02 November 2010

We Go Way Back: Prince & Me

The year was 1984.  I was an eleven year old kid from Staten Island, New York visiting my aunt and uncle in Texas.  It was here that I saw MTV for the first time and got my first visual on some doe-eyed, snake-hipped, shrieking, growling, guitar-playing androgyne called Prince.  At the time, New York City didn't have cable TV and the opportunities to see music videos were few and far between.  A local UHF channel (called U-68) showed mostly British and US alternative, punk and Euro-pop videos (in pre-recorded loops) but videos by Top 40, R&B and soul artists were mostly relegated to WABC-TV's Saturday night show called "Hot Tracks".  I didn't watch that show often and when I did so, I was rarely interested in it for more than a few minutes because WNYW was always simultaneously airing one of their "Movie Greats" from the 1940s or 50s.  As music-obsessed as I was even then, vintage cinema always trumped music video. 

  Comparative to what was available for viewing in the New York area, my first MTV experience was not only liberating but also staggering for the amount (and scope) of videos that I was able to watch and enjoy.  Suffice it to say, on every spare moment of that particular trip, I was glued to its alluring rock-n-roll glow when my family and I were not taking day trips over the border to Ciudad Juarez or to White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.  The Purple Rain movie and LP (and its requisite tie-in videos) had just been released and it seemed that something Prince-related was on MTV every twenty minutes or so.  As was the case with my early childhood Bowie Hypnosis, this enigmatic character in the eyeliner, lace ruffled shirts and Cuban heels grabbed my attention because he seemed to blur (or maybe bridge) the lines between genders, musical stylings, decades of fashion and even race.  It was like the funk in my Dad's Stevie Wonder LPs were being filtered through the pop hooks in the ABBA albums I'd been given by my parents a few years prior... and was that really one of Stevie Nicks' shawls he was wearing?

  Soon after that eye and ear-opening visit to Texas, I followed a pattern that I was also starting to follow with other artists I liked:  I began to take my money to the record store to pick up all available Prince singles, 12-inch remixes (which contained an untouchable string of non-LP B-sides) and older albums that were available.  I scoured newspapers and magazines (Star Hits, Creem and Rockline to name a few) for snippets of what became increasingly rare (and inscrutible) interviews, concert reviews, gossip, or what I considered to be the ULTIMATE scoop: news on a new album.

  The purple-tinted zeitgeist of his 1984 annus mirabilis was only the beginning... It seemed that with each album he released in the ensuing nine years, I was being courted by a whole new gallery of funk, fantasy, fetish and all things forbidden... except fun.

Ever since that moment, my fascination (and sometimes puzzled frustration) with Prince has continued.  Despite his 1990s identity crisis (which was more of a control freak "jiggling the handle" on a contractual loophole than anything) and some of his more bizzarely-edited single, double and triple-album releases, I never find him boring.  At the root of everything I hear him do, there is always this specific heartbeat... a uniquely-timed and unequaled pulse that drives his music in a way that no other artist can match.

His influence on his younger contemporaries has been deep and far-reaching.  As far as I can tell, the closest relative on his musical family tree in terms of musicianship, insight, breadth (and tongue-in-cheek humor) is the multi-talented and prolific Mr. Beck Hansen.  Not only is Beck working from many chapters of Prince's playbook, he also seems to have nimbly sidestepped many of his mistakes.  That said, I'm holding out hope for a musical pairing between the two.  Just imagine the potential supernova of sound that could be created by Beck and Prince if the former had the time, initiative and access to His Royal Highness and if the latter had the willingness to collaborate and relinquish just a little bit of the infamous control that seems to have tamed his tiger in recent years.

I'm ready, guys... Think about it.  'Til then, I'm here.  Fingers crossed... Ears open.