This morning I woke up to a text message that read “Noooooooooooo” and had a link to an article. Half asleep and thinking I’d probably click on whatever the link was and read it later, I felt wide awake as soon as I clicked. Can’t believe it. Prince is dead at the age of 57.
Word was he’d had the flu and just days ago had performed a concert in Atlanta (as part of his remarkable Piano And A Microphone tour) and sounded great when he sang, if a little under the weather when he spoke. But after the show his plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Illinois and he’d been rushed to hospital.
The tone of many of the news stories was almost lighthearted. Some even suggested he’d made an appearance at a nightclub just hours after being discharged from hospital. Prince Rogers Nelson had a bout of the flu and that was that.
Only it wasn’t. No cause of death has yet been given and the New York Times is reporting the following:
In a statement, the Carver County sheriff, Jim Olson, said that sheriff’s deputies responded to an emergency call at 9:43 a.m.: “When deputies and medical personnel arrived, they found an unresponsive adult male in the elevator. First responders attempted to provide life-saving CPR, but were unable to revive the victim. He was pronounced deceased at 10:07 a.m.” The sheriff’s office said it would continue to investigate his death.
It’s a mere two months since New Zealand audiences were stunned by this genius among geniuses for the first time. To think that this talent so mysterious was in his final days is already starting to add an extra mist of magic to what I remember witnessing that night.
Other than seeing one of those two New Zealand concerts, my next favourite memory of Prince is from last year and involves a phone and a bowl. Invited by friends to see the fancy home they were house-sitting at, the stereo system was too flash for us to figure out. This was a house where everything operated on sensors and where a curved floor-to-ceiling screen wrapped around the bar area next to the sauna. The sound would’ve been incredible if we could’ve figured it out.
Remembering the not-quite-mindblowing amplification trick of putting a phone in a bowl, me and fellow Prince fan Steve gathered the rest of our friends for a huddled listening session. Steve was more Controversy, I was more Money Don’t Matter 2 Night and together we were unified in our purple enthusiasm. In a house fittingly opulent for the royalty we were listening to, having to do it out of a cereal bowl was kind of hilarious.
Farewell to a man who could be as funky as James Brown, as melodic as the Bee Gees, as soulful as Marvin Gaye, as guitar-hero inspiring as Jimi Hendrix, as socially-wired as Stevie Wonder, as spiritual as Earth, Wind & Fire and as explicit as any songwriter had ever dared to be. Though the same man who once frightened parents and politicians into establishing warning labels for albums didn’t cuss on record for the final two decades of his career. Like Marvin Gaye, the coexistence of the carnal and the divine was both very real for Prince and I’d argue, a very real part of his appeal. And for all the ways Prince could channel other artists and genres – not to mention his pioneering of the “Minneapolis Sound” – very few were as consistently innovative as this 5 foot 2 inch musical giant. Goodbye to the Purple Reign, RIP.
|Purple rain, purple reign.|
Review Of Prince, Aotea Centre in Auckland, February 24th 2016:
We toss the word “legend” around fairly willy-nilly in New Zealand. I guess if we call our mates “legend” when they buy us a drink or give us a ride somewhere then it’s little surprise we extol far too many musicians with two albums and three hits with the same word.
Cutting to the chase, New Zealand witnessed a legend this week. A legend I’d love to shout me a beverage or give me a lift. “Pick you up 7pm, Tim?” “No worries, Prince – legend!”
And not a “legend” with just a handful of albums and hits* who we’re desperate to say nice things about (so often local musicians get called “legend” by way of well-meaning, misplaced patriotism), but a legend. As in, you can call this man a genius, a freak, an all-time great, amongst the elite of the elite or indeed, a legend, and it would never be hyperbole.
Prince. A name you’re not even allowed to be christened with in New Zealand (no titles permitted as first names in NZ, as in no “Saint,” “Justice” or “King” etc. allowed either). He didn’t just seem un-New Zealand-like on Wednesday night at his second of two sold out Aotea Centre shows, he seemed unworldly. Which in this sense is usually described as “otherworldly.” With nothing more than candles, a bad-ass cane as a prop, kaleidoscopic lighting, a grand piano (with occasional synth flourishes) and that insane voice – from deep baritone to supernatural falsetto – 57-year old Prince Rogers Nelson did not seem of this world.
If I occasionally wished there were a fraction less of the free-form jazz deviations, it’s only because what Prince can do with piano keys and his whopping back catalogue of hits and brilliant album cuts is a thing of joy. Little Red Corvette and I Wanna’ Be Your Lover were early crowd-pleasers, but it was How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore that was the real show-stopper. That falsetto, that rhythm, that control.
Sometimes Prince would stand up and strut away from the piano with James Brown-like theatrics as if to say, “This is too hot I gotta’ stop! I need to stop but I can’t! I’m Prince!” And then the magnetism between man and instrument would get too strong and they’d be pulled together again.
That is some charisma. Even Prince just lying on top of the piano had the crowd in a near state of hysteria. There were songs Prince only tantalising touched on that reminded not just of his star-power, voice and playing ability, but the simple beauty of his best melodies: the intro to Diamonds & Pearls; the chorus of The Most Beautiful Girl In The World; the repeating final stanza in The Love We Make. He promised he’d be back in New Zealand one day and whether with full-band or only the one instrument, I’ll be there in a (pricey) heartbeat again.
I leave you with Prince’s genius on the electric guitar on full display – it’s his unforgettable 2004 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame performance with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and co. of While My Guitar Gently Weeps:
*Prince has had more than 50 different top 40 hits around the world and released somewhere in the vicinity of 40 official studio albums.