Prince: A Revolution Unto Himself
Questions of mortality and life flood my mind as I try to digest the news of Prince’s passing. I wrote that first line as if he was a friend. You see, his life, his artistic wave influenced me. He influenced a generation and spawned several bands or entities. But, on a personal level, he spoke to me and my personality. I don’t think I had a normal rebellious streak as a teenager because I rode the new wave, black-punk, go in the opposite direction of everyone else train. I was on, and from another planet. In high school I was stuck in the middle of finding myself, while emulating Mr. Nelson. The long coat, the anti everything attitude, the fuck-yous to education, and my dislike for anything normal.
In the eclectic 80’s, I read all I could on Prince. Right On magazine, and Rolling Stone were at least two sources of my info. The one thing that always stuck with me from the facts about his life were his ability to play at least 26 instruments. Yeah, I think he was a prodigy, a genius, an authentic rocker, artist and entertainer. Nothing compares to him. One of my favorite things about Prince was how he stirred up so much controversy. All for being a person who seemed mysterious and coy, funny and hardcore. If it’s true that he or his song “Darling Nikki” drew the ire of one Ms. Tipper Gore and her the whole “parental advisory thing, then I salute him for being raunchy enough to create a nation full of raised brows. Imagine, the conservative or liberal upper crust citizens adjusting their ties and putting hands over their hearts, offended. I wonder how many of them would listen to Prince in secret. How many would long to be uninhibited and free to experience life, push sexual boundaries inside of their boring, so called morally straightforward marriages. But I digress (because I don’t have facts).
I’m glad I don’t get high anymore, because I can see myself going deeper into a cloud of cannabis smoke, or drowning in a sea of liquor to help me make it through this. Right now all I have is my coffee and my words. The world around me is speculating about his death and I don’t know what truly happened, all I know is he’s gone. He was the loudest quiet human I’ve ever seen. The concerts I witnessed in high school affected me in ways I probably couldn’t put into words then, but something I will try to do over time. Once again, there is no time to waste in life. We must do our art and let the world see it. We have to move and mesmerize our communities by what moves and mesmerizes us. I remember being proud in my younger years of not being like everyone else. I wore different clothes and I think I transcended what was black, or urban. Not sure, but I think I did. I’m not downing my blackness, but I certainly did not look like I belonged. In those days there was no place for a sixteen year old black photographer, artsy type. The only place I could escape to was Minneapolis, a place I’ve never been but have travel to thousands of times. I was never blue, or red with anger, but purple. Purple was my secret lair, the color of the set I belonged to. It was the color of my dreams back then. I did what I could do to not be like the next person. It was so important for me to go against the grain, and I’m not sure why. I guess it’s just who I am.
The death of Prince is another wake up call. Another sad command from the universe to get my ass in gear and produce what’s been dormant in me since I can remember. Whether I’m famous or not is not the goal or answer. The thing so paramount is leaving and making a mark. Carving out a road for me to drive on. Laying down a legacy that can be passed down until we arrive at no more, at nothing, at the end of all endings. We are born with our own gifts. How can I arrive on the scene of doing all I can do. First for me, then the world. Self fulfillment, and then a presentation of love to the world. I believe the passion of Prince is what people saw. A gentle, unassuming giant, of small physical stature, but of colossal creative energy and courage. A true stunner with a guitar in hand. True showmanship at its finest. He blazed so many trails, too many to count. His music was like a fever, just hot, boiling, about to erupt. Volcanic even. I’m writing this but I’m still in shock.
I feel guilty about abandoning Prince (and all secular music) for a brief period in my life. I missed out on so much. Instead of being able to identify with him changing his name to a symbol, I was being holy and malnourished. I neglected art in all forms in favor of spiritual misgivings, spiritual peer pressure, fake submissiveness to church protocols. So, I have to confess. I left the purple fold to hunker down for the end times. It’s not all bad though. When I came to, I found out I could do God my way, on my terms (his actually), and I could make decisions as a grown human. Which also meant I had a reawakening in all parts of my life, including rediscovering Prince and the “Minneapolis Sound.” Listening to Prince the second time around is much sweeter. I appreciate his art even more. Now that he’s gone I will hold this writing, his music, and all things art closer to my heart.
Another thing that’s difficult is to lose Denise Matthews, my Vanity (always will be), so close to his death. Vanity was my crush. She, in my mind, along with The Time, Dez, Jesse (solo), Sheila E, The Revolution, and The Family, embodies that era, that sound, the sound of Minneapolis, to me. I would love to know how Morris Day and all of his former artists feel. I’m not really interested in formal statements from certain camps, like I saw from Wendy and Lisa. I love them, but I knew I didn’t want to keep reading their press release because it was just another formality to me. I like to hear messages from the heart. Be genuine.
One of my favorite songs and videos is “1999.” It was always cool to see Prince, Dez, and Brown Mark rocking up front, and Fink and Lisa and Wendy playing their roles, adding to the synthesized part of the music. Funny how I saw the same set and background live a few times. The same routine, the stage, the pole, the slow walk to the microphone for the start of the song. I feel as though I’m dreaming as I write this. It’s probably some light form of shock. This is just so fucking unbelievable. Hard to understand, fathom even. Forgive me if this piece isn’t the most grammatically sound. This is from my heart. Fuck.
I wonder what happened to my albums. I bought “1999” and “Purple Rain” but beyond that I don’t know what else I had. Maybe my mom bought Prince albums before that time. Oh, I think I had “Controversy” on wax or cassette. Can’t remember. I miss the days of having an album you could hold, and read and gaze at the artwork. If you’ve ever paid attention to the “1999” album cover you can find a lot of funny, and interesting things, both sexual and political. Certain eras are irreplaceable even though I love the efficiency and ease of digital everything.
So I’ve never met Prince, but why does his death hurt? Don’t know the guy, but this thing is affecting me man. I felt like in my older years I had sworn off the whole celebrity thing. Not caring about this or that. But now I realize that this guy was my hero. I’ve never said that about anyone. No other artist who passed has made me write anything like this. I love how Prince transcended so much, but seemed like a cult status type of artist. Again, these are only my opinions. I like him better than most artists because I viewed him as someone who was underground and universal. It’s obvious he was worldwide, but he was, to me something of a communal artist. Talented but spiritual, dark and light, energetic and calm. An artist that can go through forty years and not change with the times but be the change. He is a trend trending, a revolution unto himself.
As I listen to my “Lake Minnetonka” playlist, I hear his music, and the “Minneapolis Sound” differently. I’m not musically inclined but my ears take me deeper into the arrangement of songs. I was listening to “Uptown” and it did something to my soul. I played it over and over. This, to me is classic, but also typical Prince. It’s his signature but only one of his unpredictable signatures. The keyboards and synthesizers, just, I don’t know what to say anymore. I’m fucked up behind this. Prince is a music catalog. He is a music vault. When he sings the chorus to “Uptown” I actually want to get uptown. I want to be there. It seems like a place of freedom, of safety. A place where black-punk reigns, and where Prince is the mayor and minister of tourism. Prince is a jam session. I would love to see footage of him in the studio or in a garage just going for it.
I didn’t expect to feel this way. I’m a grown man, and to let let my emotional guard down and say that I’m hurt by the death of a musical icon, umm, like, okay this is weird. This shit hurts though. Prince, not here anymore?! The fuck is goin’ on man? Like, I feel as if I want to have this mourning period that lasts forever in honor of his memory, but the hurt will pass. The sadness will pass. I’m glad I write for myself. If I worked for a magazine and had to do an article about Prince, one that was all official and shit like that, they would fire me. How could I do it with a straight professional editing face? I can keep my emotions all up in this joint. By the way, I’m still listening to “Uptown” and that shit sounds so good. When he says “White, black, Puerto Rican” it seems like Uptown is a place of acceptance, an all inclusive urban island. If you’re reading this I’m sure you know I feel some kind of way. I’m pissed. The only good that can come from his death is art, focusing on my writing and making sure I focus on every project so I can be Prince-like in my approach to churning out projects. I want to create my own writing sound, produce quality work that transcends genre, and let it spill out into the streets to inspire other writers and create writing villages along the way.
In closing (I actually want to keep going, but I am at a lost for words, but I still have many ramblings left inside. I hope this sounds like a tribute because it is. There is no one like Prince. His energy, his comedy (he was funny as hell in “Under the Cherry Moon”), mystery, and genius will live forever), this could be considered a part one. I feel like I need to put this out to the universe now and add to it later. So much I want to say, and do. I need a t-shirt or tattoo in honor of Prince. For me, as I look back on his musical life and dig up memories from my coming of age years in the 80’s, it’s important to take inventory of my life and check my art pulse. I need to see if I’m living up to my destiny in this world where time is short. We have one life to rock our purposes, our gifts. Am I surrounded by the art I want to see? Are my energies pointing in the wrong direction? How can I be fulfilled and touch those around me? How can I show compassion and gentleness, but still go against the grain? Prince did a lot for me. His persona as I interpreted it, was the epitome of an uninhibited life. Prince, you will be missed.
Michael A. Moss
Escape: Indie, 2016
This article is the property of Escape: Indie.