I live about eighty miles away from Moline, Illinois and on Friday April 15th, 2016 I was jostled about when I read the headline "Prince Taken to Moline Hospital After Emergency Landing." It was a scary headline and I was relieved to hear that shortly after he his plane made the emergency landing that Prince was released with what was thought to be the flu. Planes land all of the time for ill passengers and when he was released it seemed that it was not a big deal and life for all of us went on.
While I write I take little respites when I hit a case of writers block on April 21st, 2016 I hit that wall. I decided to go into Facebook and root around a little so when I did open the social media platform I think my jaw bounced off of the keyboard. For whatever reason the very first story I saw was from SPIN magazine and the headline read "Prince Dead at 57. According to TMZ," it felt like I was kicked in the stomach.
It was pretty hard to be a teenager in the '80's and not have had some respect for the artist and his music. What I took from his meteoric rise to "super-stardom" was his brilliance as a songwriter and a performer. The man and the myth at times seemed to be the same when it came to Prince and it started an an extremely early age.
Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7th, 1958 in Minneapolis to Mattie Della (Shaw) and John Lewis Nelson who later recalled the reason for the name "Prince" was because he "wanted him to do everything I wanted to do." Prince was born with a God-given gift for music, at seven years old he penned his first song while playing his father's piano, he called the song "Funk Machine." It's incredible to think that at that early age the man who wrote that song, would go onto become an icon in "funk" and "R&B." How could he not, think of the era he grew up in with influences like "George Clinton and the Parliment-Funkadelic," "Earth, Wind and Fire" and "Sly and the Family Stone."
After being part of several bands, including the band "Grand Central" which later included Morris Day on drums, Prince recorded his first demo in 1976 and by 1978 Prince had recorded his first studio album called "For You." His first chart successes came shortly after releasing the self-titled "Prince" in 1979, with "I Wanna Be Your Lover" as it reached #1 on the Hot Soul Singles chart and #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself garnered a #4 position in the Billboard Top R&B / Black Albums and mainstream success as it reached #22 on the Billboard Top 200.
By 1982 Prince was well established in the R&B genre but when the album "1999" was released his success went global selling over three million copies. From the album "1999" came three Top 10 hits including "1999" (#12 US and #4 US R&B), "Little Red Corvette" (#6 US and #15 US R&B) and "Delirious" (#8 US and #18 US R&B). The album was sheer genius, with that funky sound and that "make you want to dance" it also included a rock side with "Little Red Corvette" and one of my all time favorites "Delirious." Delirious was a peppy, heart pumping sound that seemingly became a signature sound, at least in my eyes. As the world spiraled toward the end of he century and millennium, amidst the fear of Y2K "1999" entered a very heavy rotation and was "the" song at New Year's Eve parties including one I attended. What a great idea he had, using a year as a song title because it immediately becomes relevant even seventeen years later.
The pinnacle of the careers of many bands seems to be when they hit the glass ceiling of so much success so quickly but Prince was undeterred and in 1984 he released one of the greatest records of all time: Purple Rain. Purple Rain sold thirteen million copies, reached Platinum 13 times, twenty-four weeks at #1 on Billboard Top 200, it had four Top 10 hits of which two were #1 ("When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy"), two Grammy's and it was nominated for Album of the Year. Lest I forget to mention that "Purple Rain" was actually a movie soundtrack and it won the Academy Award for Best Original Sound Score, grossing over $80 million at the box office worldwide.
Purple Rain wasn't without its detractors one of which was Tipper Gore (wife to Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore). Gore founded the PMRS (Parents Music Resource Center) after she heard her daughter listening to the racy to some and to others filthy "Darling Nikki." Gore used "Darling Nikki" as a firebrand to stir emotions to a fever pitch to bring "voluntary labeling" to recorded music which at the time and to this day just smacks of censorship in my eyes. In a delicious form of irony many artists that "voluntarily" labeled their music had greater success because of the taboo of having the label on their music.
Prince was a visionary, he released 39 studio albums (sixteen Top 10's, four of which were #1), four live albums, one hundred and four singles, one hundred and thirty six videos, and over one-hundred million albums sales worldwide. As if his legend wasn't larger than life, he was inducted into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 on the first ballot of his nomination.
What can a rock guy say about Prince? I think what I can say is he was a visionary, he had this intoxicating way about his music, he could pull anyone that listened into his world. While its true I am a "rock" guy I can still remember the first time I ever heard his song "7" and that thumping, kick you in the teeth bass. After I heard that song I went to a record store and I bought the cassette single of the single and I wore it out. Even years later I remember that New Years Eve party I mentioned earlier as the DJ played "1999" and the dance floor filled to capacity and right at midnight the music changed to "R.E.M. - It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine) ringing in the year 2000."
On April 21st, 2016 the world of music and pop culture lost one of its greatest icons and whether you call him Prince Rogers Nelson, Alexander Nevermind, The Purple One, The Symbol, TAFKAP or Prince it is all the same. Prince died at home in Chanhassen, Minnesota shortly after experiencing flu-like symptoms and the emergency landing at the Quad Cities International Airport in Moline, Illinois on April 15th, 2016 he was transported to a local hospital. He is preceded in death by his parents, a son, a sister and brother. He is survived by one brother and three sisters. It's a very sad day in music and in a year that has seen so many musical icons leave us it almost feels like it will never stop. Prince said it best in his song "7":
"All 7 and we'll watch them fall. They stand in the way of love and we will smoke them all. With an intellect and a savior faire, no one in the whole universe will ever compare. I am yours now and you are mine and together we'll love through all space and time, so don't cry. One day all 7 will die." Prince - 1992