Sometimes I wish that life was everlasting,
But all good things, they say, never last.
– Sometimes It Snows in April, Prince
When my wife and I heard the news Thursday that Prince had died, we were stunned. At 57 years old, he was still pumping out great music regularly, touring the world, and continuing to dazzle with his virtuoso singing and musicianship.
Now he’s gone.
It can hardly be understated just how talented he was. He could play every instrument. And not just get by on every instrument—he could play. His vocal range was 4 1/2 octaves, putting most every other pop artist on Earth to shame. And not only could he reach higher and lower than almost everyone, his ability to wail or be as delicate as a flower with that range—sometimes in the same verse—was jaw-dropping. Prince didn’t oversing or undersing; he produced the precise note with the exact amount of emotion and power required every single time,
He released 39 albums in his 35-year career making him a spectacularly prolific writer by anyone’s standards. Not every single on every album was brilliant, but if the worst thing you can say about an artist’s work is that sometimes his songs are merely good, that’s quite a credit to their ability to stay fresh. His final album, HitNRun Phase Two, received an aggregate score of 63/100 from Metacritic with Paste Magazine rating the record as high as 8.8/10—not bad for your 39th album.
And how much more material did he leave in that infamous vault in Paisley Park?
Like many people my age, I got on board with Prince in 1982 when the 1999 album came out. Songs like “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” were revolutionary in a radio landscape dominated by… really, really white people like Olivia Newton-John, Soft Cell, The Human League, and Survivor. Following that up with the mega-hit Purple Rain album and movie turned him into one of the great musical icons of the 80s.
His follow-up to Purple Rain to this day is one of my favourite albums he ever recorded, although at the time it was highly controversial because it was such a departure from his previous two radio-friendly, hook-laden records. Around the World in a Day was filled with psychedelic sounds and other things that the masses weren’t quite ready for. But tunes like “Condition of the Heart,” “The Ladder,” and “Temptation” in my humble opinion are ever bit as brilliant as “When Doves Cry” or “Let’s Go Crazy.”
The more I dug into his music, the more my musical horizons were widened. From “Anna Stesia” to “Electric Chair” to “Gett Off” to “7” to “Baltimore” to “Gold” to “Damn U” to “Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance” to “Black Sweat” to “Housequake” to “Colonized Mind” to “FUNKNROLL” he was able to explore dance, rock, funk, soul, pop, power ballads, and so much more.
I have often thought of Prince as a modern day Jon Donne. Both were preoccupied—especially earlier in life—with love and sex and both inevitably found their true calling in religion and God. That constant push and pull between the profane and the holy seemed to me to be a consistent thread in the subject matter both Donne and Prince repeatedly revisited. To me at least, this was just one more confirmation that Prince was operating on a higher level than the rest of his peers.
From the time I began to listen to really appreciate music until now, Prince has been an integral part of my experience. That experience fundamentally changed on Thursday—there will never be another truly new release by Prince (although, who knows, there may be dozens of albums ready to go in the vault…). But thankfully Prince left such a rich legacy that I will able to continue to enjoy those 39 albums for years to come without much repetition. On the other hand, Prince did write a song called “Joy in Repetition.” Maybe I do need to listen to a few of my faves over and over…
I’m not sure if I have a point to all this, except to say I’m really sad about Prince’s death and I’m going to miss his creativity. Time to go watch the seven DVDs of Prince movies and concerts we have on our shelves and remember fondly the Artist we knew as Prince.