“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”
These seem to be appropriate words for a day like today when we lost Prince. After all, it’s the only way we will get through life, and Prince knew that. We should find comfort in the fact that all over the world, we will get to re-experience the amazing music and love he gave to us, and perhaps to not take his genius or unmatched talent for granted.
In 2014, I was fortunate enough to attend a show with my good friend Lauren, where it was rumored that Prince would be performing a secret show. Having been a huge fan for nearly 20 years, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take this chance to see the Purple One live, in the flesh. His protege at the time, Liv Warfield, was performing at the Palladium in Hollywood, and we drove up from San Diego last-minute, just in case the rumors were true.
When we got there, the venue was barely a quarter-filled, so we were able to get about 25 ft. away from the stage. After her set was done, it became clear that something was different, as the venue of about 4,000 began filling up. About an hour went by with no indication that anything would actually happen other than being able to commiserate with bunch of other hopeful super fans.
Then without warning, the lights went dark, huge slightly-transparent curtains were pulled around the stage, and a stagehand brought a microphone stand out, adorned with a large “Artist Formerly Known As” symbol attached to the front. I lost my mind. After another 45 minutes, his massive horn section came on stage and began playing a musical theme reminiscent of “Musicology” and in walked Prince, wearing all black, oversized glasses and wide-brimmed black hat.
What followed next was about 45 minutes of the most incredible funk jam I have ever seen in my life, deftly mixing in “Caravan” and Mary J Blige and much more. And that was only the first song. Prince danced from the mic stand to the keyboard (where he played duel keyboards at the same time) and back, all while commanding the audience’s attention like I’ve never seen before or since. The audience was a combination of starstruck and unable to stop grooving, which admittedly was a weird dichotomy and I was enraptured with, too (although, I did find time to sneak a few pictures and an audio recording of the whole set, which was STRICTLY prohibited).
Though we may remember Prince for his pop hits like “Kiss”, “When Doves Cry” or “1999”, or his wild eccentricities as an artist that made him seem like he was from another planet, I remember him from his ability to move people, including me in a way that I still can’t quite understand. It was probably a combination of his astounding showmanship and his uncanny musical ability, mixed with a supercharged sexuality, and he remains one of the mythical figures in rock and roll that I may never fully understand, but am grateful that he appeared in my life.
In the coming weeks, many people will likely reference his legendary performances from the last two decades, and rightly so. Those performances like his Grammy performance with Beyonce (whom he ran literal circles around- only Prince could do that and deserve it), or his show stealing guitar solo (and arguably better solo than Eric Claptons’ original) from his 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, or his legendary performance at the 2007 Super Bowl Halftime Show (which I maintain is still the greatest Halftime show, with Michael Jackson’s a near second) serve as time capsules for future generations to glimpse an artist and performer whose equal we may never see again. What I will remember him for was the first time one of his performances moved me, from an unplugged session during one of his concerts that MTV aired during the Musicology tour, which was classy, confident, classic Prince.
I put Prince in a very short list of artists who continue to influence me to this very day, and likely for the rest of my life. These are artists who have redefined music and life for me, and whose indelible mark is now an example and reflection of what I aspire to be, as a musician and a person. While I never met him, I would venture to guess that the lyrics to one of his signature songs describe what he’d say to us all now who are mourning his loss:
“Never meant to cause you any sorrow,
Never meant to cause you any pain.
Only wanted one time to see you laughing,
Only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain.”