Tuesday 5 March 2013

The Greatest (Music) Ever Sold

I used to drive a red 1992 Nissan Micra called Jemima.  I’ve had two cars since then but this one was by far the most reliable car I’ve ever owned.  Jemima’s problem though was she couldn’t help but attract interest from other fellas, so imagine how I felt coming home one day to see that someone had bent the top of the passenger door open with a crowbar just enough for them to slip their hand in and simply unlock it.  I wasn’t overly worried about it in as much as there was nothing in the car for anyone to take.  It literally consisted of an A to Z and three cassette tapes for the car stereo.  There was a Sade album (the name of the album escapes me, but I think it was ‘Love Deluxe’), there was a modern jazz compilation tape, and Prince’s (although, officially, New Power Generation’s) ‘New Power Soul’ album.  Thankfully, none of the tapes were taken in this instance.  However, when I walked past Jemima around three weeks later, and saw the door bent in exactly the same way… I feared the worst.

That’s right.  The swine came back.

And took the tapes.

There’s something about being a Prince fan that can drive you to the point of obsession.  I like to think that that young hoodlum, who broke into Jemima, soon afterwards met a young female hoodlum who he found was a huge Prince fan.  In a bid to impress her, he did the only thing he could, and that was to go back and take my Prince tape.  In a strange way, I like to think ‘New Power Soul’ brought those two lovebirds together and I’m glad to have had a hand in that.  It’s hard to specifically be able to put your finger on it – but I’m sure we all know someone in our lives who pledges allegiance to the Purple Majesty.  And for everyone that knows me, I’m that person.  Through all the music I’ve purchased (hunted and tracked down), through the books I’ve read, through the arguments I’ve had with people about the greatness that they’re completely blind to – if there’s one thing my obsession has taught me, is that I don’t think Prince likes me very much.

Before I expand on that, I should just say that I’ve recently finished reading ‘Chaos, Disorder and Revolution’, an unauthorised biography of Prince.  It’s a good read, and it’s funny that I talk about obsession from the fan’s perspective to Prince’s music, because bizarrely he seems to be as obsessed by it as the most die-hard fan is.  I can’t think of a more single-minded artist that I’ve read about who went to war with his label because he wanted to make more music than they wanted to release.  It’s usually the other way round – artists holding their product for ransom, but certainly not in this case (although it actually was with his album, ‘The Gold Experience’).  It’s a very simplified way of assessing his ‘discontent’ with Warner Brothers, but at the crux, I’d say it’s still an accurate assessment.  Normally a label can look at an album of having a near 18-month shelf life, when you factor in the album promotion, releasing the three/four singles, touring, etc.  But for Prince, the album that would have kicked off our 18 month cycle, would now be old news and he would have created another two albums in that time he’d want released, before Warner Brothers had recouped everything from album number one.  It’s a fascinating perspective for someone whose prolificacy knew absolutely no boundaries.

That ‘obsession’ for ‘more, more, more’ could only affect his fans in the same way.

I remember having a chat with someone once who asked the excellent question of ‘What are your concert fails?’ (i.e. what did you miss that you would have liked to see, what was particularly bad, etc.).  For me, my top three concert fails are Prince gigs…

There’s the time I flew out of the country for a three week extended honeymoon with my wife, which is the same day tickets for Prince’s 21 night residency at the O2 was announced (me subsequently returning having missed out on all the tickets); there was the time that I secured tickets to a Prince aftershow performance, that he decided not to show up to (as I suspect he was actually hanging out with Alicia Keys instead, truly); and, the time we bought tickets for Prince’s Croke Park performance in Dublin (which had involved booking flight and accommodation), that he decided to cancel with less than a week to go before the gig.  Yes, friends, I’ve suffered my fair share of Prince let downs, so how could I not take it personally :)

But it’s not all bad – I have had the fortune of seeing Prince perform twice and there’s something fulfilling about actually seeing Prince perform ‘Purple Rain’ bathed in purple stage lighting, singing to thousands of people waving lighters and mobile phones illuminating the darkness.

I referred to ‘Chaos, Disorder and Revolution’ as a good read, and it is, but, thinking about it, there’s little that would be new to the die-hard fan.  Stories surrounding his numerous side projects, including The Time, Madhouse, Vanity 6, etc are fascinating, and the background stories behind certain albums being put together, are equally enthralling, but I really got the impression that the author’s feelings echoed those of millions of others who relegate Prince’s best material to the 80s and subsequent releases have involved him attempting to recapture that glory through albums that will never live up to darling releases like ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘1999’.  I don’t think I’d particularly agree with that but the one thing the author does give credit for is his innovation when it comes to realising the potential power of the internet (before he would later go on to completely turn on it), and the ground-breaking ways he would go on to release albums.  His last four album releases have been released via newspapers (‘20ten’), released through a singular music store (‘Lotus Flower’), accompanied in books (‘Indigo Nights’) and given away with concert tickets (‘Planet Earth’), and to now where the concept of the 'album' seems to be pushed aside for songs being directly released to the internet (

In fact, the genius of Prince can best be summed up by the following extract from the aforementioned book…
Prince might just be the most successful artist ever to walk the planet.  He hasn’t self-destructed or died, and he hasn’t allowed himself to age disgracefully or descend into self-parody.  Despite not having a genuine hit record in years, Prince can always claim he’s Number One at the bank.  He shows no signs of stopping.  Having changed the way music sounds and industry operates, he can rightly claim to be the most prolific and inventive artist of modern times, without having lost sight of his first passion.  After more then 30 years in the business he still maintains that “music to me is a life force.  It’s not what I do.  It’s what I am.”
‘Chaos, Disorder and Revolution’ by Jason Draper. Published by Backbeat Books, 2011

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