The-Artist-Formally-Known-As-“The-Artist-Formally-Know-As-Prince” is no more, having died today, April 21, 2016. Like David Bowie, who died only a few months ago, Prince was his own musical style and his own sexual style. And, like Bowie, he was still making music to the end.
Unlike Bowie, Prince passed before even making it to age 60.
Prince always had an ethereal aspect to him and it made him a riveting showman. There is something unworldly about playing Purple Rain in the pouring rain. Even in death, Prince seemingly blurred the line between art and life. He died in an elevator, a place which played a central metaphor in his song about moving on to the after world, Let’s Go Crazy:
And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy, punch a higher floor…
Are we gonna let the elevator
Bring us down?
Oh, no let’s go!
He emerged at time when Punk was the dominant sound, soon followed by New Wave. But Prince was a spiritual heir of James Brown, a powerful entertainer that simply followed the sounds in his head rather than the culture. And, like Brown, while he could electrify live audiences with onstage showmanship, he was an artist of first degree.
There’s a difference between an entertainer and an artist. And like many an artist, Prince was contentious with both the business and his fans. In the early 1990s, when Prince wanted out of his record contract with Warner Bros., he appeared in public with “slave” on his face. And then he changed his name to a graphic. And then he pumped out a lot of mediocre albums simply to fulfill his contract.
When a music icon leaves us, social media becomes packed with clips of favorite songs. Today, however, there were few musical tributes to Prince on the Internet, despite the the same world-wide outpouring of shock and disbelief as Bowie had. Why? Because Prince was notorious for scrubbing the Internet of his content. He went after YouTube and eBay reasoning if they could prevent pornography from getting on their sites, they could prevent unauthorized uses of his music on their sites.
Prince had this video taken down because you could (barely) hear Let’s Go Crazy in the background. The video’s owner eventually had to sue Universal Music to get it back up. Prince had this fan video of his cover of Radiohead’s Creep taken down – until Radiohead said they wanted it up. Prince covered Bowie’s Heroes which would be a perfect song to place in this article. Good luck finding any version of it on the Internet.
In 2014, he pulled all his music off his official YouTube channel. In 2015, he pulled his entire catalog from all streaming sites except Tidal.
Nevertheless, Prince participated in the digital age. His Twitter account had 252,000 followers though, fittingly, Prince followed no one. His final Tweet – a digital missive – was sent just 3 days ago and concerned his music at Electric Fetus, a brick-and-mortar indie record store in Minneapolis.
But maybe it’s fitting that there’s little of Prince’s music online for us to pull off today. It meant that this subway jam of Kiss, published just six days before his death, rose to the top of YouTube. It brought a much-needed smile to my face. There’s a certain purity in Prince’s song uniting an entire subway car in Germany. For Prince, it was all about the art. And, through us, the music will endure.
Originally published April 21, 2016 in Footlights.