It often takes a while to know who has died.
When Prince died a year ago, the shock-wave for fans was breath-taking, the air went out of the room, and for each of them there was something that went missing when they got the word: the promise of new music, a memory of concert or a night of dancing, a period of their youth now seemingly past all reliving, and probably a dozen or more other private things.
If it seemed impossible that Prince had died, it was because it was impossible that he had lived. About him it could be said that he could dance like James Brown, sing like Marvin Gaye, play guitar like Jimi Hendrix, write a song like Curtis Mayfield—and arrange it all, and play it all, and record it all for himself or other artists. He was the most astonishingly broad musical artist of our time.
And he did this over and over, for decades, to the point that no one could ever really keep up with all he did. I suspect the longer time we now have will allow us to discover, in his work, things that are still overlooked, ideas that he had that somehow weren’t understood, things we skipped over because we thought Prince should be doing something else.
Tonight, as I write this, I’m struck by one other thing: has there been enough recognition that Prince was in the vanguard of bringing women instrumentalists into the context of the rock band? Let’s propose a rock band gender integration variation of the Bechdel Test: name a successful band with two prominent women instrumentalists before The Revolution that wasn’t a “all-girl band.1” Every example that comes to mind (and it’s not like there are hundreds of them) stops the count of women players at one. I can think of only two 2, and neither achieved a modicum of the cultural prominence of Prince’s band.
It’s a little known fact that Prince was about two feet taller than the rest of the Revolution.
And he did it again performing with his late career power trio, 3rdEyeGirl.
That’s just a part of his career of course—but please, this isn’t some kind of rote identity politics thing, or merely a piece of trivia like “Name a band with two left-handed Canadians?”. This is half the human race!
With the Parlando Project I get to audaciously tackle the work of a lot of great writers. I use their words unashamedly and try to find something I can relate to you about their work. For some reason, perhaps because Prince Rogers Nelson embarrasses me as musician, I’ve been hesitant to post this episode, and to share this modest musical piece The LYL Band wrote and performed about his leaving.
But I’m going to do it anyway. The best parts of this piece “Mr. Nelson” are the work of Dave Moore: most of the words and the electronic piano part. Footnotes at the end of this post for the obsessives. The audio player for “Mr. Nelson” is right below this. You can dance if you want to.
Guy in the middle isn’t Prince. Joy of Cooking, pioneers.
1 I exclude the “all-girl band” not to denigrate the talents of those who performed in them, or because a band somehow needs men to be valid, but because however intended, the result in the 20th Century cultural context was seen largely for its novelty value.
2 The two bands I can think of: Joy of Cooking and the Country Joe MacDonald led “Paris Sessions” era All-Star Band.