DEAR _____ :
I actually have some Prince tales (maybe you’ve heard a few of these from me already):
a) Some time in 1982 or so, Owen Husney (Prince’s first manager; the guy who got him his first record deal) asked me to write some songs for a guy Owen was hoping would be “the White Prince”. The guy was Peter D___, a Bowie look-a-like who was a guitar genius but who LOVED Jethro Tull prog-rock a little too much… and he would NOT compromise on his silly faux-Tull vision… the “white Prince” thing therefore never happened. (Peter was later in the band “C____” with a pre-fame Yanni, who wanted me in the band, too. My hair was bleached white in those days and some members of “C____” called me “negative man” because they thought I resembled a photo negative).
b) During the filming of the First Avenue sequences of Purple Rain, Steve McClellan asked me and my then-Gf Nanc to spend the night on the set as “security”! I showed up before they’d finished filming for the night and, at some point, I was standing right outside the video booth, upstairs, while Prince was looking at the day’s “video rushes”… he looked up and saw me standing there and stared for a VERY long time, as though he was deciding whether to have Chick, his biker body guard, throw me out. However, I did my best “bored, because, like, I totally belong here” face and avoided humiliation and injury. Now, a model I had a crush on at the time was an extra in the film and would be showing up at 6 the next morning to have her make up done; I was scheduled to leave at 5.
I left this big note on the front door of First Ave: “GOOD MORNING MONICA!!!” Monica saw it, assumed the film’s director had written it, one thing led to another and she ended up sleeping with the director. So there was that aspect of it. But, worse: being on that “hot” set was the end of my childish fantasies regarding the magic of film: the set was mostly cardboard, plywood and tinfoil. My one regret is that I didn’t steal a copy of the script!
c)The head engineer at Paisley Park, Jonathan Akre (sp?), offered me a spec deal to record “Moni Buys Everything” in Paisley’s Studio C. So we start working on it (with an ATROCIOUS drum machine that put me off drum machines for thirty years). At some point I took a pee-break and was up on the second level cat walk when out pops Prince, wearing a CONICAL BIRTHDAY HAT! (someone’s birthday). I passed him on the way to the can and he said a low-voiced “Hi” and, I swear, even in the Cuban heels and the pointed hat, he came no higher than my chin. Later that day I played ironic/ clumsy/ hipster basketball on the Paisley court in my wingtips.
d) Shortly before I left for London I had a weird, arty rock project with a keyboard player named Roger Waldauer (now deceased). Our drummer was an enormous drumming GOD named Michael B___. Two months into the project I got a call from Michael.
“How are things?”
“Cool, Mike. How are you?”
“Well, what happened is a got a call from Prince.”
“I told him I’d think about it. I’m not sure what to do. I just wanted you to know…”
“Bye , Mike! Nice knowing you!” (Michael, famous in the videos for his amazing hats, went on to drum for Prince for a million years)
Later, when I was in London, I heard, too late, that Michael had tried to contact me to get me backstage passes for the after-concert party at Prince’s London gig! Oh well!
e) I actually have two more stories I could get into legal trouble for printing, so I won’t.
It’s in the major label’s interest to promote an act like Prince as a major GENIUS, a “once-in-a-lifetime talent”, needing no help from mere mortals, but that’s just showbiz ( being able to play five or six musical instruments reasonably well is only a sign of “genius” in a child of seven, not a man in his thirties or fifties). The “genius” there in early Prince derived from the aggregate talent/ experience/ ideas (even song ideas) of a large team of professionals, marshalled behind the brand of one (in this case, panty-hosed) avatar in order to sell records. I’m sure even the “purple” was not Prince’s idea, and if it was it was because he stole it from Marc Bolan.
What I thought of early Prince? I didn’t dig his stuff much until “Little Red Corvette” and “Delerious”… both fun… but it wasn’t until “When Doves Cry” that I thought his music was really quite cool in some cases. “Purple Rain” (the single) was the most well-hyped piece of pop-dud I ever heard. And I was in First Avenue the night Prince premièred “Sign of the Times” and I remember thinking “huh? there’s no chorus!” And yet, I found “Another Hole in Your Head” (sp?) to be a kind of a pop masterpiece.
The last really cool (mainstream) thing was “Sexy MF”, for me… “Pussy Control” and all that “Black Album” stuff was fun, too. But after that it got lamer and lamer, IMO… major labels are evil and all that but sometimes they help to keep the product tight. Prince needed that, I think… he wasn’t a genius (Joni Mitchell was a genius; Miles Davis was a genius; Prince was a major, but limited, talent when he was young and a fading talent as he aged)… his fans helped to delude him. His fans and the money they gave him.
My favorite symbol of that bubble-of-delusion is Prince’s appearance at the George Harrison tribute concert, in which Prince does an extended guitar solo during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”… a very mediocre (teenager in his garage) kind of solo. I mean, guitar solos have evolved profoundly since the ’70s and ’80s… and Prince, living in “Prince World” (see the [edited, sadly] Kevin Smith story about Prince on Kevin Smith’s YouTube channel) is on a stage FULL of serious guitar players, doing his lamely pentatonic, fuzzboxed, no-triplet-playing routine… looking like he’s thinking he’s KILLING it. And most of his fans STILL think he killed it, apparently. No.
I thought the first niggling indication of the looming Prince-fan-delusion-symbiosis came early, and it was Prince’s (or his spelling-consultant’s) spelling of “I would die for you” as “I would die 4 U”… I mean, who is that silliness aimed at? School girls? You can, to some extent, gauge an Artist’s “genius” by his/her fanbase. At the very least it can be cause for suspicion.
ADDENDUM: APRIL 28
Jenny Diski (a very good, very clear-minded, very precisely truthful writer) has died this morning of her lung cancer. So woe unto he or she who moans, within slapping distance, that we’ve lost a “genius” with the loss of Prince…