Archive for April, 2016

Sometimes It Snows In April

It was a while before I was ready for Prince. I was still a kid in the 80’s, when Prince was still dissolving any barriers between popular music genres and the sounds he heard in his head. Michael Jackson made sense to me. There was just enough danger in Thriller to make it exciting while still being as broadly appealing as possible. Bon Jovi I got. Sure, he wore spandex, but it was in a totally heteronormative way. I was growing up in an all white shore town in 1980’s New Jersey. Even in a culture steeped in glam-metal, Prince seemed a bit scary because he wasn’t putting on an act. There was no normal guy underneath the mascara. This was Prince, all the way down.

I was like 6 years old and wanted nothing to do with him. 

It wasn’t until later that it all clicked. By this time, it was the 90’s, and Prince had fallen out of favor. In fact, he wasn’t even Prince at this point. He had long since changed his name to a lazy-joke-fodder symbol. He wasn’t on the radio or MTV any more. Crazy as it sounds today, Prince seemed really uncool. This was, perhaps, the worst possible time to become a fan. 

But Prince was still out there, doing his thing. Even though he had become a punch line to much of pop culture, there were still plenty of people who never lost faith. I would keep hearing musicians I loved and respected talk about how he changed their lives. It didn’t make sense. He was a dude who wore purple, sang about doves crying, and seemed doomed to be stuck in pre-grunge pop music. 

Then one day I picked up a used copy of the Love Symbol Album for three dollars. I still remember putting it in the CD player in my car being blown away by My Name Is Prince, the opening track. I had never heard anything like this. The elements were all familiar, but there was something magical about the exact way he pulled together rock, funk, new jack swing, and golden era hip hop. This was no fluke. The next song was an entirely different mix but just a good. Now he started incorporating jazz. Who did this?

I became obsessed. Despite having only this one CD, I knew that I was now a die hard Prince fan. As a poor college student, I spent entire weekends scouring used CD stores to stock up on Prince’s back catalog. 

In retrospect, it’s amazing that Prince was ever a pop star. He was too pure an artist. He never played it safe. He never dumbed it down. He made adult music, and he didn’t care if you liked it or not. He was a jumble of contradictions. Prince was a shy man who knew he was a fucking rock star. He was a religious man who was deeply sensual. He was a marketing genius who would purposely build barriers in front of his work. 

Prince was the Large Hadron Collider of American popular culture. He would take the same raw materials available to the rest of us but would smash them together with such fantastic energy that he would consistently create something new, often dangerous, always fascinating. 

I wish I could have said thank you, but it’s too late now. All I can do is keep shaking my ass, the way Prince would want it. 

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