Prince… Missing a Beat
I ain’t been right since Prince died… my wife told me before I heard it on the T.V. “Jigs called. He said Prince died.” I didn’t question her comment because Jigs doesn’t kid or joke about shit like that. I took a deep breath and sat down in the nearest chair.
Now, I didn’t know Prince, never been in the same room with him as I have with many big stars. I did see him at his first N.Y. show and witnessed a couple Prince stories told to me by people who did spend time around him.
Prince was an enigma who shrouded himself in mystery. For me, he has never needed actual opaqueness. For me, life is thank God less complex. I do what I want to do until I don’t want to do it anymore. Then I do something else. Now, I ain’t never been no “lay around the fort” Indian. I am now, and have always been, a red Geronimo ass nigger.
From the age of 32 I had had enough cash to go where ever I wanted to go and stay there as long as I want to stay. There is a freedom in that that allows me to work hard at what ever I am doing because after all, I don’t have to do it, so I must be doing it because I want to… you follow me. Like I have often told my woman of 50 years, “If I can be any where I want to be, I must want to be right here with you.”
For some of us who know the business, Prince was Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X all rolled into one. He got signed to the rock division, the white division. Of course that meant more radio, more T.V., more tour support, more money. I first heard of Prince from a guy named Tony Sylvester who sang with a group called the Main Ingredient. The lead singer was Cuba Gooding, Sr. Yes, the father of Cuba Jr. We were in Ohio, or some damn where, when he played a tape for us of this young kid who was going to be big.
To my students the death of Prince meant very little. I tried to explain that for me he meant more than just some image on the T.V. screen. With his death a part of my life, a time in my life had died. His time was my time. His songs were my songs and finally a brother was singing them. As light as Prince may have been when he played and sang, he was black as hell. He was coal turned to diamond.
Brian Williams (TV anchorman) said wrongly, “All women wanted him and all men wanted to be him.” Wrong! I did not ever want to be up on stage with my ass out. I wanted to play with him in his band. I wanted to share the groove with him.
As I watched people milling around outside Prince’s Paisley Park I juxtaposed the outside with him inside dead in the elevator.
“Did we forget to water the plants today? Did I forget to look up at the moon?”
I thought of my own dealings with pain, like death and our quest for immortality. Death, like a humming bird hovering at sunset above a rose, comes for our blossoms before we wither and fade.
We construct our own palaces of deceit and loneliness. No mother, no father, no wife, no child… Prince died by himself. But the music will live, the videos will survive and those of us that saw his life will talk about that little black, gifted, good looking, and lonely motherfucka forever.
“Modern troubadour… a romantic… he was Little Richard, Sly Stone, James Brown, Mick Jagger, all rolled into one little stick of dynamite.”
What we believe about ourselves often comes out in our songs. Prince remade himself time and time again. He was able to thrill and delight us… but at what cost? Life’s delicate balance has its weight of needs and wants. Nobody lives forever but 57 years was not long enough for Prince Roger Nelson. Fame, as some of know, can be a double-edged sword. With one edge we slay the world, with the other we often slit our own throats.
What Prince brought together was simply the whole of the country, white people, people of color, gay people, straight people… we all danced to “I wanna be your lover.” We all cried with his doves. I never wanted to kiss him, but to play in his band… yes I did.
With everyone with whom I played I always found a way to get up tight with the star or leader of the band. What I always managed to do was try and play what the star would play if they could play my ax. I would find their pulse and tempo and keep it where they wanted it, and make every hit as if I were accentuating a stripper or exotic dancer.
Sometimes what you think somebody would want is not what they want at all. There was Diana Wharton (female singer and songwriter) who we all thought was the next Nina Simone. One might think she wanted it soft and sensitive, but to the contrary she wanted it funky and as fiery as you could make it. Once I find out how you like it I will dedicate myself to giving it to you that way. This has always worked for me on the bandstand and in life.
“Can’t you feel me giving through my song?”
A song can be the perfect combination of melody and rhyme. It can be your only friend or companion in a crowded noisy room. A song can pay your mortgage and your car note. At thirty-two 3 songs gave me the voice to say, “I can go anywhere in the world and stay as long as I want.” Songs have provided for my family in life and will in my death. I write one every time I am able. Some folks write the music, some folks write the lyrics. Some folks like Prince write both (like myself sometimes). Prince, after writing the music and lyrics, then played all the instruments. He is by no means the first or the best at these meglo maniacal activities, but was no doubt one of the most prolific.
If you look me up, Google me or some shit, it will state that I was a “highly prolific rap producer”. I may have done a few things… 31 chart hits (my wife ways 38)… but compared to Prince Roger Nelson my accomplishments are just two tears in a bucket.
“Maybe I’m just like my father… Maybe I’m just like my mother.”
My mother always accused and criticized me. “Edward, why do you keep your gifts hidden under a basket?” My gifts are for the most part just that; mine. There was beautiful woman I once knew from Aruba who worked in the sex trade ($500 an hour 30 years ago in a house on Central Park West). One time when I questioned her about selling her beautiful body she replied, “When I come see you play you put not only your body in but your whole being, your soul, and then you get paid.” I only questioned her commitment to her work one other time. That was when she got out of the business. I asked her why she told me her place had gone fetish. It was more money, but the clientele (always upscale doctors, lawyers, judges, etc.) often came with things they wanted her to do at a precise time; some even had scripts. She simply informed me, “I’m a hoe not an actress.”
To know who and what you are is hard enough. Prince remade himself every time he took a notion. Another thing I know is this… I don’t care what you have or who you are… if you wake up with pain every morning you will do what ever you have to do or take what ever you have to take to make that pain go away. Another great American songwriter said…
“Some times even music substitute for tears.” (Paul Simon)
What I am most afraid of in this life is to die, be broke, alone and in pain. Prince wasn’t broke but he was alone and in pain.