I haven’t lived in a world without Prince. I initially got into him when I was 12 and he was the first artist I ever saw live, aged 13, at Wembley Stadium with my brother – the beginning of 52 Prince shows to follow.
From that time, every year pretty much, there was an album or a tour or a side project. A quiet year for Prince is a protégé album and an average year is an album and a couple of side projects. I got into this headspace where I’d just assume there was something in the pipeline, I used to wonder when album #100 would come. I’m getting married this year, I thought, “Where will I be? When I’m getting married? Will there be a song I can play at the wedding?” So, for that not to be there anymore is a big deal.
In 2013, at the third night of his run at the Montreux Jazz Festival, we were right at the front. His dancer walked across the stage, put her hand out to me and for the next 30 minutes, there was me, Prince and the band. I half danced, half walked over to the keyboard, looked him right in the eyes and said “I love you” – you only have one chance to do that. He looked back at me, while singing When Doves Cry, put his hand on his heart and nodded.
From the people I’ve spoken to since Prince’s death, there seems to be a consistent theme of someone who was isolated. Susan Rodgers, who had engineered the likes of Sign o’ the Times, Purple Rain and Parade, spoke to me of how Prince dealt with his split from Susannah Melvoin. Prince called her and demanded, “You need to get the studio set up tonight, there’s big sounds, I need my piano, I need to record tonight.” When she arrived, the heartbreak was written all over his face. He’d written a song called Wally, about a band member, in one take on the piano and she says it was the most beautiful thing she’d heard – it was complete heartbreak. Then, once the recording was over, he walked over and asked for the tracks to be cut up and erased. She pleaded with him to think about it overnight but he moved her out of the way and cut all of the tracks up. To this date, it has never been heard.
There were many points where he would record and he didn’t want to be vulnerable to the public. Prince made music simply because he could and that was the way he could express himself. He didn’t need the desire or feeling of “I have to share this with the world”.
What he did have was foresight and the will to stick to his guns even when it was uncomfortable. 80s America was very behind – Rick Jones and James Brown weren’t playing to white audiences at the time, but Prince decided he wanted to do that.
He would go on stage wearing high heeled boots up to his thighs and bikini bottoms, he was about wearing sexuality on your sleeve and not apologising for it.
It felt like an 80s movement and Prince was the architect of that. He had a much more soulful impact, when it came to race and gender, than any of his peers – in the same way Bowie pushed boundaries in the 70s, Prince took it to another level.
If you look at America, pop culture and how it’s transformed, I don’t think there’s a stretch to say that Prince exemplifies everything that is good about modern music. If you didn’t know anything about artists such as Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Little Richard, you’d develop an understanding of them through listening to Prince. He really embodied them, though it was imagined together to sound like something completely new, completely unique and always quintessentially Prince.
He hit so many people because of the reminders of what the human race was capable of, but because it was so ethereal and his achievements were so other-worldly, it’s almost like they were sent from another planet. So, now he’s left, a year on, it leaves you thinking of the bigger picture and the imprints he’s left on contemporary music.
Mobeen is a journalist and author of the critically acclaimed Prince 1958-2016: Stories from the Purple Underground. Click here for more information or to order a copy in the UK, or click her to order a copy in the US. Click here to follow Mobeen on Twitter.