Prince, the singer, songwriter, producer, and rock star, died this week at the age of 57. Here are six stories about the legendary musician.
Prince recorded the great majority of his music entirely on his own, playing every instrument and singing every vocal line. Many of his albums were simply credited, “Produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince.” Then, performing those songs onstage, he worked as a bandleader in the polished, athletic, ecstatic tradition of James Brown, at once spontaneous and utterly precise, riveting enough to open a Grammy Awards telecast and play the Super Bowl halftime show. He would often follow a full-tilt arena concert with a late-night club show, pouring out even more music.
A profile of the artist as a 20-year-old, who already wielded the power to bring people together: “At a time when white audiences and black audiences—the pop churts and the pop underground—have almost nothing to do with one another, Prince is insisting that they do.”
A paean 2 Prince:
In general, artists forge one of two career paths for themselves early on. Either they reject the world in order to become the romantic hero of their own imagining, or they embrace the real, transmuting what they find in the streets and in people’s homes into tales an audience can readily identify with. Growing up, Prince did both. And he used urban black music and black gay attitude as it filtered through and got mixed up in his predominantly white Midwestern environment to express his quintessentially American self. And it was this self—which, visually, at least, he played as male and female, gay and straight, black and white—that Prince used to remake black music in his own image.
Powers scores a rare interview with the artist—and the privilege of listening to his tracks with him:
“I’m interested in the inner workings of music, the effect on the body,” he explained. “I’m trying to understand why we respond to beats differently.” His former associate, the producer Terry Lewis, helped him realize Pro Tools might help. “Terry talked me into it. He said, ‘Don’t think of it as a digital machine,’ ” said Prince. ” ‘Don’t play by its rules.’ I just took it and started flipping things.”
Dash is a well-known Prince fan. Here, he goes deep into “Purple Rain”:
The band challenged the audience with a setlist where half the songs were brand-new, premiering more than 45 minutes of material that no one had ever heard. After almost an hour, Wendy began the penultimate song of the set. A few slow chords, heavily chorused, served to introduce the audience to a new, unfamiliar ballad. For the first ten seconds of the song, the only sound heard was Wendy’s guitar ringing out.
Ten months later, on June 25th 1984, the world got its first listen to those broad, mournful chords as the title track of a brand new album: Purple Rain.
6. “The Quiet One: A High School Classmate Recalls The Artist As A Young Man” (Jon Tevlin, Star Tribune, 1997)
How heartening is it to read that, like so many of us, Prince was a shy high school student?
“He was very quiet,” said Al Nuness, Prince’s sophomore basketball coach and physical-education teacher. “Very low-key. He was so shy you couldn’t believe it to see him perform in front of people.”
Although he was obviously smart and a decent student, “he never said anything in class,” Nuness said. “He is one of those students everybody talks about, but he was an average kid that you really didn’t notice very much.”