For a brief stretch in my junior high pre-driving years, my friends and I would hit an all ages dance club downtown. If I saw pictures of that place today, I’d almost surely cringe but back then it was a teenage Valhalla where my friends and I could listen to loud music, look at girls (but never chat them up, of course) and dance in public without feeling like the rhythmically-challenged embarrassments that we surely were. Black walls and neon stage lighting lined the interior, all tricked out in that cheesy danceclub vogue of an era dominated by Miami Vice, skinny ties and synthesizers. I recall a racially diverse mix of kids flopping around the dance floor, oohing and aahing when a couple of the dudes would glide into the middle of the floor and bust out silky moonwalks and jaw-dropping pop and lock sequences. What I remember best however, was when they played Let’s Go Crazy and everybody would tear onto the dancefloor in an unhinged flood of swivel-eyed euphoria. Oblivious to appearances, my friends and I would windmill through the song’s thoroughly epic guitar solo with ecstatic abandon, wholly enraptured by the convergence of sugary dance pop and the lighter-hoisting, Zeppelin-style shredding that we loved so dearly.
Prince could do it all and he spent the ensuing decades doing it all on his terms. He wore his rock star persona like a silk robe and that’s precisely what we all wanted. We need our rock stars to own it. And yet far too many musicians have blindly tripped over that fine line between giving us the electrifying musical shaman that we crave and forgetting where they came from and Prince never teetered off of that line. Nothing he did ever felt contrived, even when he changed his name to that symbol. It was a ballsy and snarling “Fuck You” to Warner Brothers that brought publicity to his cause without casting Prince as a self-pitying victim. It was the exact opposite – it was empowering. Contrast this to the tired bleating of today’s artists whining about the plunging paydays of streaming music. Know how many songs Prince has on Spotify? One. End of and move on.
The past six months have ushered in an Ice Age for rock stars, with the likes of Lemmy, Bowie and Glenn Fry shuffling free of their mortal coils and returning to the ether that connects us. Today Prince has joined them but as they say, the music will live on. I used to spend hours watching YouTube videos of Prince playing guitar. Here’s one of my faves.