Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tribute to a Favorite Artist. Not a Woman, Not a Man, Something That You'll Never Understand. Prince.

When my mom called to tell me the bad news of Prince's passing I thought she'd fallen victim to an internet hoax. Prince? I could believe the death of the other artist who ties as my favorite, Michael Jackson, because his addiction was a public secret, but Prince? I thought his perfect unlined face and healthy frame would outlive me right into his 190s. The world's lost one of it's premiere icons, a shining example of the importance of being true to yourself and to your art.

My prized Prince record collection hung up in the bedroom, where Prince records belong.

I was born two years after the release of Prince's epochal super-hit, Purple Rain, yet via cultural osmosis and my super-fan parent's influence, I can't remember a time I wasn't playing the hell out of his records and cassettes. I watched his music videos over and over. I got to grow with the music and understand it more and more over the years; relating to the pain of Computer Blue or The Beautiful Ones as a heartbroken teen or getting into a chill artist's work-groove while making things to smooth songs like Joy in Repetition as a self-employed young adult. His music wasn't "safe" for kids, but I loved every controversial inch of it in my single-digits. His showmanship transcended the need for understanding. You could enjoy him for the electricity and emotion he bought to his performance and vocals.

I pondered the reaction to Prince's passing, not being able to help but compare it to my equal favorite, Michael. There are no Prince imitators dancing in the streets outside of Apollo theatre like there was for Michael, but it's not because he had less impact as an artist. It's because of the type of artist that he was. Michael wasn't just an icon, he was a brand. As evidenced in this adorable commercial, every kid could (and most DID) DIY themselves into THE image of Cool of the era with a white glove, cool thrift store jacket and constant work perfecting his sophisticated "Moonwalk" and footwork.

But no one imitates Prince.


Because no one CAN imitate Prince. (As anyone who's ever humiliated themselves trying to hit the high notes in When Doves Cry or Little Red Corvette in a karaoke bar can attest.)

Prince's biggest contribution to the world was his singularity. He was extraordinarily talented, playing 27 instruments, often doing all the instrumentation on his music, and possessing a famously wide vocal range of E2-B6 (just below Mariah Carey's F2-G7). He was able to hit the highest note out of all the famous male musicians and most of the women, only beat by Christina Aguilera (#2) and Mariah (#1) and he was prolific, producing 39 studio albums and 139 music videos. Bigger than his instrument proficiency number and impressive vocal range was his carriage. Standing 5'2" with a 10 foot stage presence, sly Mona Lisa smile on full lips with a quiet confidence. With his outrageous outfits and raw, emotional performance style, NO ONE can do Prince like Prince. He straddled lines, defied genres and labels; feminine & masculine, rock 'n roll & soul, shy & extroverted, controlled & wild. No artist expressed like Prince. Can you imagine 2016's reaction to then 22-year-old Prince belting out his Dirty Mind album lyrics on stage wearing just his high heeled boots, a black speedo, trench coat and bandana the way he did to a packed stadium of screaming fans in 1980? His passing is a reminder of how bland, colorless, unchallenging, and heteronormative the music world is left in his absence.

Video of one of Prince's first TV appearances above, click through to view if you're reading via e-mail. He was 19-years-old, wearing a tiger striped speedo and vest with thigh-high high heeled boots. Who's Man to showcase himself to the whole world on a television premiere like a half-naked sex kitty? Prince, that's who.

"I'm not a woman, I'm not a man, I'm something that you'll never understand. I'll never beat you, I'll never lie, and if you're evil I'll forgive you by and by." - I Would Die for You, Prince

"  She said, "Are you gay?"
Kinda took me by surprise
I didn't know what to do
I just looked her in her eyes
And I said, "No, are you?"
She's just a crazy, crazy crazy
Little mixed up dame.
She's just a victim of society
And all it's games.
Now where I come from
We don't let society
Tell us how it's supposed to be
Our clothes, our hair
We don't care
It's all about being there"

- Uptown, Prince

His visual style fused romanticism, Edwardian dandiness, early 80s punk, raw sexuality and the trippy 60s but he was undeniably heterosexual even in his frilliest blouses. That's the power of Prince. Mystical, androgynous, aloof, a true artist. Always evolving.

I thank Prince for creating a world where individuality could be celebrated. I thank him for influencing me from childhood to adulthood, for imparting lessons on artistic expression and singularity by boldly being himself. In a world of conformity to perceived gender ideals, Prince took the "negatives" of being Androgynous, Sensitive, Awkward and Weird and made them Beautiful. Us weirdos of the world are forever grateful.
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12 comments:

  1. Great tribute I felt quite crushed when Leonard Nimoy died and he had a,long full life so I understand

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    1. Yeah, we all have our heroes and inspirations. Nimoy was 83, this Prince one at 57 (my dad's age) is surprising.

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  2. I was in highschool when Purple Rain came out. I wasn't a big fan back then but over time grew to like him - he was edgy and different and extremely talented. Who knew he would become such a huge icon. Definitely went way too early, as it seems all the great ones do.

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    1. The brightest stars seem to burn out fast. I wonder what it would have been like to be exposed to him when I was older instead of bombarded by him my whole live via my parents, who were big fans.

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  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Nancy. Been listening to his music all day, will always treasure it.

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  4. Beautiful tribute Van, been reading/listening to his music and people's tributes all over the world. He touched so many. What a loss.

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    1. Same here, I even put a little tribute at our market stall this weekend. I'm touched by all the sincerity in the tributes.

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  5. A great tribute.
    I'm not sure how i missed it but I never got into Prince. I know who he is, have heard about him over the years but if asked off the top of my head I can't recall any of his music.. and after seeing all the amazing tributes and reading about him I'm a bit sad that i missed him

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    1. It looks like his passing will help a lot of newbies get into him and understand him. He was an incredibly prolific, talented, sensitive performer that touched a lot of people. It's been fun to read the younger generation talking about hearing his music on the radio for the first time and liking it.

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