No musician defied stereotypes or exhibited freedom like Prince
Prince. The little man with such a giant talent. All he wanted to do was make great music. Of course he did that over and over and over again. It’s hard to fathom that bottomless well no longer flows. It’s too much. It’s heartbreaking.
He was one of the greatest rock stars of all time. I didn’t know him, but many times through the years it felt like he knew me. I heard it in his voice. I heard it in the words he sang. I think that’s where genius lies. Finding ways to touch people. Somehow expressing what they feel when they can’t express it themselves. Pulling the emotion out of our hearts and putting it in air, spreading it around so we can dance to it or sing along.
Seeing Prince perform just six weeks ago in Oakland and now hearing reports of his death at only 57 seems like a cruel, unnecessary hoax. Experiencing him singing, playing, and just being Prince was overwhelming. Just him, a piano, a microphone and us.
He wanted us to love him, so he sang “Little Red Corvette,” “I Could Never take the Place of Your Man,” “Raspberry Beret” and “Paisley Park.” We did love him. How could we not? He preened, he strutted, he smiled. The audience gushed. He was being Prince for us. He carried a walking stick. He rode a bicycle back to his dressing room. He came back and sang some more. “Diamonds and Pearls.” “The Beautiful Ones.” “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
When Prince first started out, I thought he might be another provocateur exploiting an androgynous sexuality with a sweet falsetto. But music poured out of him. This was not just another pop star. The musicality wasn’t a superficial pose. Prince played guitar. Jimi Hendrix-influenced solos melded with memorable melodic hooks. In performance, he commanded the stage as only James Brown had before him, stealing the Godfather’s splits along the way.
He wrote so many brilliants songs – funky jams, emotional ballads, pop gems buried on albums of well-known hits. I loved the catchy songs “Take Me With U” and “Computer Blue” from “Purple Rain.” I loved the slow burning “Pink Cashmere” and the now hauntingly symbolic “Sometimes It Snows In April.” Was his Super Bowl halftime performance in the rain the greatest ever? Probably. He made it all look so easy and effortless.
How many times have we rushed the dance floor to the opening strains of “1999” or “Kiss”? I suppose we’ll do that still. How can we not?
Coming on the heels of David Bowie’s death, it’s hard not to meld the two musicians for moment. These are the greatest artists we have lived with. They raised the bar beyond our imaginations because they were so fearless, free and uninhibited. Perhaps Prince felt a little more accessible in some ways. There was a bit of underdog in him despite the swagger and confidence. He wanted us to know his name was Prince and he was funky.
Midway through his recent 2 1/2-hour performance in Oakland, he started into an old ballad “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore,” a beautiful melodrama about a spurned lover, which he physically inhabited when he played it, even though we all know no one would ever leave Prince. I smiled in recognition. I’ve seen him play this song before, early in his career, and he laid prostrate on top of his piano before resurrecting himself and finding a way to go on. The guy beside me was shaking his head, laughing. He obviously knew the song too.
The guy grabbed my arm and pulled me close, whispering in my ear. “It’s about to get deep,” he said. He was there with someone but wanted to reach out to me in that moment, because that’s how the music had moved him. Prince gave all he had to us. It’s why we love him so much. I’ll always hear his words and his voice. This is what it sounds like when fans cry.