By Chaz Lipp
The passing of Prince Rogers Nelson on April 21, 2016 has left millions of music fans grief-stricken, myself being one of them. Prince’s sudden, unexpected death at age 57 leaves a crater at the center of popular music that will remain forever unfilled. The man was a giant. Truly one of a kind. The best way to remember him, of course, is to explore his rich, varied catalog of music. And for fans lucky enough to have witnessed him perform live in concert, hold onto those memories very tightly. I will always cherish the weekend in late-September 1997 that my wife (Cinema Lowdown writer Sherry) and I spent attending Prince’s Jam of the Year tour: Vancouver B.C. on Friday, The Gorge at George (Central Washington) on Saturday, and Portland on Sunday.
That was the kind of loyalty Prince inspired among those who loved his music. Like millions, I am having difficulty grappling with the fact that these memories can no longer be built upon. I’ll never forget the look the man’s face when I saw him at Seattle’s Key Arena, four rows from the stage, as he concluded a solo acoustic guitar rendition of “Little Red Covette” during the 2004 Musicology tour. He appeared humbled by the outpouring of appreciation. A great performer knows how to give the “illusion of the first time.” Maybe he gave that same look at that precise moment at every stop on the tour. If so, I believe he meant it every time, too.
As I watch the wall-to-wall news coverage, with everyone from Stevie Wonder (too emotional to even contemplate singing a few bars of a Prince tune when gently prodded by Anderson Cooper) to music critics and pop culture commentators of every stripe, I don’t know how soon I will be able to put on a Prince album. I went to work this morning, hours before the world-shaking news of his passing broke, rocking out to his underrated Batman soundtrack. I couldn’t bear to listen to anything on the way home. But I will. And I hope everyone does.
A little advice for anyone Prince novice or casual fan who’s looking to delve deeper, beyond the big, athemic hits… You can’t wrong with anything he released in the ’80s, during which he issued a string of genius albums utterly untarnished by a misstep. But even after the big radio hits and widespread critical acclaim thinned out, he always managed to include essential cuts on every release. A few suggestions for anyone seeking highlights of his later period: try Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999) for achingly personal songs like “Man o’ War” and “Eye Love U But Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore.” Seek out Planet Earth (2007) for the beautifully delicate “All the Midnights In the World.” If you love Prince’s Hendrix- and Santana-influenced guitar wizardry, LOtUSFLOW3R (2009) is loaded with it (“Boom” and “Dreamer” are good go-to tracks). And don’t miss his most recent album, the funky horn-laden HitnRun Phase Two, released late-2015 to the Tidal streaming service (and iTunes) but receiving a wide release (including physical CD) on April 29.
In other words, if all you know of Prince are the chart-toppers, spend some time remembering him by exploring the lesser-known works. Keep Prince Rogers Nelson alive through his music.