Prince’s Passing

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.

prince-ctcOne 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.

 

Why You Don’t Burn Your Bridges

Prince had a long and successful career with Warner Bros records. The records and singles, like Purple Rain and Raspberry Beret, that catapulted the musician to international stardom all appeared on the Warner Bros label.

The partnership between Prince and Warner Bros ended badly. Prince felt that the label was too controlling and resented the fact that he didn’t own the rights to his own songs, so he started referring to himself as a slave, adopted a weird symbol for his stage name, and became known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Along the way, he released some uninspired music and his popularity dropped — and when his Warner Bros contract ended and he started to record on his own label, the damage was done. Although diehard fans, like Richard, might argue the point, most observers believe that Prince’s fight with Warner Bros had a lasting negative impact on his career and his musical significance.

This week, Prince announced that he was re-signing with the Warner Bros label, which will release a new album and an anniversary edition of Purple Rain. As part of the deal, Prince will acquire ownership of the master tapes he made during his prior tenure at the label, so he apparently achieved what he sought by his stand on principle.

I’ve always believed that it is ill-advised to burn your bridges — whether it is with employers, co-workers, or friends. Rather than sinking into acrimony that might forever poison your relationship with people, why not suck it up, behave professionally, and depart to your new position with class? You never know when the wheel might turn and you might need to work once again with the employer or colleague you publicly maligned.

Maybe Prince’s bitter split with Warner Bros didn’t affect his creativity — although it’s hard to imagine that the bad blood didn’t at least distract him from his music — but it certainly changed the public perception of him and made him the butt of a lot of jokes. Now that he’s back with Warner Bros, was it all worth it?