple topliners, tracks and melodies tend to blur together”. What you hear is not created because someone felt despair, joy, loneliness or love; but a fabricated, plastic noise that is being substituted for real art. When Prince died, we lost a true artist—a creator of music and poetry.
Prince’s sudden death, sobered and reminded me that not only is life fragile, but so is the expression of true art. For now, I can write about Prince, but I’m still too sad to listen to his music.
For more information on how pop songs are manufactured: Pop 101