I'm a Minnesotan, a place where half the surnames end either as "son" or "sen." Prince Rogers Nelson is gone and that makes me feel very, very bad. He experimented with music and had a very restless mind. He never left Minneapolis.
i was so crushed by yesterday's news that i didn't have it in me to share this story, but i feel like sharing it today...
in the summer of 1997, i was 10 years old. both my parents were 9-5'ers, and occasionally my mom would have to work on saturdays. and during those saturdays that my mom was at work, my dad tasked himself with [secretly] introducing me to all kinds of films that you're absolutely not supposed to show a pre-teen, just as long as i "didn't tell mom." he'd make me cover my eyes/ears when graphic violence or sexual content appeared on the screen, but beyond that stipulation, at a very young age i was allowed an opportunity to immerse myself in the many high water marks of 80's action and sci-fi that my father owned on VHS: die hard. lethal weapon. alien. predator. blade runner. the terminator. etc. and on one fateful afternoon, he put tim burton's 1989 version of 'Batman' into the VCR...
these days, superhero movies are so much a part of the mainstream that people tend to forget just how f***ing weird this version of batman was. in the mid-to-late 90's, joel schumacher would return the character to his campier roots, and in the 00's/10's, christopher nolan would famously ground the character in gritty realism. but at the tail end of the decadent 80's, tim burton was mostly interested in shrouding the character in gothic tropes, while pondering the psychological peculiarities of a man who dresses up as a bat to fight crime in a city that has devolved into madness. there may not be a scene that exemplifies this better than the following, in which the joker, as portrayed by jack nicholson, rides a float in an improvised parade, throwing money at an adoring mob while hamming it up to the song "Trust":
it's an unusual and surreal set piece that you simply would not see from, say, marvel studios, who manage to make decent movies, but who are also very much a streamlined and risk-averse blockbuster factory. i remember watching tim burton's 'Batman' for the first time and being profoundly unsettled by the strangeness of it all. of course, i was only 10 years old, so i had no concept of the "american gothic" film tradition that tim burton practically invented (and has subsequently pummeled into self-parody). it just seemed so weird to me, and atop all of that weirdness sat the funky soundtrack to the movie, which was so out of place that it actually seemed to make sense. even though i didn't enjoy 'Batman' very much on an initial viewing, something about that music just stuck to my bones. pieces of "Trust" and "Partyman" (featured inyet another surreal sequence) kept replaying in my head across the next few days, so eventually i popped my dad's copy of 'Batman' back into the VCR and fast-forwarded to the end credits until i found the name of the artist who performed these songs. his name was PRINCE.
my father was a tremendous influence on me during my formative years, primarily because of his desire to pass down his cultural obsessions to his kids. he introduced me to all kinds of movies and music that i otherwise would have had no exposure to. he wasn't a fan of Prince, though. he was a Stones guy through and through. but he would always take me with him on his treks to Dimple Records in Roseville or The Beat in downtown Sac (which was tragically lost to a rent increase, and a f***ing BevMo now stands in its place ). i had this cheap little boombox in my bedroom (sans CD player), and if i found a cassette tape that i wanted in the "used" section, my dad would buy it for me. on one particular mid-summer's trip to The Beat, i had a single goal in mind: to purchase the soundtrack to 'Batman.' sadly, i was unable to find it, but i did manage to dig up a used cassette of some other album that Prince had recorded called 'Purple Rain.'
i'd never seen a picture of Prince before, but there he sat on his motorcycle, all doused in purple and smoke on a dark, rain-slicked street, and i was spellbound. before even listening to the album, i was convinced that this was the coolest dude on the planet. i mean, he just had to be. look at him! growing up in a sacramento kings family, i already loved the color purple, so i knew that i had to get this album. my dad was keenly aware of the sexual content in Prince's music, but the summer of '97 was a time of bonding for the two of us, and he relented upon my insistence that i absolutely needed it. i played my 'Purple Rain' cassette non-stop for the rest of the summer, entranced by its strangeness (remember: 1997 was a time when bland alternative rock, trite female pop stars, and banal boy bands ruled the radio waves; Prince was a foreign object in my expanding worldview). when i was of driving age, that tape would never leave my car. i had my first make-out session to "Computer Blue." and from Prince, i would go on to immerse myself further in funk, soul, r&b, gospel, hip hop, and new-wave. he was simply the lens through which i viewed popular music...
Prince's streak from 1978 through the entirety of the 1980's is unimpeachably excellent, as he released nearly an album-a-year in that span (1983 excepted): For You (1978). Prince (1979). Dirty Mind (1980). Controversy (1981). 1999 (1982). Purple Rain (1984). Around the World in a Day (1985). Parade (1986). Sign o' the Times (1987). Lovesexy (1988). and Batman (1989). Prince would, of course, continue recording new music into the 90's, to much more modest commercial and critical success, and he wouldn't cease in bringing the funk until his untimely death. and while i spend little time in his post-80's catalog, that prolific run of ten albums will stand the test of time like no other musical artist's discography can. it's taken me the better part of the last twelve years spent in record stores across the western united states, but i've managed to track down all ten of those albums on vinyl, and they are among my most prized personal possessions. Prince transformed music as we know it, and it's impossible to listen to any of the albums i listed above and not hear the seeds that it would sew in many great artists to come. RIP...
Did anyone see SNL? They devoted the show to Prince. I an a huge fan which has something to do with the fact I spent a lot of of my life in Minneapolis. Paisley Park is in a suburb called Chanhassen. Jimmy Fallon described the after party of the 40th year show. All the big names were there including Paul McCartney, Nicholson, and the like. At 4:30 AM Jimmy said he was told Prince was at the party and he had the uncomfortable task of asking Prince to perform. He described the crowd parting like Moses parting the Red Sea as people made room for this little guy with the frizzy afro. They parted in respect. Prince brought his whole band. Why not, huh? His band was based in Minneapolis (Chanhassen). He must have been told of the mega jam session that was going to occur and made sure he gave the stars in the crowd the best performance he could give them. He sang "Let's Go Crazy" at about half speed which was kinda cool actually. He shared lead guitar parts with a young lady who was damn good. He played his one song and left.
People call him weird. I call him grounded. He is shy but he is a shy genius. He has a long standing girl friend which may help answer a question he wrote in one of his songs: am I gay or am I straight; am I black or am I white? I have heard some ignorant comments about him. He's a nice guy. If someone needs something, he provides it. He has free reign of Chanhassen as people are used to him in the neighborhood. We lost a great artist and we lost a great man.
This news hit me harder than I thought a celebrity death could.
My earliest clear memories are from when I was six years old. I already had a Purple Rain poster hanging on my bedroom wall. I literally have no memory of a time in my life I wasn't a massive Prince fan.
RIP. One of my earliest movie going experiences was seeing Young Frankenstein. I'm guessing it came out in '74 or '75 as I was only around 4. Ironically, Stir Crazy may have been the first R rated movie I saw as well. Despite my youth, bay area hippies had an easier time getting kids into the theatre in those days.
I was just out of college when I went to work for the John Glenn for Senate committee in 1974. So I knew him a little, went to his house once and rode in the same car a couple of times. Of all the people I've met in my life, he's the only one I feel privileged to have met. He was everything you'd want in a hero.