Say It’s Your Birthday: Prince

My personal history with Prince (I refuse to call people
names, even if they want me to) is as dynamic as it is one-sided. In 1989 I saw
his Lovesexy tour and was as entranced as I was repulsed by the
tackiness of his stage show… I mean, a red convertible that drives around the
stage? In 1993 I saw Prince on his last American tour, after his last decent
album, the one actually titled with that symbol and the album I refer to as
“Zofo.” Prince was then playing at the smaller Worcestor Auditorium,
across the
street from the Centrum, where I had seen him four years earlier. While Prince
claimed he simply wanted to play smaller venues, everyone knew there was some
question as to whether Prince still had the drawing power he once did. The
concert was incredible, and contained the only true encore I have ever seen at
a certified big rock show: lights on, doors open, the audience simply refuses
to leave until Prince and the New Power Generation came back on for another
spin. The band was in their street clothes. Prince was still in purple.

The four years that stretched between those two concerts were some of the
least productive of Prince’s career. Born Prince Rogers Nelson in 1958, he is
now commonly referred to as TAFKAP, a.k.a. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
(also known as the Duke Ellington of pop). The extremely short,
multi-talented,
hyper-sexual genius who turned out masterpiece after masterpiece last
decade–‹198′ s 1999, 1984′s Purple Rain, 1986′s Parade,
and 1987′s double album, perhaps the crown of Prince’s career, Sign ‘o’ the
Times
–‹has done fairly sporadic work sinc 1988′s Lovesexy.
Still,
even if Prince were judged on the output of those five years alone, by the time
he was 26, Prince had written some of pop’s best songs, managing to be
controversial (“Head” and “Sister” from 1980′s Dirty Mind, “Darling
Nicki” from Purple Rain) beautiful (“Purple Rain”) and indelibly catchy
(“Kiss”), often in the course of one-song (“Let’s Go Crazy,” “Little Red
Corvette”)…all the while writing what will prove to be the millennial
countdown, 1999‘s self-titled lead-song. Neither Prince’s diminutive
stature (he’s a tad over five-feet), his intensely-overt sexuality, his
celebration of his ethnicity in a country often shocking in its bigotry, nor
his flamboyant stand-offishness (he’s only done a few interviews, not counting
the time he appeared on Dick Clark) stood in his way, as he has become one of
the best known artists of our time.

Since Lovesexy, Prince has
tried to change his name; scored Tim Burton’s first Batman movie;
released the hit-and-miss Diamonds and Pearls (remember: the one with
the holograph), the critically acclaimed and commercially mediocre
aforementioned “Zofo” album (which marked Prince’s belated entry into the world
of rap), a package of Greatest Hits, a couple more mediocre efforts, and the
Black album, a previously unreleased set of relatively tame tracks
supposedly held either because of Warner’s prudishness or Prince’s new-found
love of God; gotten married; spent a lot of time griping about his record
contract; frequently alluded to vaults and vaults of unreleased gems
(theoretically possible, since Prince knows how to play virtually every
instrument under the sun); and shaved lots of stuff into his angular mug.

Other birthdays: the fun-loving Tom Jones, and Dave Navarro, who created
the signature Jane’s Addiction psychadelia-meets-thrash-pop guitar sound,
before joining the L.A.-based, buffed-up funk band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
–Seth Mnookin