Hang tough, children: Life after Prince

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In the months since Bowie’s death, I’ve had ghoulish “Who’s next and how will we react?” conversations with just about every music fan I know. I don’t remember Prince coming up once, at least not till the health scare a week ago. Even that we brushed off with an eager sense of relief that now feels like denial.

Where was I when I heard the news? Where I always am: in a coffee shop struggling with a finicky wifi signal. I was paralyzed, uncertain how to feel or respond, as a fan and as a journalist, until I lucked into two great assignments. Rolling Stone ordered me to step away from the internet and report on what was happening on the ground in Minneapolis and Chanhassen. Then Jill Mapes at Pitchfork asked me to write about “what Prince meant to Minneapolis,” a topic that, as a transplant, I’d have felt presumptuous for pitching myself. It’s been gratifying (and, frankly, a relief) to hear from fellow Minneapolitans who saw some part of themselves reflected in those stories. (I hope the self-effacing self-promotion here is an indication of how truly Minnesotan I’ve become.)

Crisis crystallizes half-forgotten anecdotes and impressions into words. So much great writing has followed Prince’s death, from pros and fans alike, that I’m reluctant to even attempt a link dump here, knowing I’ll leave off too much, that there’s so much I haven’t even read yet. So I’ll just limit myself the work of some fellow Minnesotans, because these are my people.

At an institutional level, there’s been terrific coverage by the Star-Tribune, the Current, and City Pages.

Michaelangelo Matos, who knows and cares as much about Prince as any writer alive, wrote the definitive obit.

Andrea Swensson, who knows and cares just as much about the music scene Prince helped foster, made me cry, dammit.

Dylan Hicks expanded upon his excellent 2014 Mpls.St.Paul piece to trace Prince’s roots in the social and musical climate of Minneapolis.

Jon Dolan elicited a heartfelt testimonial from Paul Westerberg, of all people.

Reed Fischer zeroed in on the weird world of covering Prince as a local reporter.

Melissa Maerz recalled the power dynamic at play when Prince summoned her to Paisley Park.

As for Prince’s musical legacy, we’ve got the rest of our lives to consider that. Most of what followed his ’80s pop prime will sound better than it did when we were worrying about “relevance” and “innovation.” (There’s a lesson there for music criticism.) In that sense, the Current’s A-W stream of the Prince catalog (no “Y” because none of his songs start with “you”) was like a glimpse of the future. You’d think, Prince being so stylistically versatile, that listening to his songs alphabetically would make for some jarring transitions, but there’s a consistency of vision, a core Prince-ness, that holds this body of work together, through peaks and valleys, in whatever order you play it.

Saturday night, I finally made it out to one of the all-night parties First Avenue had thrown in Prince’s honor, the third and last. I danced with friends I hadn’t seen in years. I saw a six-year-old girl bouncing around to “P Control.” (You lose, Tipper.) I sang along as “Purple Rain” completed its ascendance from brilliant power ballad to genuine hymn. The night ended, perfectly, at 7 a.m. with “Let’s Go Crazy,” a young man’s wet dream about mortality jet-propelling its way through the decades to reveal itself as his own eulogy, even if the weekend we’d experienced as a city had taught us that he was wrong about us being on our own.

To make it out to First Ave, I had to put off watching Lemonade. And I’d just finished dancing to “When You Were Mine” when I glanced at my phone and learned that Papa Wemba died. I was besieged by reminders that the world wasn’t about to slow down no matter how what dead genius I needed to mourn. There’s more great music out there than we can ever hear, more great observations about that music than we can ever read, more great people who love that music and make those observations than we can ever meet. What a fucking fantastic challenge to face.

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  • and then she thought better of it.  On April 25, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Was skyping with a friend of mine at SAIC just after Bowie died — Bowie was never very important in my life, and while he was ambient, his death didn’t slay me the way it did so many others. So my friend said, “Wait till it’s Prince,” and it was such a shocking thought that I gasped and said, “No!” and covered my face with my hands.

    What it’s done is make me thoughtful about his music, made me listen to it again more carefully. The stuff I don’t usually listen to, I mean; I’ve had Sign o’ the Times in my car for the last couple of years. And it made me listen to it free of the context of the ’80s, when we were still living in the shadow of the broadcast censors, and when nobody else’s lyrics and guitar were nasty. I hadn’t appreciated — I don’t think many people appreciated — what a musician he was. And what I see in the videos people are putting up is that he was an extraordinary collaborator. I mean he knew what backup was and didn’t mind playing it for a friend. That’s someone who knew who he was.

    In the parking lot last night I listened again to “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”, and remembered Miles Davis was on the track. And remembered I’d gone to hear Miles play in ’87 — I’d been surprised, I’d actually thought at the time he was dead. And of course a few years later he was.

    A certain kind of party is over, and I think that, more than anything else, is what makes me cry. I hadn’t really thought about the extent to which its groove has animated my life, my whole adult life. It’ll keep on in my head, of course, but over time it’ll have less to do with what’s out in the world.

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