Unlike His Royal Badness himself, it came suddenly. A text message, then two, a tweet here, a trending Facebook post there, and then it was clear: As TMZ first reported, Prince Rogers Nelson, the ageless king, and queen, of your favorite musical style, had passed away suddenly at the age of 57. As the man himself once sang, everybody wants salvation, but we here at Tuesdays With Horry can’t (knowingly) give you that, so we’ve pieced together a few memories and thoughts on this diminutive genius who was larger than us all. Dig, if you will, our picture.
Tyler Lauletta: Three things:
1. While the debate for the number one spot is hotly contested and will never be fully decided, “Charlie Murphy v. Prince” is undoubtedly one of the top 5 sketches in the too-short history of Chappelle’s Show. Even more baller, Prince used the sketch and sold records off it. You can’t make this shit up. Life is amazing.
2. While the debate for the number one spot is hotly contested and will never be fully decided, Prince’s Super Bowl Halftime performance is undoubtedly one of the top 3 halftime performances of all time. It was raining during “Purple Rain,” and he projected his guitar-soloing silhouette to millions and millions of people in a visual that was clearly an allusion to self-pleasure. You can’t make this shit up. Life is amazing.
3. My first real introduction to Prince was when I found out I would be lead vocals on “Let’s Go Crazy” for a music group I was playing with. I was around 13, I think, and at the time was starting to get pretty far away from the idea of believing in God. Memorizing that opening monologue was a big thing for me. I spent a lot of time with it, and I found it beautiful and still find it beautiful today because it spoke and still speaks to so many of my concerns: Life is fucking hard. Life is fucking long. Life is not about years but about experience and love and dancing your fucking ass off. And it talked about an afterworld of peace and ease and more fucking dancing without bringing God into the equation. I wish I could tell you that I had a deeper cut from Prince’s catalog that meant the world to me, but I was young, and “Let’s Go Crazy” was everything I needed from music at that moment in my life, and playing that song still brings me there sometimes. Prince helped get 13-year-old me through my first real existential crisis. You can’t make this shit up. Life is amazing.
Patrick Masterson: Prince was either going to live forever, or he was going to die. And if God is dead, what chance did you think Prince was going to have? Mustard does not save us from the flame.
Rory Masterson: He knew us better than we knew us. Prince pulled off the unimaginable task of relating the rawest of emotions that it didn’t seem he noticeably processed himself. He pushed others’ boundaries while staying within his own, wherever they lay. That’s part of why it’s contradictory to even call him a walking contradiction: his strict vegan diet, his overt displays of paradoxical sexuality, his adherence to the practices of being a Jehovah’s Witness (including, apparently, knocking on strangers’ doors to discuss Jesus), his seemingly endless practice and studio time – all of it created a net musical and cultural positive, seemingly quixotic while daringly practical. His admirable disregard for standards that didn’t matter to him influenced, well, everybody you and I know, whether they know it or not. Hell, the nascent days of this website are shrouded in the sweaty details of an adult rec league soccer team named after his most important record, probably just the way he would’ve wanted it. He adopted, then rejected, the Internet before anyone even knew what it was.
The Bowie comparisons are coming – admittedly, I’ve already made a few – but that reduces both the artists involved as well as the ideas they respectively produced. Androgyny, genre-crossing (and creating), weird relationships with religion – this is Little Richard territory at its core in rock and roll, and countless other acts checked off more than one of those boxes before either Ziggy or the Purple One got there. All that combined with the ability to walk into someone else’s party and immediately make it his own. His solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from George Harrison’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, alongside many of Harrison’s friends as well as his son Dhani, will forever remind us how mind-melting his musical talent was even outside the contexts he created.
With Prince, his ostentatious challenges started the kinds of revolutions that named bands. Oh wait, Prince beat us to that too. You want to talk about ownership? Forget changing his name to a symbol as a middle finger to his record label: This guy monopolized a color. The stories about basketball, pancakes and ?uestlove throwing parties at his behest; the insane amounts of Dunkaroos in his fridge¹, and the endless vaults of master recordings and videos that we’ll never see – it’s a glorious purple smokescreen designed to keep our attention, but it’s not like Prince needed to do that. He had it anyway.
Jordy McKever: When Michael died, I remember my mom saying, “I’ll really be distraught when Prince dies.” I laughed it off. I mean, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, right? Well, here we are. I got to go to his show in Columbia in 2003 for free. A co-worker got two tickets as a tip (for taking out somebody’s groceries—at Piggly Wiggly!)°. That co-worker couldn’t go, so I offered to take them. Lucky me, eh? Of course, words can’t adequately describe how incredible that show was.
I haven’t had many feelings about any famous person dying. I didn’t personally know Prince. I’ve enjoyed every song of his that I’ve heard, but I’m not overly familiar with his catalog. What I do know is that there isn’t a single person saying something bad about Prince today. At all. No mention of any scandals or trouble with the law. It’s unfortunate to consider something like that an accomplishment, but here we are.
I’ll leave you with a recommendation: Check out Prince’s performance from SNL in 2014 (Chris Rock was the host). It’s nine minutes of pure ecstasy. You won’t regret it.
Brighid O’Brien: Prince came into my life indirectly. Riding the number 39 bus to home from school, alone, in the freezing February rain, I had one song playing on repeat: “When Doves Cry,” as sung by Quindon Tarver, from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. We’d just read the Bard’s play in my 9th grade English class, and in what might have started as a lack of a lesson plan had turned into us watching every film adaptation of the star crossed lover’s tale. I know, I know – bashful Claire Danes, and Leo in his prime. I know! But that soundtrack! Quindon is probably better known for his other contribution, “Everybody’s Free,” but the true hidden gem is his cover of “When Doves Cry.” Its start is somber and slow, with a church choir behind him, and builds into something that manages to be big and dancey and foreboding all at the same time.
It was like nothing I’d heard before, so naturally I had to hear the original. And that was it. Prince took beauty and pain and longing for someone to understand you and he made it all work. I was in a lonely place – I was midway through my freshman year at a high school I didn’t want to be at and hadn’t gotten comfortable yet. Standing at the bus stop in the sleet, I was literally alone in a world that was so cold. Things got better as the weather warmed up, and likewise, I moved further into the catalog (hello, “Darling Nikki”). But I’ll always think fondly of scrolling through my iPod, swiping my Charlie Card and enjoying the 40-minute commute, performed by Quindon Tarver but undeniably penned by His Purpleness.
Jill Pellegrini: Prince is about as dead as Elvis, and by that I mean Prince is not dead at all.
There would only be more questions when I experienced “1999” at a friend’s Halloween party. I couldn’t wrap my head around the lyrics. “If this was made in the eighties, then why is he talking about 1999? The year is 1997,” my little brain protested. Not only was this man bending my learned notions of gender, he was now flexing the space-time continuum. I made up my mind right then that he was a rock star of comic book proportions, capable of predicting the future and summoning magic from his purple motorcycle.
I would learn that the task of figuring out Prince was easier to do as a child than as an adult. I grew up laughing at the Epic of Charlie Murphy’s Epic of Shirts v. Blouses, which turned out to be mostly true. I would listen as my friend slowed down the line, “you’ll be screaming like a white lady when I count to three” on his turntable. I would read in Mo’ Meta Blues about how he shut down a whole skating rink so he could glide by his lonesome as a bemused ?uestlove looked on. I would learn that he was incredibly persnickety about his mustard selection. I would see him turn a joke around on the Chappelle’s Show almost a decade after the fact with an incredible single.
He put his music on the Internet, and then he took it off the Internet. Then, he made it available to some people on the Internet. He was an unpronounceable symbol, and then he wasn’t.
Prince was an enigmatic talent who did whatever the hell he wanted because he could. He could because he was Prince. His word, whenever he would speak publicly, was gospel. He could be catty, he could be coy, and he could be bat shit crazy, but it was never questioned. Why would you question it? If you questioned Prince, you questioned yourself.
Tommy Werner: Prince is my most concrete example of the ability of good music to cross generations. And it all started with Secret Santa.
As a freshman in high school, I was still young enough to be included in the kid side of the family Secret Santa gift exchange. My uncle, who I saw once every three years, had picked me.
He muttered something about his kids not being there and kind of tossed the gift into my hands. I tore it open on the spot, betraying years of Werner turn-taking.
It was a Prince album, but it wasn’t Sign ‘O’ The Times or 1999 (which were what Rolling Stone had dictated were the greatest albums of his). It was Ultimate, a 2-disc collection of greatest hits starting from his eponymous 1979 debut.
“I called your parents to make sure you actually wanted this.” In hindsight, I wish I could have been there to hear my Dad and his brother talking about the merits of Prince. “Your parents said you did, so here you go.”
To this day, it is the longest conversation I’ve ever had with him.
The second disc of Ultimate is mostly remixes and 12″ versions, which really screwed up my base knowledge of Prince (when “Raspberry Beret” comes on at karaoke, I’m always surprised that it doesn’t stretch to 8 minutes or include breaks). But the first disc had it all: that booty-shaking “Delirious” to the weird, bass-less monotone on “When Doves Cry” (I’m convinced that without this song, The White Stripes would have never happened).
But we’re not talking about music. We’re talking about my uncle.
My uncle’s act brought on an unintentional connection with Prince as the backdrop. He didn’t have any words about guitar solos or Prince as an androgynous archetype, but that just allowed me to absorb these songs like he might have. With no uncle-splaining, I could do what I wanted with the music.
So I thanked him. Then I listened to the shit out of that compilation.
Sure, I have much better memories with Prince as the soundtrack, but I owe His Royal Badness some thanks for this moment, where his music bridged a generation and got me talking to my uncle about music.
I wasn’t reaching into the past; I was bringing the best of Prince into my future. Which, I guess, is where he’s been all along.
* * *
°Editor’s Note: This is the most Prince way to acquire tickets.
¹Seriously, if you don’t read anything else about Prince from this point forward, read the Heavy Table review of what’s in his fridge from 2011. It’s a perfect encapsulation of Prince, the non-musician, and includes this artist’s rendering of yak milk. If that isn’t enough to get you to like Prince, nothing is. Also, if you don’t like Prince, you’ve probably never listened to his music and/or hate the idea of “fun.”