Lemmy. David Bowie. Keith Emerson. Gary Shandling. And now, Prince, The Purple One. His Royal Badness, is gone. Snatched away from us during what seemed like a career upswing, at a time when most everyone was prepared to, even if begrudgingly, admit his objective greatness and the legitimacy of his claim to the title of bona fide Musical Genius.
A prodigy with (thankfully) a bit of a Napoleon complex, Prince wasn't just a multi-instrumentalist; he was a master of multiple styles, as well. He had the funky groove of a young James Brown. He had amazing and intuitive Jimi Hendrix-like guitar chops. He had an experimental drive and force of will not unlike that of Frank Zappa, with whom he also shared a hatred of Warner Bros and a lifelong devotion to maintaining a racially and sexually integrated touring band. Also, like Zappa, he could be a strict disciplinarian, was incredibly prolific, and died far too young, with much left to do, and much of his life's work sealed in a vault, waiting to be discovered.
Image-wise, Prince played the gender-bending game more successfully than anybody else, surpassing even the great David Bowie, if only because the latter was so alien that he often transcended sexuality completely, whereas Prince at his best was able to bring a visceral erotic dimension to the numinous... no small feat. And he did it all while flaunting a sleek, tight, unmistakably masculine physicality not unlike that of his fellow diminutive, Bruce Lee.
And style! From the first glimmers of his super-stardom, the album 1999, Prince dressed and carried himself as though he were some kind of sexual superhero, or an ambassador from an alternate, funkier, sexier dimension. He was an urban Dionysus, a sophisto/aristo avatar of the Great God Pan. The man was a fucking giant and, if the legends are to be believed, he was also a giant of fucking.
For those of us who didn't know him on a personal level, perhaps the most inspiring aspect of Prince's life is that he was an artist, all the way. Yes, he had raw talent, seemingly gifted by God or Mother Nature with musical abilities beyond that of his fellow humans. And that alone would have been enough for most of us. Not for Prince. He didn't spare himself the disciplinary rigors through which he put his band mates. He never stopped sharpening his chops, honing his craft, reading, learning, investigating, and applying the fruits of his efforts to the incredible gifts that he made. For his audience; for us. For you.
And now he's gone.
This essay by A.J. Hartley, titled "Bowie, Prince, and a Note to (Baffled?) Millennials" does a pretty great job of articulating what it is that a lot of us are feeling these days, and of enumerating the evidence that we have, in fact, turned some kind of collective, cultural corner. I mean, intellectually, we all understand that time marches on and death claims us all--even the most legendary--but there's more to it than that.
Personally, while "Purple Rain" was a favorite back when it was everyone else's favorite, I would never call myself a super-fan. Which is why I'm finding it hard to account for the level of grief I feel. His music keeps coming at me in waves, breaking in sadness on the Heideggerian shores of Dasein. And even though "Purple Rain" definitely makes the short-list of songs in the running for Absolute Perfection status--up there with the likes of "Hallelujah", "He Stopped Loving Her Today", and "Ace of Spades"--I can't help but think he would have wanted his fans to remember him, at least in part, as the sexy motherfucker from the video for "Kiss".
Here it is. Sorry for the bad quality. Copies keep getting taken up and pulled down over copyright infringement, which is kind of cuckoo for a promotional video, but there you go.
Watch, listen, enjoy, and remember.