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Although the 20th and 21st century has seen many talented musicians, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Prince are probably the three biggest legends While for example, David Bowie and George Michael were sensational artists, much loved by their fan base, what is the X-Factor of those who become so famous and adored that people become fans for life, to the point of hysteria when their idol no longer lives? This blog focus is on Prince Rogers Nelson, who incidentally, was born to that name. What was the Purple Prince Phenomena? How does a star, long past stardom, become a worldwide Twitter trend one year later when commemorating his death? What did he leave behind that has left such a lasting impression on so many lives and minds of fans such as myself?
For those unfamiliar with Prince music, apart from his early commercial hits, Prince had a multi-genre catalogue, with loads of unofficially released tracks and was the most bootlegged artist so far in history. In this vast ocean of music, there is a song for every mood and feeling that anyone can ever experience. From hard rock to R&B, pop, rap, instrumental, trip hop, blues, ambient, funk, low key jazz, steamy, hot,seductive and sexy ballads and deeply, reflective, spiritual seeking songs, there was nothing that the man didn’t cover. Once you became a serious fan, you became aware of how each musical journey was deeply layered in detailed composition, as were the depth and variety of his tender, sexual, hilarious or sad story-lines. As a Prince fan, you felt all his vibes, but could choose at which genre or vibration level you wanted to reside, and there was always enough material for you to get your regular purple fix. So despite the commercial music industry downplaying his talent and even though there were some years of abstaining, I always returned to Prince because popular music never provided the spiritual soul food and variety that his music did.
As music can be, Prince’s output was universally accepted, across all cultures, genders, religions and race. No matter their nationality, fans treat and defend their favourite Prince albums or tracks as precious artifacts. His music shaped values, beliefs, behaviours, and spread so much love that it’s no wonder that his iconic Symbol is as treasured as Christians bless their cross. Prince inspired people to play instruments and make music. His lyrics taught love and strength for life, sexual freedom, political expression, spiritual guidance, romantic vulnerability and even religious tolerance, most notably in “Same Page, Different Book” which was released independently, free of record labels purposefully. Things that mattered to Prince, were freely available to all. Baltimore for Black Lives Matter, Cinnamon Girl after 9/11, Mr Man, Colonised Mind, Art Official Cage, are all examples of how he understood and shared his compassion for society, even though he was so far removed from it.
Prince, whilst appealing to most true music lovers and musicians, was particularly loved I suppose by women, because many men have difficulty in admiring a man walking around in high heels, make-up and frills. His sea of love ballads was every girl’s dream where he showed us the difference between love, lust and infatuation. He shared our heartbreaks, became our friend and men would certainly learn a thing or two on how to love their women by listening to Prince.
Instrumentally described as ear-gasms, Prince’s lyrics were always well salted and peppered, layered, and detailed. Some compositions were minimalist and others challenging. Album flow and conceptual ideas grew through every listen until it literally entered your every pore becoming innately embedded in your mind. An audio kaleidoscope, his album mixes or concert playlists were a continuous glide, where different tracks became extensions of each other.
As a DJ mixes vinyl, with the flick of a button, Prince’s musicianship performed magic on all all the instruments he physically played, where he literally became one with the instrument. It was mesmerising to watch and the unpredictability addictive. His high work ethic of perfection also meant that those who performed with him learnt too, and it is perhaps in the artistic world of musicians where Prince is so highly respected. Not only for his talent but for his collaborative efforts with so many. Writing songs for others, employing scores of different talents he transformed his muses into success and made unknown names famous.
Prince had his trials and tribulations in life just as every human does and he sketched his ups and downs beautifully for us to share, from pencil outlines to every colour in a painter’s palette. He was unsuccessful in love, lost his child after one week and came from an impoverished background. Perhaps the latter is why he was such a boundary pusher and was rejected by some in society for it. But one can only admire that his chosen path was always free from convention, driven by an intense passionate creativity, and only a strong artistic soul could share their strengths and vulnerabilities the way he did.
Prince could be outrageously sexual, funny, profoundly spiritual or loving and also downright indifferent. His genius was that he always found the words to express the unthinkable and put it into a hypnotising melody or rhythm. He fought his record label Warner for years, sued his fans and disallowed his concert music boots to be played on You-tube. But despite the roller-coaster ride of love and hate, no hard core fan, no matter how mad at Prince, like Eve in the Garden of Eden could ever resist listening to anything new he released.
There are albums that can take you up to the heavens in a hot air balloon and suddenly drop you into a dark, deep, black hole of life where “There is lonely, and there is how.. I feel right now.” His music reflected life in every degree. Prince could change moods and themes in his live performances as quickly as you can swipe on your smart-phone. Whatever the change evolved into, the improvisation or newly dressed hit was always new, unique and memorable. Intriguing interludes, slowing down a melody or mixing seamlessly back and forth between songs, the journey was unforgettable and never the same. His albums are like travelling through a digital garden to the matrix either in wild tempo, a roller-coaster of energetic funk, perfect soul jazz, or a rip-roaring surf down a waterfall into a pool of excitement, that takes you to the horizon and back, placing you gently as if you were Thumbelina on a pond’s water-lily.
Gone are the days of the thrills and buzz to know when Prince is to announce a concert tour at last minute notice. No more excited secret real-time tweeting of concert goers to spill the beans on the set list, jokes or profound wisdom shared during the shows. No longer do we have we have his insanely funny twitter marathons. Even though anti social media, Prince joined twitter after a concert in Amsterdam a few years ago. Our third eye genius who was ahead of his time, way back in 1979 is no longer here to write more hauntingly sad or uplifting vibrant lyrics which have added so many blissful and thoughtful days to so many lives.Prince had a subtle, sensual ability, coupled with an urgent drive for unpredictable rhythms of being and we got to share that through the music he made. His songs were his children, we all wanted to break into his vault for the unreleased ones on the shelf.
If ever there was ever an expression of the versatility and power of music, it was Prince. If it was mellow and calm, with a fluttering flute and soothing lyrics, you felt as if by listening you were witnessing a perfect summer’s day beach sunset. If it was a sultry, seductive, velvet, minimalist dreamy love song, it brought out all the softness one can feel. Prince’s box of chocolates is an endless sea of everything that any musical palate could ever ask for. That is the Prince Phenomena.
In the Netherlands, we have had Purple government coalitions. They are purple because the party colours represent blue and red. Thus, not surprising that The Purple Phenomena will continue to influence society for example, through the upcoming May academic event at the Salford University in Manchester, called Purple Reign, dedicated to the Prince legacy. Under the motto of “Let’s come together”, instead of being politically red or blue, the conference advocates being Purple. What a spiritual cleansing of Purple Rain that would be. No more pride, nationalist segregation, or you vs. me but a united whole under the motto of Live4love.
Prince , the Beethoven of our modern time, may you forever rest in peaceful purple paradise. In a world where everyone wears a mask, it was a privilege to witness the baring of such an expressive soul.
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