Remembrance: Nothing Compares 2 U, Prince


Sometimes it snows in April...

Though Prince was a beloved stranger to me, he is an essential vein in the soundtrack called my life. Losing him to the diamond and pearl skies this past week was akin to losing a family member. While it may seem silly and childish to proclaim as such rhapsodizing plays right into the Internet's predictable act of reenacting the final scenes in Imitation of Life every time a person of star quality dies, but I can't help it. Prince --- his music and his presence --- meant a lot to me, and it's why my eyes are rimmed with purple tears and why it's been difficult to gather the right words...

What always struck me about Prince was his agility to just 'be'. Whatever mood or groove, he was it, and was doing it all on his own terms. He was subtle and as he was flamboyant. He was a political mutineer and a party monster. He was feminine and masculine all in the same look. He was Black and weird without being all 'special snowflake' about it. Throughout his career he shape-shifted before our eyes. He began as a bright-eyed teenage prodigy then turned into a commercial, genre-bending megastar. Later on he leveled off into being a reclusive, somewhat self-indulgent maestro; his final act had him nestle into the role of everyone's cool uncle. He was a sex symbol on most occasions, and well, he even became a symbol in defiance towards record corporations desires to stifle and dictate his creative output. Reinvention and rebellion was the mantra Prince breathed and lived his life by and he was proof positive that you could be all these incongruent things simultaneously and without shame.

His flippancy towards following societal sanctions enthralled me. Growing up in the 1990s, light-bright, fluffy haired, and awkward, with my bookish girlish delicacy not on par with the rise of the cool, street-wise tuffness of the hip-hop movement, seeing Prince in flashback mode rocking ruffled shirts and crop tops, darting across the stage alongside his multi-ethnic bands and proteges, and churning out multifaceted music clued me in that Blackness wasn't exclusive to one look and one set of 'rules'. That it, in fact, ran into various streams and was whatever the hell you wanted it to be. Prince wasn't the only one who taught me how to live in the skin I was in, but his invitation to such an idea was the most provocative and rebellious one that I ever saw --- and it rocked me for the better.

Still, the music rocked me harder as it changed and challenged the way I listened, digested, and experienced music. With his guitar wails that summoned up Carlos Santana, and the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, Prince extended the conversations that soul brother James Brown started, while picking up where the slick and social-minded funk of Sly Stone and George Clinton left off. His creation of the Minneapolis Sound was a nod to the Motown era as its sparse funk-rock sound culled a family tree of artists, and curated a soundtrack that the 1980s vibed to and Black American music thrived upon. While he stuck to his funk-rock guns, Prince was often savvy about flipping familiar genres on their heads. It didn't matter if it was jazz, pop, rock, folk, blues, hip-hop, or nursery rhymes, if there was a genre out there Prince and his little smirk lured them all to mutate and recalculate to his liking, his experiments always causing ripples in the pool of popular music.

When it came down to the lyrics, Prince was mighty with the pen and it's his turns of phrase and wicked wit that place him alongside Kate BushJoni Mitchell, and Brenda Russell as some of my favorite musical wordsmiths. He's playful with words, taunt and tart, but he can be a charmer too, weaving lyrics with profound, insightful imagery and narratives that delve into cake layers of subject matters, his most popular being his distinctive explorations into the common bonds of theology, regeneration, and eroticism. Listening to albums like ParadeSign 'O' The Times, and yes, even his seminal Purple Rain, is like conceptual candy for a literary nerd like myself, and it's why a part of me is disappointed that we'll never get to read the memoir he was in the process of penning, because nobody can even begin to delve into such a complex, and enigmatic psyche, except for the man himself.

Most artists today wish they had the conscious clarity and commitment Prince had for his musical vision. It's why his passing weighs heavy on the heart as it's a stinging reminder of how today's music landscape lacks scope and awareness. How we are plagued with acts who never define themselves outside of their influences, or who believe legendary status is something to be bought and bartered with gimmicks and false standing. Too often in my bite-sized writing career, I've written a variation of the lines: "the unmistakable Prince sound" or "so-in-so exudes a Prince-like vocal", and while imprints like that are admirable and unavoidable as Prince's influences are literal oxygen in today's discographies, but there is only one Prince. Only one skinny, sexy little motherfucker from Minnesota who was concurrently talented and bizarre, and who made the eccentric into the essential, and had us all witness a modern-day Mozart in real-time.

We'll never get another one like him, so don't even try to configure a replacement --- that magical, mystical comet has passed.
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