I’m sixty-two. I probably listened to more of Prince than many people my age. How that happened was sort of happenstance.
Prince’s heyday was in the early- and mid-eighties. It was the era of big hair and MTV. I was listening a lot to U2, the Police, Stevie Wonder, a bit of Bruce Springsteen, with whom I became less enamored after Nebraska, and later, Bruce Cockburn. And, of course, I was still listening to Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Queen, and David Bowie.
At that time, I was in seminary. During my senior year, I worked as a janitor, cleaning seminary offices and the library after hours. It was a fun gig and it came with some perks.
One was being able to crank up a stereo in the library basement while dusting and vacuuming. I didn’t have much money then either. So, when friends loaned music to me, I would often use said stereo to transfer their music to cassettes I could stick into my boom box at home.
The fourteen year old son of a classmate got wind of this perk and asked me to record a bunch of Prince LPs that a friend had loaned to him. Being into piracy, I recorded all of that material for him and me.
For a while after that, I listened to a lot Prince. I thought his lyrics ranged from vapid to the faux sophistication of an adolescent thinking he knew more about sex than his parents. But his musicianship was undeniable: He had a fine sense of melody and rhythm. He played guitar especially well. And his voice was incredibly rangy. For about six months, I was sort of hooked.
But, in the end, I was never moved to buy a Prince LP. In fact, I wasn’t moved by Prince at all. His virtuosity could move me to appreciation. But his songs never moved me. They didn’t encourage me to see my life or the world differently. They were simply the candy by which he showcased his amazing talents.
In recent years, I was aware that Prince was performing some. But I had no idea that he was still releasing new material–some source today said that he had released four new LPs in the past eighteen months! To me, there were many artists older than Prince–McCartney or Dylan, for example–or artists who were his contemporaries–U2 comes to mind–more current than Prince has been over the past two decades.
Reading the other day about his plane making an emergency landing because he was ill was like learning of the reappearance of a ghost from the past, similar to seeing his amazing guitar solo on the collaborative performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
So, the response to Prince’s death I’ve seen evidenced online and, briefly tonight, on TV, has caught me by surprise.
Prince is being accorded coverage similar to that which greeted the untimely deaths of Michael Jackson, John Lennon, and David Bowie, or, in less heavily mediated days, those of Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and Buddy Holly.
While I would have guessed before today that, in the end, Prince might be viewed as more culturally significant than some of his contemporaries like Madonna or even Queen, I wouldn’t have anticipated the reaction we’ve seen to his passing. In coming years, I suspect that he’ll be remembered more for his stunning musical performances, both recorded and live on stage, than for the quality or meaning of his compositions.
But however you look at it, his sudden death is a tragedy and I pray that all who grieve will be comforted by God.