by: Josh Sczykutowicz
An ode to a god amongst men, a bizarre, foreign, enigmatic force of nature…
When David Bowie passed away this January, several of my friends and I began talking regularly about all of the greats still left in this world, and how aware of their mortality we were all becoming. Keith Richards is immortal, of course. Paul McCartney will always exist, we concluded. But we’d thought that way about Bowie too, and now these certainties are beginning to feel like the foolish hopes they really are. No one, no matter how much a fixture, is permanent.
However the one who we unanimously agreed would always be there – the one who was arguably (and indisputably in my mind) the greatest living guitarist and the most incredibly fascinating eccentric mad genius of them all – was Prince. Prince felt like he’d been around forever, but maybe it felt that way because he began his career at the budding age of 17. He was an absolute prodigy, and still so spirited at 57, we had no reason to be worried. Or so we thought….
We all took comfort in the knowledge that he would be with us for years to come, still constantly recording music we might never hear and shooting videos we might never see, as his manager once famously told Kevin Smith in Paisley Park. Recently, Prince had put out a fantastic series of albums, catching everyone off guard, and his appearance was still so youthful and his energy so vibrant that it seemed that Prince was here to stay. Even as we continued to lose musical legends like Dennis Davis and Phife Dog, Keith Emerson and Merle Haggard, it seemed safe to say that geniuses like Prince would still be around.
And now, sadly, that’s not the case.
Prince was one of the most prolific, strange and powerful artists to ever have his voice recorded. All anyone has to do is hear his crooning on “The Beautiful Ones” or any of his solos on Dirty Mind to know this. Or listen to “When Doves Cry” and then be told afterward that it has no bassline, despite being the ultimate dance track, to understand his genius. Or watch Purple Rain, the greatest of all the attempts at a rock musical ever produced, to come to grips with his might.
The five-album run of Prince’s self-titled through to Purple Rain was, and remains, a prime example of a “perfect musical streak,” a period in which Prince was at a creative peak that few artists can ever hope to achieve. Equally prolific and genius, Prince crafted five of the greatest guitar-rock albums of all time, hatching a string of hits like few others, with songs like “1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy” capturing the manic high of the era like nothing else could.
Insular, eccentric, elusive, and somehow not bound by sexual confines, androgynous to the point of truly free, Prince was one of the last authentic examples of a rock legend. He was a purely sexual, wholly spiritual and completely passionate entity entirely capable of crafting songs so perfect, so true and so resonating that they seemed effortless. To see him play live was to see an artist born for their craft in their natural element, an instinctive and powerful figure transcending mortality for however long he was onstage.
Prince was an energy that was purely electric, just like his guitar, capable of bolting through your nervous system and bypassing all barriers of thought or reason. There was nothing ordinary about Prince, only extraordinary. No one else could have gotten away with the kind of themes he sang about on albums like Dirty Mind or Controversy. Prince could convey all the blasphemy he wanted and get away with it, because from his lips it sounded like nothing but gospel, nothing but pure poetry. Nobody else could coil their voice around a microphone and alternate between the deep seduction and heartbroken cooing of “When Doves Cry” quite like he did.
Prince was writing some of the best music ever written on Planet Earth before he could even buy a girl a drink, not that he’d ever need to. He’s left a legacy that is unparalleled, that the best can only hope to imitate. There is no replacement for him, because Prince was a natural occurrence, a bizarre, foreign, enigmatic force of nature that could cross any line, could transcend any barrier and always get away with it. Prince could seduce anyone, sing about anything, and succeed at everything. His guitars were mercurial, his identity ever-evolving, his style singularly his own. If there is anything resembling a just and loving god, Prince is in the afterworld now, where he can always see the sun, day or night. He was the ultimate rock star, the definitive eccentric genius, the perfect frontman and one of the greatest vocalists of his generation. People like Prince aren’t made; people like Prince just happen. We’re just lucky we got to see it.