“Always cry for love, never cry for pain…”
The thought of the dearly beloved Prince Rogers Nelson physically departing from the Earth in a year that has already been filled with unimaginable losses never crept into any part of my consciousness. In fact, not during any point in my lifetime.
He was only 57 years young, still looking toward the future, never completely wallowing in the past. He wasn’t deeply drawn by the many peaks and valleys he saw, ventured, and conquered throughout his lifetime, as he stood earnest and humble through it all.
At any cost, he managed to stay young at heart, hungry, and revitalizing. Moving toward dullness and resting on his laurels was never an option, from day one, since he recorded his first record at 16 in 1975. He kept moving forward, as he’d done for most of his life and career, making each day as precious as the last. Even in his interviews, he’d constantly speak on the virtues of his future, never speaking on matters in the past tense.
The bleak morning of April 21st will forever remain a haunting and life-altering experience. Just as Prince vowed to steer away from the past, I never imagined speaking about him in the past tense, as if he was being memorialized or if he was a relic. Coincidently, his transcendence came a month after his 1986 genre-defying masterpiece Parade, celebrated its 30th anniversary. More oddly, Parade’s final and now-defining song, the melancholic “Sometimes It Snows In April,” was recorded on April 21, 1985, thirty-one years before his passing.
Even though he had already embarked upon the veteran stage of his career, it never felt like it. The man was still learning as much as he was teaching. He was very much a vital force in every facet of my life and with the news of his transcendence, a part of my world caved in. Nothing could have ever prepared me for it.
No words can even begin to explain the immense musical, cultural, and social impact that this remarkable man made during his forty-year tenure as a musician and cultural iconoclast. In fact, his extraordinary genius needs no specific superlatives or fancy overstatements. His wondrous and timeless span of music—an output of nearly 50-something albums deep, including those groundbreaking 12-inch singles and its B-sides, Madhouse, his revered work for his fellow associated acts, and leaked vaulted treasures—tell the entire story more profoundly and extensively than any biography, documentary, newspaper, or other media outlet can ever empathize. It traces all of the depths, wonders, and fascinations that defined the man himself.
Prince was essentially a man who embodied and welcomed life’s myriad journeys and evolution. Even when people didn’t want to evolve along with him and experience his many respective paths, he still shook them somehow. Through his contradictions and imperfections, he compelled you to empathize with his faults, as any true human being would. He understood that the intensity of his creativity, thoughts, and soul could motivate one to explore with him, at any and every cost. Certainly, his passion to evolve is what always astounded me about him in the first place.
My infatuation with Prince had an unlikely beginning, at the young age of two in 1993. A Nineties baby, born in the centre of the “Generation Y” era, I was overtaken by the 1984 semi-autobiographical rock drama Purple Rain, which debuted a decade before, during the twilight era of “Generation X.” In other words, I didn’t grow up during Prince’s undeniable, golden ten-year stretch, which began with 1978’s For You and concluded with 1988’s Lovesexy. However, like many children who grew up during the Nineties, Purple Rain was probably my definitive introduction to the beautiful, wild, and twisted worlds of Prince. I can’t necessarily offer deep reflections about why I was fascinated by the film, or whether it was the brilliant magnification of the man or the pulse of the music that drew me in first.
All I can say is that for three years, I would rush home every day, without hesitation, to put the video cassette of the film in our family’s beat-up, top-deck VHS player. With every viewing, through the film’s 111 minutes, my world deepened and widened. With Prince’s brash demeanor and bold audacity, portraying the film’s central character, The Kid, I was allowed to tap into my developing inhibitions, curiosities, and imagination, with his permission. I was hooked from that moment. Goodbye Disney, PBS, and those other kiddie obsessions. It would take me another decade to realize that there were no real antagonists in Purple Rain and that it was deeper than a rock drama. At its purest, it was a moralistic tale between good and evil, eventually ending on good note—but that’s another story for another day.
Without a doubt, Michael Jackson was another vital figure that I immortalized during my childhood, but his knack for whimsicality and shock value is what drew me into his world as a child. With Prince, I was given important lessons and experiences. Through his pioneering motives to fight against the stifling practices of the music industry and create his own alternatives in music distribution, in return, I learned about the humanistic perspectives of our universe and my musical ancestors. At the time, Prince was truly my pathway to the pleasures of legendary music from the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Graham Central Station. He opened my world more intensely, allowing me to grasp on to the figures that molded him musically and consciously. I was too young to understand the significance of him scrawling “Slave” on the right side of his face during the mid-1990s, until much later, but he always stood bold and proud of his decisions, no matter what price it would ultimately pay. He triumphed on all bets, in the end.
At the dawn of the millennium, I finally played catch-up in the gracious and varied musical worlds of the man, after experiencing small doses of his music a decade earlier. I remember buying Sign O’ the Times from Sam Goody on Black Friday of 2000, at the age of nine. To merely say that exploring the sonic bliss and musical colors of this masterpiece—from the opening head-turning syncopated beats of its sociopolitical title track to the heavenly crescendos of “Adore”—was a life-affirming revelation would be a gross understatement. It was the equivalent of a rebirth for me, where the totality of my life changed and my appreciation of the man went deeper.
Down the line, I explored Parade, N.E.W.S., Emancipation, Around the World in a Day, and The Rainbow Children, along with other works from his grand oeuvre. Notably enough, it was around this time Prince was extensively following his spiritual journey. I found something notable about him, though, in 2004, when he released Musicology. I was one of those eager fans who felt excited and bewildered when the mainstream public overwhelmingly praised his resurgence to the “commercial” waters.
While he was always recording his art independently, and distributing it on his own over the Internet, he seemed more focused at letting the masses experience what his heavy admirers had already known. He also preached about the importance of the youth being educated on “real music,” as he understood that the music business changed rapidly, three decades after he arrived on the music scene. As a result, I championed Prince as something more during my embattled, early teenage years—my hero, not only musically, but as a human being.
As Musicology became the bittersweet farewell to my innocence and welcome party to my teenage period, 2006’s 3121 was the soundtrack to my sophomore year of high school. That was followed by 2007’s Planet Earth, which was the soundtrack to my junior year, and then 2009’s triple-disc juggernaut LotusFlow3r, which was the defining close of my high school years, transitioning into my college life. The older Prince heads that were obsessed over his legendary 1980-1988 run may have already turned away from his recent work after 1995’s exuberant The Gold Experience or earlier than that.
However, these four works (five, if you include MPLSound), released during his “resurgence” period, were integral elements of my developmental stage from a boy to a man. There are essential memories that are embedded in each one, but most importantly, they brought me closer to the essence and music of their creator. While he was tamely focusing on his past glories for inspiration in creating them, he was pointing toward the younger generation for inspiration, offering them a chance to explore his world. That truly says a lot about Prince’s generosity and outlook.
Without any doubt, Prince’s true legacy will be defined not only as a music pioneer and icon, but as a standard-bearer of the affinity for truth. He stood as the epitome of the outcast, rebel, misunderstood, conflicted, and neglected in all of us. He certainly gave me a voice to express and embrace my inhibitions. During the 1998 VH1 “Beautiful Strange” interview, Spice Girls member Mel B asked Prince why he didn’t celebrate his birthday. He confidently responded with, “I celebrate the day I die.” Perhaps celebrating the day of his birth will be a challenge for many, as the circumstances of his recent transcendence are both heartbreaking and unsettling. However, his boundless inspiration and work as an artist and man will continue to live beyond us.
Thank you for everything, Prince.