There have been many thoughtful, elegant obituaries of Prince, who died last week, far too young. WC won’t try to top them. For that matter, WC never saw Prince live, and generally reserves his obituaries of musicians to those he has seen live. But WC will offer a few thoughts.
Prince transcended gender, race, categories of music, the role of an artist and the mores of the time.
Prince was a polymath; on his early albums, he played all the instruments, sang all the vocals and did his own mixing. There’s a legend that Johnny Carson asked Eric Clapton what it was like being the worlds greatest guitarist, and he answered, “I don’t know; ask Prince.” It’s not true, but Prince was still pretty amazing.
For better or worse, he pushed rock and roll lyrics to – or beyond – all social norms of the times. Sometimes to a kind of rock pornography. He was pretty much singlehandedly responsible for Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center and the whole ratings sticker foolishness.
He was driven, obsessed even, with being the best. Especially when on stage. He upstaged Beyonce, and blew away the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame stars on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
He wrote many songs that were big hits for other artists. His songs and production helped make Sheila E and Sheena Easton stars.
His Super Bowl XLI halftime show in Miami, Florida on February 4, 2007 set the benchmark for what a Super Bowl half time show should be.
“When Doves Cry” is one of WC’s Top 25 favorite songs, ever.
And the soundtrack to Purple Rain is one of the most sublime, tour-de-force albums ever made.
No artist’s work is uniformly great; Prince was no different, and some his later albums were clunkers. He could be egregiously weird, too, but an artist’s role has always been to press boundaries. His talent was never in dispute.
WC will close with that 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance, which captures Prince’s brilliance and personality very well. R.I.P. Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958-2016.