Lists, Mundo, The Revue — April 21, 2017 at 7:30 am

From the Balcony: Prince and Me

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Everything seemed to stop a year ago when news broke that Prince Rogers Nelson had died. One moment he was touring the world as part of his Piano & A Microphone Tour, and the next we were left with just memories and his music. To call the day devastating would be an understatement, as the outpouring of emotion flooded social media and the tributes by fellow artists over the following days would be too numerous to count. The Purple One, His Royal Badness was gone.

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We at The Revue thought about writing our own tribute to the man who inspired many of us during our youth. Instead, we reached out to artists around the globe to share their favorite Prince songs and what they meant to them. We were reminded of the euphoria heard in his classics like “I Would Die 4 U”“I Wanna Be Your Lover”, and “Little Red Corvette”, and the underappreciated brilliance of lesser-known songs like “Adore” and “Breakfast Can Wait”. His artistry is what many will remember.

But Prince wasn’t just an artist; he was a modern-day Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach. He was a composer with an uncanny ability to hear every single instrument simultaneously while visualizing how a song would sound if played with different arrangements. His unique skills made him a master of funk, pop, R&B, soul, and even electronic. He’ll be remembered for his hits, but it is his back catalog where his talents truly shone. If you can get your hands on a bootleg of his One Nite Alone tour from 2002, for instance, you’ll be introduced to a completely different Prince.

His genius also shone through in the covers he did. Some artists just cover songs like how they were originally written. Prince, though, re-imagines them. His cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” at Coachella in 2008 is a masterpiece. He transformed this gloomy, moody track into a seductive, nighttime ballad complete with a scorching guitar solo.

For all his hits, we often forget that the Minnesota native was an immensely gifted multi-instrumentalist. He was a classical pianist who wrote some of the greatest melodies in music. He was an immensely talented DJ and producer who dabbled in sounds and beats in ways that were surreal. If he wanted to, he could have been topping electronic charts. He was also arguably one of the greatest guitar players to ever live, although he was often overlooked by fans and critics for his unparalleled talents (cough Rolling Stone cough). It’s only since his passing that we have seriously appreciated his talents.

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I remember waking up on the morning of April 22nd in Wellington, New Zealand (it’s basically a day ahead of North America) and receiving a message from a friend. There were three words that I won’t forget reading: “Prince is dead.” Like many of his fans and casual music listeners, I was at first in disbelief. This had to be a hoax. But it wasn’t. Media across the globe were reporting his death, and my social media feed was filled with tributes. My entire soul sunk that moment. I was suspended in my bed, refusing to believe the news.

After a while, I said to myself that I wouldn’t mourn his death but celebrate it. I, like millions of others, endlessly spun his records for days. It was the only way I knew how to cope with his loss. I’ve lived long enough to see many of my music heroes pass: Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, and, of course, David Bowie earlier in 2016. None, though, had the impact on me like Prince, and it took days for me to share how I felt. Today, a year since his death, I share it here.

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I remember hearing Prince’s music for the first time. The song was “When You Were Mine”. I was just a wee, little kid, but I think I said something like, “That’s kind of funky”, without realizing what the adjective meant. All I knew was that the song was cool; therefore, the guy singing it must be cool.

It wasn’t until seeing a video of “When Doves Cry” that I got to see what Prince looked like. If you remember the video, Prince seductively emerges from a bathtub and then starts to crawl like a panther along the floor. At that moment, my first thought was, “This is weird.” Then the next was, “This song is great.” Pretty deep stuff from an 8-year old. While “When You Were Mine” was my introduction to the Purple One, “When Doves Cry” was the gateway to his music.

Over the next 30+ years, Prince would occupy a healthy part of my life. Purple Rain the movie and soundtrack, particularly the latter, would fill our household. Songs like “Controversy”“Kiss”“Sexy M.F.”“You Got The Look”“Cream”, and “Diamonds and Pearls” would also be staples. Three songs, though, would always be on playlists when I was down.

“I Would Die 4 U”, to me, is the apex of pop-rock music. Edgy, danceable, contagious, and even a bit outrageous. “Purple Rain” might be the most heart-breaking song ever written, and it has one of the greatest guitar solos in music history. Then there is “Nothin’ Compares 2 U”, the song that made Sinead O’Connor a star and cemented Prince’s status as one of the great songwriters of his generation. As great as O’Connor sang it, to hear Prince perform it solo on the piano is an unforgettable experience.

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While his music will hold a special place in my heart, it is what he represented that will live long within me. To understand him required experiencing his music live and watching him on stage. It wasn’t just living within the euphoria of his music, but observing his actions, listening to his words, and being enthralled by his skills.

Despite his smallish stature, he had the presence of a full band. Live, you get to truly appreciate everything that is Prince. Entertainer. Incomparable guitarist. Fantastic vocalist (a highly underappreciated part of his art). Band leader. Fellow band member. If you recall in Purple Rain, Prince plays “The Kid” who is reluctant to share the spotlight with his backing band. In reality, he was completely the opposite, especially in the latter half of his career. He would often walk to the side of the stage and allow The New Power Generation, The Revolution, or 3rdeyegirl to bring down the house with their impeccable skills. Watching him sit on a sofa and watching Donna Grantis wail on her guitar or Liv Warfield sing a solo are memories I won’t forget.

 

But it wasn’t just with his fellow bandmates that he shared the spotlight. Every show, he would engage the audience in some fashion. His big stadium shows often had moments where audience members would be invited on stage to dance with him. In more intimate settings, an audience member would be invited to sing a few bars of a classic tune. Despite his showmanship, he still wanted his space to play his guitar or to act as the DJ.

An unforgettable moment was when he was alone on stage and sitting behind a production set. He slowly played a few beats and suddenly the familiar melody of “When Doves Cry” was heard. He had transformed this dark rocker into a pulsating electronic number. It was genius. People were invited to dance on stage, and one woman started to dance in front of Prince. With just a shake of his head and a wag of his finger, he ended the woman’s performance, and she moved along. The power of Prince.

My favourite moment, however, occurred in 2002 when he brought his One Nite Alone Tour to Ottawa, Ontario. The show was three-plus hours with Prince and his revived New Power Generation. Throughout the performance, a couple of women expressed their undying love to him with one doing the predictable, “I’ll have your baby Prince!” Following the first encore, there was a moment of silence, and the entire concert hall was covered in darkness. This was broken by the slight playing of fingers on ivory keys, at which time a woman yells, “I love you Prince!” He doesn’t break his pace. Shortly after, a man yells, “I love you Prince!” Laughter comes from the audience and then silence follows. Prince has stopped playing. Then a breath into the microphone, and Prince replies in a way only he could, “I love you, too, man.”

That moment encapsulated to me everything I loved about Prince. His humility, his quiet sense of humor, his showmanship, and the duality of many things he represented. If David Bowie represented the union between the cosmic and humanity, Prince represented the beauty that humanity could be if we all opened our minds. There will never be another one like him. He is, as my dear friend and fellow Prince fanatic Hollie said, the funkiest of the funky.

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As I write this tribute, I am left with the song “1999” in my head. At first, the song was a party anthem, but only after his passing did I sit down and really listen to the lyrics. There is something very Van Gogh in what he has written – something poetic – yet a feeling of inevitability and predictability is in the song.

We could all die any day
I don’t wanna die, I’d rather dance my life away

He wrote this over 33 years ago. I would like to think he did dance to the very end and continue to do so wherever he may be.

May you forever rest in peace, our dear Prince.

Photo credit to Clemens Rikken

 

From the Balcony is a new feature on our site where writers will share their thoughts about an artist, album, song, or anything music related.

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