The world and especially baby boomers were stunned to learn this week of the untimely death of Price Rogers Nelson, also known simply as "Prince." He was one of our own generation, having been born in 1958 at the tail end of the baby boom (the same year as me.) He is being hailed as a musical genius and one of the best soul/rock guitarists of our generation. Throngs of fans have gathered outside his estate and around the world, paying tribute to his life and his music. Public buildings and sports arenas have been lighted up in the color purple in honor of one of his biggest hits, "Purple Rain."
But to be honest, although I grew up aware of his music, I was never a really huge fan. His music was always floating around out there at the edge of what was considered popular. Oh sure, everybody knows a few of his tunes. "Raspberry Beret" is the one that comes most quickly to my mind. It's catchy, has a chorus you can sing along to, and tells a familiar story - boy meets girl and falls in love (or seduces her.) "When Doves Cry" is also about a subject most people can relate to - why do we have problems in our relationships that seem like the same problems our parents had? Is it my fault, because of who I am? How can we fix it?
And then of course there's "1999." While the rest of us were freaking out, worrying about Y2K, and wondering if the power grid would fail on January 1st, 2000, Prince decided to party on through it all. It turned out the joke was on us and the great collapse of society never happened.
But to be honest, that's about the extend of my knowledge of the catalogue of his songs. If you asked me to sing "Purple Rain" or "Little Red Corvette", I couldn't do it. I just don't know them.
Judging by the size of the crowds gathering to memorialize him, Prince was hugely popular with a certain segment of the population. Many people say that he made them feel that it was okay to be "different" and allowed them to accept themselves for who they were. Other celebrities and musicians alike, including Beyoncé and Anderson Cooper, have professed to being in awe and a little intimidated by his talent. His performances were from all accounts hugely entertaining, impressing even President Obama, who apparently grew up a fan and invited him to perform at the White House recently.
How did such a popular musician remain on the outer edges of my consciousness? For one thing, Prince's music was a little too overtly sexual for my taste. I prefer the romantic sound track of my life to be a little more subtle. Prince came on just a little too strong for me, but maybe that's exactly what so many others liked about him.
Prince's was always pushing boundaries and experimenting with musical styles. His music was not at all "mainstream." One had to have a pretty sophisticated musical ear to appreciate what he was doing musically.
And he was flamboyant. You had to be able to look past the eye makeup, the pompadour hairdo, and the wild outfits to recognize his talent. I remember in particular one of his stage costumes. If any man ever showed up at my house with both butt cheeks carved out of his pants, I'd be a little put off. But he wore it and got away with it because it was just part of his flamboyant persona.
From all accounts the world has lost a pretty talented musician at a relatively young age, and I recognize that. The cause of his death is still unknown. Hopefully the toxicology reports will come back clean and he will be found to have died a natural, though untimely, death. If he died of a drug overdose that would make it all the more untimely and tragic. Apparently he has left behind thousands of unheard tracks of music that may be released over the next few years. Unfortunately it's music that I will probably never hear or appreciate because Prince was just too cool for me.