I was extremely fortunate that I was fifteen years old when MTV debuted in August of 1981. I was old enough to be left home alone, but too young to have a driver’s license or a job to go to, so for the next year, if I was home alone or nothing else was on, I was watching MTV. The early months were kind of infuriating, with terribly boring interstitials that seemed to go on forever; but soon, enough videos had been acquired that music played practically 24-7. Being a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant from the suburbs, my only glimpses into culture came through what my parents liked… until MTV: after that, I had a window and an ear into the music outside of Mesquite, Texas, population just over 35,000 at the time. The Boomtown Rats, The Psychedelic Furs, The Clash, Split Enz, Haircut 100, Roxy Music, Blondie, The Talking Heads, A Flock of Seagulls, and the Thin White Duke himself, David Bowie; all gracing me with sonics and visuals I never would have found for myself otherwise.
And then there was Prince.
Prince was the musical genius who not only wrote every song on his albums, but he played every instrument, only grabbing musicians to play concerts and appear in his music videos. Prince wrote lyrics that were sometimes almost comically sacred, then wrote lyrics that were one double-entendre away from being pornography, and did so sometimes in the exact same song. Prince proved you didn’t need to be six feet tall to be a sex symbol, as he was constantly taking off his clothes on his album covers. Prince had smoking hot women in his band, not just singing backup or dancing around him, but playing guitar, keyboard, and percussion; and not just playing, but owning their instruments – they may have been eye candy, but they weren’t there to just be eye candy; these women were serious musicians with serious chops.
Prince was the musical genius behind Morris Day and The Time. Prince was the musical genius behind Vanity 6, later renamed Apollonia 6. Prince was the musical genius behind Sheila E. Prince made Sheena Easton relevant finally. Prince introduced Lisa and Wendy to the world.
Prince was the lead in a movie, even though he couldn’t act – he just played a version of himself – writing all the music for what was to become one of the best soundtracks of all time, winning an Oscar. Prince later starred in two more movies he directed himself, again writing the soundtracks and scoring Top Ten songs for his efforts. Still couldn’t act, but nobody cared – he was Prince.
Prince could be just as eccentric as the other big artists of the era – Michael Jackson, Madonna, George Micheal, Boy George – but Prince never disappeared from the limelight or issued apologies for lapses in judgement or paid millions out to make indiscretions go away; he just kept putting out album after album after album. The goofiest thing Prince ever did was stop calling himself by his name and stencil “Slave” on his face when he wanted out of his contract. Prince was one of the few artists ever inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who was still making albums of new music, still a relevant force of the music and radio industries.
Being a fan of The Talking Heads made me feel smart; being a fan of David Bowie made me feel artistic; but being a fan of Prince made me feel dangerous, even streetwise. And maybe just a little sexy.
Sleep well, Purple One. Job very well done.