Tuesday 6 December 2016

Remembering the emotional and spiritual night I saw Prince play at his home

Eamon Carr

Published 22/04/2016 | 07:36

Prince on stage in 1986. Photo: PA
Prince on stage in 1986. Photo: PA
Prince performs during the halftime show of the NFL's Super Bowl XLI football game between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Florida, U.S. February 4, 2007

Prince has left us. For legions of fans, he's taken the good times with him.

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But he's left us the funk ... and those bitter-sweet ballads that he was master of.

You see, Prince was revolutionary. He rescued the soul of music at a time when the beat was in danger of becoming bland. Prince didn't do vanilla.

There'll be plenty of people who'll trot out the sales statistics, list the chart-topping number ones, the scalpers' prices for his sell-out shows and even attempt to decipher the mysterious symbol he used as his name while in dispute with his record company.

But to find Prince, the real Prince, the dude who grew from being Prince Rogers Nelson to become a living mash-up of the best of musical giants such as James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, you've got to ... well ... get down. You've got to listen and tune in to the man's music. That's where the information is.

He passed it on. Blew our minds. Played mind games with us. Redefined the old hipster term "cool".

His every step was innovative. A quality that's been sidelined in popular music in favour of the homogeneous. He came out of left-field to dominate music in the 1980s and '90s. His brilliance launched a wave of new talent that swept through music like a bush fire.

He had been relatively quiet in recent years, but he never stopped creating.

An aside. I remember shooting the breeze, years ago, with Bob Geldof. We were asking each other what we'd heard recently that had impressed us.

For Bob, it began and ended with Prince. "He's the only one that, when I hear a new recording from him, I have to ask myself how he did it. Everyone else you can figure out. But not Prince," said Bob.

I've been lucky enough to have experienced some sensational live performances by Prince over the years. But the night I got invited to his studio complex in Paisley Park will live long in my memory.

It was in November 1996. Prince was waiting for the clock in New York to hit midnight, which would signal a new day and the end of his old recording contract.

In Minneapolis, Prince threw a party. He joined us in an intimate reception room in his studio as, like at New Year's Eve, we watched the clock tick down.

He was pleasant and charming if somewhat guarded and inscrutable.

As he slipped away, he invited us through to one of the big sound stages at the end of the corridor. When he appeared again it was as Prince the musician who had been emancipated. Out with his "slave" motif and in came the most blistering, exhausting, poignant and celebratory musical performance I've ever had the privilege of witnessing.

Prince was on fire. When he played his big iconic number The Cross, it was as if he'd been born again, emotionally, spiritually and musically. This was beyond pop and rock. This was gospel and jazz and rhythm'n'blues. This was the mother lode. This was art.

That evening, I slipped security and went walkabout.

I tried a door which opened on a small fenced-off outdoor children's play area. It had swings and climbing frames and all sorts of fun stuff and a nice neat, unruffled soft wood-bark covering the ground. It hadn't been used and was clearly ready for the new baby that Prince and his wife Mayte (inset) recently had.

I closed the door gently and rejoined the group. What I didn't learn until days later was that the child, named Boy Gregory, had been born and was already dead.

I came back to Ireland, leaving Prince in Paisley Park with an empty toddler's playground.

Prince was found dead yesterday in Paisley Park. "A male down, not breathing."

The world is right to mourn his passing.

Herald

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