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Remembering Prince: A Pop Music Priest in a Secular World
When word of Prince’s death hit yesterday, what followed was a connected string of remembrances. Over and over, certain words and phrases reappeared: magical, immortal, supernatural. Like the death of David Bowie just a few months ago, Prince Roger Nelson’s death was shocking because most assumed he was already immortal. And yet, he is gone, at the age of 57.
Some will remember Prince mostly for his early work, when he roared into the music scene with raunchy, funky pop hits that featured a collision of funk, R&B, New Wave, and psychedelic rock. The disparate styles intermingled to create the monstrous sounds of Prince’s guitar and his roaring rhythm section. Prince himself danced and sang on top of the beast with a deft voice, howling and wailing and leaping into impossibly high falsetto. The essence of his sound—the power and the agility, the deep grooves and rock riffs, the rumble, that falsetto—never changed.
Neither did Prince’s sense of his own utter uniqueness. A friend in the music business once told me how bizarre a Prince show was for promoters. Everything backstage had to be painted purple, and the stagehands were explicitly told not to make eye contact with Prince. Someone who worked as an assistant engineer on a Prince record said that when Prince recorded vocals, he kicked everyone out of the studio, set up a mic over the mixing console, and recorded alone, with the lights off.
On Twitter yesterday, actor Albert Brooks recounted the one time he met Prince. “He was sitting elevated with literally 15 people at his feet. I said, “Which one is Prince?” No one laughs.” This story is quintessential Prince folklore. Majestic. Aloof. Nearly worshiped. (It ...1