It’s one thing to like “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” or to sing along to “Let’s Go Crazy” or to cherish the “Black Album.”
It’s cool to declare super-fam “Purple-Army” status, host a tribute page, and to own his entire catalog.
Thousands of loyalists have done that and more while making pilgrimages to Paisley Park. But let me tell you why I really respect and see him as an inspiration, a genius, and the greatest artist of our time.
Prince says learning to play the guitar was not easy for him and yet he became an undeniable force known worldwide and made playing music look effortless.
Prince was the son of a jazz singer and a jazz musician. He was always around music. But Prince’s stern father told him not to touch the piano while he was in the house because he wasn’t as good as him. Of course that only sparked Prince’s interest even more.
During a 1985 interview, Prince told Rolling Stone:
“My father left his piano at the house when he left, and I wasn’t allowed to play it when he was there because I wasn’t as good as him. So when he left, I was determined to get as good as him, and I taught myself how to play music, and I just stuck with it, and I did it all the time.”
Prince was only seven-years-old when he wrote his first song. “Funk Machine” was written on the very piano he was determined to play better than his father.
Not only did Prince learn the piano, he learned several different instruments alone in the music room after school and he practiced for hours. He mastered those instruments and played 27 of them on his debut album “For You” in 1979.
Prince was bullied in school but he was a fighter. He was thin and shy as a child and had suffered with epilepsy from birth.
“I used to have seizures when I was young,” he said. “From that point, I’ve been having to deal with a lot of things, getting teased in school. And early in my career I tried to compensate by being as flashy and as noisy as I could.”
Nothing was handed to him. One of his classmates: Elizabeth Fuller says “he spent most of his time in the music room, playing guitar to himself”. At age 13 he met a musician who was dating his cousin and grilled him on music publishing, copyright, performing rights, and other real life lessons he couldn’t find in any book.
A local Minneapolis producer also noticed him when he was hanging out in a recording studio after the regular band took a break to get ice cream.
He watched in awe as the teenage Prince picked up
the bass guitar, piano, and drums and expertlt played one after the other.
He was self-taught and no one had given him a break or even encouraged him. The Nelson family didn’t have much money when Prince was growing up and sometimes he didn’t eat. In fact, in an interview with Rolling Stone Prince says;
“We used to go to that McDonald’s there…I didn’t have any money, so I’d just stand outside there and smell stuff.
Poverty makes people angry, brings out their worst side. I was very bitter when I was young. I was insecure and I’d attack anybody. I couldn’t keep a girlfriend for two weeks. We’d argue about anything.”
Prince once danced with James Brown after his family lifted him onto the stage at a concert. Prince’s parents divorced when Prince was 8.
His mother’s new husband took him to several James Brown shows and Prince saw how things worked back-stage.
But Prince didn’t have a great relationship with his step-father. In fact, his mother ended up giving him a stack of Playboy magazines to teach him about sex.
Shortly after that a 12-year old Prince was sent to his biological father’s house to live and was kicked out months later after being caught with a girl in his room.
Prince told Rolling Stone he sat in a phone booth for hours following a fight with his ‘strict and unforgiving father’ over the incident.
“I called my dad and begged him to take me back after he kicked me out,” Prince said. “He said no, so I called my sister and asked her to ask him. So she did, and afterward told me that all I had to do was call him back, tell him I was sorry, and he’d take me back. So I did, and he still said no. I sat crying at that phone booth for two hours. That’s the last time I cried.”
At 19 he became the youngest artist signed to Warner Brothers. They allowed him to sign a contract giving him almost complete artistic control which was unheard of.
Prince was a workaholic and could go without sleep for days while he was working on new music because he was doing something he loved.
From the start, his dedication was unquestionable. He once sacked a keyboard player for looking at his watch during a rehearsal.
He was a musical genius and taught himself to play a wide array of instruments in several genres. He has written hits in country, pop, r&b and rock. Also Prince could write in a woman’s voice or a man’s voice. His engineer Susan Rogers says he always thought about the audience. Rogers says: “Prince was smart enough to realize that he wasn’t making records to signify something about himself. He was making records to allow listeners to fantasize about themselves. He used to say, “It’s not about me. It’s about the listener. When they see me, they’re seeing a version of themselves that they’re interested in.” He was able to then suppress his own individual ego and, wanting to be liked as an individual, he allowed himself to be a vehicle for our fantasies.”
Prince came from humble beginnings but was determined to crush any obstacle in his way, including Warner Brothers who eventually represented the strict father who prohibited him from playing the piano.
But aside from being a downright awesome musical genius, Prince represents everything we all want to be; fearless, confident, and aggressive while possessing a natural talent that cannot be ignored despite our race, sex, or social standing.
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