The whole world is reeling from the news that Prince, the prolific, creative dynamo who arrived in this world like a horny Star Child little brother of George Clinton with a fetish for purple, and who was arguably the biggest crossover musical talent of the 1980s, died Thursday at the not-old age of 57.
It barely needs mentioning that 2016 has been merciless with our aging music idols, but it’s frankly probably the new normal and we should get used to it. A friend of mine, in discussing David Bowie’s passing, suggested that part of the reason these deaths hit us so hard is it reminds us of our own dwindling life expectancy, which I think is certainly true but doesn’t explain all of it.
Though I came of age during the ’80s, I arrived late to the Prince bandwagon — mostly because I rejected anything that smacked of Top 40 radio and ubiquitous airtime, and back then, Prince was inescapable on the FM dial and MTV. Plus, I was young enough when he first started charting to be pretty grossed out by his overt, somewhat ambiguous sexuality and penchant for tongue-kissing all the ladyfolk.
By the end of the decade, I had matured and broadened my horizons enough to realize Prince completely transcended the Top 40 charts he dominated, that he was too big for pop music, funk, rock or any other genre. There was a reason he appealed equally to white and black audiences. He was ahead of his time so much that, well, I probably wasn’t ready for him and his thong briefs and vaguely feminine funk-pop.
Prince was the Switzerland of music. The one artist rockers, rappers, new wavers, punk, funk, soul, R&Bers could all agree on. #RIPprince
— Charlie Wollborg (@CharlieCurve) April 21, 2016
He was a favorite of Detroit’s legendary Electrifying Mojo (here’s a rare interview Prince granted to the DJ), who would drop a Prince jam in between the B-52s, Kraftwerk and Egyptian Lover during his mesmerizing, other-worldly broadcasts. Prince’s music was taut, danceable and funky — until he decided it was time to shred a few bars on guitar (witness the intro to “When Doves Cry,” or in this extended workout, below.
His songs were staples of many a mixtape we used for some seriously bumping house parties in college, when we had so many people in a dining room dancing that you could feel the floor flex up and down. His music made you sweat and lust to unleash your inner freak.
And of course, he always carefully maintained a scrupulous aura of mystery, generally avoiding the press, changing his name to a symbol, feuding with record labels, harboring a distrust of the Internet and changing his hairstyles more often than Madonna. He was weird in a kind of glorious way you’d expect from such a singular talent.
And in 2016, with every Bowie or Prince who leaves us, it feels like the world is getting less funky all the time.
— Sven Gustafson (@sveng) November 19, 2015