This Thing We Call Life: Remembering Prince

Scott Wallace
22nd Apr 2016

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing we call life. Electric word, "life;" it means forever and that's a mighty long time. But I'm here to tell you - there's something else... The afterworld.

Opening Prince and the Revolution's earth-shattering 1984 soundtrack Purple Rain on the outrageous "Let's Go Crazy," those words now seem more like a eulogy than ever.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, just starting to really discover music, I was late to school one morning because I wanted to buy some music. I didn't go to an independent record store and sift through LPs; I went to a chain store and picked out CDs. I remember I bought John Lennon's Imagine and the aforementioned Purple Rain, because they came highly recommended by just about everyone. I ended up playing one of them a lot more than the other, and it wasn't the former-Beatle.

Really listening to Prince for the first time was, for me and probably many others, a remarkable experience. He and his music broadened our perceptions of what a pop star can be, and what pop music can be. 

Prince Rogers Nelson, who was today confirmed to have passed away at his Paisley Park Studios compound in his home state of Minnesota, was as fiercely original as musicians come. Morphing soul, R&B, psychedelia and funk into his own mutant pop-rock creation, he almost immediately carved out his place as an eccentric and an innovator. With his androgynous falsetto and sex-crazed lyrics, Prince made an incredible impression with his third album and first masterpiece Dirty Mind, but the remainder of his career proved there was a remarkable intelligence and tenderness to him.

With his rotating bands like The Revolution and The New Power Generation, as well as a seemingly bottomless collection of protégés and side-projects, Prince was like the successor to funk pioneer Sly Stone and his utopian world view. The man and his music suggested a world where race, gender, orientation and class were all permeable constructs. Not unlike David Bowie, he's a figure who enforces the power of unbridled self-expression.

His unusual dress sense and apparent self-seriousness have made him a figure ripe for parody over the years, but parody could never dull the originality and the sheer fun of his music. Despite his enormous talent and dedication, Prince never took himself completely seriously, often lampooning his own idiosyncrasies in TV and film appearances delivered with a knowing wink. His most well-known hits like "1999," "Little Red Corvette," "Delirious," "Kiss," "When Doves Cry," "When You Were Mine," "If I Was Your Girlfriend," and "Sexy MF," only scratch the surface of the enormous breadth and depth of Prince's skills as a singer, musician, composer and performer.

Even into the later years of his career, Prince showed a remarkable dedication to owning his image and his art. For better or worse he never gave in to the digital age, and his enormous back catalogue remains unavailable on streaming services like Spotify and YouTube, meaning many (particularly younger audiences) are not familiar with even his best songs.

If you're not familiar with Prince, you've got some digging to do. From the glittery synth-pop of his early records, to his dark and decadent funk records in the late 80s, to his more rock-oriented work from the 90s onward, there is a treasure trove of incredible material to be discovered and re-discovered. Prince may have gone to the afterworld, but there's so much he left behind for us to embrace and absorb, so that we too can be just as confident and uncompromising as the enigmatic Purple One himself.