The new of the musician Prince's death was a huge surprise to me. This highly talented artist had only just recently completed a short piano tour of New Zealand and Australia; as usual to great acclaim.
Growing up in the 1980s, the music of Prince and another fallen musician Michael Jackson received serious airplay in our house over the radio and via cassette. Although I loved his music, I was also always fascinated by his musicality and his ability to produce songs from various music genres and styles. For me, Purple Rain was a ridiculously good song that even when I hear it today, still sounds fresh, powerful and innovate. By the way, we're now talking over 30 years on since it was released. That's awesome staying power in anyone's books.
The other song of his that became a favourite of mine was the 1987 social commentary Sign of the Times which although dealing with some very serious social issues of the 80s and indeed today, does so powerfully yet sensitively. The beats in this song are instantly recognisable today as much as when first released and the lyrics are as relevant today as they ever have been. Prince's voice is also very controlled yet passionately concerned.
I remember Prince being an early adopter of the internet and recall him being one of the very first artists to truly embrace the internet for promotion and album sales. Although he later go on to lament how the internet and digital age had done little for the financial fortunes of musicians, his foresight and use of the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s was way ahead of the time and the understanding of most musicians and the wider public for that matter.
One lasting innovation of Prince was when he decided to be known no more by his name but a symbol. From here on, for a significant period of time he was merely referred to as "the Love symbol" or "the artist formally known as Prince". I often think he was born in the wrong area for his non-musical but technical and digital abilities. Today someone with his voice and instrumental ability (on some albums, he's credited with playing over 20 instruments), would revel in this digital age where music can recorded in a home and on a fairly decent computer and distributed individually.
His Wikipedia entry notes:
On June 12, 2006, Prince received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his "visionary" use of the Internet; Prince was the first major artist to release an entire album, 1997's Crystal Ball, exclusively on the Internet.
In 2016, we'd think nothing of an artist doing the above but for those who were very young around 1997, let me assure you that back then this was truly revolutionary. This is at a time when broadband was not around, fibre was only being dreamed about and record companies ruled the music industry in terms of album releases, marketing and artist management.
In closing, Prince is another highly talented artist gone way too soon. The extraordinary breadth and depth of his music will however live on.
Rest in Peace, Prince Rogers Nelson.