I never watched Purple Rain until yesterday.
I have to admit when news broke of Prince’s passing I didn’t believe it for a moment. I shrugged it off. “A rumor,” I thought.
I’d seen him; heard about him; listened to him here and there. He was cool, vibrant, and so damn weird. His music videos: I loved them. But, I never gave them a second thought. Somehow, I let the artistry and innovation of Prince Rogers Nelson slide right past me, forced to admire and give value to the art only after the fact.
Growing up as Millennial on the younger side of the generation’s bracket meant a mainstream childhood that saw the early idolization of Michael Jackson and calling Prince a copycat when I was seven. Please, don’t judge. There is a point in all of this.
For years, I was a self-proclaimed advocate for “expanding your musical horizons,” convincing the old heads that new music doesn’t mean bad music, and evangelizing to my peers about appreciating the sounds that precede us. But, did I really practice what I preached?
So, once more I shamefully admit: I never watched Purple Rain until yesterday.
I expected the MTV and VH1 marathons of Prince videos. So, I flipped the channel and there it was: Prince’s first movie. It was somewhere in the middle and I was lost. I didn’t really get the plot yet, and the dialogue was a bit obscure at times.
But, the music. You can’t deny the music. I was right at the scene where Apollonia watches the Kid perform “The Beautiful Ones” and it was a wrap. It was in that moment that I realized what I’d been missing.
Since yesterday afternoon, I’ve watched countless numbers of ordinary people who never uttered a word to the man cry to no end for the artist who changed their lives—the artist who taught them to be free and unapologetic.
It’s caused me to think how far removed we’ve become from that kind of thinking—the thinking where the craft—music especially—becomes our social, political, and emotional statements all at once.
Prince wasn’t just an irrefutably gifted instrumentalist, singer, dancer, actor, producer, arranger, and song-writer. He was an activist, a mentor, an advocate, and a constant reminder of what every artist should strive to be: multi-faceted and conscious.
This was the man who energized the movement of androgyny before Jaden Smith, labeled himself a slave as a political statement before Kanye West, and took control of his own music and distribution before there was ever a Tidal.
He was always ahead of his time and constantly creating.
It’s a habit to speak well of the fallen and forget all their short-comings. But, as an artist; a public figure, Prince was nearly perfect.
It’s hard to tell what the world would be without him, as is the case with all influencers of prodigious talent. Had he never stepped onto the scene at the tender age of 19, ready shake up everything that everyone thought they knew about music and creativity, perhaps somebody else would have.
But, in this moment I find it hard to say that without Prince—without his energy, his bravado, his style, his fearlessness—I find it hard to say that what we call “the industry” would be the same.
Music lies at the core as the life source of much of what we do. It moves us. It inspire us. It dictates our emotions, and Prince was one of the handful of talents who has continuously succeeded at re-energizing it throughout the years.
I used to despise the fact that so many of us have the tendency to become this die-hard fan of an artist once they’ve passed away.
But, I really want it to happen this time.
I want everyone to know what it feels like to discover Prince—the chills you get during a performance of “Purple Rain”, the vibe that leaves you restless when you listen to “Little Red Corvette” and “Musicology,” the motivation and sentiments that swell up when you hear “Baltimore”—all of it.
There’s no better way to honor him and his legacy, there’s no better way to understand the origins of much of what we hear today, and there’s no better way to get to know Prince.