Friday, April 25, 2008

Prince, Pt. 2: Madison Square Sponge Bob

Prince is a cartoon. I described him at Jones Beach as a special effect, as if he'd been computer generated. With any other artist I might have feared a letdown with seeing him for the second time, but I had no such fears with the midget dynamo from Minnesota.

Can we take a bit of a detour here? How odd is it that Prince is from Minnesota? Of all the urban landscapes that could have spawned the premier R&B funkster of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, is there a more unlikely spot?

For whatever reason, R&B is considered an urban art form. Atlanta, Detroit, New York, Chicago...these hubs all have their own exalted place in the history and evolution of our national music. But Minneapolis?

R&B conjures up images of a decked out populace partying til the sun comes up. They are wearing slinky dresses, sharp suits, glittering accessories, and fine smelling perfumes or colognes.

It most certainly does not conjure up parking lots outside of music clubs with freezing people in rubber boots, mittens, gloves, hats, and hooded parkas scraping 2 inches of snow off of their windshields.

But from this milieu Prince Rogers Nelson came. By 17 there was a bidding war over who would release his first album. He signed his record contract on the condition that he be allowed to compose, perform, and produce every sound on the album. So when you hear Prince sing 'I Feel For You', the song that Chaka Khan would take to the top of the charts, you are hearing Prince and only Prince. Every sound is made by that little purple dude.

I imagine him as a teenager shaking off the snow and getting down to the business of being a musical prodigy. How do you find the time to learn how to play, among others, guitar, piano, bass, drums, keyboards, trumpet, and saxophone? All while playing varsity basketball? And preparing for a giant career that you've already got mapped out? About which no one who knows you has any doubt? How does this happen? Did I mention the dancing which is as forceful and capable as any Broadway showboy?

To illustrate how bizarre I find this location of talent to be, close your eyes and picture the Coen Brothers classic film 'Fargo'. Now splash Prince circa 'Purple Rain' all over that dreary snow blown whitewashed silence. To quote millions of tech savvy texters, WTF?

Well, it happened. We all have the evidence to prove it, from the DVD of 'Purple Rain' to last year's transcendent Super Bowl performance, to Coachella which goes down this weekend.

My second live experience with Prince came at Madison Square Garden, the only time in my 8 years there that I paid to see a concert. I saw Barenaked Ladies for free but that's another story entirely.

Ever the showman, Prince first appeared to the panting masses via some sort of underground hatch which he rose out of all in white in a blinding white spotlight. He was wailing away on his guitar while the band snapped immediately into some sick funk 100 yards away on the MSG stage. He then sunk back into the floor and reappeared on stage.

I won't even try to describe this performance in comparison to the one at Jones Beach because when it comes to Prince, there is no off night. He is Prince 24/7, sometimes more than that according to those who know him. He barely sleeps in order to pump out the volume of music that rushes through that teeny body.

Go back and watch the Super Bowl again if you can find it on YouTube. Remember that the man you are watching has an artificial hip from dancing for 30 years in high heeled boots.

Who else could pull this shit off? And he's from Minneapolis!!!!


siobhan said...

great post bren. i didn't really put two and two together about how odd it is that he makes that kind of sound and he is from up narth.

remember we realized the next day we were both at that barenaked ladies concert and sitting close to one another? so bizarre. it would never have even entered my brain that you could possibly be at a barenaked ladies show!!

Brendan O'Malley said...

it barely entered my mind that i was at a barenaked ladies show while i was there.

they are the most unlikely pop stars EVER.