Like virtually everyone else this week I was stunned when learning of the sudden death of Prince. I had been in the barbers when I vaguely caught the oft used phrases, “in breaking news”, “word is reaching us” and “unconfirmed reports”. I could only catch snippets of the radio news bulletin over the sound of the guy beside me having his perm blow dried. It wasn’t till I checked twitter that I realized who had been the subject of those “unconfirmed reports”. Prince.
Its been the most unusual of years as far as celebrity deaths have been concerned. Obviously people die all the time, I mean, nobody is getting out alive, but the role call of familar faces that graced our tvs, radios and the silver screen that have passed away this year has been relentless it seems. From music and fashion icons like Bowie to the Saturday evening tv favourites of our youth like Paul Daniels, to comedy legends like Ronnie Corbett all succumbing in quick succesion and we feel poorer for their loss.
Granted in Ronnie Corbett’s or Terry Wogan’s case, they both lived long full lives but in the case of Prince who passed away at only 57 our sense of loss is greatly heightened. Theres no doubting Prince lived a multiple of lives in his 57 years but so gifted and so creative was he, you feel even if he’d lived to be 100 it still wouldnt have been sufficient time for him to fully exercise his creative muscles.
I remember seeing Prince in Dublin in concert in 1987. It was my cousin who brought me along. She, being 3 or 4 years older than I, had her finger on the pulse of what was worth following on the music front. He was, even to a 12 year old a spectacular performer. Subsequently I educated myself more on his discography and followed him since then, with his most influential work, for me, being his 1991 album Diamonds and Pearls, an album which was easily one of the soundtracks of my misspent youth. I remember going to a pool hall on South William St called the Hideout, suitably named because you’d pass its unobtrusive entrance with ease and you needed to ring a bell to gain entry. Once inside it was like a different world, a teenage underbelly of pool tables, a juke box and stacks and stacks of 20 pence pieces so that neither were idle.
That year I remember Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls album on repeat, blaring from that juke box. Cream, Get off and the amazing title track Diamonds and Pearls were all seared into my brain due to hours in that grotto of a pool hall where we’d escape to even on the sunniest of days, no wonder we were so pale.
So it was instantly to that period that i was transported when I heard of Prince’s untimely death. Its only when you actively listen to those tracks and others like Raspberry Beret and Purple Rain that you realise just how brilliant a musician he was and how much we took his talent and eccentricity for granted.
As an entertainer he was up there with Sammy Davis Jnr, Freddy Mercury and Michael Jackson, he was that good. In an age when it seems ridiculously easy to achieve ‘greatness’, all you have to do is look at any random Prince performance and you fully realise what true greatness is. Take Prince’s Superbowl performance arguably one of the greatest in history or his guitar solo when he shared a stage with Tom Petty and Steve Winwood at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inauguration ceremony, a performance which put him on a par with Jimmy Hendrix.
Radio stations have been falling ovrr themselves to play his music in attempt to whet the appetite of a shocked public reeling from the loss of a musical genius whose music will live on like Bowie’s for decades and rightly so.
What i liked about Prince was he was his own man, diminutive but colossol at the same time, nevet compromising even with his own record label. Perhaps his lyrical obsession with sex and his eccentricities somewhat made it easier to dimiss him at times, but to do so was to miss the musical point and his creative genius in establishing his own sound, which in a world of music is no mean feat. Rest easy Purple Prince.