The stage-management of it all might have been a conspiracy of nature and the departed personage himself. As the shocked, disbelieving throngs seemingly, are mechanically drawn to the Paisley Park palace, a soft rain of insinuated, purple passion pelted down upon them piteously. Then, as if to consecrate the passing of this brief, frenzied existence, suddenly a rainbow doth appear, converting every tear into a spectrum of its own, multi-hued audacity.

Apparently, I leaped right over that Zeitgeist. When Prince was born, I had been around for 30 years. By then, my musical tastes already were well established. Growing up in a city rife with culture and the fine arts, at a time when those things were reflected in the schools, from “K” upward. Classical and Broadway music, along with the sophisticated American Song Book, all were everyday staples of natural sustenance. Sanitized jazz was just beginning to creep into Carnegie Hall. The blues was eschewed by respectable people. The beautiful simplicity of Stephen Foster was taught, with all of its “black Joes, mammies, massas” and “little darkies rolling on the cabin floor.” The Jewish cantor’s son, Al Jolson, passionately sought his “Mammy” through black-face, while on one knee. Strip away the era-tolerated, lack of ethnic sensitivity, and the music was quite good. Not only that, it was EVERYBODY’S MUSIC! Somewhere along the line, music became sectionalized. So, let it be with the departed Prince and his ilk.

Paisley Park mourners

Of Prince’s musicianship and extraordinary theatricality, there is no argument. Because of the compartmentalism of the music of this era, I am not familiar with the body of Prince’s work. I cannot hum even a few bars of any song of his. “Purple Rain” is the only title I know. I did see the movie, and remember only that there was a motorcycle involved – I think. In the past few days, I have heard lots of Prince’s music for the first time. What I did hear, along with the lyrics, have impressed me not. With all of the hullaballoo, I feel that I must have missed out on something magnificent and moving. The only time I recall seeing Prince on TV, he was wearing a pair of pants with the ass out.

There is an observation about the music I have been hearing for the past few days. It seems to be a weak, falsetto imitation of Michael Jackson’s strong singing voice, with an absence of imaginative lyrics. In contrast, I well remember the haunting, “She’s Out of My Life” and many of MJ’s other gems. I have heard supportive critics of Prince say, “Yes, he borrowed a little here, a little there – but, in the end, it’s all Prince.” Is that what I missed – a purported musical genius, snapping up bits of other genius, and expelling it badly? I suspect that may be the trend today, sans even Prince’s basic musical talent. It is a travesty that practitioners of rap and hip-hop even be referred to as, “musicians.” They neither sing nor play music! Further, in the grand spectrum of entertainment, they do not fit the character of “artist.” But, then, that is grist for another mill.

Back to what Wolf Blitzer referred to as, “Purple Haze.” Acknowledging Prince's genius for playing musical instruments, it is a pity he was not exposed to the grand extend of music. He would have developed a fuller appreciation of perception, interpretation and expression, in both note and word. Likewise, his many devoted fans throughout the world similarly would be endowed. Are you listening school boards and local governments everywhere? You cannot continue to price the fine arts out of the curriculum, and expect to have a well-rounded citizenry. Sure, private schools and academies will remain well balanced, but must we continue on the road to becoming a vassal state, culturally?

***** ***** *****

The Prince of Purple has succumbed.

His music has left me benumbed.

They say he’s a hit,

And don’t give a shit

That only I am thusly bumbed.

Curtis W. Long

Curtis W. Long

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  • MJ????? Who couldn't play a kazoo? Who, without Berry Gordy Jr or Quincy Jones pulling the strings was barely a blip, as evidenced by his output between those two and after Jones? Every musician uses what he has heard before and what he has learned to create something of his own. Prince combined Little Richard, Hendrix, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Sammy Davis Jr and took that mix to a far higher level. WITHOUT a corporate monolith pushing his music, learning to actually play instruments along the way. Clips of him dancing onstage showed moves pre-"Thriller" that may have had MJ copying him, not the other way around. Jackson had crowds of more talented dancers onstage as distractions, part of over-the-top spectaculars, while Prince had top-line musicians onstage playing HIS creations, while HE was the center of the show. "Bad" was more of a description of most of one's music, while Prince was creating constantly for decades while the other one's fans were always waiting for the "next great album" that NEVER came. There was no comparison: an adolescent bopping onstage singing other people's tunes, then later making one later album that was edited and produced into a mega-seller all while living as a freak show, vs. a self-created genius, prolific for years, playing instruments, fostering and mentoring younger musicians. You want a real test? Say you filled two rooms with blank music sheets, multiple instruments, recording equipment, all you would need to make an album. Put Prince in one room and MJ in another for one week. What do you think you would get? Hint: one room would probably have multiple albums, hundreds of sheet music pages filled and most instruments played. And the other would be just as you stocked it.