By Brian McKay
Every time someone famous dies you will see the tributes on social media. Most of the time it is relegated to some people but not all people. Usually, I just don't care because they are aren't family, friends or even people I am somewhat familiar with. They are just famous people.
Whitney Houston was one of those just famous people. Michael Jackson was another. I just didn't care.
Robin Williams made an impact because he called attention to depression. David Bowie honeslty hurt. The funny thing is that I remember the death of the great sports announcer, Jim McKay, as being really sad as I had grown up with Wide World of Sports as a kid and just thought he was the greatest ever. Peter Jennings was another tough one as he was just stellar as a newsman and I idolized him. MCA was truly painful as the Beastie Boys were always true to their art.
Amazingly, the death of Prince has created more of a total impact than anyone I can remember. Ever. Of all backgrounds and types of people that I know, they all feel some pain over it. Mourning of his passing isn't just relegated to one age group or group that identifies with specific social standards.
There is agreement at the bar tonight among everyone that he was “the” guitar player and we find ourselves watching the BET Prince marathon. Social media is more active than I have ever seen. Bowie was respected and garnered a tremendous outpouring, but Prince seems to be important across even far more lives.
Looking at the social media comments, the impact across so many diverse segments of the population, the just now organized bar tributes and the visibly upset people at work, you realize this one guy reached the status of truly legendary.
Honestly, I wouldn't even probably take the time to write about anyone else unless it was Muhammad Ali. If Ali passes I will mourn that for days. Please never die Ali!
Prince transcended generations like no one else. Purple Rain was trans-formative in the early 80’s, but he had actually started recording in 1978. Whenever Let's Go Crazy came on the radio, you couldn't help but smile and sing along.
In 1986, Parade, featured what was probably the most recognized Prince song ever, Kiss. 1987’s Sign o’ the Times was an amazing medley of styles and sounds that demonstrated his true musical scope.
The albums kept coming. 31 in total. In 2006, 3121 debuted at number 1 and Plectrumelectrum, in 2014, showed his continuing desire to experiment and innovate.
Many performers start tours in their later years that just repeat the songs that made them famous. Not Prince. He was constantly trying to be new and fresh. His musical chops were constantly on display with just the pure amount instruments he could play. Drums, piano, bass and, of course, the guitar that he so dominated.
His live performances were epic, with his 2007 Super Bowl halftime show being called the best in Super Bowl history and one of the greatest live performances ever. One need only watch his 2008 Coachella cover of Radiohead’s Creep on YouTube to just experience pure awe of what he could do with any song (to this end I have included that video below)..
Prince was a prolific songwriter, having written songs for other artists that many might not even know. Nothing Compares 2 U was written for Sinead O’Conner. Manic Monday for the Bangles, Stand Back for Stevie Nicks, I Feel for You for Chaka Khan, Jungle Love for the Time and the list goes on and on.
While sometimes ridiculed for changing his name to a symbol, it was very misunderstood. Often associated with excessive pride it was really out of a clash with his music label, Warner Brothers, as they were trying to control his direction and output. In true Prince style, he wasn't having it. In an interview with Larry King in 1999, he said of his name change, “I had to search deep within my heart and spirit, and I wanted to make a change and move to a new plateau in my life. And, one of the ways in which I did that was to change my name. It sort of divorced me from the past and all of the hangups that go along with it.”
There were no scandals with Prince and he was known for his strong religious beliefs. He was epic, legendary and respected. He dazzled multiple generations and never became an afterthought content to charge ridiculous ticket prices to play songs from 30 years ago. He played for his fans and often staged free and low cost performances at his house in Paisley Park.
Almost 30 years of creativity, mastery, respectability and absolute guitar magnificence have earned Prince legendary status. Few ever achieve that level for good reason. Even the most accomplished can only hope to achieve a tenth as much.
I came down to the local bar for just one amazing egg white whiskey sour and found myself staying for three just to listen to Prince with a diverse group of guys. Thank you Prince for defining what legendary really means.
Brian McKay is a co-founder of zenruption. He grew up loving Prince as a kid. Listening to Prince wasn't just an excuse to stay at the bar. It was an emotional moment for him. Rarely do you get to celebrate true greatness.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license