The Legacy of Prince
“When Doves Cry” could be the great artist’s own eulogy.
I received this particular kick in the gut from the nicest of messengers, Reggie Bordeaux. He is the fine percussionist for Paul Cebar’s band, Tomorrow Sound, and I was picking him him up to come to my home studio, where he applied real drums to some tracks recorded by my friend David Standridge. Reggie is amazing in a lot of ways. I watched him nail seven songs in three hours without blinking, he’s that quick and steady. He is also amazingly obsessed with Prince. Sometimes I think Facebook was invented so he could post every cool performance His Purple Highness ever recorded. So to hear it from Reggie was somehow sadly appropriate. His phone was blowing up with messages and posts from those who were aware of his connection.
More than just a fan, Reggie was living in Minneapolis in the mid-1990s and playing with a group called Sonnyboy. The bass player was in Prince’s circle and they were invited out to Paisley Park Studio to play a few times. There’s your two or three degrees of separation, and that would seem to be about a close as anyone got to him.
It doesn’t matter, because it’s the loss of his gift, shared on the world stage, over and over for close to 40 years, that we will mourn. There’s almost no starting place when talking about his music. He was so prolific and unusually gifted, it’s hard to wrap your head around it. I remember the the sort of trumped-up rivalry between him and Michael Jackson. I imagine it continuing somewhere in the afterlife, if there is one and assuming they wind up in the same place.
I’m guessing Prince is headed straight up, if only for the joy he shared so effortlessly. Michael Jackson seemed to be losing energy as he got bigger and bigger, dragging a heavy kind of superstardom behind him. He was every bit as talented and I’d say even weirder, but his ambition and perfectionism always seemed fueled by pain. I came down on the Prince side of the ticket simply because he used his fame in such an interesting and fun way.
I saw him at the height of his fame in the ‘80s. His proteges (an odd concept for someone in their twenties), Vanity 6 and Morris Day & The Time, were the openers. The Time was a thing unto itself. Morris, who could have passed for Prince’s brother, mugged like mad and his valet followed him everywhere with a mirror so he could check himself. The band was tight and as crisp as bacon. They all glided around the stage with moves that seemed to be synched to the nanosecond. Tough act to follow.
Then out came Prince and it was a case of Morris who? In a riveting and sometimes salacious performance, he showed what legends are made of. It was quite a night. In a way it made me feel for Milwaukee in much the same way Viking fans must feel about Green Bay — how are we ever going to catch up with that? Much like Bowie, Prince was other-dimensional, and the only feasible explanation is he was from Mars. In one category, often overlooked, he was just preternaturally gifted. That category would be his lyrics,
For a guy who was a seriously bad mamma-jamma on guitar, drums, keyboards and, I suppose fife, he wrote lines that had a natural cleverness and hipness that reminded me of Jimi Hendrix. I’m pretty sure Prince didn’t drink or drug, so how did these oddly psychedelic visions come to him? I laughed when I heard this: “I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast” And Tom Waits must have secretly admired this one:
“Dig if you will the picture
Of you and I engaged in a kiss
The sweat of your body covers me
Can you my darling
Can you picture this?
Dream if you can a courtyard
An ocean of violets in bloom
Animals strike curious poses
They feel the heat
The heat between me and you”
I was going to quote just the first couple lines, but how can you leave out the animals and their poses? Sure he’s amusing and clever, but the screw turns. He goes deep… I mean deep:
“How can you just leave me standing?
Alone in a world that’s so cold? (So cold)
Maybe I’m just too demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father too bold
Maybe you’re just like my mother
She’s never satisfied (She’s never satisfied)
Why do we scream at each other
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry”
© Prince Rogers Nelson
That’s a chorus my friends, and reading it makes the loss of the guy who wrote it so much worse. It’s about love, both personal and universal, denied. It’s years on the couch and still in the same mess. This little entertainment has a lot of emotional reverb on it.
“Touch if you will my stomach
Feel how it trembles inside
You’ve got the butterflies all tied up
Don’t make me chase you
Even doves have pride”
© Words/Music Prince Rogers Nelson
The tied up butterflies, have you ever come across such an image? It’s absurdly lurid — Dali would say it’s too much and he would probably be right. Prince could have been a painter, but in a way, he already was, with your imagination the canvas.
As for the Youtube version… Among his many talents, Prince was a pit bull about his copyrights. This means you can watch a still of him, or a grainy, out-of-focus live performance of this song on Youtube. I can’t recommend anything but the audio portion. So go ahead pick one, or better yet, listen on your device and feel free to dig, if you will, the picture.
This was not someone we could afford to lose. A 57-year-old Prince or a 90-year-old Queen Elizabeth who’d probably welcome the next phase? No disrespect intended but again, somewhere on some cosmic level where we are not allowed to dig, someone made a bad, bad decision and we’re left in the lurch. That hurts.