Archive for April, 2016

RIP Prince

I remember first hearing “When Doves Cry” and not liking it because it was raffish and disorienting. Then I realized it had no bass line. It’s a funk song without a bass. Prince said he’d written a bass part but then he didn’t like it and he threw it out and put the damn song on the radio that way. He could do that. Why? Just because he could. And in doing so, the maestro opened up my parochial ears.

I remember watching “Purple Rain” and listening to the bit between Morris Day and his foil–a comedy routine that recalled “Who’s On First” by Abbott and Costello. I knew it was a ripped off bit and I knew that Prince knew that I knew it was a ripped-off bit. What he was doing was tipping his hat to showbiz. He was of it. He felt an obligation to it. Miles Davis said that an unrecognized influence on Prince was Charlie Chaplin. I sort of understand that.

He refused to duet with Michael Jackson in “Bad” supposedly because he didn’t want to sing “Your butt is mine” or have it sung to him. That seems like he was a bit finicky and silly about his image. But really, it might have also signaled good taste.

I remember watching “Purple Rain” later and realizing that Prince respected the medium of film more than other people who dabbled in it (I think of Frank Zappa or Andy Warhol, who with the dismissive tone of people from different art forms, just let the camera run and put weird stuff in front of it, thinking the idea revolutionary when it was actually incredibly boring.) Again, Prince did not put himself above entertaining, and therefore understood how you entertained in different media.

I remember how he absorbed different musical styles and made them part of his language. He put funk, R&B, rock and jazz into the service of spiritual and sexual obsessions, two timeless subjects that will ensure his art will never get old even if he seemed to freely admit that his quests left him without answers. That’s what artists do: they question. If you are the kind of person you believes he has answers to everything, and you are smug about it, you have stopped being an artist. You’re a politician, maybe. A polemicist. A teacher. But you have ceded the provinces of the imagination.

I didn’t listen to a lot of Prince’s later work, which was less compelling, but I realize he never stopped questioning. He was always an artist, and with his death, a bright light goes out.


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Today …

Today, disagree with your enemies. Tomorrow, disagree with your friends. Saturday disagree with yourself. Sunday get tired.

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