The purple Yoda died today.
I felt like collecting my thoughts about him, since my opinion of him changed a lot over the years.
I remember when I first heard about him that I thought he was weird. He was far from normal, both in looks and the sound of his music. This was roughly six-year-old Karl reacting this way to his songs or music videos back in 1989 or 1990, and even though I know I liked weird when it came to Gonzo of the Muppet Babies, I hadn’t cultured much appreciation for Prince yet.
But I knew his music. Not just that his songs were catchy, but they had a distinctive sound. They were unlike everything else on the radio. His voice was very recognizable, but also the sound itself was different; I wasn’t savvy enough to pick up on what was different, but just think about his huge hit Purple Rain.
Purple Rain has no bass line.
What kind of pop song has no bass line? A Prince pop song, that’s what. And it’s amazing and unique.
I kept listening throughout my childhood whenever he would come on VH1. We rarely had MTV, and when we did, Mom didn’t really want me watching since that had more risqué content. Funny that VH1 showed Prince, though, with such, um, entendre-titled songs as Cream, Get Off, and even Little Red Corvette… not exactly family-friendly material on VH1, either!
I definitely remember the video for Kiss, complete with Prince’s amazing disgust face (which he brought back years later for his Black Sweat video). I remember thinking this was a scandalous song simply because it was talking about how he really wanted to kiss this girl… and that was it. Whoa!
Prince was scandalous to my grade-school ears and sensibilities. That makes me wonder; aren’t we all extremely intrigued at stuff we are told is controversial?
And don’t we eventually calm down about controversial stuff as we get older, thinking we’re either too old for it, or that there’s something inherently bad or negative – either for us or younger people – about controversial stuff?
Whether it’s Elvis, Prince, Madonna, Eminem, or Miley Cyrus, older people turn up their noses at it, and younger people embrace it precisely because of the direction of all those old people’s noses.
Then I got a little older
When I was roughly 13 years old, after playing a piano recital I had been working on memorizing and playing well for months, I came home after it in the night and saw a special on Prince. It was while he was “the artist formerly known as,” but it was talking about his prolific and talent-filled accomplishments. Watching that quick hour or two of television – probably in the lead-up to a new album release of his – I realized he was an incredible talent. The sheer number of instruments he could play well, and that he not only composed but likely performed all of the music on all of his early albums, was mind-boggling to me.
I instantly respected the hell out of the guy with the symbol for a name.
Prince struggled while we watched
Over the years, I saw his struggles with ownership of what he makes, dealing with bosses (his music labels), his love life, his sensitivity about his appearance (try to find videos or photos of him where the tall women he had onstage tower over his short frame… they’re hard to find), his transformation from someone best known for his dirty mind to someone who openly celebrated a fairly conservative religion as a Jehovah’s Witness (he even went knocking door-to-door!), and eventually pretty much having all things forgiven as went on to some pretty major mainstream success, playing at the Super Bowl in the rain.
Most of us don’t get to play the Super Bowl, but hopefully many of us get to work up to big events in our life that we’re very proud of at all ages of our life. Perhaps the Super Bowl was almost like Prince’s retirement, or at least a way of the world saying, “Hey, you’re all right, and you’ve earned the country’s respect.” The same idea that comes at anyone’s retirement party… even if the retiree was a little weird to work with at times.
I guess I see in Prince a character that transformed before my very eyes as I got older. Kind of like how many people listen to Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone over the years and realize new things about it as they age, I kept listening to Prince’s music and learned new things about him and his music. Not only did I pick up on all the saucy bits, but I realized how many human faults this extraordinary musician had.
If you ever think you can’t be special because you have faults, just remember all the faults and challenges even a world-renowned musician like Prince had. And like another great musician we lost this year, we have it a little easier than Prince, because we get to listen to Prince’s music for inspiration.