The first time that I heard Prince was in Batman (1989) when Jack Nicholson’s Joker trashes an art museum while listening to “Partyman” on a giant boombox, appropriately perched on the shoulder of one of his goons. Reverb-laden drums, funky instrumentation, and most of all that voice - at once deep and high, throaty and soulful - completely made the scene. I would rewind the cassette to watch that part again and again (also when Batman flies the Bat Jet - so cool).
The allure of Prince got a musically-oblivious 3rd grader to care about music, even for just a minute. It would be years later until I actually listened to Prince, but even throughout my Prince-less years he existed as a powerful icon in the world: weird, sexy, and purple.
While he was all these things, that caricature sells Prince short. His musical genius is unquestionable. Using his mastery of several instruments and arrangement, he blended dance, funk, rock, R&B, and pop music in groundbreaking, influential ways. Even with his storied prolificness (the list below is just part of his entire catalog), he never settled into one style and was always pushing into new territory, for better or worse.
As his sound changed, so did his visual presentation, which was almost as important as the music he produced. Whether it was his black leather speedo or his purple trenchcoat and puffy shirt, Prince’s look was ever-changing and stood as an androgynous challenge to normalcy.
Always the provocateur, Prince used imagery and songcraft to both titillate and meditate. He became the de facto king of sexy songs; but he also covered some heavier, challenging topics like living under the threat of nuclear annihilation, drug abuse, AIDs, gender identity, racial identity, and sexual identity. Ok, so those last three are all one song, "Controversy," but still. He was socially conscious and was an active participant in issues, most recently speaking out and doing benefit shows to combat institutional racism.
As a performer, he was legendary, oozing charisma, confidence, and coolness. I’ll just say it: Prince was a better dancer than Michael Jackson. Compare and contrast if you must, but Prince did it all in heels (which may or may not have led him to need hip replacements and walk with a cane in later years).
There are so many reasons why I could go on about how cool Prince was and is - faithfully supporting his hometown Minneapolis, being the king of artful DGAFs, Purple-effin-Rain - but if Reading Rainbow taught you anything, you know not to take my word for it. Watch Purple Rain, listen to some albums, and celebrate the life and works of Prince for yourself.
Prince Discography at the Library
Prince DVDs at the Library
Books about Prince at the Library