Prince Rogers Nelson, known to most as simply Prince, was a one-of-a-kind artist. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, he released a series of massively successful and influential albums that blended funk, new wave, blues and dance — ones that continue to shape modern pop music to this day. With his high-pitched squeals and astonishing, psychedelic guitar solos, Prince was one of the most eccentric and charismatic performers of the last several decades. And as a songwriter, bandleader, businessman and musician, he was a source of inspiration to musicians of every genre. Here, Talkhouse contributors offer up their thoughts on Prince and how he has affected their lives and art.
More tributes will be added to this post as they come in. Feel free to leave your own remembrances in the comments section below. — Dave Lucas (Twiga), Talkhouse Marketing Manager
I saw Prince live once, pretty unexpectedly in the spring of 2013 at a small venue in Denver called the Ogden Theater. It was the eve of our then latest record release, and we had a show in Boulder the next night. Promoter friends in the area had helped us get tickets to the sold-out Prince show as a gift of sorts; I appreciate it more today than I did then. Backed by the all female 3RDEYEGIRL band, he opened with bluesy versions of familiar songs, seguing into some deeper cuts, a few new songs as well as some other hits he apparently wrote but were made famous by other stars. In the middle of his already impressive set they launched into a rapid-fire montage of his bigger hits (he saving the biggest for last). After about ten minutes of this, with the room at peak intensity levels, he snarks, “I wrote a lot of hits, I could do this all night” — and it was true. Never has the phrase “It’s not bragging if you can back it up” been more appropriate. You don’t get to be the Prince by birthright, that dude worked for all of it…
I got taken to church that night, and was saved by his sermon: his music, his moves, his playing, his voice — he was the complete peer-extinguishing package, with a twist.
— Liam Wilson (the Dillinger Escape Plan)
One of my finest moments ever was getting to dance with Prince at a rooftop party in Kensington. It was a party for Warner Brothers Records, which I was then signed to. I was on the stairs near the ladies room, and out of nowhere I see Prince standing around, and shy as can be. All of a sudden “Sex Machine” by James Brown comes on and I look over at him and he looks at me and says, “You know this?” I say, “Of course I know this, I wasn’t born yesterday!” And he looks up devilishly and says… “Wanna dance?” and reaches out to grab my hand. I’m losing my mind, not believing what’s happening and he leads me down the stairs to the dance floor (disco lights, the whole bit), and we’re bumping into people who at first act annoyed and then turn around and see it’s him. I’m hearing some people I know say, “Look it’s Prince!” and then a second later, saying, “Oh my God, it’s Louise!” It’s the truth. I danced with Prince to James Brown’s “Sex Machine.” The world doesn’t feel the same without Prince in it.
It’s impossible to be too over the top in describing Prince’s contribution to pop music. It can’t be overstated. I wore out my copies of Parade and Sign O’ the Times. I never got sick of the flavor of “Girls and Boys,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” “1999,” “Cream,” “Alphabet Street,” “Pop Life,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Starfish and Coffee,” “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker,” “Sign O’ the Times,” “Little Red Corvette,” even the dark, slow Joni Mitchell-esque poetry of “Sometimes it Snows in April.” He was light-years ahead of everybody, and drew from the best of everything that preceded him. To be an explosive, talented genius in the studio is cause for awe in itself, but then he’d hit the stage, a stadium or an intimate rock club, and you knew you were going to have the best show of your life. I remember he used to play a long set at Wembley Stadium, and then show up for a last-minute secret show in a London club and play his ass off for another four hours.
He could keep his audience riveted with his pinky finger. Prince spanned styles and gender, broke old rules and made new ones. There was never anybody like him before. There will never be anyone like him again. I was lucky to come up in a world where a guy like Prince could be the soundtrack of my life. Rest in peace.
— Louise Goffin
There are only a few phenomena that we will witness in this lifetime — only a few freaks of nature that we have the pleasure to be able to watch, to listen to, to hear. One of these phenomena, and one of my biggest musical influences, is and was Prince Rogers Nelson. He was androgynous in every way. You could never quite figure him out. He could do anything. I loved watching him and listening to him play. I remember when I first saw him on American Bandstand. I was a toddler. I was like “WTF.” Yes, as a toddler I said, “WTF.” I had the same “WTF” moment when I saw him performing live twenty years later in my hometown of Kansas City. I was watching everybody around me cry as he performed only to cry uncontrollably myself seconds later while he played the song “Purple Rain.” I had never seen or heard anything like it. And unfortunately I never will again. Love you, Prince.
— Krizz Kaliko
The sheer amount of levels on which Prince operated beggars comprehension. He represented so many superlative things that it’s very difficult to know where to begin eulogizing him.
Many will rightly speak to his dazzling abilities as a multi-instrumentalist, or for his sheer range and power as a singer, or for the eternal pop culture monolith that is Purple Rain, or for taking the gender lines blurred by Bowie (how it hurts too much still) and smashing right through them, or for being a perennial fly in the ointment at awards ceremonies where one couldn’t help watching his every move, just knowing he’d go off script in some impish, fascinating way, or that just days ago he performed what was by all accounts a tour-de-force of a solo piano show in Atlanta, or that even more recently than that he held a giant party at Paisley Park just to let people know he was feeling OK.
But I will say this:
Loving Prince meant holding an electric, purple ticket to a beautifully detailed, self-contained, and self-powered alternate reality. An ecosystem, really. It’s a place where boys looked like girls, where girls looked like aliens, where Minneapolis (Minneapolis!) was the baddest, most happening city in the world, with Uptown its electric, pulsating center. A world where it was Halloween every day, where God and sex were somehow inextricably intertwined and you could feel OK about having the taste fucked out of your mouth as soon as you came home from church. Where the guitars were dry and funky, the synthesizers thin and nervous, the beat kept by a ubiquitous LinnDrum.
This world came precisely described, down to the smallest details, where things happened at 7:45 a.m., or seven hours and fifteen days ago. Where gangs of street kids had names like the Disciples, where classmates casually brought starfish and coffee to eat for lunch, and where seductresses literally lived in castles. Where even language was different, full of “2”s and “U”s, effectively inventing text messaging, oh, two decades before it even existed.
I have so much more to say about Prince, about how the 1992 “symbol” album was the one and only record taken away from me by my parents for reasons of content, how on every van tour I’ve been on I’ve blasted “Erotic City” as we pulled into Minneapolis, making even the grumpiest passenger smile, how I somehow saw him in concert exactly three years ago tonight, to the day, how 3121 is my phone’s passcode. But I want to read what other people have to say about this magical, improbable person just as much as you do, so, I’ll just say:
Thanks Prince. Welcome 2 the dawn.
— Dave Depper (Death Cab for Cutie)
When I was growing up and into my body, there were few people in the public eye that taught me it was OK to be a gender warrior. To be someone who broke the boundaries of male and female with both confidence and elegance. Prince was one of those bodies, and one of those souls. With such ease and simplicity, he also gave us Wendy & Lisa, making lesbian identity visible as well as creating a space for women artists. Prince was a true artist in everything he did, and has always been and will always be someone I look to when I wonder where to go next.
— JD Samson (Le Tigre, MEN)
My mom and Prince were both born in 1958. There were a few times when we would go to this video and music store called The Warehouse, in San Jose, California. I wouldn’t be able to choose a video to rent, so my mom would say, “Time’s up, I choose.” She always chose Purple Rain. My mom had a little red Pontiac Firebird. She always said she loved Prince and looked up to him because they were the same age. Clearly, I knew I needed to look up to him. Little did I know I was learning about freedom by doing so.
He got a flu last week, but told people to save their prayers. He was at a dance party last weekend, and this weekend he will be at a different dance party and will hopefully let us know what the other side is like soon enough. Because Prince is in all of us and he will make sure he stays in all of us.
He said that thing that I will never shake: “Instead of asking him how much of your time is left/ask him how much of your mind, baby.” It’s true; time isn’t the issue.
My mom, who has her finger on the pulse of what is going on in the news, didn’t find out about Prince’s transfer of energy today from a website; she surprisingly found out from me. I think her response is the most crucial, “Nooooooooo! I did not/ have not heard anything about Prince. I’m deeply saddened by what you are alluding to. He was just here in the yay (bay) area selling out shows as soon as tickets were released. Just a couple weeks ago I was so happy to have found a very grainy poor quality RARE video of his little red corvette music video that I watched 10 times in a row. I think I need a moment to myself.”
— Victoria Ruiz (Downtown Boys)
In 1997, my band Verbow played at First Avenue in Minneapolis where Purple Rain was filmed. Actually, we played 7th St Entry (the smaller room attached to First Avenue) because Tower Of Power was playing First Avenue that night and they had (have) an audience and were (are) good. We were still working on those two things.
Grant Hart brought some friends to our dressing room and proceeded to drink heavily with them. He did not talk to us or even look at us. It was odd.
A friend of mine from childhood was living in Minneapolis and came to the show. We wanted to catch up so we sat in the front two seats of the band van outside the venue. We didn’t want to interrupt Grant’s party.
My friend envied my work as a musician: traveling, performing and creating. I envied his steady paycheck as a consultant. We laughed about high school hijinks and other memories we shared.
And then something happened in front of the van in plain sight. We sat silent and stared forward.
A large man in a black suit wearing an earpiece walked out of First Ave and stood at the curb. Seemingly out of nowhere, he produced a small carpet that he set down on edge of the sidewalk. A limo slowly pulled up to the curb and parked.
As if he was a cartoon or a ghost, a little man walked out of First Ave with two more large men in black suits. No, I don’t remember if they also had earpieces. Does that really matter? It was fucking Prince and he was right in front of my fucking van. One small purple step on the carpet and then he was gone.
— Jason Narducy (Split Single, Superchunk, Bob Mould Band)
It’s been a rough year for music. A few months ago, the death of David Bowie came as a shock to the world. And it still mourns the loss of one of the best ever. Today we took another blow. We heard about the death of another musician who, like Bowie, redefined all the conventions of pop music. Prince has died.
Prince and Bowie were kindred spirits. They both wore makeup, indulging in outrageous fashions and smashing up any gender, racial or normative roles that got in the way. They both exuded a sexuality — and sometimes an asexuality — that intrigued us and further enticed us like magnets. They both wrote amazing pop songs and could shred effortlessly: Bowie on sax and Prince on his one-of-a-kind guitar. It was already known, before today, that Prince would go down as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
But what really hurts me today is that like David Bowie, Prince had an air about him that led us to believe that he was immortal. We believed we would never see the initials R.I.P. next to his name. This year that perception has been erased and I am not sure there are any more artists who so valiantly defied the rules of life on earth. These icons have died and we are back living in a world of mere mortals.
Rest in peace to the artist forever known as Prince.
— Zach Staggers (So So Glos)
From a young age, I felt as though Prince Rogers Nelson was an ethereal connection from nowhere to the wider world. I was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in a small town, and the fact that Prince had not only been a practicing member of the religion since 2001 but had a personal spin on the JW doctrine that fed his wild artistic muse was very comforting to me as I began to explore my creative side.
While I never got quite to the bottom of Prince’s prodigious output, he was always around in small ways. I know the cover of his 2007 album Planet Earth partly inspired that of my record Bad Reputation — when I was in my early teens, many JW families had at least one copy — with the Artist himself looming over a literal Earth like a diviner with a crystal ball, all in this glowing, CGI realm. It looked like an illustration in a JW magazine or book. I have no clue if this was intentional, but the beautiful pomposity of the image left an impact on me.
Just this week, my close friend Randall showed me Prince’s 1996 track “My Computer,” with Kate Bush. I’d never heard the tune, which seemed to strangely predict our current world almost two decades ago as the mid ‘90s technological boom began. In the lyrics, the narrator bemoans the idea of watching TV or sending snail mail, opting to shuck his plans in favor of greener pastures on the Internet. Can anyone relate to this in 2016? The man wasn’t only this brilliant triple-threat guitarist, singer and songwriter that meant so much to so many — he was a soothsayer.
— Morgan Enos (Hollow Sunshine, Other Houses)
I don’t especially enjoy arguing over the legitimacy of pop music. It’s more of a compulsion than anything, but those who have found themselves embroiled in a debate with me about Kanye West, Kesha or any other recent pop star should know that it started for me with “pop” long before either of those artists had laid down a beat or a note. As a teenage metalhead who followed the path from heavy guitars to the heavy electronics of industrial, “pop music” was what you defined yourself against. Bands like Depeche Mode and New Order cracked the wall between underground and pop music for me. Songs like Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” and New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” flipped a switch in my ears that made them eternally hungry for that moment when one perfect melody intertwined with another and another and another. No matter how sunny or upbeat the mood, no matter which instruments were used, it became — forgive the cliché — an addiction. I became so fascinated by those songs that could light up those pleasure centers in my musical brain that chasing them down became as satisfying as chasing down music that expressed new iterations of darkness and aggression. Once the wall had a crack in it, Prince broke it down completely.
I had probably heard “When Doves Cry” hundreds of times in the course of childhood. It’s funny how many times you can hear a pop song without listening to it. But something happened one day, I can’t remember the circumstance, and it was like hearing it for the first time. I listened, and it was like I was hearing one of the greatest songs ever written for the first time. The thing doesn’t hit your intellect first. It’s fantastic if afterwards you can discover that the song has clever or subversive lyrics, but the real deep thing hits you before all that. Prince certainly had his fair share of incredible lyrics, but it’s a thing that washes over you the moment you hear “I Would Die For U” or “Little Red Corvette.” Still, I can’t forget the first time I heard “Sister” off of Dirty Mind. It was the moment I realized that giving rich, famous, top 40 artists the benefit of the doubt could be rewarding to me as a listener. There’s something about dealing with transgressive or profound subject matter on the scale of mass communication that I can’t help but have an immense amount of respect for.
It can appear to some as if the defense of pop music is a contrarian performance. For me it is a defense of an experience with music that is deep, personal and important. Prince helped teach me to let go and have that connection with the music. He’s been compared to Jimi Hendrix plenty, but when it comes to the consciousness broadening freight of that word, Prince was one of the great kings of Experience for me. — Josh Strawn (Azar Swan, Vaura)