We lost another great one with the passing of Prince Rogers Nelson last week. This diminutive dude of outsized talent was an uber-creative alchemist of funk, soul, pop, and rock, which he delivered with lustful bravado.
He was also a guitar master—as amply displayed in the second half of this must-see video from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductions in 2004. (The Beatles' George Harrison and Prince were both inducted that year.)
With the world’s attention now focused on Prince, this would be a good time to make sense of the cultural impact he’s made. After all, this is the performer who so offended the white bread sensitivities of the reactionary 80s that his Purple Rain album drove Tipper Gore (wife of then-U.S. Senator Al Gore) to successfully lobby for “Parental Advisory” labels on CDs.
But even if you believe that much of popular art is of the trashy sort, you would probably agree that most attempts to clean it up—especially when undertaken by moralists and scolds—is a cure worse than the disease. As I’ve said before, the same freedom that allows for raunchy artistic performance also permits unparalleled innovative genius. If Prince occasionally falls prey to the former, he’s also Exhibit A for the latter.
But wait! Don’t touch that dial. It's beginning to come out that Prince—devoutly raised a Seventh-day Adventist—has been a conservative Christian all along! And starting 15 years ago he took it a step further and became a gay-marriage-opposing, door-to-door-proselytizing Jehovah Witness, as the Washington Post recently reported. Say it isn’t so, dude.
I just gave a re-listen to some of his wildest tunes, like “Let’s Go Crazy.” His prophetic warnings have actually been there all along. How did I miss that? Even in “Darlin’ Nikki,” the very song that sent Tipper Gore off the deep end, Prince warns us that “the Lord is coming soon.”
It certainly looks like Prince has been playing both sides of this game for decades. Hey, let’s get dirty—then repent! He could go from scatalogical to eschatological in the same song.
But like many savvy businessmen (and business-minded artists) Prince understood shock and awe. He knew how to grab the public’s attention. And, to his credit, he had a highly creative product—perhaps the most innovative of the decade—to deliver to those ears and eyeballs.
Yet what do we make of the dime-store apocalyptic preaching in his lyrics? Where’s the Parental Advisory notice for THAT?