RIP Prince Rodgers Nelson Ode To An Icon
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life” – Prince – Let’s Go Crazy
With a heavy heart, I recently read of the passing of one of music’s biggest icons ever, Prince Rodgers Nelson. Much like Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix, I imagine his body disappeared in a heap of music notes and song lyrics. Always in the studio and forever dedicated to creating music and reinventing how it is made, distributed, and perceived, Prince is an artist that EVERY musician can at the very least respect regarding his contributions to the industry and even American culture.
Anyone who knows me closely knows that I’m a big Prince fan. Though Geekswagg typically focuses on covering geek culture, it is well known that at times we dipped into covering our musical tastes and Prince was forever a part of virtually every playlist I’ve made. His music has repeatedly been the background soundtrack for everything from road trips, to writing sessions, to intimate moments with my wife, to simply relaxing. As an iconic, mysterious, spiritual, personally distant, and extremely talented man and artist, I actually recently became voracious in my desire to learn more about not only his career and method, but also his personality and his life. In fact, not too long ago, I wrote a review on Alan Light’s book Let’s Go Crazy covering the making of the Purple Rain movie. As we speak, I’m in the middle of Toure’s bio called I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon. Needless to say, his music has had a profound influence on my life.
Like most of his fans around my age (I’m almost 40), my early exposure to Prince was via MTV during a time when few black artists graced the music video airwaves outside of Michael Jackson and a choice few others. Videos of “1999” and “Controversy” were particularly memorable for me. Prince’s androgynous nature and withdrawn personality made him an enigma for all who became interested in him including myself. While the albums “Dirty Mind” and “1999” featured songs that I kind of enjoyed, they were not the genesis of my fanaticism. That, as is with many others, began during the age of Purple Rain. Oddly enough, I was introduced to both the music and the movie by my aunt who was in love with the song as well as the movie. Prince’s untouchable rock ballad to this day is a timeless emotional relaxation fest that I throw on at random moments to ‘center’ myself. Live versions of the song pepper my personal digital library. In fact, I ripped the audio from the Prince and the Revolution: Live VHS that I would listen to and watch ad nauseum back in my college days. Of course, the movie itself is a classic that my wife and I regularly have a knack to watch with the entire family (yup. Awkward sex scene and half nude skinny dipping scene and all).
Often times we forget the tremendous effect that music has in our lives and how its medicinal effects can influence our mood instantly. The loss of icons or musicians who’s work spoke to us in those moments of joy, sadness, reflection, and everything inbetween can touch us in even deeper and unexpected ways as seen with the loss of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston and countless others. For myself, the shock of it all has yet to settle in as I search my own feelings over this new void.
The height of my fandom was without a doubt in 2004. As a member of his NPG Music Club, I was hungry for any kind of music release from his ‘vaults’. I scoured fan sites and torrents for those who had infamous demos, tracks, and albums unreleased through Warner Brothers. The club was Prince’s way of getting music directly to his dedicated fanbase and it was great. The site for the club was amazing and filled with info, free music, the occasional free ‘podcast’, discography, chat rooms, and flair that was rough yet still interactive in its transitions from page to page. It was structured as if it were a tour through Paisley Park itself. I stalked the online site dedicated to hardcore Prince fans for tickets to his first Madison Square Garden concert in years. Once there, I was treated to at least 3 hours of bliss that I did not want to end. If I didn’t have a newborn baby boy, I probably would have gone (with my now ex-wife that I was married to at the time) to celebrate at some afterparty until the dawn if I could have.
Even before that moment, I recall missing a concert in Greensboro while I was in college as well. During that time, he had released his Emancipation album and was in the throws of his name change to a symbol. At the time, journalists could only call him TAFKAP or “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” and few knew what the significance was of this name change. It was a time where I was still going gaga over a 4 disc release from ‘the vaults’ called Crystal Ball as well as the Girl 6 soundtrack which held a ton of quirky yet still good Purple music. I connected to his music during this time intensely as I was ‘finding myself’ in school. By writing poetry, studying engineering, and solidifying my ‘outside of the normal type of brotha’ personality, Prince’s journey’s through countless genres in this time period seemed to score my life. His experimentation was my foundation. No matter what new artists or genres that I was discovering or trying out, I would always come back to my center in Prince’s diverse vision.
As time went along, I even connected to his musical successors such as D’Angelo, Janelle Monae, 3rdEyeGirl, Esperanza Spalding, Lenny Kravitz, Nicolay, J*Davey, and countless others. Prince’s ability to flow effortlessly from rock to R&B to jazz to classical to funk to pop to blues and many other spaces inbetween pushed my mind past the stereotypical racial music boundaries that the industry or even my friends had placed on themselves. He made an effort to overcome people’s hangups over sexuality, spirituality, and race in a method that few others have. That sentiment has underscored how I’ve attempted to conduct my life and it is thanks in part to my affinity for his talents and musical offerings.
I will forever long for his amazing live performances and the classic way he kept the world off-balance when trying to get to know him. Sometimes it snows in April indeed…
We’ll miss you Prince Rodgers Nelson. RIP