When Prince passed, MTV went back to its origin and played music videos again. I remember the first time I saw MTV as a child, watching John Taylor running with his shirt open through the streets of Rio with Duran Duran, and I was hooked and in love. MTV would feed my fire for the band and many other musicians for years to come. I discovered various artists and lived for world premieres. If my mother grounded us on a day Duran Duran or Culture Club or David Bowie or Prince released a world premiere video, it was the worst day of my life. In 1991, MTV started a reality show called Real World, and that was the beginning of the end. MTV would stop playing videos, maybe late at night and an hour here and there, but the artists who used to own those streets to find fame had to find another outlet to be discovered. Gone were the days of seeing groundbreaking videos like Aha’s Take On Me, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love, Madonna’s Like A Prayer, or Dire Straights Money For Nothing with Sting yelling I Want My MTV. And I couldn’t leave out Prince’s When Doves Cry. The video days for MTV were gone. But, for one day in 2016, April 21st to be exact, MTV became Music Television again. Ironically enough, it was a tribute because a man passed away, but he was not an ordinary man. This man was powerful in his life and blessed with superpowers; his death made MTV play music videos again.
On April 21st around 10 am, I was just getting on my computer. I saw something catch my eye under an email: RIP Prince. A wave of panic washed over me as I frantically waited for CNN to load up on my computer. There it was. I only saw it for a fraction of a second when the impact hit me. Tears stung my eyes and a force rolled through me like a volcano and I erupted. It was a familiar feeling as I had just been through the same regalia months before when another one of my heroes died. Prince’s death was having the same impact on me as David Bowie’s had, and I realized I was going to go through what felt like a bad breakup again. Thoughts of Prince and memories over our time together would cloud my day. Hearing his songs would clutch my heart, and just like a breakup, would wreck me. But I wasn’t going through a breakup; I was experiencing a loss. Unlike a breakup, I do not want to put Prince out of mind and get over him.
My social media feeds were askew with sadness, shock, song lyrics, memories of how his music impacted them: Dearly Beloved, We are gathered here to get through this thing called life, memes and photos showing up. Google and The New Yorker, buildings, and even attractions like Niagara Falls all turned purple. President Obama said, “Today we lost a creative icon. Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent.” My entire social media feed filled with tributes. That day was for Prince. People wanted to show their respect, gratitude, and admiration for what this multi-faceted monolith of a man represented and all he created.
My mother’s love for music was one of the main factors that led to my embarking on a career in the music industry. My mother never let us forget the importance of music, how the world loved some form of music, how music was a force not to be reckoned with, and how it was bigger than us and would still exist when we were long gone. Although, my mother’s love for music did have its boundaries, and I can clearly remember two instances. My mother was horrified when, as a child, I somehow obtained two CD’s with explicit nature and oddly enough it happened in the same year months apart. The first being, of course, Purple Rain, the second, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (Welcome To The Pleasure Dome.) I searched high and low for those CD’s, which she either hid in our house or threw out. You would think for my mom, a former hippie — and all that goes with that, like love, understanding, liberal ideology, peace man, make love not war and more — that nothing was too taboo. But I found out the hard way; she had her limits.
Born into music lineage, Prince Rogers Nelson made his way into this world on June 7, 1958. Both his father and mother were musicians. Prodigious, he wrote his first song at the age of seven. At 14 he had his first band, and at 18 he was signed to Warner Records. From then on, he was unstoppable.
Prince was also an artist known to cause controversy. Tipper Gore had claimed he was demeaning to women in his songs, and while the topics dip into many things demeaning to women, Prince was not. In fact, if anything he empowered them. Women were always at the forefront with him. He encouraged them to be who they wanted to be and to do it the way they saw fit, without any restrictions. He gave them the stage and audience to do it.
Purple Rain was the album and the movie that made him a star. Prince had only had a few hits under his belt when he turned in the album of a lifetime. We all know his songs before Purple Rain, and after, When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy, Little Red Corvette, 1999, Kiss, Raspberry Beret, and I Wanna Be Your Lover). We also recognize the songs he wrote for others like The Bangles’ Manic Monday or Sinead O’ Conner’s Nothing Compares 2 U, or even Stand Back from Stevie Nicks which actually was just a piano contribution, but changed the direction of the orginal song to what it became that Stevie gave him writing credit. What we didn’t know that much about was the man behind those songs. He was mysterious, this man that was giving us hit after hit. Prince was shrouded behind all the fashion and glam that he seemed to be. When I interviewed him in 1999, I asked him about his need for privacy. He said that as an artist and individual, he kept a big piece of himself at arm’s length from the public eye, but his music was something anyone could have. His music was created to be the public part of him he wanted everyone to know. Prince was also a godlike being that could create armies in his name. Everyone from Morris Day And The Time, to Sheila E, to Vanity 6, Wendy And Lisa, Apollonia 6 and more needed to bow down and worship the Purple One that put them on the map. The 80’s were littered with Prince disciples on the radio, and we loved it, no matter how cheesy. Prince and his Purple Army ruled the 80’s, our radio stations and our MTV.
The first Prince song I remember hearing was Delirious, off the 1999 album that would be his biggest selling album up until then and the defining album that would put Prince on the map in a big way. His next album Purple Rain would clearly make him a star, but this album was my first real introduction to the musical genius. I remember kids would come into class with the cassette tapes. I knew that Little Red Corvette would become an anthem of sorts for me. First, I had an obsession with corvettes and had started having recurring dreams about them at age five, and I wanted to find a love that was gonna last. We would sit in the quad blasting boom boxes while kids were break dancing, myself included, listening to 1999 in all of its glory. That is when we also started going back and listening to his previous albums Dirty Mind, Prince, Controversy, we had to get our hands on all of his music and I became addicted to this little giant. Even as young as I was, I could see the frenzy his music created even in us kids and could feel this was just going to get bigger.
“Inglewood is mine,” shouted Prince from the stage on his first day of his LA Residency at the LA Forum for his Welcome 2 America Tour and I was there. It was my first actual concert with Prince. Yes, I had interviewed him before and watched him play private performances and one epic show in 2013 at SXSW. I had never seen him fully primed like this though, and it was a religious experience for me that had me down on my knees thanking a higher power for this gift of a man! He played for hours, shredding the guitar, playing the piano, the drums just a few of his 20 plus instruments he had mastered over his lifetime. The highlight of the night had to be when he performed Purple Rain. For a glorious 15 minutes, the energy in the stadium was palpable, as we all stood, breathless, watching Prince perform his signature song. People were swaying, crying, singing along, and so moved by their hero of sorts. Then, suddenly at the end, cannons boomed and purple confetti came shooting out. Celebrities were also running rampant, coming on stage and dancing, among them Eva Longoria and Javier Bardem. They danced with Prince onstage, because if you got up there, you had to dance, as Kim Kardashian found out the hard way. When she climbed up on stage and just stood there, not dancing as Prince requested, he asked her to Gett Off the stage.
Then, after hours, half the crowd had dissipated thinking he had finished. He came back out and rocked four more encores. Later he left and played another small club until 5 am. This is one of the reasons why I love this man and his music.
I interviewed Prince several times, but I can’t say I honestly knew him. I don’t have those stories some of my compadres in the industry do. Recanting tales of when they worked with him, or even when they saw him play in 1979 when he was brand new. I can’t write this article from a perspective of having really known Prince. I had only brief intermissions with the man. What I do have are memories of how he affected me as a young child until now, and one degree of separations of people who did know him. I once sat on a panel with his very first manager, Owen Husney, who said 18-year-old Prince would come to his house in the middle of the night numerous times weekly to go over songs he had written and play for him. Owen recounted that Prince was relentless in his art, a perfectionist. It showed, and we got to experience it. In fact, what most people might not be aware of is that Prince produced every one of his albums himself, he knew how to do his music best. I have seen five-year-old children as well as people well into their golden years sing his songs by heart. I was actually at dinner a few nights ago and a man probably in his 80s looks over at his daughter and said, “So, did you hear Prince died?” I stilled and couldn’t move. This man knew of Prince, knew his impact on the world, and although he admitted he did not listen to Prince, he respected the man for the songs he gave the world. Prince’s impact knows neither age nor limitation, just greatness. He had this talent, a gift of sorts, that was handed down from generation to generation because genius never goes out of style nor gets worn out. His impact would be so great he would inspire a legion of artists hoping to achieve just a glimmer of what he had, to have that same effect, that magic that he bestowed upon all of us.
It would be remiss of me to not discuss this breakup of sorts without discussing my other big loss this year, David Bowie. Somehow, I see them both as the same individual with certain traits that set them apart. David Bowie and Prince were about values, nonconformity, non-binary gender norms, bigger then life, and holier then thou. We prayed to these music gods. We worshiped at their churches. They had created their own sort of religion in a way and the masses followed. They were both original in creating their works, neither needed ghostwriters or copied anyone else’s work. Bowie gave us Heroes and Fame, asked us to Let’s Dance. Prince Knew A Girl Named Nikki and talked about Pop Life, Diamonds and Pearls. He wanted us to feel Beautiful, Loved and Blessed, and we threw massive money into the collection basket at their houses of worship. Prince was also influenced by David Bowie and it showed in his music, his persona, even in the mysterious allure that they both had. They were both more then human and they both seem to transcend mortality, like their bodies were merely just hosts for our sake, for what the normal human mind could comprehend. Like aliens taking life form. Bowie and Prince spoke the same alien language from whatever planet they were both actually from. They defied gender, they didn’t follow the rules of how church and state think a man should live. They made a stance for their music and their art, and they valued life and lived it the way they saw fit.
On April 21, the Earth lost a musical god. Although the man himself died, his music did not and it will live on forever. Prince is one of the reasons I went into the music industry. His influence on me from such a young age impacted me greatly, the same impact David Bowie had on me, and the same impact my mother who passed away in 1995 had. They made me fall in love with music and build a career around it. I would say this is a tribute to them all, to all the people who influenced me and so many others, but today this is for Prince. My name is Prince and I am funky. My name is Prince the one and only. His name is, was, and always will be, Prince.
Allison got her big break in the music industry by writing for MTV/Vh1 where she interviewed everyone from Prince, to Elton John, Lenny Kravitz, Blink 182 and many more. From there she started Hyperactive Music Magazine that went national. Shaw then produced several big festivals and went to work for Rachael Ray’s Entertainment company. Shaw started Manic Monkee MGMT which manages bands and does brand strategy for all kinds of brands in music/tech/consumer products and aligns brands with events. The company also produces events. Shaw is also on the Board Of Directors for non-profit music charity Sweet Relief. Follow her on Twitter at @manicmonkee.