I was often reminded by a friend of mine how much I’d hated 1999 the first time I’d heard it. He would repeat the story of him and another friend singing the chorus at me, whilst I bayed at them to stop – or, as Prince would have had it, cease and desist. I have no doubt this is true but I can’t remember doing this. (They were also constantly singing The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, I seem to remember…I didn’t much like that at the time either…at the time, if the popstar didn’t have a white stripe across the bridge of his nose, they weren’t worth listening to – the folly of youth.)
There was a compilation album released in late 1986/early 1987 simply called Hits 6. On it were Hollywood Beyond (I still adore that single!), Nick Kamen, The Pretenders, The Bangles were walking like an Egyptian and Paul Young wanted to take you to Wonderland. One side of the cassette was particularly cool – along with The Pretenders and Paul Young it had The Eurythmics and, I seem to remember, The The. It also had Prince and The Revolution. (There were a lot of “The”s around back then.) The song was Anotherloverholenyohead. It was the first time I realised Prince was a genius. The swirl of the guitar, the percussion intro and the detail – the syncopated Linn before the first “whoo!” – drag you into the song. The paean to a spurning lover is pure perfection. The lyrics, like the music, underplay the desperation in the message being conveyed. The chord change before the lyrics heighten the dramatic impact of first line – such a line these days – and, well, just go and listen to it. That it came with a live performance video of such humour, style, charm and fierceness gilded it beautifully. I kept rewinding and listening, rewinding and listening.
Sitting on a bus winding its way up out of Agios Nikolaos, Crete, in April 1988 was the next time I realised Prince was a genius. I was flirting with a girl, she was flirting with me. She was listening to a walkman. She let me listen to what she was playing. It was the Sign O The Times album and the song was It. I picked it up partway through. What I remember from that first encounter with this song was the sparseness, the rhythm, the driving force. And the guitar solo. She grabbed the earphones back from my before the song finished. There is a coldness about the instrumentation in that song that oxymoronically blends with the heat of the lyrics. There is a pain in the delivery that seemingly contradicts the passion, the honesty, the divinity of the pleasure and desire Prince is singing about. It is a startling song. A compelling song. It is genius.
The girl from the bus had a birthday. She mentioned that Prince had a new album out. I played it through once to make sure it wasn’t scratched. Of course, Lovesexy is genius from start to finish. The song Lovesexy, however, is massively underrated. The layering, the discordant chords, building and struggling against each other – all so high in the mix. Frustratingly but brilliantly conceived – as it for much of the time on this album – the guitar is low in the mix, so hidden, you really have to listen…of course until you don’t and he brings it to the front, then sends it back again. Prince’s guitar work on this song is sensational; fruity, fluid, fantastic. The combative to and fro of the lyrics, the androgyny, the scintillating playfulness of sexuality and sexual fulfilment and the conjoining of faith/belief and sex and the importance of spreading the word, of proselytising helpless in the face of this music and this message. The album left me gobsmacked. It is genius.
These were the moments that hooked me.
In 1988, arguably, I’d missed the boat. Immediately after buying Lovesexy I experienced the live shows, the 1985 Syracuse concert and the Dortmund Lovesexy show, through the TV. I knew the hits but there were masses of songs that I’d never heard of. The hunt for the back catalog was intense and, as you’d imagine, found me slack-jawed and wide-eyed on many occasions. Peculiarly, it was the side projects that thrilled me the most. The Family, the Madhouse albums, The Glamorous Life, What Time Is It? remain amongst my favourite Prince albums. They provide a scope to his canon in the way that Bowie’s characters provide scope to his.
I don’t think I did miss the boat. It was very interesting to be around during the name change – even if that was all for nothing in the end – and it was interesting to be around during his re-evaluation of his career. The fact that he had agreed to write his memoirs is extremely intriguing and now ultimately maddening – perhaps, although he wouldn’t have liked to admit this at the time, his mortality was beginning to become apparent. The challenge he had given himself with the piano shows (oh, how I now wish I had managed to find the means and manner to attend the Auckland shows) hinted at so many possibilities at how he was reengaging with music and reenergising his performance. Following the guitar heavy 3rdEyeGirl work, the piano shows displayed the still constant evolution of Prince as a musician and idealist.
I’m angry his last two albums are what they are. I’m angry the direction he was now taking himself never manifest itself in the form of a studio album. I’m angry that at 57 he was still putting songs out about how great he was and how much people were going to be blown away by his next performance. We knew how great he was. Prince was a genius. This new direction may have allowed for the genius to evolve and bloom anew. Instead, it won’t. I’m in danger of slipping into the Alan Leeds’ Grieving Paradigm. I’ll stop.
It’s hard to write that I’m going to miss Prince. I won’t, of course, because his music and his performance will be with me, with us, for our lifetimes’. There will, I’m certain, be new/old music released over the coming years. The new music will thrill and, in his manner – incomparable at juxtaposing emotions and sounds – will make us sad simultaneously. His name will live on and on and outlive us all. There’s a little bit of me, though, that wishes life was never-ending. And whilst many may say good things never last; this good thing will. Forever.