My father was a musician so I was fed a steady diet of artists that my father respected. One of them was a purple-clad androgynous young man wearing glittered platform boots reminiscent of KISS but the feminine erotica of Madonna. That man was Prince Roger Nelson.
Conservative and prim, as a young girl, Prince freaked me out. Millennials may not be so struck by Prince because they didn’t live in the time when he was making his mark on the world. He was the ultimate provocateur but there was no denying the talent and the brilliance. What he brought to the stage although yes, there was Sly and the Family paving the way, was something our society yearned for but felt could not express. Madonna wasn’t far off in dishing out the same: a new heightened level of sexual revolution. The difference? Prince was quite possibly the most brilliant musician of this generation. And now, he is dead.
Few people have lived truly transcendent lives such as Prince where there is a legacy to carry on after their departure. Few have tapped into those aspects that make a life rich with substance. No one will ever stop talking about Prince, his “controversy”, his musicianship, the way he advocated for artists against Warner Bros., his quirky Paisley Park eccentricities.
In an interview with Larry King around the time that Prince opted out of using his own name so he could evolve and reach the next plateau in his life, he says in a relaxed confidence that he always knew from a very young age what his life purpose was: to create music. He never veered off his path. That is how his legacy was built: talent, tenacity and alignment to his dharma.
You could fall on other side of this next statement, but Prince was an incredible feminist. I believe this too was part of this dharma. Put back your purple pitchforks for a moment and hear me out. Prince single-handedly made careers for dozens of female performers. Yes, several of them were in lingerie and also had fleeting love affairs with him as well. Prince never played down how sex fueled his creative fires. Apollonia 6, Vanity and Carmen Electra most likely would never have gotten their breaks without Prince writing some funky beats and producing music for them. Also just as he pushed sexual boundaries for his protégés, he had no problem doing the same for himself (think yellow lace ass-less jumpsuit for starters and enough white ruffled shirts in his bureau to make Jack Sparrow envious).
Cliché and duo entendre were his way of play in the universe of his explosive talent. It almost as if it was the tether that kept him human in the midst of his music. It is difficult not to draw parallels to David Bowie with Prince in this same way except Bowie seems more aligned lyrically to the Apollonian (no, not that one) and Prince to the Dionysian. The world needs both to stay in balance.
Prince also wrote songs for women who kept their clothes on: Sinead O’Connor, Stevie Nicks, the Bangles. Chaka, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, anyone feeling me? Prince’s band and opening acts also highlighted female musicians in traditional male dominated roles: Prince had women in all shapes and sizes blowing the saxophone, banging on percussion, making
sweet gospel with his lyrics. Prince dressed them down, dressed them up, but recognized their beauty and talent. This was a man in unabashed celebration of the goddess and her unlimited creative potential, even tapping into it directly via his androgyny.
Anyone who knows me knows how much the Beautiful One meant to me. When I lived in San Francisco, on a lark I flew my father up from San Diego and took him to see Prince nothing short of annihilate his guitar and bring the house down in Oakland. It is a great memory to share with my Dad who introduced me to an artist most fathers would have keep off the turntable.
Prince was true to himself to the very end, through a spiritual awakening, through profound loss as a father. His advocacy for artistic rights, female musicians, and his incredible music legacy is both admired, appreciated and he will be missed. Thank you for never compromising and inspiring the rest of us one funky track at a time.