A few years ago I asked for a record player for my birthday with the sole intention of purchasing Purple Rain on vinyl. Finding it was no easy feat and, luckily, two friends found an almost pristine copy for me. I cleaned to this, cooked to this, danced to this album. It sits at the front of my collection because it is Purple Rain.
The closest I ever came to seeing Prince live was watching his music videos during a singalong at the Coolidge Corner Theatre about ten years ago. Before the show started a girl sitting in front of us turned around and said “Prince has microphones all over his house. So if he makes a noise when he takes a shit, he can use it in a song.” I still believe that to be true because something like that is so Prince.
Props were handed out for each song. For “Let’s Go Crazy” we were given bags of nuts to throw around overtime Prince sang “Let’s get nuts.” And during one of my of personal favorites, Purple Rain, we passed strings of purple crepe paper around covering ourselves and the theatre in a blanket of purple.
A month ago I went to see the David Bowie laser show at the Museum of Science. It was a touching tribute culminating with listening to “Black Star” in complete darkness. Yesterday morning I received an email from the Museum of Science with their laser show summer series: Bowie, Bjork, Beyonce (!!!) and Prince – specifically the Purple Rain album. I quickly sent my boyfriend an email asking if he was interested (of course he was) and then an hour later I’m reading that there was a death at Paisley Park, frequently refreshing the TMZ website until I saw what I dreaded: PRINCE DEAD AT 57.
When Bowie died it was morbidly satisfying to hear that he had lost his battle with cancer. It made his death easier to process. He knew his final days were upon him and he left behind an album letting us know just that. Not knowing how we lost Prince is difficult right now. It was sudden, surprising and seems meaningless.
Not many people dared to cover Prince, but the few that succeeded did. George Clinton’s performance of “Erotic City” was the party anthem at the end of PCU. He recorded “Give ’em What They Want” with Janelle Monae for her sophomore album. And DiFranco would frequently cover “When Doves Cry” on tour and he returned the favor by providing backing vocals on her album To The Teeth (Please check out “Providence” on that album).
He wrote “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Manic Monday” and “I Feel For You” which didn’t feel like Prince songs. Those artists made them their own, but you never would have thought they weren’t theirs to begin with.
Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Joni Mitchell…those were a handful of artists that Prince covered on tour. Anytime someone mentioned Prince, I quickly pulled up his performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from when he was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Suddenly, Prince joins Tom Petty, Steve Winwood and others on stage to just murder the guitar solo at the end. I don’t want to say anymore because I don’t want to ruin it for you, but everyone that has seen it has been blown away. It’s mandatory viewing.
Prince was loyal. Loyal to his fans, the city of Minneapolis. Even though he would go door to door in his hometown to introduce the idea of being a Jehovah’s Witness, he was a fiercely private person. He was a perfectionist. Protective of his image and his music. He was a pioneer, a terrific role model and musical icon. Prince unapologetically did Prince. And if we take anything away from his career, it’s that we should unapologetically be ourselves.