Last Thursday, April 21st is a day I will never forget. That was the day that we found out we had lost Prince. It wasn’t another TMZ fable or disposable sound bite. It was life. The starkest reminder of our mortality, one of the true prophets of our tribe was gone forever.
I’ve read a lot of touching tributes to our man (Questlove did a remarkable job) and I’ve seen some great musical send offs (The D’angelo performance on Fallon was stunning). I spent the entire week debating whether I should sound off on this one. Yes, we’ve lost so many this year. 2016 has dealt a decisive blow to our musical renaissance that lasted from the 1930’s to the mid to late ‘80s and spanned across the Atlantic to our brothers and sisters in England. Bowie, Toussaint and BB King were all horrible losses for us all. We saw BB coming, Bowie had perhaps cheated death for as long as he could, pushing his body and mind to the outer limits time and again. Toussaint didn’t make sense but he was pushing up there in age. Prince though? I mean, I saw this guy play a half dozen or so times live and he was just invincible. I was sure that he would be with us well into his 80’s, slapping us with a cane to get our shit together. This was a betrayal. I’m pissed about this one. Trumps message lives and Prince’s dies, what does this say about where we are going? More disturbing than that, who is our Prince now?
It all started for me with Prince, at the age of about 8 my first vivid memory of buying my own cassette tape was the “Purple Rain” soundtrack. Then the videos on MTV in heavy rotation. Unlike Questloves religious family that threw out his Prince music and banned it from the house, my family embraced him whole heartedly as the next Jimi Hendrix (an artist they loved, my mom in particular). Of all the tributes I’ve read there has been ample and justified praise for Prince’s Virtuosity, showmanship, and stagecraft. But don’t ever forget, Prince was one of US. And by that I mean a musician, first. Like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and a handful of others, he blurred the lines of race, sex, politics, religion, ethnicity, style and sound into one perfect sonic collage. He was one of these artists. Like a Picasso or Rembrandt. Every piece was either a giant window into a complete world or it at least had a couple black holes you could slip into. When one of my favorite Prince tracks comes on (and there may be hundreds of favs for me) I’m locked into the story every time. That seamless blend of great songcraft, delivery, production, and the lyrical story. This is music making at its highest. The use of musical styles as if they are just colors on his palette. Prince was one of the artists who taught us, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, it doesn’t matter if you love jazz, classical, blues and hip hop, this is all music. He was a MUSICIAN. And he was the only contemporary of my generation who followed through with a fearless commitment to not be boxed into “demographics” or styles. He was the embodiment of untamable creativity.
In recent years I had lost touch with our beloved leader. I hadn’t seen a show in a while. I heard he was still kicking ass. But his commitment to the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Who’s bizarre hoodoo surrounding medicine and surgeries may have inadvertently taken his life by preventing his need for hip replacement surgery and thus perpetuating his subsequent opioids abuse, but I digress) and his endless and misguided war against the internet set him adrift from some of his fans in recent years. I regret letting him go a little. These ended up being his last years. I’m sure his much fabled vault is full of treasures and I hope they find a way to cobble together an estate and a plan to release all of it. But back to last Thursday April 21st.
I was doing a podcast interview with Dan Miles. Dan did a great job researching my catalog. I sometimes kid that I’m gonna be the first artist who when they finally get signed by a major, will have a boxed set released as their first album. Anyway, Dan was brave enough to dive in and he was struck by a couple tracks on my first two records. We discussed how heavily influenced by Prince these records were. How Prince had inspired me to finally take control and play most of the instruments on these albums. Then as we wrapped up Dan’s engineer broke in to tell us that in fact Prince was gone. I had to pull my shit together to play Bar Chord that night in Brooklyn with my band. I really wanted to cancel. Instead I gave the fellas heads up that we were doing a “Funk Funeral” for Prince. I called my buddy Sean Dixon (my partner from The Chesterfields) right away. We had a Prince obsession that dated back to high school. We learned to write music together because of Prince. We are both from the rust belt and live for that Minneapolis brand of old school funk. Sean came down that night. As did a lot of good friends. We jammed not only Prince tunes but Parliament, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown…we played some Blues, we explored some free jazz. Everyone was worked up. Me perhaps the most. We ended with “Purple Rain” and it was like the whole room exploded. This one was such a catharsis for everyone there. It was like the whole club was performing it for him. I’ve rarely experienced such an atmosphere at any gig anywhere. The closest vibe I could match it to was the Allman Brothers last show.
There was such a human rush that night. Prince music pouring from every bar. And my band, thrashing out with funk fury in a tiny bar in Brooklyn with about 100 or so mourners and musicians. Working it out together. It was our Prince “after show party”. I like to think if he had been there he would have jumped up and jammed with us all night. I think he would have appreciated what we have taken and learned from him. To be musicians, to push the boundaries and to take bold steps forward against all odds. Prince is way more than high heels, squeals and posing. He’s one of the most outstanding musical artists who ever lived. He transcended race and musical genre. Like Picasso, Miles, Bach and Shakespeare, he is forever. I hope wherever he is now he is free of the pain and adversity that this world deals in blow after blow. I also selfishly hope he left behind a little of himself for all of us, we need more than his music. We need his guiding spirit along with that of all the innovators. It will take another generation or two before we even try to get another one. In the meantime, lets protect the music and try to create that atmosphere from the 70’s that got someone like him his musical patronage. And above that, let’s let the music speak. In every note, with a handful of legends, we shall forever hear his name.