The Utopian

Sometimes it snows in April, but in 2016 it’s as if the snow wont quit. But seriously, cliches aside, damn…..

For a kid that has lived his life swung between the realms of rock & roll and hip hop, no other artist encapsulates these otherwise separate worlds with as much mystique, coolness and class as Prince Rogers Nelson. Equal parts Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Zigaboo, this man has engineered musical genre and popular culture like no other. Continuing the work of the aforementioned, for more than 30 years he provided sexuality and politics with a funky backbeat, maintaining a phenomenal work ethic right till the very end.

I remember being ten years old bouncing around a friend’s lounge room screaming the Diamonds & Pearls album in unison at the top of our lungs, not fully understanding the sexuality of the music, but still sensing it was just a little bit naughty. This was regional North West New South Wales in the early 90’s mind you, where Barnesy and Farnsey had the stronghold. Ten year old boys did not dance around and sing to the likes of Prince without being subject to much scrutiny, but we didn’t care. At the end of the day, and its only taken me some 20 years to get back to this point and figure it out, good jams is good jams. It doesn’t matter what the genre, if something is solid and it resonates with you, then who gives a flying rats proverbial if you want to rejoice with it and Prince helped teach me that.

He seemed to be able to touch on such diverse and confronting subject matter, yet make us feel warm and comfortable at the same time, safely nestled and snugged up in his fluffy purple cloud. You’d be jamming away and hear a line for the first time and think to yourself, ‘wait… did he just say what I think he said?’ ‘Cream, get on top…’ or ‘… Met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine.’ For a boy on the edge of puberty it was blowing my mind and yes you can trace sexual connotations in popular song back to Robert Johnson talking about squeezing his lemon till the juice runs down his leg and I hear Mozart was quite the deviate too, but I guess Prince was there at the time he was needed and opened the door. Always the lover and never the fighter, whilst draped in free hippie love and sex he was also totally comfortable tackling war and social conflict in joints like PartyUp, Ronnie Talk To Russia and Sign O The Times.

I was perhaps too young to truly remember, or grasp what he was doing on his early albums, but as I’ve grown up and studied back its as if the world was listening to the future. Rejecting standard approaches to music production, he was just marching to his own beat. Sucking in influence from songwriters like Joni Mitchell as well as well as James Brown fusing funk and metal like guitar shreds and replacing bass lines with programmed beats that were as good as, if not trumping his established hip hop peers in Afrika Bambaataa or Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five. He was flexing and bending all that was safe and making it look ever so easy. The dude was as much a punk as anyone, creating his own fashion and his own sound with the message to the world that its ok to stray from the path we’ve been told to stick to.

In the wash up, over the last week people far more qualified than I have said their piece and summed up his legacy better than I ever could but I take away this. I never saw a person playing a guitar in a film clip that made me want to find the nearest sheet of cardboard to cut out and paint my own to look exactly like that said guitar before or after Prince’s ‘Yellow Cloud.’ What does the progression of hip hop, rock and roll and ultimately popular music sound and look like if Prince never was? Imagine the single talent that would unite established figureheads from the world of heavy metal like Zakk Wylde with the likes of Alicia Keyes. At what other funeral do these worlds get down and party? I’m just glad I lived to witness the show.

Prince – A visionary, a lover, a Utopian.

And finally what the hell was in the Minneapolis reservoirs to be giving us Prince, Husker Du and The Replacements all at the same time? Hopefully someone has it bottled up, stashed away somewhere for a new generation.

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