For such a public figure, Prince lived a very private life. And his death too has been private. It was a shock to the world, and still the events leading to his death remain unannounced. And yet with any great musician the mourning has been very public.
My knowledge of Prince has as a general rule been purely his music. Unlike other musicians where I enjoy watching their music videos, there is no easy way to do this. He is not on You Tube or Spotify. In a battle for artists rights Prince demanded all his videos be taken down, and refused to be on I Tunes because they wouldn’t pay him in advance. It’s a strong message but sadly one that may lead to obscurity. It begs the question, how can we have our cake and eat it too? We want free music, easily accessible, but we also want to support the artists who made it so they can continue to do so into the future.
Through my desire to mourn this great artist of our times I turned to film, Purple Rain to be exact. Purple Rain is Prince at his best. It stands in the grand tradition of teenaged rebellion and rock and roll films such as The Wild One, Rebel Without a Cause and Streets of Fire (if you haven’t seen this one, please do, you’ll thank me later), combining it’s tale of redemption with show stopping performances by not only Prince, but also Time, Dez Dickerson and the Modernaires, and Apollonia.
Yes it’s kind of disturbing that it hardly treats women better than The Wild One, made almost exactly 30 years earlier. In fact their well dressed, motorcycle riding, rebellious heroes who get the girl with little more than a glance and a few snide remarks have rather a lot in common. Prince’s character, ‘the Kid’, however broadens his narrow view of women throughout the film, leading to the climax when he writes the lyrics to Purple Rain, a song written by the two female members of his band.
Purple Rain is hardly an inventive story, it’s dripping with 80s cheese and yet Prince is so charismatic, the music is incredible, and the sets and costumes are so spot on that you can’t help but enjoy it. A great film cannot be judged on inventiveness alone, great films are the ones that capture your imagination, excite all your senses and stay in your memory.
So as we say goodbye to one of the greats of musical history, I hope the future of music, and the internet, is such that he will not simply vanish from our collective memory. Perhaps one day his dreams will come true, we will find a way to consolidate our desire to have free access to music with fair pay for artists. Prince’s life was a party, and as he said, parties aren’t meant to last. But the best parties are remembered forever.