It was a shock to hear yesterday about the death of Prince, at age 57. The musical star was found dead in an elevator in his home, and the cause of his death is not yet known. It’s a huge hit to the music world, which has been reeling in the wake of a series of deaths — David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, and now Prince — that make it seem like 2016 is the Grim Reaper’s year to swing that scythe of his through the ranks of iconic figures in different branches of the music world.
I first heard of Prince and his music back in the ’80s, during the early days of MTV, when that channel still played music. During Richard’s infant days I spent some nights sitting in our rocking chair, with Richard’s belly pressed against my shoulder, rocking during the wee hours of the early morning and hoping he would fall back asleep. Richard seemed to do better with some background noise, so we often turned the cable channel to MTV and listened to the music of the mid-80s.
One of the frequent songs on the MTV late night/early morning playlist in those days was Prince’s Raspberry Beret, and another was the Bangles’ Manic Monday, which the MTV VJs noted was written by Prince. They were both frothy pop songs, catchy but lightweight, the kind of songs where the melody and lyrics seemed to get injected directly into your brain cells and you can’t get them out no matter how hard you tried. Those songs defined and informed my views of Prince, and I dismissed him as a talented but somewhat insubstantial pop star. When Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and started to get into battles with record companies and others I added egotistical to the list of adjectives I associated with him.
Ironically, it was Richard who reintroduced me to Prince. Perhaps it was his exposure to Raspberry Beret during his infancy — OK, maybe not — but Richard became a huge fan of Prince, and during his college days at Northwestern he hosted a weekly, multi-episode show on the campus radio station that was devoted to Prince’s career and songs. Perhaps fittingly, it was broadcast during the wee hours in Evanston, and aired, I think, during the 5-6 a.m. slot, Eastern time. If I woke up early, as I usually do, I could catch it live via web radio. It was fun and sort of weird to hear Richard’s voice on radio first thing in the morning, so I tried to listen to the show whenever I could.
Through Richard and his radio show I learned a lot more about Prince — and realized that my casual dismissal of him on the basis of two songs was far off base. His music was a lot more thoughtful and interesting and ground-breaking than I had given him credit for, and I added a lot of it to my iPod playlist where it has stayed ever since. I’m sorry to hear of Prince’s untimely death, and sorry to know that Richard has lost a favorite artist — and I’m also sorry that I didn’t appreciate a great talent for so many years. The creative world is poorer without Prince in its ranks.