It's April and I've just been able to finish off a blog note I started in January about Bowie, but now, again, I find myself back in front of a screen trying to put some sense into the world that might help me compartmentalise how difficult I've found the passing of Prince. To think we've lost DB and Prince within the same year is incredulous, within four months of each other is just totally incomprehensible.
I wasn't a casual Prince fan. I was a hard core nut. I was (literally) in the fan club. I'd seen him play live over half a dozen times even specially travelling to the UK to see him play.
Being such a music nut there are many artists that I live and breath. Bowie, Bruce, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush and the Beatles, but not forgetting Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, XTC, Roy Orbison and not forgetting The Stones, Prince was right up there. I have all his albums, even the unfashionable ones.
I had spent the day in A&E (7 hours) and as a result my back was ridiculously sore, I was stressed and then I tuned onto the 7pm news. I had to stop the car. Prince. Dead? I was only listening to the new album THAT morning? What? Whaaat? No.No.No.
On Monday of that same week I had acquired an 8 CD set of unreleased Prince music (yip, a bootleg) and had been working through that. On Wednesday I was searching Discogs.com to add a couple of vinyl versions of albums of his that I didn't have ('Batman' and 'Lovesexy'), they were in my "cart' but I didn't buy then because I was going to look at anything else I may had overlooked, 'when I get a few minutes tomorrow'. Tomorrow never comes. Monday started with a reinvigoration and new investigation of his music and by Thursday evening it was calamity.
Sometimes it does indeed snow in April. Like yesterday for example. It's ironic how that relatively unusual weather event happened when it did. Co-incidence of course (or was it?), but a timely and desperately sad one. "All good things they say, never last".
Prince, first impressions
Good god, I hated the sight of him. I read the music press from an early age (late 70's onwards NME subscriber!) so I probably knew a bit about him a couple of years before he hit public consciousness with the 1999 and Purple Rain albums. I saw the 'Dirty Mind' cover, read a bit about him and instantly disliked what I saw.
Disgraced DJ Jonathan King had a music show on tv around the time that '1999' was released. He'd just concluded an interview with (idol alert) Lou Reed and having been given short thrift by Lou in his general "I hate journalists" adversarial mode, King, miffed at being found out by the razor sharp Reed, concluded the interview by saying something along the lines of "..and now to someone infinitely more talented than Lou Reed, this is Prince..." and played the video for 'Little Red Corvette'. I was genuinely incensed about the comment that i felt badly disparaged one of my hero's. I took to an even deeper dislike of Prince after that.
Purple Rain came and went, I wasn't impressed. What the what, Prince even had the temerity of keeping Bruce and 'Dancing In The Dark' off the top of the singles charts! Damn that guy! He won an award (a Brit, or a forerunner of those awards) and when he flounced up to the stage with his huge bodyguard in tow, high heels and blouse, took the award, said nothing, and flounced back to his seat, I thought, dick.
Sitting with a friend of mine, Robbie Byrne, in his room listening to music one evening he took 'Around The World In A Day' off the shelf. "You have to listen to this, the guy is a genius" was Roberto's assessment of the situation. I duly protested, relating the J.King/Reed/Prince anecdote. Begrudgingly I took a loan of the record. I've never looked back and I can honestly say I have every album the guy ever released. The hard to get ones, the internet only releases, 12" singles, CD singles, extended remixes etc etc. I have live album bootlegs, after show club gigs plus a plethora of songs, outtakes, demo's, videos etc that were leaked on bootleg over the years.
My first Prince concert - New York City August 3rd 1986
I fled Kells to New York in late March of 1986. While I was there, Prince released 'Parade'. Two shows were announced for Madison Square Gardens and I was lucky to get a ticket for the second night. I was up in the nosebleeds at the back, but I was in 'the room'. Now, seeing Prince play a concert in NYC is a wee bit different from seeing him play Cork for example. For a start, I was the ONLY white guy in the section where I was sitting. I had relatively long fair hair then and wore a fedora hat (yeah, this from the man who called Prince a dick). I kinda stuck out.
From my personal experience at that time NYC was not a racially harmonised city. It probably still isn't. However as with a lot of Irish people going to the US in the '80s racism wasn't a particular issue for us. We simply didn't have much of a multi racial/cultural society in Ireland back then, so it was very rare that anything related to a racially driven incident appeared in the media nationally, let alone in the boondocks where I lived. In my own case, and in my consciousness I was just a guy in the crowd same as anyone else.
If you don't know the BEST line Prince ever wrote about racism I'm going to share it with you now (I still use it whenever the issue needs addressing);
"...Cut you? Cut me? BOTH the blood is red..geddit??" (lyric is from "Race' off the 'Come' album)
At one stage in the show he led the crowd in a rap that seemed to turn a few heads towards me, the solitary honky. It was from 'The Roof Is On Fire' by Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three and seemed to be a black anthem of sorts. It goes like this; "..the roof is on fire...we don't need no water...let the muthaf*cker burn...burn muthaf*cker burn!".
Anyways. He played keyboards for the majority of the show, I don't remember him even playing guitar until the encore. An hour into the show ('Love Bizarre') Prince holla'd "New York! (crowd roars) New York! (crowd roars louder) We're gonna rock all night!!" (crowd goes apeshit bat crazy). The song ends. Prince steps up to the mike and says "goodnight New York, I love you" (crowd, in unison, look at their watches. What the? An hour?). He plays "Sometimes It Snows In April" at the piano and leaves the stage.
He walks back on stage, on his own, with a guitar, for the first time that night, the lights change colour, you know the one, and he delivers a 'Purple Rain' that to this day I still can't accurately describe it in a way that would do it justice. Transcendent maybe?
So he played for less than an hour and 20-ish minutes. I'd have sat there all night.
'Kiss' wasn't played, which was a huge hit at the time, and I wished it had been included. I only found out while writing this article that at the previous nights show he did 4 more songs in the encore which included 'Kiss' and 'Whole Lotta Shaking Going On'!
Prince - Lovesexy Tour 1988 Wembley Arena London August 3rd 1988
I was working in GE in Wembley London and Prince announced a string of shows at the local Arena (about a 12k seater capacity). Myself and 3 lads from work, Jeff, Keith and Chris (Goodwin) headed off to the show. We took our excellent seats, row 20 from the stage which was set up 'in the round' i.e. in the middle of the arena. As the arena filled up the row of seats in front of us remained empty.
During the first song ('Erotic City'), in the darkness, a bunch of people occupied their seats and not quietly or without fuss. One of the party was a complete vision from the back. Black satin bomber jacket, the tightest black leggings imaginable (unheard of in the '80s, not like today) and the longest black hair which (from my view behind) was swept back from the face every few minutes.
The lads all looked down the line at me and there were a few nudge nudge wink wink faces made. I didn't really pass that much remark as I was focused purely on the stage and anyone interrupting my connection to the action is generally ignored or given a withering glance. However it was hard not to physically register what looked like a vision of loveliness directly in front of me.
After a few songs more one of the lads tugged at my elbow and nodded to my right as in "bloody hell mate, look who it is?". It was 'Frankie Goes To Hollywood' (or at least it was Holly Johnston, Paul Rutherford and their friends). Ah! ok, so now I could kind of understand the getting-to seats-when-the-lights-go-down situation, but they were also very irritating in that they still displayed a contradictory 'look at me, look at me, I love how much I can talk and how loud I can be' behaviour.
At the first intermission, the lights went up. As the group in front began to sit down 'The Vision' turned around to us and smiled at me in a nice way, like you do when you're out at a show to the people around you.
It was Pete Burns, HE from the group 'Dead Or Alive'. Sadly, very much dead now. Yup, collective intake of breath from the four of us and a quick conversation started about the football or some other such macho-esque topic. Funnily enough I think Pete eventually went full transgender so fair play to him, he certainly had 4 straight guys in the palm of his hand that night (and yes, that's meant to be funny...).
Prince did a blues jam, 'Blues In C' (aka 'If I Had a Harem') where he sat at the edge of the stage and played an unbelievable guitar solo, and a side of Prince we'd never really ever seen before. Prince as a Delta bluesman? Wow. He also did a cover version of 'Just My Imagination' that night, again, totally class.
He finished the show with 'Alphabet Street'. This was the song where he, and Kat, would jump aboard a Thunderbird car that was attached to the periphery of the stage by a mechanical arm and they would then 'drive' around the stage as they waved their goodbyes. On this night they jumped aboard the "white rad rod" (maybe a '56 or '57, it was, however, seemingly, absurd, ;) ) and disappeared from view. Possibly to Tennessee.
Prince - Rainbow Children Tour- Point Depot October 10th 2002
Let me tell you about Pat Cusack. The most important thing to know is that Pat and I are of a distinctly similar build. We may be intellectual giants (cough!) but we're Prince sized. Two of the whitest, and in fairness, least funky looking brothers from another other mother you'd be likely to meet. Although we've never spoken of it (the omertà of the unfunky white man) I'm sure Pat suffers the same lack of co-ordination (disco-ordination?) when it comes to physically moving ones body in time to a back beat.
We'd actually been colleagues and friends for a couple of years before we realised we shared a common love for the wee Purple Genius. Like what often happens when I talk to someone and they share that they're a "fan" of a certain artist that I like, I have to do a subtle interrogation to find out just how much they know and like that person or group. It's a thing that music fanatics who border on severe-OCD-collector-Vinyl-is-god syndrome do (Justin Evans? I hope you recognise who else I'm talking about here?).
I remember the great Irish musician/songwriter Peter Fitzpatrick (Circuit3 - check 'them' out!) with whom I also shared an employer once, doing it to me. He dropped Peter Blakes name into a casual conversation, when I mentioned I loved the Beatles, and I could see the inner smile of recognising one of your own in his eyes, when I immediately asked him if he (Blake) still had that striking white beard. I passed that test, the same way Pat passed my initial subtle quizzing. The dude knew his purple stuff.
Prince was great that night. Mixed set, Rainbow Children isn't one of Princes best albums, but we were in 'the room' and Cusack and I resisted the temptation to laugh at the others moves. After all it would have been the equivalent of a Mexican stand off. Or Mexican dance off if you will. You could call it double indemnity. But I know in my heart that Pat can dance like a mad man. Like me. In the dark.When no-ones watching. And Prince is on the stereo.
Prince - What Kevin said
The seeds of understanding Prince's 'oddness' were sown by the, at that time, very funny when in the flesh, film director Kevin Smith. Smith had started a college tour of "An Audience With" to accompany showings of his films or just to meet the kids who went to see his independent movies ("I made Clerks for $27,000 on a visa card" etc).
Now, I have loved listening to Kevin for nearly 2 decades, I have DVD's, comics, scripts, posters all tagged by the man. But since he started to smoke weed non fricking stop his films are less...less...well...less good. They're awful. I'd love to see the guy hit one out of the park again. But I don't think it'll happen until, firstly he stops smoking that sh*te and secondly becomes aware and confident about what he COULD do, if he put a clear mind to it.
Kev says smoking makes him uber productive. It might do, but it doesn't mean the equation of quantity to quality remains relative in those circumstances. The evidence speaks for itself, but he's ignoring it. Oh Kevin.
He's such a self deprecator to the point that he doesn't make excuses for how bad some of his recent films are or the over extended reliance on either dick jokes (and worse) or gross out scenarios in his movies. Ok 20 years ago those dick jokes were very funny, but man, I'm 52, I left that stuff behind a long, long time ago. Heck I was already passed that point twenty years ago. But Smith was a very funny, ordinary, self deprecating and loveable guy. His 'Audience With' shows were very funny and indeed, very human. He's from New Jersey, immediate brownie points from me, and he once said he'd take a bullet for Bruce Springsteen. How could I not like the guy?
Grace you raised a good son, Seth Rogen, you bloody ruined him. I sadly no longer feel part of Smiths audience demographic. But I will defend the honour of 'Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back', 'Dogma' and 'Clerks II' in front of and to anyone.
I've meandered. Go straight to Youtube and Google/Bing 'Kevin Smith and Prince' and you can see Kev Smith relay one of the funniest stories you'll ever hear, and one which as a Prince fan himself Smith tells with remarkable candour and directness.
Prince - Where we fell out
Prince was one of the pioneers of using the internet to distribute music to fans without the use of a record company. For a fee, you could join the NPG online community and have access to buy rare or unreleased recordings directly from Prince. I did. I bought downloads of unreleased albums, special fan only videos, new web only tracks etc.
Anything that was up on-line I probably bought over the space of a couple of months. One day the web site disappeared. It never came back. Not only that, but all the music and video downloads those of us who had spent our hard earned wedge on were no longer even playable. The technical widgets in the software we use to download licensed music were simply revoked by Prince.
This was and still is in my opinion robbery. There were utter nonsense cryptic comments made about how basically we were lucky to have this treasure trove for the time we had it but 'Prince has now moved on'. Then he started suing anyone who put his picture up on the internet, including loyal fan sites or even random users who might have innocently been playing a Prince song in the background while they recorded a home video with their kids. I loved the man but jaysus he could be an utter tool sometimes.
Amanda and I travelled to London in 2007 to attend evening 19 of the '21 Nights' tour (September 16th). Oh man, what a show, You had to be there. If you have seen the video of Prince playing the Superbowl Half-Time show, THAT was the same year, same band, same stage etc. Awesome. If you haven't seen that video, go straight to Youtube while flagellating yourself with a rose bush. The London shows just left you wanting more.
It was announced that on June 16th 2008 Prince was going to play Croke Park. I decided i was going to go all guns on tickets. I bought seats at the side of the stage. They were a horrendous price. Seriously expensive, particularly when money was tight, but this was Prince. They sold 55,000 tickets. Two weeks before the show Prince pulled the plug. No significantly clear explanation given as to why, it just appeared to be a random decision made on a whim. Rumoured, was that Prince had expected to sell more than 55,000 tickets two weeks before the show. He didn't understand the walk up on the night or buy the tickets the day before mentality that a lot of Irish music fans have. It was disappointing and symptomatic of a guy who appeared to have lost touch with reality or stopped caring about his fan base.
So, coupled with the robbery from the web site and then the cancellation, I said "enough", I'm voting with my feet on this. When the Malahide Castle gig was announced I stubbornly entrenched those same feet in the deepest of emotional concrete and did not buy a ticket. I had to fend off the "you got your ticket right?" and " sure I'll see you in Malahide next week" comments from all and sundry, with a flat "nope, I'm not going".
I still listen to Prince all the time. I play his songs on the guitar. Like Bowie, we've been lucky to have shared some of his timeline in history. Unlike the guys in Mozart or Beethovens time, the legacy of Prince's (and Bowie's) music as they played and presented it themselves will be with the earth forever, for future generations to admire. I suspect they will be more than a bit envious of the fact that we were here when we were.
I shall miss Prince everyday.