Madonna, devastated by Prince’s death, summed it up beautifully and irrefutably: “He changed the world!! A true visionary.”
That was a relatively subdued response to the global tragedy, but then Madonna is known for her self-restraint. Others were more effusive, with the word ‘genius’ bandied about more than any other.
TV news talked about Prince for days, with his immortal music providing the background noise. Genius! The world of music will never be the same! The world will never be the same!
The panegyrics filled me with admiration – mainly for the announcers, whose taste in music was clearly much better than mine. To me, all those pop geniuses sound exactly the same, but the announcers evidently have such refined tastes that they can tell who is a genius and who isn’t.
One could get the impression the eulogists only stopped short of describing Prince as God by a massive exertion of will. However, oblique references were made to his martyrdom, which is how a pop star’s death by overdose, AIDS or suicide is subliminally perceived.
It’s as if dying a natural death would mean letting the side down. Let those establishment sell-outs succumb to cancer or heart attack. For a true pop giant, that’s too banal for words.
A great military leader has to die in battle to be truly consistent. A great Sumo wrestler must die of obesity, ideally in his 30s. A divine musical genius has to OD, kill himself or die of AIDS to fulfil his destiny.
Prince satisfied that requirement, along with many others. There has never been a musician like him, there’s never been a genius like him, the story went. Piers Morgan described the OD victim as ‘truly great’, partly because he could play 27 instruments.
That makes Prince at least five times the musician Mozart was, who never even heard of the bongos, much less played them with unmatched virtuosity. And Prince has Chopin thrashed 27 to one – poor old Frédéric never even touched any instrument but the piano.
Yet there’s more to Prince than just musicianship of stratospheric attainment. Being hopelessly retrograde, I insist that, if songs are to mean anything, the lyrics are as important as the music. Those whose pop sensibilities are of a higher order than mine insist this isn’t the case with electronically enhanced music – no one can make out the words anyway.
I beg to differ. If words are only part of the incoherent noise, then why have them at all? I mean Prince wasn’t Felix Mendelssohn, he didn’t do songs without words. He must have felt that his genius was conveyed verbally as well as musically, and he was right.
I’ve looked at the lyrics of some of the songs, and they confirm the prevailing assessment of the dead genius: each word communicated his near-divine message to the world with nothing short of unparalleled philosophical depth, fully matching his musical mastery. But judge for yourself:
“2night why don’t we skip all the foreplay, mama,// And just get down here on the floor?”
Love is absolute, the artist seems to be saying. As such, it abhors incremental steps and preliminaries. Its expression must be immediate and, critically, independent of bourgeois comforts, such as a bed. And to Prince philosophical absolutes aren’t merely profound. They are “pretty”, meaning imbued with an ineffable aesthetic sense:
“We can f*** until the dawn// Makin’ love ‘til cherry’s gone// Erotic City, can’t you see?// F*** so pretty, you and me.”
I won’t presume to give true credit to the poetic refinement of Prince’s lyrics. Suffice it to say that, as a true philosophical poet, he’s never predictable in his rhymes or absence thereof:
“Pussy got bank in her pockets// Before she got dick in her drawers// If brother didn’t have good and plenty of his own// In love pussy never did fall.”
This allows us another fascinated peek into Prince’s complex Weltanhschauung: by thus glorifying a feline, he makes a neo-Franciscan point about animals being our siblings in that we all share the same Father – and indeed many commentators singled out Prince’s deep religiosity as his most salient characteristic.
I’ve mentioned before that Prince’s rhyming patterns are unpredictable and they are often hidden and implied. It’s as if the religious philosopher in Prince suggests that we can only ever be vouchsafed so much of God’s design. Note also the unorthodox spelling, reinforcing the enigmatic effect:
“Gett off, 23 positions in a one night stand// Gett off, I’ll only call you after if you say I can// Gett off, let a woman be a woman and a man be a man//Gett off, if you want to, baby here I am, here I am.”
I’ve never, and neither have you I’m willing to bet, ever realised that it takes trying 23 positions in a one-night stand to express the true nature of woman and man, that divine ontological dialectic going back to the Garden of Eden. But then neither of us is a genius of cosmic proportions. Oh what an irreplaceable loss the world has suffered!