Prince, the passing of a legend
It’s not the little prince of Saint-Exupéry but a great king who left us yesterday aged 57. Prince Rogers Nelson (his real name) did nothing less than revolutionise pop music and sexuality.
A daring, one-of-a-kind genius
Just listen to his extraordinary albums, Dirty Mind (1980), Controversy (1981) and Purple Rain (1984) to be mesmerised by their sheer modernity and melodic ambition. The man who renamed himself “The Symbol” and “The Artist” at various moments in his career was unquestionably one of the great musical geniuses of our time, who delighted in experimenting and constantly pushing boundaries. Boldly fusing RnB, funk, rock, pop and new wave, this multi-instrumentalist – according to legend he could play at least twenty instruments – was responsible for almost as many hit singles as his rival Michael Jackson. Prolific, avant-garde and slasher well before the term was invented, the writer/composer/interpreter/producer/dancer/actor sold more than 80 million records around the world, filling his court with loyal subjects thronging to crown his talent. He also anticipated the power of the internet and music streaming, reinforcing his status as pioneer.
Like Madonna, for whom he wrote songs, Prince knew how to shock and undermine the puritanical America of Ronald Reagan. Much of his lyrics were X-rated, starting with Darling Nikki and Purple Rain. The singer didn’t hesitate to sing about his raucous nights, masturbation, adultery, fellatio, not to mention brother-sister incest. But he also knew how to be polemic, politically speaking, addressing spiky issues like the Cold War and death penalty. On Controversy, his fourth album (and for some the most touching), in the title track he sang, “I wish we all were nude, I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules.” Neither a God, nor master, nor tyrant, he was simply a good and a true Prince.
In a similar vein to David Bowie, also lost to us of late, the chameleon dandy loved to play with gender identity. On the cover of Controversy he wore ladies underwear. He’d often wear the same tiny garment during certain concerts. Sporting outrageous make-up and androgynous, eccentric and deliciously blingful stage outfits, nicknamed the “Purple One” by the press, he was a mere 1.58m but oozed more sex appeal than a 100 men. A showman in every sense of the word with the sexiest moves in the industry, he had as many male as female groupies.
The Kid from Minneapolis, born on June 7th 1958, wasn’t content to sit back and revolutionise pop music with just his own records - more than 30 studio albums since 1978. He also lent his talents as a producer to dance floor masterpieces for others. He wrote for major female artists including the Bangles, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle and Madonna. His most ambitious bravura? The powerfully melancholic and deeply emotional Nothing Compares 2 U, sung by Sinead O'Connor. This intensely moving hymn will no doubt be played at the funeral of this Prince, as charming as he was anti-conformist and utterly unique.
By Violaine Schütz