Doves are crying, and so am I. We’ve lost one of the most important artists of the last 100 years. This one hurts, worse than Michael Jackson, worse than David Bowie, worse than any I can remember.
I only saw Prince in concert once, but it was a private show in NYC at 3 AM in some unimpressive warehouse in Chelsea in 1993. Here’s how I got in, it’s a pretty decent story: I was working at ABC Radio Networks, and the network was about to get bought out, so I needed to find a new job. My boss wrangled an interview for me at WPLJ, a mainstream “hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s” station owned by ABC that was incredibly popular in the city at the time – though I confess the station wasn’t on my radar. I wasn’t a real Hootie & The Blowfish fan.
I was interviewed by a wonderful man, Tom Cuddy, VP of Programming, in his ENTIRELY PURPLE office. Once the small shock of that color wore off, I started to notice the photos lining every wall—photos of Tom with almost every major artist of my lifetime (Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, you get the picture). I was interviewing to be the assistant to the station’s programming department, and I confess: those photos gave me a disarming adrenalin rush. All of a sudden it occurred to me that, well, maybe I could learn to love Top 40 music after all.
But Tom wanted to know what kind of music I really listened to. I’ll never forget this exchange: I said, “Prince, Joni Mitchell, and Talking Heads. But these days mostly Prince.” He leaned back in his chair, took a very long pause, then said, “We don’t play those artists on this station. Ever. Is that going to be a problem for you?” I assured him this wasn’t going to be a problem, confirming my decision to happily whore out my personal preferences for the possibility of meeting famous people.
I left the interview and walked the thirty blocks back to my job uptown. When I got to my desk, there was already an envelope on my desk sent from the man who had just interviewed me. In it were two tickets to a private Prince concert with a handwritten note in purple ink–the only color Tom used. The note said, “Come work for me.”
It was the best “day job” in the world, and Tom was an incredible boss. And the Prince show was, of course, astounding. He played from Lovesexy, from Sign ‘o the Times, from Diamonds & Pearls, from The Black Album. And he played songs I never heard before or since.
But there’s something I haven’t heard mentioned in any news coverage of Prince or his death today, and I think it’s incredibly important.
Prince was consistently “gender blind.” I’m not talking about his often androgynous appearance (like Bowie… another HUGE loss this year), or the deep sexuality of his music. By “gender blind” I mean that he always included incredible musicians in his bands who just happened to be women–from Wendy & Lisa in The Revolution… to Sheila E. on drums in New Power Generation… to his latest configuration, 3RDEYEGIRL. You’ll never be able to name another artist alive who has been 100% inclusive of women in an industry that has generally been an annoying boy’s club.
Let’s remember him as well for his righteous efforts to maintain creative control over his catalogue. In pushing for his own rights, he was a consistent reminder to the rest of us to value our work and fight to retain that value.
This level of artistic control, however, that it’s been incredibly hard to find concert footage and music videos online. Here’s one of the scant handful — but it’s a prime example of his wider vision.
I want to make that video mandatory viewing for everyone. I just do.
And then there’s his remarkable performance of Purple Rain during the downpour of Super Bowl XLI:
The world is mourning with a big dance party, and I’m dancing, too. May I recommend you add these tracks to your playlist in addition to the obvious ones:
Sign ‘o the Times
Live 4 Love
The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
… and the list goes on.