I have not lived in a world without Prince. He released his debut For You a year before I was born. This morning, we wake up in a world more blue and less purple. I am broken, as are so many kids on the purple underground.
I remember my brother playing Sign O the Times for me when I was 8. I didn’t realize then what Prince would eventually come to mean to me. In 2013, as a grown man, I blushed and dance-walked over to Prince’s keyboard. I was on stage with him. What do you do when you’re on stage with Prince? You tell him you love him, of course. I did. He looked in my eyes and put his hand over his heart in response, while singing the opening lines of “When Doves Cry.” Looking at me, he must have known that I’m a product of his inspiration. The man taught me about dance, music, sex, romance. He’s in my hair. You can see him on my face and in the way I walk. I would be a different person, perhaps a few shades greyer, if it weren’t for Prince.
Last year, I made a documentary titled Hunting for Prince’s Vault for the BBC. It was a dream to me. I visited Paisley Park, where Prince had recorded so much of the music that had punctuated my life. He would move from drums to guitar and then piano, playing each one with virtuosic skill, making beautiful music all day and all night. While meeting Prince’s band mates from every era of his career and reliving the making of so many of his albums, I landed on the documentary’s most unforgettable line: “If Prince was to leave the world today, he has enough un-released music to put out an album every year, for the next 100 years.” I had no idea then that he would be leaving us all so soon.
I remember wondering where I would be when Prince released album number 40, 50 or 75. I came to expect that this man would just keep on making music. You know why? Because that’s just what he did. Practically every year, we got a new album – sometimes multi-disc sets or, on a slow year, perhaps just a protégé album. But anyone plugged into contemporary music knew: There was always another Prince album around the corner.
The words “legend” and “genius” are often thrown around carelessly. But Prince was an artist who gave us so much that language fails to describe him. There is the pop Prince. The multi-million selling superstar. There is the ethereal Prince, who sings about making love through the apocalypse on Crystal Ball and psychedelic masturbation on Joy in Repetition. There is the film star, the outsider, the pervert, the ghostwriter, the live powerhouse, but more than anything else – there is the musician.
He was the embodiment of everything that is great about modern music. Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Joni Mitchell and James Brown lived inside Prince and he made them sound like nothing that had ever come before. Prince once put out an album of four 14-minute jazz instrumentals, recorded in one day. He would shout out the letter ‘G’ to his band and turn a live groove into a new melody. Dr Fink, who played keys in The Revolution, told me, “Prince would rehearse an entire album for a tour and then scrap the whole thing because another idea had come to him.”
Prince was just too prolific for an industry with systems in place. While most artists take comfort in the conventions of releasing a single, an album and backing it up with a tour, Prince’s primary concern was always getting the music out. He would give away entire albums as newspaper cover mounts, and more recently sent albums to fans directly via a WeTransfer link. The delivery method was irrelevant. To the very last day, it was about the music.
When Prince was asked if he planned to retire, he snapped, “I plan on recording one song a day for the rest of my life.” HM Buff, Prince’s personal sound engineer, once told me making music was “as natural as breathing to Prince.” Yesterday, he stopped making music. It’s believed his last breath was taken not at his home, but at Paisley Park, his recording studio. Sonny T, who played bass with Prince over the last five decades told me, “If Prince releases everything he’s recorded, I don’t think anyone will be around long enough to hear it all. I’m telling you – there is just too much.” Whether or not Prince’s vault will ever open up, the music he has already given us will outlive us all.