Prince: An Appreciation

I’m not sure I could have written this post a year ago.

It was an early Thursday afternoon on April 21st last year when I got a call from a colleague. A body had been found at Paisley Park. Those were the extent of the details known at that moment.

I remembered nearly seven years earlier that TMZ had been the first entity to report the news of Michael Jackson’s passing. They had it before CNN and the AP, etc…

My thought process immediately had me typing in that website to see what was happening. And there it was. Prince was dead.

For me, this was not your typical announcement of a celebrity’s passing. It was far more than that. To those who read this blog, you know I’m a huge movie fan, as well as a music lover. We all are in our own way (at least most of us).

As I’ve stated before on here, there are casual movie watchers and there are casual listeners of the songs playing on the radio. And good for you! I’m not wired that way. From a young age, I was transfixed by the world of film and continue to be right now.

When it comes to music, I come from a family that loves it. From hearing James Brown and Ray Charles and Chuck Berry from my dad to hearing the pop icons of the 1980s like Michael Jackson and Madonna and so many others from my older siblings, it’s always been part of my life. When the music of the early to mid 1990s was popular in my formative years, I was right there along with it. Mildly obsessive about it. The exploding genre of hip hop music at the time was a gold mine of greatness. Artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan and 2Pac and Biggie and Outkast. Bands like Nirvana that upset the apple cart of rock and roll. Even the 90s R&B artists like Boyz II Men and TLC and Mariah Carey were busy spinning their gems on my CDs (which at that time was best kept in a giant case you lugged around everywhere).

And then there was Prince. As much as I adored all the aforementioned artists and bands and many more that I haven’t mentioned, Prince Rogers Nelson was and is in a category by himself. This applies to the man as an artist in general and what he meant to a young kid growing up in Northwest Ohio.

On the day he died, I wrote this on Facebook:

It’s difficult to describe what it’s like when you feel a connection with an artist. My brother and sister Troy Thatcher and Dawn Hammer are responsible for allowing me as a young lad to grow up listening to Prince. I saw him in concert 14 times and it was a connection shared with my siblings and sister in law Nicole. I remember certain times according to which albums of his were out. Young years with Purple Rain, Sign O The Times and Batman. Grade school jamming to the Diamonds and Pearls and Symbol album. High school parties putting on P. Control. My high school graduation cake had a rendering of Prince on it. It is honestly a family bond that my brother and sisters and I share together. Because of him. You know how those security questions ask you favorite musician? I’ll give you one guess. His creativity and his musical talent is in a class of its own. He is the greatest live performer… Period. For those not as familiar with his music, just pay attention to what other musicians say about him today. He had given me hours and hours and hours of joy, both on stage and with earbuds in. Some of my greatest memories with people I love involve Prince. He taught me growing up that being creative and even a little strange and different from your peers is cool. I love the genius that is Prince. There’s no past tense. His legacy and his music and his influence will go on forever.
That explains it pretty well. There have been a number of days over my life dedicated to watching Prince perform live. In Columbus. In Cleveland. In Detroit. In Las Vegas. In high school, his albums The Gold Experience, Chaos and Disorder, and Emancipation were released. No matter what was happening that day, I’m confident all I could think about was getting to the music store and buying them. I remember in grade school and junior high is when Diamonds and Pearls and the Symbol album were giving us classics like “Cream”, “Gett Off”, “My Name is Prince”, “Seven”, and “Sexy MF”. To a 12 and 13 year-old, this stuff was risque, funky, and I couldn’t stop listening. Even at that age, I also knew it was genius. It was really that era that caused me to look back at his past releases, which is rightly considered the golden era of his discography. You know, stuff like Dirty Mind, 1999, Purple Rain, Parade, and Sign O The Times. It was then I realized why my brother and sister loved him so much in the 1980s.
The first time I saw him in concert was December 27, 1997. This is the setlist from the show in Auburn Hills:
Note that he did two encores and played 34 songs. I was transfixed from the moment he walked out onstage. As mentioned in my Facebook post, he was the greatest live performer to ever grace a stage.
The last time I saw him was November 10, 2006 in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel on the second night of a residency that went on for months.
Here’s that setlist:
It was a smaller venue and we were right up against the stage. During a guitar solo, I will sheepishly confess that I may have taken the opportunity to give him a friendly pat on the leg while he ripped away on the chords. There was also a moment during a guitar solo where he bent down and came face to face with my sister. I thought she was going to faint.
So… there was a family connection with Prince. With my sister and brother especially. Everyone in high school growing up knew I was rather obsessed with him as well. At the time, he was going by that unpronounceable symbol that I used to constantly doodle on my notebooks. O ( + >
And at that time especially… he was considered pretty damn weird. He was not at the peak of his record sales. That time had passed. He had confounded many fans with the name change. In some ways, I’m almost glad I wasn’t at an age during the Purple Rain era where I would have followed him religiously. To me, the era where he came most vividly into my consciousness was just as important. I was able to cherish what he’d done before and breathlessly look forward to what was next. To me, the name change wasn’t that bizarre. And years later, recognizing that he basically did it to get out of a record contract he deemed unfair adds to the cool factor of the whole thing.
So let’s go back, shall we? He was considered pretty damn weird. I know I didn’t realize it at the time, but we all feel pretty weird in our teens. And here was a guy that embraced his persona and didn’t seem to care what anyone thought of him. He was around to make amazing music and play it live better than anyone else.
Here was someone who could somehow and someway pull off wearing high heels and make every woman desire him (at 5’2″ no less!). Here was someone whose beef with his record company is that they wouldn’t let him release more music. How cool is that? Here is someone who embraced (and later rejected) the Internet as a source of releasing his material. He was way ahead of his time in that respect.
Prince is someone who could balance funk, rock and roll, ballads, R&B, and about every other genre all into one album and it was shockingly brilliant.
In junior high and high school, I didn’t fully know it. Yet he was an inspiration. He was an inspiration to be yourself. He was inspiration to embrace a weird idea that being a 16 year-old more into writing movie reviews than being into sports was actually cool. And it helped me embrace the way I was at the time and am today.
So… in case you can’t tell, I’m more than just a casual Prince fan.
On April 20, 2016 – if you’d told me I’d be visiting Paisley Park in the fall, I would have said you’re crazy. And then April 21st happened. This led to his recording studio and home in Chanhassen, Minnesota being turned into a museum. In November of last year, my sister and I found ourselves inside Prince’s inner sanctum. We saw all three of his recording studios, his two concert venues inside the facility where he would entertain, and even his Ping Pong table. Everywhere you looked there were gold and platinum albums. And the first item we saw was a miniature model of Paisley Park located in the Atrium where his ashes are contained inside a small purple box. It was emotional and it was also a joyous celebration of his existence.
Prince died too young. The circumstances of his passing are truly sad. I have found myself on several evenings since April 21st with my earbuds in reminding myself of his work. I have found myself glued to YouTube now that it’s not too difficult to find videos and concert footage. I have smiled at the realization that some of the concert footage (Detroit 2004, performance of “DMSR”) is from a show I was at.
I remember in high school, some of my friends thought it was weird that I was so into Prince… or The Artist Formerly Known as Prince at that juncture. There was some teasing here and there. I couldn’t help it. At that vulnerable teenage time, I think I even got into little arguments with them: “But he’s so great!! You don’t understand!”
The funny part is… I’ve talked to some of my peers that may have teased and joked with me back then. To a person, they pretty much now say – “Ugh, you were right!”
I don’t say that to pound my chest at all. It has nothing to do with me. As I see it, it just took some folks a little while to realize how amazing Prince is.
And we saw how much people loved him on April 21st last year. Some of the tributes were remarkable. Many of them were more poetic and musically beautiful than anything I could create.
Creativity is what fueled Prince. His creativity created a body of work that has entertained and entranced millions around the world. In my case, Prince helped teach me that being creative and a little weird sometimes in is OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. As I said a year ago, it’s cool.
And Prince was the coolest inspiration this guy could have.
Prince Rogers Nelson:
June 7, 1958-April 21, 2016
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