Power to the Purple One: The Legacy of Prince

By on Monday, 25th April 2016 at 11:00 am
 

2016 hasn’t been a good year for popular music. After losing hard rock great Lemmy before the end of last year, we lost David Bowie in January. The announcement last Thursday that Prince had been pronounced dead at Paisley Park was almost too much to bear. How on earth could a world that had only just starting to get back to normal after the loss of Ziggy Stardust lose another musical visionary?

On paper, Prince Rogers Nelson shouldn’t have become the legend we came to know. Based on conversations I’ve had in Britain and in the context of global superstars such Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and the late Michael Jackson, it may be hard for someone not of colour outside America to understand what I am about to say. We may be in 2016 now, but sometimes I feel like we’re still stuck in the ‘60s. For Prince to have overcome the average American public’s stereotypes of an African-American man and to be embraced for who he was and everything he had to say was, and still is, huge.

Back in the ‘60s, Elvis scandalised our nation – and the world – with what was then considered hypersexualised hip swiveling. Prince took what Elvis and Bowie did, and to many, many levels higher. Instead of tiptoeing around a man’s sexuality, he challenged society right in the face with what had previously been held sacred and behind closed doors. Prince said the kinds of things we all were thinking about sex but were too afraid to express. Tipper Gore was beside herself. And I’m sure it terrified her even further that the person who was blowing off the lid on sexuality and scandalising her white bread daughter was African-American. Years later, performing at the biggest show of American masculinity, Super Bowl XLI in 2007, and playing to thousands upon thousands of fans in that stadium and at home, he’d achieved acceptance in a way that no-one else had before.

Changing the norm is scary. So having Prince step out with his gender-bending falsetto and flamboyant outfits, as the poster child (er, man) for turning the ideal of what a man should be on its head, the value of his then-crazy notions on society and how they changed people’s minds cannot be overstressed. This is of course before we even consider his musical contributions to the world, including his mastery of and virtuosity on guitar that seems to fall by the wayside when considered alongside his outrageous, out-sized on-stage persona. Like Bowie, he was an incredibly talented and incredibly prolific songwriter. We now live in an era where women are having to defend themselves against men who want to control their artistic vision. Have we all but forgotten that Prince’s adoption of an unpronounceable symbol for his name was a stand against the corporate world and Warner Brothers, taking back control of his career for himself?

When I heard the news that Prince had died, there were several musician friends of mine who came to mind immediately, for their music has an indelible connection to him. As mentioned in my review of their newest album ‘Commontime’ that was released in February, Field Music came to the Purple One’s attention late last year, so much that he Tweeted about finding and appreciating their music. To help close out this article, I give you the kindly offered words of Peter Brewis:

I think he has influenced us from the very beginning in lots of different ways. I remember us aiming for a ‘Raspberry Beret’-type acoustic guitar part on a few songs from the first album in 2005 (their self-titled debut) and most recently there were ‘Parade’ (Prince’s eighth album) influenced jazz-orchestra codas on our last album. I suppose he will be remembered by many as the ultimate rock star showman, and admittedly the best gig I ever saw was him proving just that. But, for me, it was his abilities as a great, independent, music-making all-rounder that will always have an influence on me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tklJdZzUB1Y

Prince was an outsider who made music that tapped into our primal musings, the musings deep down that we pretended we didn’t have but were just itching to let out. Like Bowie, he made it okay to be different and to think differently. Living in America, whether you were white or black or any other colour, you could like Prince and be included in the glittering, over-the-top dance party. Cheers to you, Prince. I hope you’re playing guitar like nobody’s business and smiling at the greatest rave in the sky.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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