A Dozen Things I Learned From Prince
The legendary Prince Rogers Nelson passed away last week. I got the news as soon as I arrived in Punta Cana for the Elvis Duran Show Dysfunctional Family Vacation and it was a major bummer. Prince was a big influence on my own music, and as I got older, I grew more appreciative of his talent and his legacy. Prince may be gone forever but the valuable lessons he has taught me will live on.
SHORT CAN BE SEXY
I’ve always been self conscious about my height. At 5’8″, I stand tall along such media giants as Mark Wahlberg, Elvis Duran and Ryan Seacrest. I edge out Tom Cruise and practically tower above Kevin Hart and Bruno Mars. But the vast majority of male celebrities and musicians (and guys on Tinder) are tall. Look at Adam Levine and Coaster Boy Josh – total ladies’ men.
Prince was 5’2″ – but if you saw him on a stage, on your TV, that was never the focal point. He was a Sexy M.F. Prince played basketball in high school, he rose above any vertical challenges. He was 8 inches shorter than Taylor Swift, yet there was no bigger rock star. Why? Because…
CONFIDENCE IS EVERYTHING
Forget about his Oompa Loompa-like stature, consider the hairstyles, the outfits. Early Prince often meant ironed hair, porn mustaches, Puffy shirts. He favored canes, capes, and kerchiefs both in and out of the public eye, and he pulled it off every time.
On his recent, awesome Art Official Age album, he sports an Afro and sunglasses with 3 frames. At age 55, he was still an undeniable pimp.
“ROCK STAR” IS AN OVERUSED TERM
Moments before Prince was to perform the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI in 2007, the producers warned him of impending rain that could cause peril for his dancers and his band during the set. Prince’s response was “Can you make it rain harder?”
I was fortunate enough to see Prince’s live show a couple of times. Saturday Night Live just fashioned a tribute show in his memory, yet he never hosted the show and was the musical guest only 3 times during the show’s long history. During his last appearance on the show in 2014, the producers let him play three songs off his new album – in a row – for 8 minutes, more than double the time alotted a typical performance by anyone else. Only a true rock star could get away with all this.
ALIENS DO EXIST
Everyone will most remember the songs and the style, but Prince was a guitar virtuoso with an incredible vocal range. He played 27 different instruments on his debut album, and he notoriously altered his styles on almost all of his later albums, defying critics and his own audience. Watch any Prince video on YouTube and show me a moment where he hits a bum note, sings the wrong words or makes a misstep all while flawlessly playing the guitar.
Prince was definitely an alien.
FIGHT THE POWER
Prince famously butted heads with his record label, Warner Bros. in the early 1990s, and rather than sit idle while the legal battle raged on, he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol to emancipate himself until his contract expired. Two decades later, Warner Bros. released the master tapes of all his recordings to Prince and re-signed him to a new deal, proving that printing money and having undeniable talent are thicker than bad blood.
LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD
The ladies love Prince, and Prince loved the ladies. He was married twice, engaged three times, and was linked to everyone from Madonna to Carmen Electra. The objects of Prince’s affection were often his muses – he shared passions both on and off the stage with artists like Sheila E. and Vanity, putting them on the map and proving that when Prince loves you, he LOVES you all the way.
In my own songwriting – and in my writing, in general – I employ a policy of brutal honesty. I’m well aware that this sort of soul-baring self-effacing practice is not always embraced by an adoring public, but for me, honesty has always seemed like the best policy.
For Prince, the same has always held true, and he’s turned his obvious sexual appetites and romantic frustrations into a cottage industry – “When Doves Cry,” “Private Joy,” and “The Beautiful Ones” are only a sample of his greatest songs about ex-lovers and unrequited love.
SHARE THE WEALTH
During almost all of Prince’s recorded performances, he is sharing the stage with other, lesser-known artists. Instead, you’ll usually find one or more females front-of-stage alongside him, often sharing lead vocals. Like Springsteen and Tom Petty, Prince considered his backing bands important enough to credit them as more than hired guns (first The Revolution, then The New Power Generation).
Prince wrote classic songs that helped spur the careers of Sinead O’Connor, Chaka Khan and The Bangles. His most recent backing band, a female 3-piece called 3RDEYEGIRL, were co-credited on Prince’s 36th studio album and performed with him until his death.
Prince’s widely acclaimed Sign O’ The Times is an 80-minute double album. He released 2 albums simultaneously in 2014. Prince released 39 studio albums and made over 130 music videos. That’s an average of 4 videos a year spanning a near-four decade career. One of his most iconic songs on his most famous album, “Purple Rain,” is almost 9 minutes long.
Prince put the work in and his perfectionist nature was reflected in every flawless performance.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
I grew up in Brooklyn. I lived there for 30 years and have resided there twice since. I have never lived outside the New York tri-state area, a sometimes depressing fact, and one that has had me looking to relocate these past few years.
Prince was born in Minneapolis. He would die about 20 miles away in nearby Chanhassen, where his Paisley Park recording studio has stood for over 30 years. Although the record label folded in 1994, Prince continued to record – and live – there for another two decades plus.
MY MOM ROCKS
Most of my musical taste can be traced back to my Dad – The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, The Police, The Cars, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd were just a sample of the artists blasting from the speakers of my Dad’s intimidating stereo system in my parents’ basement on the regular.
But it was my mother who nurtured my pop sensibilities – the cassettes in Mom’s Honda Civic featured less dangerous acts like Michael Jackson, The Pointer Sisters, Rod Stewart, and Huey Lewis and the News. She also had the Parade album, and it was the single from that album, “Kiss,” that first turned me on to Prince. Years later, I would dig deeper into Purple Rain and Dirty Mind and I was officially a Prince fan. Thanks Mom.
DO WHAT YOU WANT
During many of his live TV performances, Prince played whatever the hell he wanted. At the Super Bowl, he covered Jimi Hendrix, Foo Fighters and Creedence Clearwater Revival in spite of his massive catalog of hits. For his first performance on SNL, he performed “Partyup,” an album track from Dirty Mind. During his second performance on the same show, right off the heels of the wildly successful Batman movie in which he wrote and recorded the soundtrack, he performed the obscure song “Electric Chair” rather than the cheezy single “Batdance.”
Perhaps one of the coolest things about Prince was the fact that he often left the stage at the end of a performance thru the front rather than the back, a typically unconventional conceit.
It was as if he knew he owned the place, and of course, he did. Every time.