Photo by G.
April 21, 2016 started off for me as any other day in the dreadful 2016 – 3 months later, I still couldn’t believe David Bowie departed the earth in January and like so many fans of the arts, I was finding it hard to go on. But on this day, I pulled myself out of bed to go to the gym at the crack of dawn, not because I wanted to, but because I had recently obtained an unreleased alternate version of one of my favorite Prince songs and I couldn’t wait to hear it in my Beats by Dre headphones. Little did I know, that was the last time I would ever hear a Prince song before the terrible news broke several hours later that he was found dead – and of a drug overdose!
As Prince had been a worldwide superstar for 30 + years, it was no surprise that tributes from rock royalty to the President of the United States poured in. I’ve been a fan of his music since I was 4 years old and though my fandom had reached some tumultuous times in recent years, each day was brimming with the possibility for me that Prince was going to renounce his preachy religion, announce a last minute concert or songs from his legendary vault of unreleased music would come out. Those possibilities and the nervous systems of so many of his hard core fans came to a screeching halt on April 21 when the news broke that Prince was dead. Across the world, so many Prince fans told the same story – “People from all aspects of my life – from elementary school to former co-workers, ex-lovers and friends – got in touch with me to make sure I was OK and to offer their condolences because when they think of Prince, they think of me.” Yes, many of us did not know the man personally, but to a lot of us his words broke through to us in places deeper than “1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss,” “When Doves Cry,”or “Purple Rain,” touched the masses. One of the great things about Prince was that you could be a fan at any commitment level and I am about to talk about the different levels of Princefandom I’ve witnessed in my years of loving his music and I am breaking it down for those who are unaware of the full extent of his artistic greatness.
- The “Greatest Hits” Fans. If you were alive in the 1980s, maybe you loved Prince and maybe you didn’t, but one thing is for sure, you were exposed to his music. He was a hit factory for close to 15 years, where nearly every single he released became a huge anthem. Coupled with his unique style, his love of the color purple, his mystique, his ability to seamlessly fuse sex and spirituality in the same breath and the iconic imagery in his music videos, his hits had crossover appeal in the same way that Michael Jackson, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen did even if their style of music wasn’t “your thing.” However, these types of fans never bothered to dig any deeper than what they heard on the radio or what MTV (a cable TV channel that used to play music videos) used to show. Post 1991 (which was the release year of one of his final commercially successful albums), whenever you’d mention his name, people would ask if he is still making music, to which you’d resoundingly roll your eyes and shame people for not knowing some of the deep album cuts.
- The Die Hards. Being a die hard fan of Prince is different than being a die hard of most artists because of the sheer amount of work that Prince created. The only modern artist that comes close in terms of the amount of recorded songs is Bob Dylan, but Dylan rarely changes genres, whereas Prince could never be nailed down to a certain category – often fusing many of them within the same song! In addition to having a nearly 40 year career, Prince officially released approximately 50 albums of original material in his own name, as well as over 100 music videos and four theatrically released feature films. An impressive feat by itself, but that’s just the surface of how much additional music Prince recorded. He wrote and produced full albums for his “proteges” including Sheila E., The Time, Jill Jones, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, The Family, Madhouse, Bria Valente, Tamar, Judith Hill, Mayte, Carmen Electra, Ingrid Chavez, The New Power Generation (also full length albums by The Flesh, MC Flash and The Rebels have never seen the light of day officially), and he gave away tracks to the likes of The Bangles, Sheena Easton, Patti LaBelle, Madonna, Chaka Khan, No Doubt, Ani Di Franco, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Kate Bush, Martika, Mavis Staples, George Clinton, Andre Cymone and the list goes on. Being conservative, that would add another 25-30 albums worth of songs, bringing the number of albums of songs he officially released to over 70. But it doesn’t just end there! He had so much creative energy that he practically lived in the recording studio making hundreds and possibly thousands of songs (yes, thousands!) that have been locked away in his vault for potential future release. But that’s not all! He toured the world endlessly over those 39 years and he wasn’t satisfied merely playing to a stadium of people and then going home after the show. He often spent the afternoon of a show day rehearsing new material and then played an after-show of completely different material at a small club after the main show (a cigarette after sex, if you will) and he did that for over 25 years! Not only did he pull out rare songs to perform, but he often tested out new material, performed covers of his favorite songs, performed a song one time (and never went back to it ever again) and drastically changed the arrangements of the songs you already knew, so every time you saw Prince in concert (even if it was 2 nights in a row or twice in the same day), you got to see a dramatically different show each time. Needless to say, people started bootlegging the concerts and nearly every show he performed over these four decades exists in some format, bringing the total number of hours of recorded Prince music to tens of thousands! Because of the vast array of music that exists, the die-hards can be further broken down into these categories:
- The Collectors. These are the people that simply must have every single thing he did from the officially released albums, the extremely shitty quality bootlegs (because the stuff was not officially released, sometimes the master source is a copy of a copy of a copy of a tape or in the case of live recordings, sometimes it sounds like someone was in the parking lot recording the show – but many perfect or damn near perfect quality recordings exist) the protege stuff (which most of it is criminally out of print), to the promotional items released at the time (which often sell for a hefty price tag on sites like E-bay), to the rare fan club only singles, to the merchandise, to the people that scour the internet saving every photo that exists (because he did a ton of photo shoots too, and he was very controlling of his image, so he never looked like anything less than a rock star from another world in each shot). There are other fans who don’t collect all these items, but instead travel the world to see Prince. That can put a huge dent in your wallet (or your nervous system as Prince is notorious for announcing shows with less than 24 hours notice). These fans line up all day to be in the front and they are rewarded as Prince makes love to his electric guitar on stage and sets the place on fire with his one of a kind performances. Despite personally going to approximately 50 shows/appearances, I just want as much music as I can get my hands on. To me (and to so many other fans), it’s a drug. It’s the juiciest steak you’ve ever eaten. It’s your friend. It’s your lover. The fast and funky songs make you want to get up and shake your ass in the middle of a business meeting. The ballads seduce you and make you want to take your clothes off in public – no matter who is watching! Most of all, if you are all alone in the world, Prince’s music will always have a lyric, a funky riff or a guitar lick that will rock your world and give you a reason to go on. Whether you are hearing the songs for the first time or the 200th, they sound fresh as ever and with every listen, they hit you in that place that Prince excelled in hitting every time. Also, just when you think you “know” Prince, an unreleased song leaks out somehow and the lyrics reveal another side of Prince you never knew existed, thus making him even more amazing and enigmatic that you already thought was possible!
- The Bootleg Collectors. Within the realm of the collectors are the bootleg collectors. As I mentioned above, there are thousands of unreleased songs known to exist and hundreds of them, as of this writing, (enough for SEVERAL full length careers) have leaked out of the vault. The cause of these leaks is unknown but some of the popular theories are: he was careless with his stuff, he was a jerk to the people in the studio – either treating them terribly or not paying them and songs leaked in retaliation to his treatment of them; he leaked the songs himself knowing that the world is not capable of digesting all the music he felt compelled to create and he wanted to give the people who were willing to listen a chance to hear these tracks. Whatever the cause of the leaks are, the songs are traded freely among fans, although there are also shady but enterprising fans who have started their own bootleg record labels and sell the tracks to fans who aren’t internet savvy or have no connections. Needless to say, there are levels of rarities out there in the unreleased music realm and despite the limited number of people who are this serious about the music, there are those fans who have access to stuff that “normal diehards” do not have access to and hoard it for reasons unknown. One such track being hoarded is “Wally,” a 1986 track that is reportedly the most personal song Prince ever wrote. The fabled backstory says that Prince destroyed the tape after it was recorded because it was too personal. Without going into too much detail, it exists and the upper echelon of Prince die-hards have it, so rest assured that you will probably hear it one day!
- The Purple Kool Aid Drinkers. In his passing, Prince’s countless acts of kindness were finally revealed to the public. In his lifetime, he usually wanted to remain anonymous about his generosity. He donated money to help teach music to children and was also a silent activist in the fight for human equality. However, to those in the inner circle, he was not always regarded as such a nice guy. This is a similar story you will hear from other artists who were insanely creative. As I can only speak from stories I’ve heard, I will not air out these grievances because they are not mine to address, but suffice it to say if these countless stories from numerous associates, former lovers, employees and fans are true, where he excelled in artistic prowess, he often lacked in humanity. Many of these stories are well documented in the community, but this is where the Purple Kool Aid Drinkers come in. They find it impossible that Prince could be anything other than perfect to everyone at all times. After all, most of his songs were about love, peace and tolerance and he seamlessly fused spirituality and sexuality in a way that made it accessible even to those who believe in nothing. If you say anything disparaging about Prince in public or online, get ready because these people will come for you and will show no mercy (despite their acknowledgement of the fact that Prince primarily sings about love and togetherness)! It is impossible for these people to admit that the man did not always practice what he preached (from ruining his mainstream career by protesting his treatment by his record label by writing the word “slave” on his face, despite willingly signing the largest record deal in history at the time to fighting so hard for his artistic freedom to protect his musical legacy but upon his death he left no will, thus not caring at all about the music he spent his lifetime protecting. Also, he was a strong advocate of being anti-drug and in the end, he died of a drug overdose – even if it was as reported “accidental.”). There are also levels of Purple Kool Aid Drinkers whereby to non-fans, they will correct any error they hear about Prince not because you want to, but because you have to clear his name and let everyone know just how brilliant he was. They feel (and I agree with this) that it’s damned shame that too much of the world only knows the hits when there are hundreds of great songs to rock your world, so the sooner the world catches on, the happier of a place it will be but at the end of the day, I am glad that the music brings me joy, so if you don’t feel the same, that’s for you to decide. If you’re a die-hard Purple Kool Aid drinker, chances are you regale the purple community (or worse, your social media accounts) with your knowledge because you know someone who knows someone in the inner circle, or hell – maybe it is you that was in the inner circle, so you “know for a fact” that [insert Prince myth here] happened. Pix or it didn’t happen! The upside to the Purple Kool Aid Drinkers is that if you can just focus on the music, the fans will become some of your best and most loyal friends because for the reasons listed above, his music touches fans in the same way (regardless of race, sexuality or religion).
- The love/haters – It is totally possible to dip your toe into many of these categories (and at the same time!) and I know that I hovered in this category in the years leading up to his death. Because of the reasons above – the amount of music that touched my soul, his strong work ethic, his rejection of failure and his words serving as guidance counselors and teachers, he was my favorite, but in the last decades of his life, he became a Jehovah’s Witness and his lifestyle became contrary to the reasons I fell in love with him in the first place. What turned me on (even as a 4 year old) was the fact that I felt like a misfit on this planet and his lyrics reassured me that I am doing nothing wrong and in fact, my differences are something to celebrate and never back away from. For that unapologetic way of thinking, he probably saved more lives than he was even aware of. However, when he became ultra-religious, his formerly open minded way of thinking was replaced by a narrow view of the world that called people out if they didn’t believe what he believed. On my first trip to Paisley Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2001, within moments of entering Prince’s version of Graceland, I wandered into a private room and ran smack dab into the man! Before I could fan girl out, his first words to me were “did you know there is only one God?” This was a subject I am pretty well researched in (because thanks to his music as well as other sources, I had been curious enough to investigate and form my own opinion on the subject) but instead of listening to what I had to say, we got into a shouting match! It was certainly not my intention to argue with one of my idols, but I was not about to be a doormat! I yelled, “you’re not even listening to me, Prince!” and he shouted back that I was “wrong” and when I tried talking to him like a rational human being, he just kept repeating over and over that there is only one god (and I remember tripping out that this conversation even existed and in Paisley Park, of all places!), but it did and I lost a ton of respect for him that day. He clearly wanted to be surrounded by “yes men,” and I refused to be that, even to someone who was basically my own personal version of a god. Because his music literally saved my life at times where all else was black, I agreed to disagree with him but although I could forgive, I had a hard time forgetting. It was extremely disappointing to me considering how much time, blood, sweat, tears (and money!) I’d invested in Prince for the greater part of my life. It was not helped by the fact that at numerous times in the later years, he sued die-hard fans, put the kibosh on loving artistic tributes to him and was very stubborn about letting new generations discover his art on streaming music services. His magnetic energy is the reason all of us came back even though we felt like scorned ex-lovers and I know that secretly we all hoped that eventually, he would go back to being the open-minded person we all fell in love with in the first place. He didn’t need to sing “Sexy MF” or hump the stage anymore, but for the love of Jehovah, we just wanted him to stop using “duck” when we all know what he really wanted to say. Sadly, he did not, but if even one song recorded post 2001 that has the F-word exists in his vault, that will help soften the blow.
- The Post-Death Fans. A whole new generation discovered his music on April 21, 2016 that had previously not been exposed to his work and to those people – WELCOME! Have a look around and sort yourself into one of these categories. If you never get past the hits, you have dozens of tracks that defy genre identification. If you choose to dig beneath the surface, you will find an impressive body of work, one more vast than almost any other recording artist of any era! Hopefully you’ll discover some songs that will become your best friends for the rest of your life.
As a life long fan, who has lived and loved with the music and as someone who has witnessed the ups and downs of his career from afar and from the front row and now that we can look back on the entire story, here are a few observations that I’ve made about the life and work of this remarkable man:
1. He was a bad ass. His sound and fashion sense were unique (from matching his high heeled pumps to the one-of-a-kind outfits he wore to his unique facial hair) and he surrounded himself with bad ass musicians and they had to be because they had to keep up with him.
2. His work ethic is unparalleled. He worked harder than every other popular musician (it’s not an opinion – it’s a fact. His punishing touring schedule, the number of shows he performed each day while on tour, the hours spent rehearsing and the amount of material that was recorded in the studio make him arguably the most prolific recording artist of the modern age).
3. He did not make mistakes. Somehow, his voice always sounded great (and he regularly played a 2 hour stadium show and then several hours later did a completely different show at a small club), he never hit bad notes and he was not known for canceling shows (showing up extremely fucking late – yes, canceling – no!). It makes me wonder about his drug use, because it has been suggested that he was not a stranger to drugs, but drugs often make people get sloppy, and you can say a lot of things about Prince, but you cannot accuse him of being sloppy (aside from the events of his final week on earth).
4. He never gave less than 100%, looked like a rock star from another world at all times and all the while making music that cast a spell over millions of fans across the globe. He didn’t just perform, from the second he stepped onto the stage to the time he left it, he was electrifying! He challenged his audiences to show up as their best selves and in return he gave his. In an era where everyone dresses down, you always went to a Prince show dressed to the 9s and he rewarded you by wearing a sharp tailor made outfit that made the ladies swoon and the guys wishing they had that much charisma and swagger.
5. He chose to set the trend rather than follow it. If he believed in something – no matter how ridiculous, he saw it through, even if it meant alienating fans or even the public at large (when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol or suing fans, for example). At times, this found his message being contradictory – but I guess it’s possible to change your belief system repeatedly as new epiphanies come in and/or, it was his Gemini nature to be the yin and yang depending on the day? He wasn’t afraid to fail. He took risks by discovering and promoting new talent repeatedly throughout his career and if he wrote songs that were not suitable to be released under his own name, he generously gave them away to other artists he felt could capture the sound he was trying to achieve.
6. He changed and grew constantly and could kick your ass musically whether the song – fast or slow – had vocals or was a jazz, rock or funk jam. He never rested on the laurels of the past and was always looking forward and most importantly, he was always living in the moment. This is evidenced by the fact that he recorded a ton of music, put it aside and never stopped making new material or performing (changing the arrangements of his old stuff) until the very end. He didn’t worry about the minutiae about how this stuff world be released and in fact, he did not leave a will and to not think of the future is about as living in the moment as you can possibly be – despite it infuriating those he left behind to collectively shake our heads and wonder what the heck he was thinking! His estate is currently in total shambles and in less than one year since his death, his music has already been licensed to streaming networks (something he was fiercely against in his life) and his sanctuary Paisley Park is hosting a “celebration” not on his birthday, but on the anniversary of his death date. It’s my opinion that he would not want either of these things, but if you don’t write your wishes down, this is what happens.
7. It is really difficult to think of Prince in the past tense. His music is so passionate and alive. His performances have so much energy. In his music he was able to achieve super human things, but at the end of the day, he was a mere mortal. Every time I go to a non-Prince show, I still feel that at any moment, he is going to come out from backstage and jam. At the time, dropping everything at a moment’s notice to see him perform could be extremely tiresome, but now we’d give anything just for one more show. It’s a shame that the book is closed on that chapter of our lives. But despite all the not so nice things I’ve said about him throughout this article (it’s all part of the duality that was and is Prince), I am eternally grateful for the music he made and for the people that I’ve met because of his music. Like all geniuses, the man and the music are extremely complicated and it is my wish that even if people don’t get obsessed to the level of collecting all the bootlegs and ephemera, that they at least realize what an extremely talented and once-in-a-lifetime original soul was on this planet from 1958 – 2016.
What are some of my highlights of being a fan for over 35 years?
- Dancing on stage with Prince twice. Once in Minneapolis during his 2001 Celebration at the arena near Paisley Park (and if you follow me on social media, you’ve surely seen the photo!) and once in Los Angeles at a secret show at the Hollywood Palladium. I am told that Madonna and Lenny Kravitz were in the audience that night and they got to see my funky dance moves.
- Working on his double CD “Ultimate Prince.” Myself and fellow uber fan Mathieu Bitton were selected to work on a double CD of Prince’s greatest hits, which saw the first release on CD of many of Prince’s beloved 12″ versions. There was a lot of drama when the cd was first issued, and it was bittersweet that after his death, the CD reached the top 10 in many parts of the world. It warms my heart to know that the love we put into that CD was the first introduction of his music to legions of fans that discovered him after his death.
- The fans! I have met people from all over the world who are some of my great friends and I know for certain that we would not have bonded the way we did without his music. I’ve met people of all races, genders, religious beliefs, etc. and it makes no difference when it comes to loving each other. I think that is probably the most important thing about Prince’s music and in these troubled times, I hope that the love spreads.
- Singing “Play That Funky Music White Boy” with Prince. I was at an after-show in New York at a tiny place called Butter and I was literally inches from Prince the entire night. He covered Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” and the entire night I was groovin’ and singing along to every song. When the chorus rolled around, he stuck the microphone in my face and made me sing the chorus. While it was a huge honor, I don’t think singing is my strong point (based on a bootleg I’ve heard of the recording).
- Becoming friends/acquaintances with his a lot of his associates. Though these people may not be household names to the masses, to me they are gods and goddesses! I’ve worshiped these people alongside of Prince for decades and having some of them support my own artistic endeavors or recognize me when we run into each other is mind blowing and I don’t take it for granted either!
- The music. As I’ve said before, the songs are like long lost friends that you can always turn to when no one else is around. When an unreleased song surfaces, it’s like hitting the jackpot and when you listen to a rehearsal or live recording, you hear the feeling of what it’s like to create art. I never cease to be blown away.
Prince, if you are out there, please know your fans miss you so much and you have left a void that can never be replaced by anyone. Nothing Compares 2 U. To quote another one of your songs, I speak for all of the fans when I say, “love is too weak to define, just what you mean [to us].” THANK U!