Thursday, April 21, 2016

Life is just a party and parties weren't meant to last

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here to tell U
There's something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
U can always see the sun, day or night...

This means so, so much more than just the hat that became my accidental trademark. I wouldn't have accepted it as my trademark otherwise.

I've written before that the Clash was my first ticket out of the mainstream. But even with the leftist politics, Strummer and Jones exuded a much smarter but still pretty traditional machismo.

Prince broke all the rules. "Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? Controversy!" In a country where we're still fighting about who gets to use what bathroom, Prince was ahead of his time till the day he died.

And in my world, we had some local pride. I found Prince early, before the commercial breakthrough. My college town was on the outskirts of the Twin Cities cultural orbit. I had one set of friends from that area who had Dirty Mind and Controversy and a few had tales of seeing him out at the clubs. Not a worldwide superstar yet, but definitely a big deal to us. Another set of friends, from the suburban side of the greater Milwaukee cultural-political divide that the rest of America only realized in the last few years, looked askance at the purple and the bikini briefs and the racial and sexual ambiguity.

So the release of 1999 was a big deal in my universe, and a challenging turning point. When my tape got unstrung by some dorm Neanderthals, I chose the friends who got it over the ones who didn't, and moved into the theater house where straight wasn't an automatic assumption and where, yes, we partied like it was 1999 (a phrase Prince added to the language that has survived even after the millennium passed).

And the peak of many of the parties I DJd there was the climax of "Let's Go Crazy," when The Artist whose sound was so impeccable made the clearly deliberate choice of over modulating so hard, burying the needle so deep in the red, shredding harder than his only contemporary guitar rival Eddie Van Halen, that it felt like you'd hit a wall, shot clean through, and emerged on the other side unscathed yet changed.

That incredible run of 80s albums - from Dirty Mind through Sign "" The Times and the hastily withdrawn Black Album - and the scattered gems that followed, will be the core of the legacy. It was a particularly intense music at a particularly intense period in my life. It at once dominated its time and was so far ahead of its time that it's STILL ahead of its time.

And when it was attacked by a certain senator's wife, I grew a permanent chip on my shoulder. Sometimes I wonder if 538 Prince fans in Florida felt the same way.

In his prime the albums weren't enough. How great were Purple Rain and 1999? "Erotic City", "17 Days", and "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore"... not even on the albums. (And "Erotic City" was so great that the DJs pretended it said "we can funk until the dawn" and put it on the radio.) Even a throwaway like "Horny Toad" or the forgotten hits like "Pop Life" or "Mountains" or the keyboard riff from Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back" would have been a career moment for a mere mortal.

I'm not a musician. I'm just a fan who can spot passion and inspiration without being able to describe it technically. My brother, who IS a musician and a sound engineer in the Minneapolis area, and who had the privilege of working with Prince once, never ceased to marvel at the man's genius. Prince set high standards for those who worked with and for him, and seemed to bring out the best in others. Who would have though Sheena Easton of all people would have had a killer duet vocal like "U Got The Look" in her?

"I Feel For You," "Manic Monday," "Nothing Compares 2 U"... Prince gave those hits away to other people. He had to make up whole new "bands" like Madhouse and the Family and whole new personas like Jamie Starr just to get all the music out of his system. And do you really think anything on the Time or Sheila E's albums other than Morris Day's lead vocals was played or written by anyone but Prince? (OK, Sheila E. for sure played some drums. But again - he brought out the best work in others.)

And please don't let him have left orders to destroy the unreleased stuff.

The popularity faded in the mid 90s, with the record company feud and the name change to ⚥ thing and his uneasy relationship with technology. I can't fill this attempt to do justice to his legacy with the one thing that would do it, the music, because he aggressively scrubbed the definitive versions, the classic tracks and videos, from the internet. But the man still had it, as anyone who caught the mini-set on Saturday Night Live a year and a half ago knows.

And just when I choke up for the who knows how many times today, I flip to MTV, which is doing what it did back in the day and playing videos, all Prince, all day today. And they're playing that song, the one you might associate with me. I adjust the beret and I smile.

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