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What Prince Meant To Minnesota And The World

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DAVID J. PHILLIP
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DAVID J. PHILLIP

Prince was found dead Thursday morning at his Paisley Park compound in suburban Minneapolis. He was 57 years old. His passing comes just days after he made a public appearance for Record Store Day and performed at Paisley Park, reassuring fans he was okay despite a recent hospitalization for the flu.

“Wait a few days before you waste any prayers,” he reportedly told fans Sunday morning, before playing a couple brief numbers on the piano. It would turn out to be the last show of a career encompassing 39 released solo studio albums and perhaps just as many that remain in his archives.

“He rewrote the rulebook, forging a synthesis of black funk and white rock that served as a blueprint for cutting-edge music in the Eighties,” reads the dedication to Prince put together by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 2004. “Prince made dance music that rocked and rock music that had a bristling, funky backbone. From the beginning, Prince and his music were androgynous, sly, sexy and provocative.”

From Minneapolis To Around The World In A Day

Born Prince Rogers Nelson, Prince goes down as arguably the most accomplished and important musician in Minneapolis history. A Star Tribune columnist who attended Minneapolis Central High School with Prince writes that he remembers him “always in the music room, creating.”

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Prince emerged from the unlikely funk music scene that thrived in the predominately white city during the 1970s. While most clips of his performances have been pulled from YouTube, one video of an entire New Jersey show from 1982 survives. The footage gives a good sense of how Prince’s early material blended styles in a way that was unique for that day and age.

Though he became an international pop music and cultural icon, ultimately selling over 100 million records worldwide, Prince, unlike certain other legendary Minnesota musicians, always reserved a special place in his heart for his home state. Prince helped put Minneapolis’ iconic First Avenue venue on the map with his 1984 film, Purple Rain. Here’s a clip of him playing the title track from the movie at the club the year prior:

Daum Tvpot PlayerEdit descriptionvideofarm.daum.netOf course, Prince’s legacy resonates far beyond the borders of Minnesota. As this widely circulated clip of him upstaging Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and others at the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame illustrates, his guitar playing will certainly stand the test of time — not to mention the songwriting that led to him becoming one of the best selling artists ever:

And he delivered one of the greatest Super Bowl halftime show performances — in the rain, of course.

A Cultural Icon

Beyond his impeccable ability to make a guitar weep and the remarkable charisma he packed into his slight 5′ 2″ frame, Prince, following in the footsteps of the recently passed David Bowie, kicked down the heteronormative standards that too often permeate mainstream rock, funk, and pop music. In “Controversy,” he sang, “I just can’t believe all the things people say… Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?” He struck provocatively androgynous poses on album covers and in photo shoots, reminding us that gender isn’t a binary thing and that it’s actually cool to be different.

Prince was a sports rube who rooted for the Vikings, Timberwolves, and Lynx with a sincerity most everyone in Apple Valley can appreciate. In fact, he threw a three-hour concert and party for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx after they won their third championship last October. Prince was also engaged with the the Twin Cities’ music scene and in recent years used his fame to help emerging artists reach wider audiences.

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Prince spoke out against police violence and expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Shortly after the superstar’s death on Thursday, the Reverend Al Sharpton characterized Prince as a “sincere humanitarian.”

“He would call me to get money quietly to families of victims,” including Trayvon Martin, Sharpton tweeted.

Just ahead of a show in Baltimore last year, Prince released a song named after the city in honor of Freddie Gray, whose death while in custody led to protests throughout the city.

A couple months prior at the Grammy Awards, Prince told the audience that “albums, like books and black lives, still matter.”

Controversy

Prince, of course, was often difficult to deal with. His fight with Warner Bros. records over the quantity and quality of his albums led to him changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol during the “Artist Formerly Known As” era in the ‘90s.

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He had a penchant for lifting material from other musicians and dismissing band members when he felt their burgeoning popularity threatened his own star power, treated Morris Day and The Time poorly in part because they performed so well during dates with The Purple One, and once scared off a documentary filmmaker after he became convinced the project he was working on was ultimately intended to serve a recruitment film for Jehovah’s Witnesses, the faith Prince converted to in 2001.

Prince concluded a 2013 appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s show by smashing a guitar. That was cool. What wasn’t is the fact the 1961 Epiphone Crestwood wasn’t his — it actually belonged to house band guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas of The Roots.

There Will Never Be Another Purple One

Prince unquestionably marched to the beat of his own drum. In the fall of 2013, I had the pleasure of reviewing a Prince show at Paisley Park over my birthday weekend. Prince was phenomenal, as always, but the enthusiasm of my review was tempered by the fact Prince went onstage at about 4:30 a.m., with a second set beginning after the sun had come up. No coffee or booze was served — just pancakes.

Earlier that year, however, I had the pleasure of seeing the Purple One perform at the Dakota jazz club in downtown Minneapolis with his New Power Generation band. To this day I haven’t seen a more electric or funky live performance. When Prince played the keyboard, I was sitting so close that it almost seemed awkward to not attempt and make chit chat with him. In a quintessentially Prince moment, he quietly complimented the shoes worn by the woman sitting next to me in between songs. I’ll be forever grateful I shelled out more money than I could afford to see him on that cold, mid-winter night.

Prince opened the Purple Rain album by saying, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life.” Prince’s life was uniquely funky, prolific, and productive, even if ended far too soon, during a time when he was still evolving both as an artist and person. Rest in peace to a true Minnesota original and American icon.