Today is Prince's 55th birthday. He's a Jehovah's Witness, so he may not celebrate the event, but that doesn't mean we can't. But no superfluous, flowery lede is required when discussing one of the most creative and talented musicians of our times.
Let's just cut into the purple banana cake and dish out some big ol' slices of why Prince is still delicious after all these years:
A Prince Show Is an Event I've only witnessed Prince's live show once; but, it was at a critical moment in his career, on the Purple Rain tour, when he was emerging from underground musician to international superstar.
What I recall about the show is hazy. It was nearly 30 years ago, so give a guy a break. One thing I can say without reservation is going to see Prince live was, and still is, an event. You don't just happen upon a ticket on the day of the show and shelve your plans to go catch his act. You buy a ticket way in advance, brag about going to everyone you know and make an evening of it.
That's what my wife (then girlfriend) and I did in 1985 when Prince brought the Revolution and special guest Sheila E. to The Summit to perform at the watershed moment of Purple Rain. Before we ever saw Prince sing a note live, we bought tickets and then went over to Sharpstown Mall to eat at Good Time Charlie's and shop in the fashion stores. We had to look the part. I remember wifey wearing lacy gloves and a big purple bow in her hair.
We had dinner before the show. At Christie's on Main, which had a gargantuan prawn wearing a cowboy hat and shooting pistols out front. It seems like such an "old folks" thing to do now. Dinner and a show, like we were over at Dean Goss's theater.
Maybe it was my mother's idea. After all, she went to the show with us. I was only 19 at the time, and yes, old enough to attend even Prince's scandalous show sans a chaperone; but, my mother loved music and was wild about Prince. So, she bought a ticket, too.
It was awkward going to see Prince with my mom in tow. It was not a cool feeling to stand next to her when the nubile and scantily-clothed Sheila E. dragged an unsuspecting fellow on the stage and cooed "Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar" while giving him a lap dance. On the way home, I shifted attention from those shenanigans by asking everyone wasn't it cool when the lights went out and Ms. E's drumsticks lit up neon-like during "The Glamorous Life."
Also, there was Prince to talk about. Mom was always a James Brown fan, so she nearly harshed my vibe by telling us how Prince was basically doing for us what The Godfather of Soul had already done for others years before; but, she admitted, Prince was maybe even better at it. He was the proverbial whirling dervish, spinning, sliding, doing the splits.
I'm pretty sure he opened with "Let's Go Crazy," it was a natural place to start as we were all being gathered to "get through this thing called life." I remember the band being exceptional and thinking Prince could really play guitar.
I remember wishing I hadn't bought floor seats at the back half of The Summit because we all had to stand for most of the concert, when we could have been sitting comfortably in the lower tier.
I remember a set list heavy on Purple Rain material. I loved 1999 and still rank it just behind Sign O' the Times as my favorite Prince album, so I wasn't disappointed at all with the song selection.
I haven't seen Prince live since that night; but my mother saw him again. She saw him a couple of years later on his tour supporting Sign O' The Times. That time, my baby brother got to stand next to mom while Prince gyrated madly against his guitar and sang "Hot Thing."
See many, many more of Bruce Kessler's spectacular Prince photos at rockinhouston.com. Coming soon: 1991.
He's a Cultural Icon A lot of icons are known by their first names alone. Elvis. Madonna. Beyonce. Prince is so fantastic and so against-the-grain he went from mononym to the multi-named "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince." When he did it, we all shrugged our shoulders, said "Okay," and continued to follow his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career.
Over five decades, he's influenced music and fashion styles. How influential is he? At his peak, he made Minneapolis, Minnesota seem chic. Social commentator Toure wrote an entire book, the newly-released I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon, on the subject.
Most telling, he was one of Charlie Murphy's "True Hollywood Stories" on Chappelle's Show. That "shirts against the blouses" bit is hilarious, but when Dave Chappelle/Prince tells a sweaty Charlie Murphy to "purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka" to cool off, I always laugh hard.
He's Built Careers The camp of people who have benefited professionally in music by rubbing elbows with Prince is divided in two: the farm team and the free agents.
The farm team includes acts like Vanity 6, Sheila E. and, most notably, The Time. They're all skilled musicians. Maybe they could have been Eizabethan actors in another era. Prince would have been Shakespeare.
The "free agents" he's Midas touched include Chaka Khan, Sinead O'Connor and The Bangles. He even made that woman who sang "Morning Train" seem cool.
He's Aphrodisiacal I have no empirical evidence to support this, but I'm guessing Pampers experiences a spike in sales every time Prince releases new work.
In the 1970s, the Isley Brothers were arguably the go-to group for the panty drop. But, Prince took things to a whole 'nother level. He's so deft at crafting baby-making songs, one wonders whether he's got gynecologists or pediatricians in his family to support.
Imagine "International Lover," "Slow Love," and "Adore," played back-to-back-to-back. Yeah, baby. The children conceived while those songs played in the background could populate entire towns.
Even His Missteps Are On the Good Foot To paraphrase Nikki Giovanni, Prince is so hip even his errors are correct. He made some movies. They were bad. And, by the time he completed the third one, he realized he couldn't act and stuck with his day job thereafter.
Prince is such a songwriting talent, some of his best early song were throwaways, the B-sides that he didn't consider worthy of inclusion on an album. "She's Always in My Hair," "17 Days," "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore," "Irresistible Bitch," and "Erotic City," a personal favorite. Legions of successful music acts that have built long careers on fewer good songs than those five.
Prince Is a Punk Rocker You could call it curmudgeonly (he is an AARP member, after all), but Prince is no fan of the Interwebs. It's not that he can't figure out the technology. We're talking about a man so skilled he could walk into Guitar Center and play any instrument in the building.
Prince has waged online battles against giants like Youtube, citing his rights to control creative content of his work. It hasn't always made him popular, but he's still rebellious enough in his advanced age to fight the power.
When he was pitted against Warner Bros. in a contract squabble, he showed his disdain by arriving for work (concerts, TV appearances) with the word "SLAVE" scrawled on his face. C'mon, don't tell me you never wanted to show up to your shitty job with the word "SLAVE" Sharpied all over your mug at least once. If I knew I wouldn't get fired, I'd do it tomorrow.
Not Michael Jackson. Michael Jordan. Back in the day, the thing to do was make a judgment on one's musical tastes by asking whom they preferred, Michael Jackson or Prince. The wannabes would wanna be starting something with Michael. The people who prided themselves on knowing irreverent and dangerous music chose Prince.
But, I now see we were comparing Prince to the wrong Michael. We should have been gauging him against Michael Jordan, indubitably one of the best ever at his profession. I don't know if Prince is the M.J. of modern popular music, but I do know these things:
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- He appeared at halftime of Super Bowl XLI and was the best part of the whole damned thing;
- He was reportedly paid $5 million to appear at Coachella;
- He's so prolific he's still writing and performing new music, even though he allegedly has a vault of songs voluminous enough to keep us entertained long after he's gone;
- He's not just a point in the pop music continuum,
- He's a distinguished element of it, with the same crossover love bestowed upon The Beatles and Hendrix; and, he wrote "Darling Nikki."