And now Prince.
It’s been a hell of a year already for musicians: We’ve lost, among numerous others, Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Paul Kantner, Maurice White, Sir George Martin, Keith Emerson, Steve Young and Andy (Thunderclap) Newman.*
And, as I said, now Prince, who was found dead yesterday morning (April 21) at his Paisley Park complex in the Minneapolis suburb of Channassen. He was 57.
This one hit me hard, harder than Frey, harder than Bowie, harder than Sir George. And that startled me at first. But as I read the news yesterday morning and afternoon – sketchy and uncomfirmed at first, then sadly certain – and as I listened to a 1993 collection of Prince’s hits while waiting for the Texas Gal at the doctor’s office, I came to a few conclusions.
First, he’s one of ours here in Minnesota. Born in Minneapolis, put together his bands and his craft and skill here, helped create what came to be known as the Minneapolis Sound, put the city – including First Avenue – onto the world’s pop culture map with Purple Rain, and he stayed here through his fame. He would record elsewhere and was famous everywhere. But his home was here.
Second, his age. He was younger than I am. So many people who were interviewed yesterday said that Prince’s music was the soundtrack to their youths. By the time Prince began releasing records and moved toward fame, I was a young adult; I was in my early thirties by the time Purple Rain came along and he was the world’s star. I knew some of his music fairly well, and some of it just a little. But it was never central to my life the way it was to those younger than I. And there’s something a little chilling there, a small feeling of another turn in my life, being older – by only a bit, this time – than the artist who has passed on and much older than the folks whom that artist reached most clearly.
And then there’s the minor connection I had with Prince. I mentioned it at Facebook when I heard the news:
My Prince moment: I played in a band during the 1990s with Prince’s cousin, Chazz. One day, I was walking in Uptown Minneapolis when a long limo came up the street and Chazz leaned out the window and hollered, “Yo! Whiteray!” At the next practice, Chazz told me that he’d been in the limo with Prince and that Prince had asked “Who’s Whiteray?” Chazz explained that during a break at one of our gigs, an audience member had come up to me and said, “When you play keys, man, you move like a white Ray Charles.” From then on, Chazz told his cousin, I was Whiteray. Chazz said Prince thought for a moment, then nodded. “Cool name,” Prince said.
My brief friendship with Chazz – it faded after we quit playing together, as connections often do – brought me another Prince-related memory I cherish, as well. Chazz and I, for a couple of years, played in another band that practiced at a deeply exurban home northwest of Minneapolis, and when Chazz drove, I got to listen to tapes he and his cousin and their friend André Cymone made in the years they were working together. That was some of the best funk and R&B I’ve ever heard, driving through night-time woods, once with Comet Hale-Bopp high overhead as I listened to a superlative version of the Delfonics’ “La-La (Means I Love You)” coming from the speakers.
(I don’t know if that version of the tune – or any of the stuff Chazz played for me as we drove – has ever been officially released; I don’t think so, based on what I see at Discogs.com. I imagine that a lot of it, and much more as well, will eventually be released over the next several years.)
All of that combined yesterday and left me a little aimless, a little lost, grieving in my own way, I guess. As I noted above, I listened to The Hits 1 as I waited for the Texas Gal while she saw the doctor, and even though I never dug as deeply into Prince’s music as I did the work of many others, much of that 1993 CD was familiar, if not ingrained in my bones. And most of it was brilliant, underlining for me as I listened how much we’ve once again lost.
I was going to close this with a video of Prince’s apocalyptic 1992 hit “7,” but I can find no video for the track (which isn’t surprising). So the best I can offer as a conclusion are the words Price spoke in the introduction to “Let’s Go Crazy” from 1984’s Purple Rain:
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night.
*And those names are just of those who are well-represented in my musical collection and memories. In this year’s toll, there are a fair number of other names that brought a “really?” to my mind. For a more thorough accounting, visit Any Major Dude With Half A Heart, where the Dude keeps track of each month’s musical losses.