Today would have been the 59th birthday for Prince. In the year and a few months that have passed since he died, my realization (which is nearly the same feeling as on the day he died) is this:
He was one of a startlingly select group of musicians who make it all look way easy.
We see it. We feel it when we see it. Bruno Mars has it. Micheal Jackson had it.
Prince was the master. Remember the legendary Super bowl performance? Watch the short documentary about that night. Amazing
It’s that thing that seems to flow from a natural spring inside their soul. Whereas Springsteen is unbelievably great as a live performer, his magic seemingly includes lot of sweat and hard work to get to that place.
The Michael’s, Prince’s and Bruno’s had to work at it too. Nobody is naive enough to think it’s all about natural ability. But there is an effortlessness that make them seem lighter. Magical.
They make the very difficult look really easy. They make me smile when I watch the old Motown 25 and Michael Jackson introducing the moonwalk. Or when I watch Prince playing that solo with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.
Here’s the piece I wrote the night Prince died. I think it makes sense to read it again today.
Midwest Kids and Prince
Here’s the thing about Prince: to a Midwestern guy back in the early 1980’s, Prince wasn’t necessarily in the cassette player. To most of us dudes, it took a while. For me, it took my friend Ron Hefner turning me on to the Dirty Mind and Controversy albums, and letting me borrow them back in 1983. I gave them back and went out and bought both.
And I’m not sure why. It certainly wasn’t Bob Seger. It wasn’t John Mellencamp. It wasn’t really quite like anything on the radio. It was adult and juvenile at the same time, with keyboards and groove. Funk. And sex. Lots of sex.
But with the 1999 album, on the title song and especially with “Little Red Corvette”, the Midwest boys started to get it. And maybe it was because the Midwest girls already did. They knew Prince had the goods that made it easy to dance.
Then it was Purple Rain, and the movie. The explosion.
Look up his catalog on Wikipedia. I did. Amazing. Ubiquitous on the radio for ten years. Hit songs – ah, career songs – for other artists: Chaka Khan. The Bangles. Sinead O’Connor. Sheila E. Did you know he played the synthesizer that is so crucial to the sound of Stevie Nicks’ hit “Stand Back?
Tonight, I’ve been listening to 89.3 FM The Current, an NPR station in Minneapolis that has been playing nothing but Prince music since a little after 1:00pm. They’ve done marvelous work.
It’s midnight now. They are playing “Jungle Love” from The Time. It sounds good. Damn good.
The thing is, everything they have played has sounded good. Everything. The drum and keyboard sound that is the Minneapolis Sound – the Prince sound. It reminds of the brilliance of his guitar playing and the twist he made on the mixture of Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton and his own brain.
Maybe it’s the filter of loss that makes the music sound more alive. Maybe it’s because we are now able to somehow hear the soulfulness and heart and guts of Prince’s music more clearly.
What I hear when I listen tonight is intelligence and the groove. Funk and the smarts. Rock and roll and charisma. I’m glad it sounds so good, through the lens of a rewind. Happy to know the music was really that good, and our memories hadn’t tricked us.
I’m elated that we have the music to remind us of his genius. And so very sad that it’s where we are tonight.