Thursday, 21 April 2016

Oh No...Not Prince....

I was watching an episode of Boston Legal earlier. In it the brilliant Alan Shore (played by the equally brilliant James Spader who can currently be seen with far less hair in The Blacklist) uses the phrase 'summarily schmidt-canned'. I was working on a way to work this phrase into these pages (just done it) when I noticed a Facebook post by a friend which declared the death of Prince. That Prince. Prince Rogers Nelson for feck's sake. He was just 57.

It has been a severely testing couple of days. A bizarre chain of events facilitated the almost complete erosion of my self-esteem. Just when you get through that, when you finally digest the notion that the majority view on you doesn't matter enough to justify a total meltdown, you find out that Prince has died. The word 'genius' is grossly, horribly over-used. There are very few true geniuses in modern popular culture, much less music. Most of the artists I like fall way short of this billing. I basically like anyone who is easy to copy on karaoke (and therefore musically limited in a technical, music snobbery sense) and a certain soul diva from the south coast. But genius she is not. Anyone who has heard 'Don't Cha' Wanna Ride' will know that Miss Stone's best work is when she is covering forgotten oul classics from the 1950's and adapting the odd White Stripes number. But Prince? Prince was different gravy.

Purple Rain is perhaps the most iconic of his enormous catalogue of hits but the truth is everything he did was pretty magical. I defy even those people who find Sinead O'Connor's 'Nothing Compares 2 U' to be mawkish nonsense (it doesn't help that she actually cries during the performance) to listen to Prince's version and not have their view of the whole song changed for the better. He wrote the song, aswell as The Bangles classic Manic Monday (who doesn't like The Bangles?) and many more hits for many other artists that you've probably bellowed along to on the drive to work. I know I have. Not so much Carpool Karaoke as Peter Kay's Car Share.

Some of his songs were a little on the risque side, leading to the perception that he was....well....a bit of a perv. I remember sitting listening to one album and realising that pretty much every song had a sexual connotation on some level. That could have been the mind of a late teenage male but with titles like 'Soft And Wet', 'Do Me Baby' and 'Sexy MF' the jury has to be out. But on the other hand if you can bury blatantly offensive lyrics amid the spell-binding Hendrixian guitar prowess and a vocal range that made Mariah Carey sound like Bruce Springsteen then you'll probably get away with it. And he did.

Slightly unnerving sexual obsession wasn't Prince's only oddity, of course. Who can forget him changing his name to an unpronouncable symbol in some kind of protest against gender labelling? Word is he wasn't that fussed. Or the time he attempted to shame his record label into settling their dispute by writing 'Slave' on his face? Some thought at the time that a millionaire recording artist shouldn't have been trivialising slavery. I remember Cristiano Ronaldo getting in hot water for a similar loss of perspective. But he too is one of those few true geniuses in modern popular culture I mentioned, so perhaps it's a pre-requisite. It wasn't all bad from Prince anyway. Occasionally he would derive pleasure from giving albums away at a ridiculous price with certain Sunday newspapers. Publicity stunt? Possibly, but certainly better than the £19.99 charged by many hugely inferior artists for the 'deluxe' versions of their work.

As a long-time critic of the general public expressing too much, inappropriate emotion following the loss of celebrities this column breaks every rule. But for me there's a genuine difference between trying to articulate some feelings about one of the most influential human beings of all time and writing RIP to the latest reality show no-mark who has passed, as equally sad as their deaths are to the people who knew and loved them. So, just deal with it if you wouldn't mind awfully. Thanks.

Reflecting now on Prince's death while that terrible song he did which Tom Jones covered plays in the background on one of many hastily cobbled tribute shows on MTV my great regret is that I will now never get to see him live. Latterly he had taken to announcing tour venues and dates at about a week's notice which makes life difficult. Bloody annoying but again the sort of thing you get away with if you're a bona fide genius and an icon. I wouldn't really begrudge him this right. His passing is a genuinely appalling day for the arts, for music, and for anyone with any interest in human achievement in general.

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