Such a huge tragedy today with the death of Prince that I almost don’t know what to say.
First of all, his albums have overtaken the charts on iTunes and Amazon. He has the top 4 albums, plus five or six more in the top 20 at least. The music business has ground to a halt. And then: the future beckons with hundreds of unreleased songs. Hundreds. Plus live albums, etc. For someone who was 57, he was incredibly prolific. Just his recent “Piano and Microphone” tour constitutes an unreleased album.
It’s hard to think that Prince, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston are all gone. Not to mention just this last year– Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Allen Toussaint, and so on.
I had many encounters with Prince, who I thought was a genius (who didn’t?) but who, let’s face it, was kooky. I spoke with famed publicist Susan Blond this afternoon. We recalled waiting for him once for hours–just hours–to come do an interview. Everything with Prince was in the middle of the night. In 2002, he played the World Nightclub in Times Square (now the hard rock) at 2am. It was insane. A two hour show with Alicia Keys and Doug E. Fresh among the cast.
In 1999, Clive Davis lured Prince out of exile to do a really good album called “Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic.” There was a private showcase late in the afternoon in November– and a really huge storm was coming, so the whole town had cleared out. Finally Prince put on as usual a ferocious show. Then he sat and talked to us wearing a hooded orange robe that made him seem like Barbra Streisand playing a monk. He whispered, too, and wore sunglasses. It was koo koo for Cocoa puffs, but we loved him.
He always said hello to me, was always polite, intense. He came to Clive Davis dinners, Rhythm and Blues Foundation dinners, Songwriters Hall of Fame. At one of Clive’s dinners he sat next to me wearing a big earring full of silver stars. He was tiny, and slight. Frankly he never looked built to last. When you locked eyes with him, he seemed like a deer in headlights.
Prince was unswervingly loyal to musicians. Mavis Staples, Chaka Khan, Larry Graham were just a few. He sort of knew he’d based a lot of his career on Sly Stone, and on Jimi Hendrix. But he also added big dollops of Philly soul, of Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, Gamble & Huff. Remember– he covered “Betcha By Golly Wow” by the Stylistics. Elvis Costello, a soul aficionado, covered Prince’s “Pop Life.” The Bangles and Sinead O’Connor literally owe their careers to him. Chaka’s cover of “I Feel for You” gave her a whole new career. Lately, Judith Hill was his student. There will be so many dedications and appreciations of him from musicians.
There was the “Slave” thing, where he saw that he’d never get his master recordings back from Warner Bros. And the company was in disarray. So he changed his name to the “glyph” sign. At New York magazine, we had to ask the art department to put the glyth into our system when we wrote about “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” He gave Stax Records’ Al Bell, a legend, the single “Most Beautiful Girl” as an indie release, and it was his biggest hit in years. That really stuck it to Warner Bros. He re-recorded his hits to make them his own again, and drove Warner Music crazy for a long time.
A genius, a pioneer, maybe someone who was too good to actually live among us for too long. He was one of the few performers who was a legend from the beginning. RIP. Heartbreaking.
Everyone has a favorite Prince song. Here’s one of mine: