April 22, 2016
A few years ago I spent a morning listening to how a colleague had been sorely embarrassed. Not a word had been spoken, but she would never recover from the experience. My lucky/unfortunate friend had been to a music awards show and after a few drinks had ended up on the dance floor at the after-party. Five minutes later she found she wasn’t the only one in the party spirit. A mystery man had sidled up to her, and he had some serious moves. She said she had two thoughts: 1: Wow, he can really dance. 2: Oh heck, that’s Prince! …..at which point she lost all control over her limbs and swiftly exited before he tried to talk to her. That was the effect that Prince had on people. As much as you thought you’d like to meet him, what the hell would you say to him? Where to start a conversation? After all, he was one of the few really flamboyant, awe-inspiring and breathtakingly-talented superstars we’ll see in our lifetime. He was also famously eccentric (white doves, purple fountains and giant gnomes at his home aside) and noted at one point for firing staff who even dared to look at him. NO, conversation was not an option. I saw him as well once at Wembley in all his purple-loving, pint-sized glory. ‘Saw’ probably isn’t the right word for a man who was so tiny you needed binoculars to witness his unique brand of stage magic but despite that, his musical presence was gigantic and unforgettable. I happily lost my voice singing along to Raspberry Beret. Born in 1958 to musician parents, there was only ever one way for him to go in life. He was just seven when he wrote his first song and he never stopped mastering, blending and inventing genres. As well as being a multi-instrumentalist and singer, he wrote and produced his material, and he also guarded his output fiercely. The world found this out when he changed his name to ‘Love Symbol,' tattooed ‘slave’ on his face and refused to put any words on paper, (thereby making any interview a real headache for journalists) as a protest against his record company. Feeling stifled in the creative process, he also started releasing albums at a faster rate in an attempt to get out of his contract with Warner Bros, before finally reverting to his real name for the last part of his career. Prince was so prolific that he released well over thirty studio albums, and there’s still rumoured to be a wealth of unreleased material at the Paisley Park complex he created (and where he lived and worked until his death) which we might or might not come to hear. To put this in context, he could probably have released a new album a year for the next 100 years or so. Indeed, so much music did this man have in him that when he wasn’t writing songs for himself and his band creations, he donated them to other artists. Without Prince, we wouldn’t have Sinead O’Connor’s soulful Nothing Compares 2 U or Chaka Khan’s version of I Feel for You …or Sir Tom Jones belting out Kiss (which the world could probably do without in my humble opinion). He was a bit of a hit with the ladies too. Two marriages interspersed with a string of high-profile liaisons with muses including Kim Basinger, Madonna, Carmen Electra and a whole harem full of backing singers and dancers. A natural heir to James Brown and Barry White, he was the King of the overt (and shocking if you were listening with your mother in the room) ‘80’s Sex Song. I remember the moment I discovered what Little Red Corvette was actually about (clue – it’s not just a car) and blushed pinker than the huge bow I was wearing in my hair (because I was a teenager trying to look like Madonna). Prince, your grasp of spelling was appalling but your grip on the universal power of music and knowledge of how to rock a ruffle shirt or any loud suit was unsurpassed. So despite the fact that you refused to spell ‘you’ properly, and unforgivably made Cuban heels cool: RIP Prince. You were one of a kind.