Friday, April 22, 2016

Discussing Prince

Craig: Yesterday when I heard the news that Prince had died, I was taken aback. Ironically, for the past month or so, there has been quite a bit of Prince music playing at the house. For some reason, I got "Purple Rain" stuck in my head and ended up playing it quite often. My kids were rolling their eyes and saying, "again?" I happened to run across a video of Adam Levine doing a cover of the song for Howard Stern's Birthday Bash. It was an excellent cover.

Honestly, the first two cassettes that were my own music and not something borrowed from elsewhere were Van Halen's "1984" and "Purple Rain." What can I say about that? Well, today's kids will probably buy (or pirate) Justin Bieber or Nicki Minaj. Neither artist is actually pushing any boundaries in music. There's a lot of Auto-Tune, but not a lot of new ground. Looking back at my first purchases, you're looking at two artists who forged new paths sonically, especially Prince. I think that was what drew me to both artists.

Prince was nothing like we had ever heard before. Truthfully, at 12 years old, I had no idea what "Darling Nikki" was about, but we knew it was taboo. In those years heading into the teenage years, music was the break off point with our parents. We still idolized them beneath the sneer of all that is adolescence. but we wanted something we could call our own. And if it pissed off Mom and Dad, all the better. So "Darling Nikki," "Let's Go Crazy," and "Purple Rain" joined the ranks of "Hot for Teacher" as the very loud breeding ground for parental dissent.

George: I was 16 when Purple Rain came out and it hit me like a brick wall. The music was incredible, the image was infectious, and the story was something I could identify with. I was just starting my road as a musician in a band at that point, and Purple Rain was everything I wanted to be. Today, it seems odd that a fat teenager from Lockport would use someone like Prince as a musical role model, but I did.

The thing I always found strange was that I never wanted to emulate Prince's music in any way. When I wrote music, I leaned more towards David Gilmour and Jimmy Page. Prince was more of an influence on my attitude as an artist than as a musical muse. I loved the way he kept to himself and wrote music that he liked without regard to his audience. As soon as I walked out of the theater after seeing Purple Rain for the first of dozens of times, I immediately went out and started buying Prince vinyl. The first album was 1999, and it blew me away.
Image Courtesy Of Wikipedia

When I moved on to college at the University of Buffalo, there was a little music store near the Amherst Campus cafeteria that was stocked with Prince cassettes I had never seen before. My dorm mates always thought it was odd that I would be blasting Pink Floyd one minute, and then Prince the next. To me it was all music, and all of it mattered a great deal to me.

CB: My music tastes meandered all over the place through my teen years, before finally settling on the jam band scene and the Grateful Dead. Still, while Prince was not in regular rotation in the stereo, whenever I heard his music on the radio, I listened until the end. There has always been something about Prince that was anti-establishment. I'm all about questioning authority.

The fact that the music was different was the biggest turn-on for me. While there was a short time that I feel under the spell of hair-bands (interchangeable names and tunes), I am a big fan of artists thumbing their noses at the norm. Musicians like Prince are hard to imitate. I wonder sometimes, how many garage bands attempted to be Prince at the height of his Purple Rain storm? George, I know you're a Floyd guy, but did you ever take on one of Prince's songs even just goofing around?

GNR: All of the time. I still love picking up my guitar and playing "Purple Rain." There was a time when I attempted to figure out "Let's Go Crazy," but it was beyond my abilities at the time. I used to put on my 1999 cassette and play along with three or four of the songs on that record. I spent months figuring out the solo to "Little Red Corvette," but I have forgotten it since then.

For me, Prince was a wide-ranging inspiration for a lot of things. His music was important to me, but so was his style. I remember that I was not the only one affected by Prince as we had people in college that would dress like Prince in class. Craig, did you ever see the physical effect that Prince had on American culture like I did?

CB: Yeah. I remember a couple guys who started wearing the frilly, white shirts and a coat over it. It was nowhere near as prevalent as the Michael Jackson Thriller jacket, but there were a few.

One thing that has been lost to the music industry with the death of Prince is his pure musicianship. The guy played every instrument on his first five albums. He wrote and arranged all the songs. The guy could play anything, and, in my opinion, is one of the world's most underrated guitar players. How many of today's Top 40 artists can make the same boast? Additionally, Prince released 39 albums in 39 years. Nearly every song released was written by him, music and lyrics. That's a heck of an output.

Will there ever be another one like him?