There is not another artist, living or dead, who has meant more to me than Prince.
Being a young gay black boy in the early 80’s, Prince was another option. He was an extremely talented musician and composer, able to move comfortably between funk, gospel, rock, and new wave, his musical dexterity represented the kind of artist I wanted to be, and the breadth of my own musical tastes.
Besides that, he was, as far as I could tell, free. He was comfortable in whatever he felt like wearing–stilletto boots, bolero jackets and high-waisted paints, full-on makeup. He played with gender both in his performance and in his songs–he had an altar ego named “Camille” who is listed as the lead vocalist on several tracks from the Sign ‘O’ The Times album. As a boy who didn’t quite know I was gay, but certainly knew I was different from other boys (and was extremely uncomfortable around most men), he offered a different vision of what black “manhood” could look like. (While I still hold this to be true, in hindsight, there was an awful lot of misogyny in that too! Watch Purple Rain and get back to me.).
And quiet as it’s kept, Prince has been more political than people often give him credit for. Throughout his career, Prince has recorded songs dealing with political issues of the day like Ronnie Talk to Russia (1981), Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987), The Future (1989), and most recently, Dear Mr. Man (2004).
Prince was one of (if not THE) first mainstream artist to figure out a business model to sell music oveer the internet, without a major label backing or major distribution. He flipped the script a few years ago and beat Soundscan at it’s own game when he built in the cost of a CD in the concert tickets for his Musicology Tour (which was the highest grossing tour of 2004),gave a CD to each concert-goer and they had to count each and every ticket sale as an album sale, sending it up the charts (They have since closed the loophole that allowed for that to happen.).
And so today is his birthday, and while people have not always understood his choices (changing his name o an unpronounceable symbol and becoming a Jehovah’s Witness to name a few), I will always be grateful to him for giving me nearly an entire lifetime of music.
And so, Prince Roger Nelson, on your 49th birthday (which if you’re still a Witness, you’re probably not celebrating), I wish you the best! I’m lookin forward to the new Planet Earth disc!
For you other Prince fans out there, I found this cool tribute to His Royal Badness. Enjoy!