Tuesday, July 05, 2016

COLUMN: Prince

Once upon a Shane, I dated a girl who ran a home daycare. I have zero experience with kids, so every moment at that daycare was a revelation. One time I found myself in an especially awkward conversation with a precocious 7-year-old, and I made the mistake of asking her, "So what do you want to be when you grow up?"

Without blinking, she answered immediately and sincerely: "Famous."

There are worse goals to have, I suppose. In our social hierarchy, there's no level of achievement higher than global fame, right? We're taught from an early age that famous people get to live in mansions, own whatever they want, and date other famous people famously. We're fascinated by famous people, or else they simply wouldn't be famous. There's no show called "Lifestyles of the Fiscally Responsible and Anonymous." We live in a world where it's not good enough to watch a show where we hand famous people awards. No, we need an entirely separate show where we can watch the famous people walk into the building where we hand them awards.

But I'm not here to lecture you about the absurd cult of celebrity. I'm the guy whose walls are adorned with framed autographs of the few famous folks I've been lucky enough to bump elbows with. It's fun to follow celebrities. But it's not so much fun when we lose one that we respect and admire.

Prince is dead, and that's a hard pill to swallow. Even two weeks after his passing, it doesn't seem possible. Prince isn't supposed to die. Prince isn't even supposed to age. I just sort of assumed that Prince lived in a world without time, where he spent his days being incredibly awesome and then occasionally popped his head out to blast us in the face with a much-needed dose of funk before disappearing back into the purple ether from whence he came.

I was in high school when "Purple Rain" came out, and I don't know a soul who hated on that record. That's the best part of Prince's legacy -- I can't think of one person who ever said, "Prince? That dude sucks." His records might not speak to you personally, but there's no denying the massive talent that was somehow stored in that diminutive little body. The guy could play ANY instrument, and he was entirely self-taught. He never went to Julliard to learn how to be Prince. He wrote his first song when he was SEVEN -- and it wasn't a nursery rhyme. No, seven-year-old Prince's first song was called "Funk Machine." He was THAT cool.

No self-respecting music nerd's collection is complete without "Dirty Mind," "Purple Rain," and "Sign o' the Times" at the very least -- and those are but 3 of the 39 studio albums he put out in his too-short life. It doesn't matter if you're a fan of pop, rock, soul, r&b, hip-hop, funk, or jazz, you'll find something worth admiring in his discography. And that's saying nothing about the hours and hours of unreleased music rumored to exist in "the vault" somewhere at Paisley Park.

Why did Prince's passing hit me so hard? I think it's more to do with what he represented. Prince was more than just a super talented musician. He was the last of our generation's truly alien rock stars. A rare breed of artists who were SO enigmatic, so creative, so driven, and so entirely consumed by their own output that they almost seemed dangerous. They certainly didn't seem earthbound. Michael Jackson. Freddie Mercury. David Bowie. Prince. They're all gone -- and that sucks so very much.

Today's celebrities might have the same star power and bank budgets of Prince or Michael, but they sure don't feel like they're in the same league. Sorry, Gaga, but lasting art takes more than a meat dress and a p-p-p-poker face. Today's fans are raised with a phone in their hands and the internet at their fingers, and today's pop stars reflect that. "Celebrity" in 2016 is less about what you create and more about the number of followers you have on social media. Remember when MTV first started up and musicians openly complained that success now meant having to create the perfect song AND the perfect image? Well, nowadays you need the song, the image, the tweets, the Instagrams, the squad, the reputation, and an entirely open-book way of life.

The pressure has to be maddening. If you screw up and say the wrong thing at a concert, 500 people instantly put it on Facebook. Slip and fall at a show? It's on Youtube before you've played your encore. Dare to pick your nose in public? Harvey Levin has a room full of TMZ cronies whose mission in life is to catch you doing it. Cheat on Taylor Swift or Beyonce? They'll put a rhyme on it and make lemonade all the way to the top of the charts.

It's no wonder celebrities today seldom get through their twenties without a major meltdown. Once upon a time, Britney Spears seemed stable. Justin Bieber seemed like a nice kid. Chris Brown seemed like the kind of guy you'd want your daughter to date. If that's what fame does to a person, thanks but no thanks.

Prince seemed beyond all that. In reality, he probably wasn't. He probably wasn't an alien sent from Planet Funktopia to make us all lovesexy. He probably ate normal human food and didn't subside exclusively on red wine and raw oysters served off the naked bodies of his freshly deflowered conquests. He might not have worn frilly blouses and high heels every minute of every day. If Charlie Murphy's to be believed, he played a mean game of basketball.

Like most celebrities who die too early, in the coming weeks we'll probably hear awful stories about just how human Prince really was. You can read those stories all you like. If you need me, I'll be driving my little red Corvette down Alphabet Street in Erotic City remembering Prince the way I want to. There's already talk of Paisley Park turning into a Prince museum, and that's a drive I WILL be making. With any luck, someone caring and respectful will raid that legendary vault and Prince's album count won't stop at 39. Today's celebrities should take notes.

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