I NEVER WANTED TO BE YOUR WEEKEND LOVER
But he was.
I was stunned what big news this was. In an era where info comes and goes, where nobody dominates the news cycle and reaches everybody, Prince's death not only eclipsed the demise of all of this year's luminaries, it echoed the deaths of Elvis Presley and John Lennon. It stopped us in our tracks. I'm not sure he realized how deeply beloved he was.
After being hounded with election stories for nearly a year, after hearing how big Taylor Swift and Beyonce are despite them having a fraction of the penetration of the acts of yore, it was stunning to see Prince wipe the slate clean, be the talk of the town, be respected by news organizations like "The New Yorker," which turned its cover purple, and sports teams and cities… It reminds us of the power of music. Especially when made by someone who seemed beholden to the sound as opposed to the adulation, to the music as opposed to the money, to the song as opposed to the stardom.
Let this be a beacon for the younger generation, who believe selling out is the goal and cash the reward. Are you a musician or an attraction? When your motive is pure you gain the best results.
MUSIC IN SCHOOL COUNTS
Prince played trumpet in the junior high school band:
Something has been lost in the dash for cash, the anointment and adulation of the billionaires. Our society has become coarse and it's every person for themselves. Too many say taxes have to be cut and services have to be eviscerated because the government wastes money. But one thing the government provides is education. And music and art used to be part of the curriculum. And the outpouring of grief, the hubbub, is testimony to the fact that art triumphs over money every day of the week. Sure, Prince was rich. Sure, he was a star. But the discussion centered around the man's music, his identity, as opposed to the trappings.
When are we going to realize we're all in the same family? When are we going to lift each other up? When are we going to realize culture is more important than GDP?
Everybody else moves to L.A. or New York. Maybe when their fame fades they retire to Montana or Virginia, even go back home. But as big a star as Prince was, who he was was more important, and he was a Midwestern boy with Midwestern values and felt most comfortable away from the flash, where everybody knew his name but respected his privacy. He spoke via his music, as opposed to the nightclub encounters, the tinseltown shenanigans that keep the gossip columns alive.
He rode a bike. Do today's social media stars even know how?
Life is about more than being seen. You need to live it to have something to say. Experience is everything. Prince played basketball, he was a man of the people, but he was not. He was amongst us, but above us. Not because he kept his distance, but because he was so damn talented.
Used to be you could labor in obscurity. It was nearly impossible to get noticed. You honed your chops in the hope you could get a record deal, for without it you were destined to be playing local bars.
Turns out there's a limited pool of great talent in America. The internet did not surface a ton of overlooked musicians screwed by the system. But tireless self-promoters willing to do anything to get noticed did pop up. And with so many vying for attention it's become harder than ever to break through. Does this herald a day when stardom will come later, after people pay their dues and work out the kinks? Probably. We've got a two-tiered stardom. The tools of the system, the youngsters willing to to be molded, written for, primped and promoted… And those taking an alternative path, finding out who they are and what they want to be and emerging fully-formed at a relatively later age. This is the story of the Beatles, this is the story of Prince. Neither needed artist development in the classic record company sense. They both were ready when the spotlight shone. It is not the label's duty to sign and nurture you, it's now your own responsibility, the same way you provide your own tech help. You have all the tools at your fingertips, recording and promotion are cheap and easy. However the waters are full, which means you must be that much better to survive. Prince was.
Died with the internet and only Prince adjusted, maybe Garth Brooks too, although Garth was so buy being aw-shucks about it his endless tour resembled a carney attraction. Prince played. So much you could get a ticket. Which was cheap if there were a lot of people there and expensive if there were few. He was hiding in plain sight. He was a working musician. Garth keeps saying he's doing it for the fans, it was clear Prince was doing it for himself. Sure, he liked the exuberance of the fans, but the shows seemed scheduled to burn off energy, you went to see him burn bright. And he may not have played what you wanted to hear, but you had no doubt he was giving it his all.
So all this hogwash about ticket scalping…
Maybe you just need to play more. Even if it's a month in one city.
As for bitching that you have to go on the road…
True musicians love to work.
BLACK OR WHITE
Michael Jackson was seen as an oddball. He anointed himself the King Of Pop but we revered the records more than the man. He was a star to all, but a weirdo. Turns out Prince was the guy both black and white embraced. The music was the linchpin, but the identity, the gender-bending, the fashion, liberated all, gay and straight, those of all ethnicities. He had to die for us to realize what a deep impact he had.
Married twice, Prince went home alone the night before he died. You think fame solves all your issues, anxiety and loneliness, but it doesn't.
He never stopped working. You never heard Prince bitch that people weren't listening. He recorded because he needed to.
He tried to figure it out, he thought going direct to the people was the answer. But the truth is making and promoting are two different things and you're best off keeping the latter to professionals.
As for keeping his music off YouTube, Spotify, et al…
It will be on now. For all to hear for all time.
I tried to pull up his tracks, and when I came up empty I remembered…you had to pay.
So I combed through thousands of discs, turned on my CD player for the first time in eons.
More money would have been made if streaming was available, because there was limited inventory in the retail stores, except for iTunes, where they could make copies ad infinitum.
That's the modern era, it's there if you want it.
We wanted Prince.
And, like Elvis, it appears we're gonna want him for a very long time.
CAUSE OF DEATH
Dead is dead, doesn't matter how it happens. And it wasn't until yesterday or today that it sunk in that Prince was gone. Prince never fell off our radar, we expected him to pop up on a regular basis, with recordings, shows and pronouncements. And unlike seemingly everybody else, he did not lose a step, he could still wail and wanted to.
We might never know what really happened. Go online and you can read theories spinning drugs, disease and religion. Funny how in the information age we can know so little.
But Prince only wanted us to know so much. He put the music first, and let it speak for him. Funny how at the end of the day our stars are two-dimensional. You think you know them, but you really don't.