What Prince Taught Me About Music – by Scott Bradlee

To be honest, I’m not even certain that the music world can function without Prince.   It might very well be time to pack it in; music, you’ve had a good run. Might as well just go into reruns now- there will never be another Prince.

I bought my first Prince album when I was in high school.  I drove an old Isuzu pickup truck that was affectionally known as the “Red Rocket” among my friends, due to its abject failure to go any speed over 50 miles per hour.  It didn’t have a built-in cassette deck, but I went to great lengths to install one so that I could continue to study great musicians during my 35 minute commute to high school.  One of the first cassettes I bought for it was the “Purple Rain” soundtrack.  Initially, I thought it was a little too ’80s-sounding for my tastes, but it grew on me very quickly.  I remember getting yelled at for leaving it in my mom’s car once; she apparently drove my little sister to piano lessons to the soundtrack of “Darling Nikki” one day.  Whoops.

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(not the actual cassette I owned – I stole this pic from someone’s Etsy store. But my cassette looked identical.)

It wasn’t till I started digging more into Prince’s life and work that it hit me that this was no typical pop artist.  He played every instrument on his albums! He took on the record labels!  He changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, just because he could! At the time, having mostly studied jazz and jazz only, I had kind of accepted the idea that great musicians could never achieve popular success.  Prince proved that theory wrong.

He was incredibly popular, selling hundreds of millions of albums worldwide. True, he knew how to capture the public’s imagination and how to give the media something to talk about, but unlike a lot of pop stars, he could also back up his boasts.  His guitar playing often rivaled Jimi Hendrix in its inventiveness, but with more technique and finesse.  He was a master at keyboards, drums, and bass, and created his own signature production style like Stevie Wonder.  Onstage, he brought all the excitement and charisma of James Brown and Little Richard in concerts that would last three hours or more.  As an visionary, he reinvented both dance and rock music and questioned all the rules of the music industry.  And, to top it all off, apparently he was also one hell of a basketball player.

(Prince showing up randomly at a jam session in Hollywood and stunning the audience with a guitar solo.)

Prince’s contrarian views about technology made him seem a bit out of touch to many in my generation.  He was notorious for defending his copyright almost to the point of absurdity.  What was truly absurd: his copyright crusades actually worked for him more often than they failed.  In today’s industry view of artists as some combination of record label fodder and social media clickbait, Prince held his ground and refused to compromise his values. You might not agree with him (Full disclosure: last April Fools’, I kicked around the idea of releasing a video titled, “Postmodern Jukebox Covers Every Prince Song in 5 Minutes” -where the sound was muted, of course), but you can’t help but respect that kind of tenacity.  Like all of the greats, he did things his way.

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When I was growing up, I thought that being a great musician was all that it took to be an artist.  Prince taught me that being a great musician was a starting point, not the finish line.  To truly be an artist, you need to go beyond what’s been done before and use your talents to say something new.  Being an artist is not a selfish act, either; it’s creating something for the entire world to enjoy. An artist gives people something to believe in. It’s a privilege, but also a responsibility.

The world may never again see an artist with Prince’s unique set of talents, but his influence will continue to be felt every time an artist wakes up and asks, “Why?” 

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“A Strong Spirit Transcends Rules.”

Prince, June 7, 1958- April 21, 2016

 

-By Scott Bradlee

@scottbradlee

Header artwork by Cesar Rodriguez.

  • Amy J. Phillips

    A very nice and moving tribute, Mr. Bradlee. As I noted on another site earlier today, his unique lyricism and phenomenal musicality – with both vocals and instruments – not only opened the doors of hearts but also the windows of many minds in past and current generations of music appreciators. I’ve little doubt that future generations will also pause and wonder at the breadth and depth of this one man’s talent. It is kind of interesting timing for me to see your post, as I had just a short while ago pondered how you and your crew might cover any one of his songs (with Purple Rain, of course, leaping first into my imagination). I’ll continue to enjoy both his music and yours. With best regards – Amy

  • Greg Leikam

    Scott, kind and true words about Prince. I for one say that with PMJ you are truly an artist, you have gone beyond what’s been done before, and you and all your artists, are using your talents to say something new and exciting. I have said it before, I listen to PMJ for hours/ days on end and never get tired of it.

  • El Negro

    Worth to read. Im from Mexico, when I was a kid I knew Prince as kind of “poor Michael Jackson” but I also ate buggers back then and dirt too. So we all a path to travel. An now I have some albums to listen. Keep up the good work Scott!
    Loving your stuff down to Mexico.

  • TakeActionWAHM

    A wonderful tribute, Scott. I’m a little older than you, but had the same sort of journey with Prince.

    On a side note, it’s kind of not fair that you’re an amazing musician and such an engaging writer too. 😉

  • Kevin Ang

    Simple yet true, Scott, your words are kind and pays tribute to a visionary, legend and icon, Prince. Yes the picture of the cassette reminds me so much of the journey I had with prince and my first cassette was 1999.
    I hope that you will be able to cover some of his songs as I am a fan of not only Prince, but of your works as well.
    Thanks

  • Jerome Cox

    Scott please bless us with a prince tribute in postmodern fashion. Thank you for your wonderful gift of music

  • Valerie Kristin

    Well said, Scott. Well said.

  • joliver3

    Nice post with great insights into a musical genius. I don’t know exactly how copyright law works for covering songs, but I was wondering — if you’re not able to cover any of Prince’s songs, why not cover some other songs in Prince’s style? That would make a nice tribute to him as well!