I’ve seen James Brown, I saw Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury and Queen, I’ve heard Aretha Franklin and watched David Bowie, and none of them could lay a glove, sparkled or not, on Prince live. The passing of the Purple One today is not only a blow to music fans but to fans of excellence.
Only Prince could have pulled off the extravagance of a 21-show run at the Forum like he did in 2011, with each show competing to surpass the last one as the best. I was there for the first night: a three-hour set that exhausted much of the audience. By the end of that night in Inglewood, as the maestro and his New Power Generation band went into their fifth encore, a hardcore fan base of celebrities, VIPs and people who had come down from the cheap seats to be up close to the stage keep dancing and singing – even if they didn’t know some of the songs. It was an amazing display of confidence and creativity. Almost as stunning as the news of his death.
In fact, it was while flying home after shows in Atlanta last week that, according to reports, Prince took ill and was hospitalized for flu effects and dehydration. Prince being Prince, he never let it show at the 90-minute concerts.
Besides a couple of years ago here in L.A., I’ve seen Prince several times before in Europe, back East and up in Montreal. I never left less than covered in sweat and shaking with having witnessed the virtuoso in action. Also, and I say this as a former music critic, I never left not having discovered more of his catalog and depth as Prince would pull out a new genre for himself, a rarely played tune or something he had just come up with.
Look at that 2007 Super Bowl halftime show in Miami – one of the best ever.
In the rain, he started out with a recording of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and launched into “Let’s Go Crazy” and owned the stadium. Put it this way: After some classics of his own and others — Bob Dylan via Jimi Hendrix and ending on, of course, “Purple Rain” – I can’t remember who won the game, but I can’t forget every move and lick Prince and crew made. NYT’s Jon Pareles called it “one performer shaking the world.” And what he did onstage, Prince matched in the studio from his 1978 debut For You to HITnRUN Phase Two last year.
It’s not just the Oscar for the Purple Rain song score, the seven Grammys, the Golden Globe for Happy Feet among the accolades, but how he continued to surprise and reinvent in a way that only Bowie can even be compared. Both were hugely influential shape shifters and iconoclasts who continued to reinvent themselves and their music right up until the end. Yes, the Godfather of Soul was called the hardest-working man in show business, but the sheer output of Prince over the decades is stunning – and supposedly there are hundreds of unreleased tracks sitting in the vaults at Paisley Park.
Prince is gone, but his genius isn’t, and remembering that is the greatest tribute we can pay to the man from Minneapolis – and party way harder than if it was 1999.