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The original column was published on November 15th, 2018 and can be found below.
It’s silly, no? When a rocket ship explodes and everybody still wants to fly
But some say a man ain’t happy unless a man truly dies
I realized something recently. I don’t listen to music on accident. I’ve never really listened to the radio, not really as a kid and not now. Because of that, there’s a whole lot of music that everyone seems to know but me. But with the way I talk about music, and spit seemingly endless trivia, this always comes as a surprise to people. I have these huge gaps and I’ve been making a real effort to fill them lately. There are several reasons why I’m finally expanding my base, so let’s hit some of the big ones.
I’ll address the elephant mascot in the room real quick and just say, yeah, the world is absolutely terrible and the regular old escapism I’ve relied on for years just isn’t cutting it anymore. But that’s obvious and boring and stressful to talk about, so let’s get more micro here and forget the macro for a second.
I recently got married. My major source of stress/pride at the wedding was that, instead of a DJ or a band, I pre-mixed music that we chose ourselves. I’ve always loved pop, but my partner was much better versed in dance music and R & B than me. So when it came time to mix these playlists, there was a lot of music in there that had this vague familiarity, but was basically foreign to me. But, after listening to these songs over and over (and over), I started feelin’ it a bit. And seeing everyone on the dance floor really made me take a closer listen to what I was missing.
Right around the same time I was making this playlist, my partner gave me a bag of CDs for my birthday. Now, if anyone knows me, they know I don’t really let people just pick media for me. I do tons of research, make a plan on how best to immerse myself in the material, and dive DEEP into what makes whatever I’m into SO good. (Yeah, I know, the most sterile way to enjoy media organically, but what’re you gonna do? I only get to listen to something for the first time once.) But this time, my almost-wife made a plan for me and pushed me to start filling two of my biggest gaps, Prince and David Bowie.
I’m sure you’ll hear more about Bowie in a later column, but I’m here to talk about Prince. I followed her plan and started with 1999. It was great! But it didn’t *really* speak to me yet. Yeah, “1999” and “Lady Cab Driver” ruled, but I didn’t really feel like I was missing out all these years. Then I went on to Parade. Ok, I was starting to get it. “Girls & Boys,” “Under The Cherry Moon,” and “Kiss” were some killer tracks. Then it ends with “Sometimes It Snows In April,” and my god. I was really looking forward to the third album in her list.
This was the album I needed to get me through the weeks leading up to the wedding and the dreaded midterm elections. The opening title track is somehow both so 1987 and so relevant. I’ll let Prince speak for himself.
In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same…
Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church and killed everyone inside
You turn on the telly and every other story is tellin’ you somebody died
A sister killed her baby ’cause she couldn’t afford to feed it
And yet we’re sending people to the moon…
Baby make a speech, Star Wars fly
Neighbors just shine it on
But if a night falls and a bomb falls
Will anybody see the dawn?
Double albums tend to have a bunch of filler, but every song on this album is so damn good. Just when the first disc starts to wrap up, as my unmarried life wrapped up with it, you get the fantastic ballad closer, “Forever In Your Life.”
All that is wrong in my world, You can make right
You are my saviour, You are my light
Forever I want you in my life
There comes a road in every man’s journey
A road that he’s afraid to walk on his own
I’m here to tell you that I’m at that road
And I’d rather walk it
with you than walk it alone
You are my hero, You are my future
When I am with you, I have no past
Oh baby, my one and only desire
Is find some way in this doggone world
To make this feeling last
The second half of the record is just as great as the first, and if you’ve never heard it, you gotta give “If I Was Ur Girlfriend” or “Strange Relationship” a listen right now. The jams in “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” are worth the price of admission on their own and really showcase just what a diverse and talented group of musicians Prince brought together for this era of his career.
But the last song on this record I gotta talk about is possibly my favorite Prince song, “The Cross.” I’m not going to pull any lyrics because the song shouldn’t be experienced without hearing Prince’s voice. The first time I heard Prince’s screams in this song, I said, out loud, “My god. I get it now. This isn’t just Prince. This is Prince.” I’m an atheist, but my god, “The Cross” is a religious experience. And no one should die without knowing it.
I may be late to the party, and I know Prince isn’t here anymore. It breaks my heart, but records like this show that Prince made sure the party would keep raging long after he left us. This isn’t just a perfect record. It’s not just the highest point in a career filled with mountain ranges of highs. It’s not just about holding on to the love around you while your society darkens and radicalizes it’s traditional “values” around you. It’s a little of everything we had in 1987 and it’s a little of everything we still have.