Friday, April 22, 2016

Me & Prince

MTV first let me know who this weird guy with the androgynous look and the badass guitar-playing was.

"Controversy" was the song, and it was in heavy rotation back in the early days of MTV.

I was instantly a fan. I remember telling someone during my brief time as a college radio DJ that Prince would be a much bigger star than Michael Jackson.

Commercially, that didn't turn out to be the case. Prince sold more than 100 million albums, the King of Pop more than 7 times that.

I don't care. To me, Prince was always better than Jackson. He was a great musician, a great singer, and wrote incredible songs.

Michael Jackson was a great singer and performer. End of story.

Prince was prolific, but I didn't really follow his career after 1990. I don't know why that was. At one time I owned most of his stuff; 8 albums. That turned out to be not even a fifth of his career portfolio.

To me, Prince's best release was probably "Sign o' the Times" -- most people will pick "Purple Rain" and that's a good argument, as is "1999."

I first heard Purple Rain not long after it was released in late June of 1984. I was living in Midland, Texas. I was 25.


Anyway, Midland was (probably still is) a racially divided town in those days, and the black folks had their side of town, and the Mexicans theirs, and ...

I worked with a guy named Wendell Smith. Absolute great guy. Crazy to think his infant daughter is now an adult.

Wendell was a baller, and I played a lot in those days. (25). I was lucky enough to get an invitation to play in his "Sunday League" -- his brothers and friends played pickup games all Sunday afternoon in the back yard of his mother's house.

The court was hard, packed West Texas dirt. The uneven rims were supported by wobbly posts and sported homemade plywood backboards. And ... pretty sure they weren't 10 feet. And totally sure they were of different heights independently. Not exactly regulation.

It was like going to heaven. Purifying.

So Wendell lets me come play. I'm super excited, because these guys were fun, and they were GOOD. Wendell was a gunner. His younger brother was kind of an animal on the boards.

He's the one who brought a boom box (so 80s!) out as we warmed up. That yard was baking under a summer sun but we were young bucks in those days and loved it. He popped in a cassette (!) of "Purple Rain." The movie came out a month later.

This day was well over 30 years ago, and I'll always remember it. The music, playing ball, the sun.

I was young and pretty. Prince was cool ... and hot. Life stretched out ahead like an endless highway.

That last two memories of Prince are his weird set a year or so ago on a Chris Rock-hosted SNL. Because Prince, he was allowed to subvert the typical two-song (one before Update, one at about 12:45 a.m.) show standard. Instead he played an odd, four-song continuous medley that wasn't musically memorable but was ... Prince doing Prince things.

And I remember his epic performance at halftime of the 2007 Super Bowl. Singing "Purple Rain" as it poured down was unforgettable.

Prince is gone at 57. Farewell, sweet Prince.