Remembering Prince on his 59th Birthday

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.

New album coming from Butch Walker. Really.

ButchWalker-1024x680None of Butch Walker’s seven albums have reached the Top 100 on the US charts. His most recent record, 2015’s Afraid of Ghosts, crawled to 104 with Billboard.

Kinda odd, I think, because they sound authentic and of-the-moment but still seated firmly at the table with their influences.  It’s rock and roll.  But it’s shiny pop too, sometimes winding their way around each other in the same song. Sugary.  Truthy.  Hooky.  Holy. Smart.

His audience is cult-sized. Those who know and like, well, are glad they know and like, because his music kinda digs in and finds way into a listeners gut.  And heart.

Walker, raised in Georgia, has found his success with his producer’s golden-boy touch on records by Taylor Swift, Fall Out Boy, Avril Lavigne, Pink, Keith Urban, and worked on the new solo record from Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon.

His go-to sound? Layered vocals that build a wall of cotton candy around a bottle of whiskey. A big-and-loud pop sound. It’s also back to the 80’s.  FM radio.  And AM radio too, full of static and sex.

Not too often that kind of material gets stitched together and heard, like Butch Walker does it, as a big ol’ blanket of 2016 goodness, covering you with a feeling of both nostalgia and like the song may be the newest little treasure that nobody else has found yet.

Walker’s new record, Stay Gold, is due soon. There’s a teaser video out today.   And here’s a couple other of my favorites from him (and his recent work with Fallon) to test drive.