It’s been 2 years, 7 hours and 24 days since Prince went away. To some degree, the shock of his sudden death has passed, but the grief remains. For me, the grim reality of his absence is all the more tragic thanks to the cheap handling of his legacy.
Prince’s musical genius was vast and unassailable. He was meticulous and exacting. Music was more than just a life’s work for the purple one. It was his baby. It was “him” in his rawest and most detailed form. In the weeks after his death, I was shocked to discover that he left behind no will. No set of instructions on who should serve as the protector of the life’s work that sat behind the sealed doors of the far-famed Paisley Park “Vault.” It was unthinkable to me. Surely, a person who spent years in litigation with Warner Bros. over the ownership and distribution of his music surely would’ve put some kind of plan in place for the ultimate destination of these undiscovered treasures. Once again, Prince had made a move that was as surprising as each new album had been during his life. He had done nothing. It was the ultimate use of space between the notes. Let nothing exist, but let the results lie wherever they may lie.
Like Prince, I am a huge fan of guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix. When the Seattle musician died in 1970, a vast catalog of unreleased work, some unfinished, was also left behind. Over the years, the vultures descended and these works were plundered and altered. I would eventually find them re-issued as cheap cassettes found in Truck Stop bins for $3.99. While some of these like The Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge were worthwhile, others such as Loose Ends and Midnight Lightening were nothing more than ham-fisted attempts to scrape the barrel of the Hendrix Legacy to make a buck. Many of the original recordings were augmented by session musicians and re-worked by producer Alan Douglas vision, to his not Jimi’s. Where Hendrix’s motivation was the art, Douglas’s was the commerce to be gained. It would be years before the Hendrix family was able to gain the wisdom, and ultimately the authority, over the work to give it the proper care that it deserved. Since the release of First Rays of the New Rising Sun in 1997, the Hendrix Family has done tremendous service to the late guitarist by returning the focus on the art and not the artifice of his work. Jimi Hendrix was 27 years old when he died. It took 27 years for his legacy to be returned to him.
Sadly, the lesson of Hendrix is going unheeded. For whatever reason he may have had, Prince failed to protect his legacy during his lifetime. In the two years since his death, we have seen his beloved workspace home turned into a tourist’s playground with the artist’s cremated remains now encased in a Paisley Park replica viewable by all at the tour’s conclusion. It is difficult to imagine that such a private person would have wanted this. Operated by the same organization that runs Elvis Presley’s Graceland, there is a crassness built into the proceedings. While a 70-minute General Admission Tour may only set you back $38.50 (plus a nice $7.50 service fee), you also have the options of either the VIP Tour (for $100 plus a $11.25 fee) or the Ultimate Experience ($160 plus $11.75). Each level offers just “a little bit more” access than the prior level. These last two levels give an opportunity for the more adventurous fan to lay down their own vocals over a short segment of one of Prince’s tracks as if it were nothing more substantial than a drunken karaoke session in a rundown bar. Of course, you have the opportunity to purchase a USB thumb drive of your performance at the front desk upon your exit. There is not too much else that would make me feel more hollow than to pass money over and then be handed a thumb drive containing 20-30 seconds of my voice desecrating an artist’s work while standing in front for their last physical remains. Would this be what Prince would really want? I don’t think so. If there was one thing that he always stood for, it was the importance of each person to seek out his or her own individual creative voice in this universe. Prince was PRINCE because he was simply incapable of being anyone other than himself. He would never have wanted me, or anyone else, to attempt to be Prince. He already was. He would have wanted me to be me, and you to be you. Just be the best at being the you that you can be. There is only one of each of us, and that makes the universe beautiful the way it is.
Since his death, the Prince Estate has now attempted two large public events to memorialize the Purple One. The first was held October 13th, 2016 at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. Originally advertised replete with top level artists like Christina Aguliara, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Anita Baker, among others, the roster of performers seemed to evaporate come showtime. Of the previously mentioned singers, only Wonder actually appeared. The tickets, originally priced at $125, could be found on the street before then show for as little as $5-$10. The most telling point of the night for me came early. The Time, a band Prince originally designed as an outlet for a different side of his personality, but quickly became the only act that could rival his performance, was among the first acts to perform. Their segment was far too short. Running barely 12 minutes, the Morris Day-led septet ripped though “The Bird” and “Jungle Love” before quickly disappearing from the arena. By all accounts, they headed across the river to First Avenue in Minneapolis where they gave a Red Hot late-night show that was equal parts joyous rave and powerful wake for their former architect. I think Prince would’ve dug that.
The Prince Tribute show wasn’t a total bust. Tori Kelly gave passable versions of “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Diamonds & Pearls” even if her connection to the late artist was unclear. Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan crushed a version of “I Feel For You” segueing into a fierce “1999” that brought the house down. Former Prince-associated artists like Liv Warfield, Marva King and Luke James seemed outmatched for the size of the venue in a five-hour show that inexplicably included an over-long sword-carrying, belly dancing routine by Prince’s first wife Mayte Garcia. One of the few standouts was Judith Hill’s emotional rendering of “The Cross” from Sign ‘O’ The Times. Overall, the tribute seemed to be largely off-the-cuff with more of a “what are we gonna do next?” vibe than the crisp professionalism that Prince was known for.
The second attempt was far more grotesque. For the second anniversary of his death, an event called “Prince on the Big Screen” was assembled at Target Center. Previously unscreened Prince concert footage was augmented by live musicians who had worked with the master in an attempt to create a “live Prince concert.” When Justin Timberlake attempted to utilize a Prince hologram for his recent Superbowl LII performance, there was a quick shutdown thanks to an old interview the artist had given for Guitar World magazine in 1998. Prince was asked “With digital editing, it is now possible to create a situation where you could jam with any artist from the past. Would you ever consider doing something like that?” Prince tellingly answered, “Certainly not. That is the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and it should be. If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing… It really is demonic, and I am not a demon. Also, what they did with that Beatles song (“Free As A Bird”), manipulating John Lennon’s voice to have him singing from across the grave, that’ll never happen to me. To prevent that kind of thing from happening is another reason why I want artistic control.” I don’t see how he could have been any clearer, or more explicit on the subject.
As a Prince fan, I truly do hope that I get to hear some of the treasures from the vault, but I hope that they are done with Prince’s vision in mind. During his lifetime, he would endlessly tinker with, and re-assess his music into different compilations based on his mood at the time. It is my hope that the Prince Estate is able to somehow uncover the path to what he intended for this music. These are compositions that deserve respect and protection. Sure, we are going to eventually see their release, but let it be slow. The first should be to re-release now out-of-print albums like “Planet Earth,” “N.E.W.S.,” and “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic.” These were released with Prince’s vision at the time and their re-release would be a welcomed gift to fans unfamiliar with the work. The single release of his version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” was a hopeful sign that maybe those in charge of the estate are beginning to get it.
In the week following the second anniversary of Prince’s death, Janelle Monáe released her incredible Dirty Computer album. Easily the best record of 2018 so far, this release was unusual, varied and deeply melodic. It clearly has Prince’s influence all over it. Unlike the various attempts by the Prince Estate to establish his legacy, Monáe lives it. She has taken inspiration from him and used it to develop her own statement and progress forward as a creative force.
Artists are disciples of art, but rarely bothered with the aspects of the commercial capitalism that fuels their distribution and mass consumption. For Prince and Hendrix, the purity of the art is the goal, everything else is secondary. The sad part of all this is that the world refuses to share this same artistic value. As long as Monáe and other artists like her take the examples shown by Prince and incorporate it into their own personal statements, his legacy will always remain pure, despite how his unreleased past works are handled. The Art is the only thing that will last and what I find of value. I hope you do, too.
Grabbing My Ears:
Shortly after the death of Prince two years ago, I was challenged by a friend to make them a compilation of his music but with some pretty simple, yet specific, rules. They were:
- It must fit on a single CD. In other words, no more than 80 minutes.
- None of the music contained could be on any previously released compilation album. This eliminated pretty much ALL his Top 40 hits and the major B-Sides since they were part of his Hits/B-Sides release in the early 90’s. I was forced to shy away from some of my favourites like “She’s Always In My Hair” and “Another Lonely Christmas.” Ouch.
Under these guidelines, I took advantage of some of the great segues built into the The Gold Experience album to craft a compilation that begins with an Operator’s welcome and ends with Prince hanging up on Vanessa Bartholomew (played by Kirstie Alley). This became a pretty good soundtrack for the second anniversary of his passing. Hope you enjoy.
Prince-Not The Hits
“NPG Operator II” (The Gold Experience 1995)
“Rock ‘N’ Roll Is Alive! (And It Lives In Minneapolis)” (B-Side to “Gold” Single 1995)
“Jack U Off” (Controversy 1981)
“Computer Blue” (Purple Rain 1984)
“All The Critics Love U In New York” (1999 1982)
“Do U Lie?” (Parade 1986)
“Dead On It” (The Black Album 1988)
“Anotherloverholenyohead” (Parade 1986)
“Love 2 The 9’s” (0(+> 1992)
“In A Large Room With No Light” (Unreleased Unknown)
“White Mansion” (Emancipation 1996)
“Anna Stesia” (Lovesexy 1988)
“Days Of Wild” (Now Bootleg 1994)
“The Beautiful Ones” (Purple Rain 1984)
“Bob George” (The Black Album 1988)
“Dig U Better Dead” (Chaos And Disorder 1996)
“My Computer” (Emancipation 1996)
“Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” (1999 1982)
“Segue” (The Gold Experience 1995)
Janelle Monáe–Dirty Computer
Released shortly after the second anniversary of the Purple One’s death, Janelle Monáe picks up his adventurous legacy on her third album release. Written with the forward science fiction point of view, Monáe remains firmly grounded in the realities of today. Oppression of race, of sexual orientation and gender remain front and center throughout the album’s 14 tracks. The rare album where every song is absolutely indispensible, Dirty Computer now sets the mark by which all other albums released this year are to be judged by. My current pick for album of the year. I simply cannot recommend this album higher.
That’s The Ticket:
Ninja Sex Party-Myth, October 19th, 2018
This will not be a show for everyone. The Internet, and YouTube in particular, have given rise to a new type of celebrity. Chief among them is this comedic musical duo from New York. Assuming the roles of Jewish Superhero Danny Sexbang and his best friend, Ninja Brian, NSP blend the outrageous with the sincere on their delightfully “homemade-sounding” releases.
While based in comedy, these guys are also really accomplished musicians. Prior to assuming the role of the silent, homicidal masked ninja, the 43-year old Brian Wecht worked as a theoretical physicist specializing in particle physics, holding research positions at Harvard and M.I.T. After struggling in a series of bands, singer/songwriter Dan Avidan developed his new stage character, and along with Wecht, formed the band in 2009. Among the five albums released under the Ninja Sex Party moniker are two cover albums that that span material from Boston (“More Than A Feeling”), Phil Collins (“Don’t Lose My Number”), Rush (both “Subdivisions” and “Limelight”) to America (“The Last Unicorn”). On a surface level, their original material is both humorous and offensive, but it is Avidan’s stellar voice and musical sensibility that makes this act something really quite special. Not for everyone, but their lack of pretense or attempt to restrict their vision on material like “Eating Food In The Shower” or “Cool Patrol” should make this local show something fun to see in the Twin Cities. Their song “Road Trip” from 2015’s Attitude City will alone be worth the price of admission.
One Last Thing…
Ever wonder how many things that you touch during an average day? I hadn’t until recently. I was working on a household project recently and used some Gorilla Glue to finish it up. If there is one thing that I will admit to it is this, I am just flat out not that handy with tools or general fix-it jobs. I wound up with this mixture of putty and epoxy on my fingers upon the project’s completion. Try as I might, there was no way that I was going to get this stuff off my fingers anytime soon. If anything, the water and soap just made the concoction that much worse. As a result, everything and I do mean EVERYTHING I touched that day reminded me of my inept ability to properly handle Gorilla Glue. Now, this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with music or life in general, but when handling substances like this, you want a professional, or at least someone who knows what they are doing. It may have taken me all weekend to finally get the bits of toilet paper off my fingers, but I will say this-That towel bar I put up is going NOWHERE.
Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician, and baseball enthusiast. Mostly, though, he is among the most passionate music fans and aficionados of our times. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.
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