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Old 03-24-2021, 10:49 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Baby I'm A Star - The Once and Future Prince

How many people in this world, never mind in the field of music, can write their own epitaph, essentially kill themselves off after the kind of successful career others only dream of, reinvent - nay, resurrect themselves in a new image, go on to be just as successful in their new life, and finally decide to disinter their old corpse, clothe themselves in the flesh they used to wear, and continue not only to be successful, but to remake their own legend?

Not many, right? Probably nobody. Other than one kid from Minneapolis who took the world by storm in the 1980s and whom the world came to know by his first and given name, Prince.

Always an outsider, the story of the life of Prince Rogers Nelson can read like the uncompromising struggle of one man to get what he wanted, where he wanted, and most importantly, how he wanted, regardless of who he had to knock down to get there. It can also be read as a battle royale in which one musician took on the might of first one record label, then the industry itself - and won. The story of a man with a guitar who changed the way music is sold, packaged, marketed and created, and who would, after embracing the internet and the idea of free music, become one of its most entrenched opponents, an advocate of the most draconian enforcement of copyright, and in so doing deny millions his music and hurt his own legend.

Or it can be read as the simple story of a local kid done good. Really good. So good that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on his first nomination - a feat rarely equalled - crossed the divide between what was then seen as “black” music and contemporary white audiences, reigned supreme over radio for years and became one of the biggest earners for his concerts.

You can read the story as that of a man who used people, especially women, when it suited his purposes and dropped or disowned them when they had served that purpose, who selfishly claimed all musician credits even when others played on his music, who went from romance to romance like a bee pollinating flowers, who found God and demanded everyone else should too, and who alienated his friends due to his insatiable demand for perfection, his habit of working twenty or more hours a day, his refusal to eat and his authoritarian exercise of control over every aspect of his music, including those who played it.

How you read the life of Prince is, I suppose, to some extent governed by how you feel about him. If you love his music, you’re probably likely to be a little more forgiving of his eccentric foibles, gloss over his idiosyncrasies and shrug at his personal behaviour on his meteoric rise to the top. If you don’t like him, you’ll focus on all the bad things he did, and ask was fame worth it, though you could probably say that about any star, for which of them has not stepped on hands on their way up the ladder? If you’re not particularly bothered about his music, you probaby don’t care too much about how he got to where he is, in which case, why are you reading this?

Where do I stand? I don’t know. I do like Prince’s music, but I’m not what you’d call a real fan. I’ve heard a few albums - the first two and then the obvious choices, all eighties material when he was at his height - but have only scratched the bare surface of what he recorded and released. It was while reading one of his biographies that the idea came to me to open this journal, so that I could basically chart the man’s life and explore his music. From what I read, it was a fascinating life, full of surprises, twists and turns, tragedies and triumphs, and like I said in the introductory sentence, I’ve never experienced anyone actually killing themselves off before, and coming back stronger than ever.

So I think this will be a good project. Whether you love him, hate him or have no interest in him at all, I think few people could deny that the world lost a true musical genius when Prince died on April 21, 2016, more than three years ago now, and I’d like the opportunity to trace the career path that led him from basic obscurity into the lives and homes of millions of fans around the planet.

From standing outside burger joints sniffing the smell of cheeseburgers as a kid, hoping someone would take pity on him and buy him one, to ordering a helicopter to hoist a piano up into his room in a posh hotel, Prince, though hardly an overnight sensation, was, by the time he was in only his mid-twenties, one of the most successful and famous musicians in the world. How did he get there, and what did he sacrifice to become a star? How did his music begin, and how did it morph and change over the decades, transforming the music of the time in the process, and leading to major changes in how people bought, sold and created their product? How did he deal with emerging black music such as rap and later hip-hop, and how did he, unlike so many of his contemporaries of the time, avoid accusations of selling out and playing for white audiences, forgetting his roots? How did he break into film-making, actually winning an Oscar, and become a role model for future giants in the music world?

I think you’d better come and let me guide you through the purple rain…

So what will I be trying to achieve in this journal? Well, most of it is going to be a biography of Prince, almost all of that taken from Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks by Ronin Ro, which I’ve just finished reading. But apart from that aspect of it, I’ll be trying to track down all the rare and early music from Prince that I can. With his passing, it seems his ban on posting his music on the internet has been rescinded, so you can find a lot more on it now, and I’ll be combing the web for anything I can find. I’ll also be reviewing every single album - even those I’ve already reviewed - going in-depth into every single track on each one, to get and give you the best feel for the man’s music that I can manage.

I’m not necessarily a fan, as I said: I do like his music, but in reading his biography I’ve learned that a lot of the time he wasn’t that nice a guy. He treated a lot of women poorly, was very offhand and dismissive of his band, stepped on toes old and new, and seems to have suffered from the kind of arrogance only true genius can, a feeling that nobody else “got it”, and that he was the only one who knew what he wanted, how it should sound, how it should look. For a young artist, Prince very quickly took total control of his output, not only music but marketing, packaging, and eventually distribution too. He became one of the first to offer his music for free, and to build a successful subscription model, eventually managing to cut out the major labels in a move that would be copied and reflected through the music industry as the twenty-first century unfolded.

So I won’t be glossing over the bad, but neither will I be focussing on it. Everyone has good and bad in them, and few if any people are spotless. When it comes to famous people, you can shrink that small number by several factors. You don’t get on in the world by being nice, and you don’t survive, thrive even without being a little cold-hearted, single-minded and having an unshakeable faith in your own abilities. In short, to make it you have to often be something of a bastard, and this is not something Prince shrunk from.

I’ll be posting any photos or pictures I can find to back up the text, and researching further the issues discussed in Ronin Ro’s book, to see if others agree or not. Never a good idea to take one author as your sole source of information. I’ll be talking about the effect Prince had on music, marketing, the charts, film, art and the world in general. And as usual, any comments are welcomed.

So come with me now, and let’s walk through that heavy purple curtain together, and see what’s on the other side.
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