There’s always a stunned reaction when someone truly famous dies unexpectedly, especially when you consider the disparity with our often blasé reaction to generic news worthy disasters that involve mass fatalities; be it plane crashes, famines or humanitarian crises during civil wars. This is because the victims are people like us; faceless and nameless, unremarkable, and therefore uninteresting. Celebrities, particularly musicians and actors (performance arts of mass appeal) aren’t viewed on the same terms. The necessary reverence of fandom and exceptionalism won’t allow it. It requires that we view their existences in a vacuum. When they appear it’s either on stage or on screen and this is a firm confirmation (by us) of their talent, so to accept that distance, and a realm we cannot, or probably never will, inhibit, we impose an existential barrier that firmly separates them from us. Even if we don’t want to admit it, they’re a commodity to us, they offer more than their art – they offer an alluring glimpse of what it’s like to experience mass admiration and fulfilled aspiration. Also, because we find them synonymous with their art, we’re not inclined to see them and it as susceptible to the realities of our mundane existence; be it illness, or forms of physical frailty, and especially mortality. We assume that their fame and wealth makes them invincible, even from the grim realities of drug addiction, a cliché synonymous with involvement in the music industry, a rite of passage almost, but only when they die from drug abuse, or something else, is the mystique broken and we can consider them to be real.
So, Prince, just like David Bowie, was a person, and mortal, even if their many images and personas couldn’t be, and couldn’t be viewed as such. But you know what? Despite my initial reaction ‘first Ziggy, now Prince, this is fucking bollocks’ I don’t feel bad for the fella. While there’s nothing more valuable than being alive I suspect Prince experienced far more moments of intrigue and genius in his fifty-seven years than ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the people currently alive ever will. He was one of the fortunate, he oozed creativity, skill and embraced showmanship, and was thoroughly revered for it, and wasn’t afraid to pursue individuality with immense self-belief when the mass sociological expectation tends to demand that stars show a level of false modesty, unless their talent could transcend it, and Prince’s did. He played the game on his terms, and he did what he wanted, that’s true freedom. What I am sad for is the craft of music, and that there are less good ideas in the world today than there were yesterday. He’s irreplaceable, like David Bowie and James Brown were.
This NTS show tribute above gives as thorough an overview of his career as is possible in three hours, including some lesser known gems. In paying homage people will reach for the obvious and populist choices, be it the albums “Purple Rain” or “Sign ‘O’ The Times”, or his most famous songs ‘When Doves Cry’ or ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, but I’ve been listening to “The Gold Experience” over the last few days. Its slicker than the rougher grimy funk on his earlier effort “Dirty Mind”, but retains its bawdiness with an ostentatious decadence that seems excessive, even by Prince’s standards, marrying it with his typical effeminate self-congratulatory bravado. It encapsulates Prince perfectly; at his best he made the sleazy seem glamourous and he explored his (and our) innate obsessiveness with sex and sexual fantasies with joy and entirely without shame.
As I said in a tweet the other day – it’s sickening that a hack like Madonna has outlived Prince (they were both born in 1958). This is conclusive proof that there’s no justice in the world or universe. But thankfully taste and music transcends a person’s lifespan, and in The Purple One’s case his influence on culture is thoroughly imbedded thanks to his staggering discography (however, accessing it on the internet was and is difficult, unless you know where to look, as he fiercely hunted down copyright infringements) and his unique brand of flamboyance, eccentricity and excess. That combination, whether folk realise it or not, will prove to be more inspirational and outlast all the trends, the frauds, or the imposters who claim to idolise him. He’s created a genre, still owns it to this day and always will. If you don’t own at least a handful of his albums you’re really missing out.