I woke up in utter disbelief this morning. We’ve had a lot of music legends pass away in the last year, but nothing prepared me for the passing of Prince. The man was simply eternally youthful and filled with boundless energy. Less than six months ago, Prince played a 38-song set at Oracle Arena that got out around midnight, followed by another 18-song set at 3am at the Great American Music Hall — a feat that much younger musicians cannot accomplish.
As long as I’ve been alive, I haven’t known a world without Prince. He was such a rarity in pop music… No matter what your primary tastes in music were, Prince was the one thing that everyone could agree on. The R&B kids loved his voice. The metal kids knew that he could out-shred any guitarist out there. The goth kids loved his dark, dissonant beats. The punks loved that he simply did whatever he wanted. The pop kids simply recognized the great songs. The man sang of sexual freedom, but was also a devout Jehovah’s Witness. No matter how conservative or liberal you are, Prince was somebody that you could relate to; however, he was also superhuman, capable of playing any instrument he got his hands on with virtuoso skill.
I vividly remember the first I saw Prince. It was at the Oakland Arena, referred to as “The New Arena In Oakland” back then, for some unknown reason, as it was a pretty old room at that point. I was fresh out of high school, and managed to score some decent seats. This was the late 90’s, back when he went by “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”. My ticket stub actually referred to him as “The Artist”:
His entrance was, simply, the single most perfect entrance of any performer I’ve ever seen. No lights, no fanfare; he simply walked in the rafters of the arena, and sat down in the first empty seat he could spot. And waited. He waited until the person in that seat arrived, apologized, and then jumped on stage to give us the most perfect 3 hours of hard rock infused funk that any human being has ever performed. He improvised, but the jams never strayed too far off course. The man also moved like a ballerina but played like a monster.
This was before his conversion to Jehovah’s Witness, so he was still playing all of the dirty songs like “Sexy MF” and “Darling Nikki,” which we didn’t know at the time was shortly before he retired that entire era. He was also one funny, funny, guy. Since it was 1998, and Matrix was still fresh in everyone’s minds, he talked about how Keanu Reaves and Samuel L. Jackson both asked him for tickets to the show. He responded by asking, “What’s going to happen in the next Matrix movie?” He then pointed to the upper deck and told us that was where Keanu and Samuel were sitting.
I still can’t believe that show from 18 years ago is as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. I’d seen him many times over the years, and every show was great. He treated them as if they were a unique spiritual experience, and no two shows were even remotely similar. He did everything the jam bands think they are doing, only actually got it right.
I was also one of the lucky few that managed to enjoy his performance, solo on piano, at the Paramount in Oakland. It was a beautiful and profound experience like no other. He also looked YOUNGER than he did in 1998, and just as funky and fiery. (He introduced “Cream” as a song he wrote after looking at himself in the mirror.) Since he held such care for his likeness, I don’t have any way to share with you any element of that show — which meant that nobody was glued to their phones during the set and everyone simply lived in that moment.
Thank you, Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson, for a lifetime full of music. I will never forget the gift that you brought the world.