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    Yet Another Reflection on Prince

    Lord knows, anyone who has come within range of social media has seen his or her share of reflections on the death of Prince. They run the gamut from heartfelt and poignant to nauseatingly narcissistic.  Here then is my first effort at the genre.

    In 1981, I was a junior in high school.  I used to bring to school and carry around a portable cassette player to listen to music on the bus and in the woods smoking cigarettes and engaging in other prohibited activities.  I wasn't alone in this.  During breaks we'd run down to the smoking room (hard to imagine that now in HS!) or athletic fields and compete for selections.  We surely weren’t aware of it then, but our choices were about more than simply having a good time. It was a way of defining ourselves relative to our peers. The music you chose was a way of saying something about yourself, a statement of identity.  This is who I am because I listen to _____. 

    With all the cross-pollination that’s occurred in music over the last 30 years, it’s hard to remember how segregated musical tastes were in those days. Among my peer group (white suburban and NYC private school), the selections ran from psychedelic/classic rock, progressive rock, new wave/punk rock, and a bit of heavy metal rock. The common thread, of course, being “rock.”  Always dudes.  Almost invariably white.  Jimi Hendrix was the closest anyone came to crossover appeal.  "Disco sucks!" was a phrase I heard shouted out at parties and concerts.  The racial undercurrent that seems obvious now hardly occurred to anyone. 

    I had a finger in all those genres of "rock" and I dutifully loaded into my handy Sony whenever my turn came up. Secretly, though, I maintained allegiance to the disco/soul music I'd listened to obsessively on the radio when I was younger. I wouldn’t dream of breaking it out in public, though. It wasn’t cool.

    That year, my sister went to college in Michigan and came back with the album Controversy. Here was this mixed-race androgynous guy laying down funk grooves but with screaming guitar solos and transgressive lyrics about sex, race, religion, politics, even a teenager's favorite pastime - jerking off - sung in falsetto ... Controversy. I’d never heard anything like it. What a revelation.

    I got all Prince's records and put them in heavy rotation on the Sony.  Plenty of times, I was forced to shut it down with "what is that disco shit?"  But I persevered.  

    When I got to college, I schlepped those LPs around to dorm rooms and parties where I'd compete for the next selection of what would become the “soundtrack” of our lives. When Little Red Corvette, 1999 and Purple Rain became mass hits, I felt like my investment had paid off  (though looking back, I was hardly a trailblazer: I Wanna Be Your Lover was a huge R&B hit long before; I was actually late to the party).  I also got some cred and a bit of a victory lap of I told you so's. 

    I kept listening and dancing through my 20s and 30s. Between relationships, work, family, etc., the “soundtrack” became less and less central to my identity, and the selections more intimate but I’d periodically go back to the well and crank up some “Do Me Baby” “When You Were Mine” “Let’s Work” “I Would Die 4 U” "Uptown" “Pop Life” “Kiss” "Sexy M.F." etc. and connect with that part of myself.

    In 2003, I was fortunate to see him for the first time at the Garden with seats so good Jay Z and 50 Cent were sitting right behind us.  In a sign of how far behind the times I'd fallen, I didn't even recognize them.  It was an incredible show - three hours and every song a classic - that reminded me how prolific, groundbreaking and just kick ass a musician and performer he was. 

    In retrospect, some of the musical choices we made to define ourselves seem incredibly foolish in hindsight.  For years, I dismissed Springsteen, my adult life soundtrack, as "suburban" trash because, after all, who from the suburbs wants to advertise that fact.  And only time allows me to chuckle at the 17-year-old walking down the street thinking everyone realizes how cool he is because of the distorted selection blasting from his portable Sony cassette player.  Still and all, I gotta say, I really nailed it with Prince.

    When an artist we were connected to dies, it reminds us of a part of ourselves.  The further removed, and the closer to our own mortality, it summons a person who is not gone, but whom we might have forgotten.  Over the past few days, I've revisited the soundtrack, and all the good times and people I’ve shared it with.    


    Annie Christian and Oh Sister fit the urban transition, Patti Smith, THeads, Grandmaster Flash, Television, Iggy still, Blondie...  Off the Wall was Michael's emergence from Gary, Indiana into an artist. Bob Marley was there in the form of The Clash. In some ways, Prince was Zappa evolved - kinky, uberfunny, provocative, bizarre. He was Bowie gone urban, fallen to earth - androgeny on 52 channels, a bit of symbolism but mostly flair. He was Parliament focused - in the groove and more fashionable diapers with a sistership connection. Definitely crossover appeal.

    1999 hit small town America, huge. Delirious was on my regular playlist the way Springsteen never would be, sorry Boss.

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes! 

    Enjoyed this, Armchair,and who we share our musical experiences with is key to our enjoyment. Among my progeny they probably go to thirty concerts a year and I try but can't get into it. Maybe weed has something to do with it, I only tried it on 3 occasions.The third and last time was at a party after our chorus had just sung the Brahms Requiem. I cornered a lady there who had previously been a friend and kept telling her she should have children.

    I have done choral singing my entire life and am fortunate to have done a lot of touring at an earlier age when I could better manage the travel and tough rehearsal schedules.  Yesterday listened to :"Serenade to Music" by Vaughn Williams, based on Merchant of Venice. I understand your comment about "mortality".---one of the soprano parts is so beautiful it just about brought me to my knees---and I could have been o.k. with lifting off the planet from a barn loft in a pasture in Texas.

    Enjoy your writing.

    Thank you!

    Great stuff. AG. Though I'm still dismissive of Springsteen.

    Thank you - and especially for saying it twice.  As for the Boss - chacun a son gout.  After all, "who among us...?"

    Great piece, Armchair. Now I'm looking forward to your next post.

    Careful, he's probably got Johnny Rotten or Morrissey duct-taped in a basement somewhere. Like feeding the volcano.

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