Sometimes I wish that life was never ending But all good things, they say, never last.
(Sometimes it snows in April, Prince, 1986)
On March 14th 2016 I turned 50, and in honor of that occasion I placed a number of notes on Facebook in which I laid down my album top 50. Needless to say that Prince was the undisputed number 1. In remembrance to Prince, one the greatest in the history of (pop)music ever, my tribute (in five parts). This is the first part, in which I try to clarify some things.
Thursday April 21 2016. I had just got home when the phone rang. My father: something was up with Prince; speculations about his death circulated. Immediately going online, searching, reading. Meanwhile sms-texts, mails, Facebook-, Twitter-, Whatsapp– and Messenger messages arrived by truckloads. Something was definitely up. A body was found, but it was still unconfirmed that it was Prince’s. About 15 minutes later the confirmation: Prince was dead, 57 years old. It got to me, more than I expected. The rest of the evening and night I watched CNN. One (top) artist after the other praised his music, influence, (charity-)work and life. In the following days tributes kept on pouring in. Everyone had something to say/report: Obama, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, U2, Beyoncé, D’Angelo, LCD Soundsystem, George Clinton, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Billy Corgan, Lianne La Havas, Sandra St Victor, Ice Cube, Questlove, Bootsy Collins, Erykah Badu, Frank Ocean, Tom Petty, Naomi Campbell, Lady Gaga, Cat Power, Arcade Fire, Brian Wilson, Steve Vai, Chuck D, Spike Lee, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Johnny Marr, Sheila E, The Revolution, Jill Jones, Morrissey, Mary J Blige, The Replacements, Jimmy Fallon, Gene Simmons, etc., etc. I read (and saw) many times that stars were starstruck by Prince.
The common denominator throughout all reactions was the admiration for Prince the composer, the guitarist, the drummer, the bassist, the piano/keys-player, the singer, the dancer, the producer, the arranger, de bandleader, the innovator, the performer, the advocate for artists’ rights, the filmmaker, the studio-designer, the clothing-designer, in short the genius. A lot of attention to the social impact of Prince, particularly for his (inspired by Sly Stone) multi-racial male/female bands, in which women played a very prominent role (like Wendy Melvoin, Sheila E en 3rdEyeGirl, his latest band which consisted purely of women). In his songs he portrayed mixing different backgrounds (White, Black, Puerto Rican/Everybody just a-freakin’/Good times were rolling, from Uptown, 1981). During the initial negotiations with Warner Bros. Prince explicitly demanded he didn’t get marketed specifically as an R&B artist.
But also attention to his appearance and presentation, which, during the most conservative period in recent American history (Reagan) til then, has been extremely important for many, like the LGBT community. For the black community Prince has also meant a lot, the primary example being the movie Purple Rain. For the first time a ‘black’ movie containing ‘black’ music was made and released with own means, against the advice of the ‘white’ establishment. And it became a massive hit too. For men like Spike Lee and Chuck D this was a revelation and inspired them to what they wanted and wouldn’t take no for an answer. After his death more and more stories circulated concerning his charity work. It was widely known that Prince donated earnings from shows to local organizations, but after his death it became clear that millions have been donated to a wide number of projects, which were focused on green (environmental) initiatives and offering (educational) possibilities to under privileged children/youth (YesWeCode).
But, in the end, it naturally all boiled down to the music. After the initial shock of his death, quickly the admiration for his work prevailed, his hyper-musicality and his legendary drive. His impact on music was enormous. He was an innovator, who constantly brought music one step up. Particularly during the 1980´s. In a time-frime running from 1980 to 1988 he was constantly ahead of everybody else. Every record was greater, more varied, more daring and more divers than the preceding one. After that extremely prolific period the innovation stalled, with some exceptions.
His influence has been lasting in another way as well: in 1984 Tipper Gore heard the song Darling Nikki and was so shaken up about the lyrics (I knew a girl named Nikki/I guess you could say she was a sex fiend/I met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine/She said how’d you like to waste some time/And I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind) that she created the Parents Music Resource Center, its purpose being to warn listeners (read: the parents of) for sexually charged and/or violent material. Thanks to Darling Nikki the Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics stickers became common property.
During the 1990’s his influence came from his name change and his battle against the music distributors. To comply to his contractual obligations he supplied Warner Bros. with B-material for release. The result was that there were two separate streams of Prince music: the first one with the B-material and the other with new O(+> (also called TAFKAP, The Artist or the mocking Symbolina) material. Audiences didn’t see the difference and got tired of the fight. The reason for the fight wasn’t understood and got even worse when Prince appeared in public with the word slave on his cheek. In fact, Prince has died once before: in 1993 the album Come was released. The cover depicted Prince in front of a cemetery. The text on the cover contained the title, his name (at the time still Prince) followed by 1958-1993, implying Prince was dead. In 1995 the album The Gold Experience was released, which contained the song Endorphinmachine. At the end of that song Prince esta muerto (Prince is dead) is repeated a couple of times. His career suffered for it, but he managed, not only for himself, to be able to use his music the way he wanted it to. Luckily, the master tapes of his music came in his (sole) possession during his lifetime.
The concept direct-marketing, 1 on 1 contact with fans, is something Prince developed, and his first attempts at selling with the help of internet and pioneering with (paid) communities (NPG Music Club, 3121, LotusFlow3r) where he offered his music directly to members, was another area of expertise in which he was in the forefront. Members received pre-sale access to ticket-sales and received (very much) music, which was only distributed to his communities. This was al very innovative and exciting, but here, also, his career suffered. Around 2004 Prince was reduced to nothing more than a relic, known, loved and admired by musicians and his fans: a musician’s musician. That’s not what it was supposed to be: from 2004 onward Prince signed deals again with record companies. One deal per album, the rights to the music were Prince’s, but he could use the distribution channels of the big companies. And it worked. Particularly in de US his albums became huge again and his reputation was re-established.
In the meantime Prince effortlessly continued his battles for his (music)rights. Attention shifted towards fanzines (like the magnificent Uptown from Sweden), Youtube and other websites. Legal proceedings were started and almost never made it to court, as the accused often ceased their activities. As a consequence Prince nearly couldn’t be found online. Mixed with his dislike of looking back (on the/his past) and his decision to stop all online streaming and offer up his music exclusively through (paid streaming site) Tidal, the end result was that his music was difficult to obtain or be listened to.
His body of work was never re-released (no remasters), like, for instance, Smashing Pumpkins and Bruce Springsteen do. Beautiful boxsets with (lots of) extra material, so that the work can be put into context and valued. Hopefully, the thousands of songs in the vault and all shows (and afthershows!) get the respect they deserve and are made into beautiful releases and get compiled with the attention and effort it deserves. Time will tell.
Throughout the years one thing remained irrefutable: as a performer Prince was unique, there was no-one like him. Love his music, or don’t, but with his passing one of the greatest performers of all time has vanished. It’s a pity Prince the guitarist is underrated. He was phenomenal. Whenever he was in a ‘guitar’ mood, magic appeared right in front of you. The many illegal recordings prove this. Although he claimed to have learnt more from Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix has been a great influence on his playing. In my humble opinion, as a composer he also was one of the truly greats.
Produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince
A vast number of songs were categorized as noted above. That made Prince unique in another way. His best work was created and executed in this fashion. If you stop and think about that When Doves Cry, The Beautiful Ones, If I Was Your Girlfriend, Sign ’O’ The Times and Condition Of The Heart are all stamped accordingly, it’s hardly conceivable. The sheer volume of songs, the contant high level is unbelievable. The realization that all of that comes, by and large, from this one man can only come from pure genius. In the beautiful 2011 documentary A Purple Reign Chuck D said: Prince is so much of a perfectionist that, I think people can get lazy at his brilliance, and also, just kinda get numb to the fact that he can release high standards at any given time at an enormous rate.
The term Paisley Park plays an important role in Prince’s professional life. First of all it’s the title to a 1985 song, but the name/title is also used for a great number of other important matters: Paisley Park Studios, Paisley Park Vault and Paisley Park Records.
Paisley Park Studios
Paisley Park Studios is a studiocomplex for sound recordings, rehearsals, and video- and film productions. The complex is located in Chanhassen in theAmerican state of Minnesota. The studio, designed and financed by Prince, was officially opened on September 11th 1987, but was partially operational since April 1987. The complex cost approximately 10 million dollars. It houses four recording studio’s. The stage is used for concerts, rehearsals, photo shoots and movie- and video productions. Until 1996 Paisley Park Studios was rent-able for others. After 1996 the complex was solely used by Prince. He did many shows there, including the A Celebration weeks which occurred in the month of June.
The importance of his own studio was immeasurable: he now could record music every hour of the day. One of the stories that circulate is about Prince brushing his teeth and that turns into a groove. As soon as he hears the groove he has to listen and go into the studio to lay it down. Now he could and he used it thoroughly. Songs were recorded daily. According to Alan Leeds, Prince’s manager during the mid to end eighties, came into the office every day excited to hear what Prince had done in the studio the night before. The endless stream of fantastic songs and the continuous high level of the output was mind-boggling. A part of the arguments between Prince and Warner Bros. was rooted in the amount of music Prince produced. As soon as something was recorded he wanted it released immediately. At the time he lacked the (technical) means, but years later he could implement his wishes though the use of his online communities.
Paisley Park Vault
The Vault is the safe located in Paisley Park. The vault contains all master tapes of all of Prince’s recordings. According to legend, this concerns thousands of songs. I have heard some part of it through bootleg-recordings, but to get to hear them in sound quality it was intended, is an obvious wish. Besides that: all concerts Prince ever played are, reportedly, stored in the vault. Also a lot of video recordings exist (including videoclips to never released songs), new movies, etc. A true treasury.
Paisley Park Records
Paisley Park Records was Prince’s recordlabel from 1985 to 1993. The label was connected to and financed by Warner Bros. The label was established in 1985, right after Purple Rain. Day to day operations were handled by Alan Leeds, brother of saxophone player Eric Leeds and previously manager of James Brown (and current manager of D’Angelo). In 1993, after Prince’s arguments with Warner Bros. started, the distribution deal was cancelled, which resulted in the annulment of the label. However, in the meantime Prince had started a new label, called NPG Records.
It’s unbelievable but it’s true: Prince has gone. After 39 albums, 3 live-albums, 1 remix album, 4 compilations, 4 movies, 1 video game, 12 video’s/dvd’s containing concerts, clips, aftershows, 29 tours and countless songs for others, it’s done. I was convinced that the 41 shows I have seen would be extended. Last year, in December 2015, word came out that Prince would come to Europe and do some, acoustic, intimate, shows, but they were cancelled as a result of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The Piano & Microphone tour went to Australia and Canada instead. At the time of his death the tour was underway in America. Europe was to follow later in the year. It’s a shame he won’t be performing ever again. Never again the tearing guitar, the falsetto, the funk, the sweat and the euphoria. Eternally grateful to have been part of the incredible ride.
Prince / Warner Bros. feud: Uptown magazine
Sign O The Times tour stage design: leroybennett.com
All other images: onbekend