And he was funky.
Fittingly enough I first heard about Prince through a King. Unfortunately that King was the garish Jonathan King on the equally garish BBC 2 program Entertainment USA. For those of ye lucky enough not to remember said program it was an 80s magazine style program that featured what was “hot ‘n’ happening” in America.
Back then we all knew, on this side of the pond, that Michael Jackson was the self-proclaimed and undisputed Prince of Pop but Mr King, with his twisted mid-Atlantic drawl warned us that there was a pretender to the throne, that pretender was Prince and that Prince wanted to be King. Man, the 80s were confusing times.
King told us what a prodigious talent the young Prince was, a virtuoso on over 20 instruments, he cautioned that the young upstart was no stranger to controversy and that he was known to be rather raunchy. But what King failed to warn us about was just how damn funky, uncompromising, trailblazing, bonkers and goddamn filthy Prince Rogers Nelson really was.
At that stage in my life I was a metalhead and, being a good metaller, everything was crap unless it was loud distorted cock rock. Pop was a no-go area, Michael Jackson and his ilk were anathema to me but even my cloth eared younger self could tell that there was more to this Prince fella than mere throwaway pop tunes.
The hits started coming on this side of the Atlantic, ‘Little Red Corvette’, ‘1999’ and so on but they did little to prepare us for the ‘Purple Rain’ fever that reigned over us as he went stratospheric. This snot nosed kid was hooked. Pop wasn’t supposed to rock like this but it did and by Jaysus did it feel good! And thus began my lifelong purple patch.
His reputation as a live performer was legendary and he was more than the measure of that legend. I had the pleasure of seeing him live three times over the years. My purple cherry was popped in the RDS in 1992 as I watched agog as the horn-dog floated across the stage of the RDS on a flying bed filled with writhing beautiful ladies on the Diamonds and Pearls tour. Next up I got to witness him get off on one night of his 21 night stand in London’s O2 in 2007. And finally, the last time, and it really will be the last time he graced these shores after the cats had finally finished chilling in Malahide Castle in 2011.
It’s as a performer that I’ll remember and miss him most. James Brown meets Hendrix meets Sly Stone meets George Clinton meet Carlos Santana with a whole heap of Little Richard thrown into the mix. If you got him on a good night he’d play hit after hit after hit – and by god did the man have some back catalogue of pure purple solid gold pop classics.
On stage he moved like a panther in heat, ready to pounce and bust a move. He could be UR lover, UR boyfriend, UR girlfriend. He would die 4 U. He could funk U up, love U up, make U dance and groove, work U up into a black sweat as he made the house quake.
Prince could shred guitar with the best of them – his solo during ‘Purple Rain’ would’ve made Jimi proud. He could sing soulful ballads like a fallen angel, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ is a prince of a song among Prince’s. But for me, he was at his best as the hard, sinuous, pulsating, carnal, purple funk machine driving whatever incarnation of a backing band he had on the night, deeper into the groove and upwards to the mothership and beyond.
He was always at pains to point out during his shows that what you were getting was live, no samples, no backing tracks; this was the real deal, real musicians playing real music. Bob Marley once said that “one good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain”. When Prince hit you there was no pain just ecstasy.
And then there was the after show parties, not content with wringing every ounce of his being out on stage he’d keep the funk going in more intimate surroundings. Every waking moment had to be filled with music and performance – at the time we may have thought it a tad indulgent and excessive, egotistical even, but now that he’s gone, and we’ll never get to see him live again it hardly seems enough. We’ve been robbed, his light extinguished too soon. The world, all the better for having had him in it, truly does seem a duller place today.
Musicians play music, artists live music, Prince was music
Rest in Peace my Purple Friend and thanks for the good times and good tunes, especially the tunes.
Enjoy the trip to wherever you’re off to brother and I know this ain’t the end of the journey because this universe ain’t big enough to absorb the NRG that was Prince.
As we say in the old country: Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann. (His likes will never be here again)