After reports of health concerns earlier this week and a morning of speculation, sources have confirmed that Prince, genius of American popular music, has died at his home in Paisley Park, Minnesota. He was 57.
The outpouring of grief among Prince fans is sure to be swift and overwhelming. His contributions over a forty-year career to popular music, art and culture are undeniable, but it's important to remember that, as is the case with many great artists, his choices could be confounding, even for the most open-minded of fans.
Reviewing a 1997 concert at Fiddler's Green, Michael Roberts expressed conflicted feelings about Prince's creative powers vs. the overblown persona that got in his own way.
At Fiddler's, Good Prince gave such a riveting performance that you couldn't help but walk away from it cursing the little runt for pissing away so much of the Nineties on petty disputes, oddball tangents and creative dead-ends. The only person capable of preventing Prince from returning to the peaks he once routinely scaled is himself.
In 2013, Prince performed a limited series of dates at small venues, including the Ogden Theatre. The crowd longed for more of "the classics," but writer Shawn White made notes on Prince's latest incarnation:
The band, consisting of new protégés 3rd Eye Girl, played like they could barely be contained, and you got the feeling that lead guitarist (yes, lead guitarist) Donna Grantis might just consume Prince whole one of these nights on stage. She is that much of a beast. Don't fret: Prince has shed his megalomaniacal ways in recent years and become a more benevolent bandleader fostering growth and development (no, seriously, this man will be speaking at business seminars before you know it).
So it must be this new, chill Prince who was responsible for a set list that dovetailed into "Dolphin" before anyone even knew it. Prince should be either commended or punished for playing an odds-and-ends set culled from his catalogue and a few covers that had no rhyme or reason. It honestly sounded like he chose these songs because he lost a bet at first. But if you were down to bask in the glow of the purple one, then you could definitely get down with this song selection. If you were looking for more bang for your buck, it looks like you would have been better off at the late show that followed this one.
Still, a Prince show was a multi-faceted experience. Tom Murphy, reviewing a different performance from the same short run at the Ogden, focused on the artist's bold choices and guitar mastery:
The version of "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" performed at this show, in fact, felt like what it must have been like to see Led Zeppelin circa 1972. The guitar work was flashy, fiery and vibrant and not excessive so much as exuberant, as Grantis and Prince strode the stage back to back and made their guitars cry out in a way you rarely see. It wasn't guitar wankery but rather an improvisational tour-de-force.
Whatever his persona or moniker, Prince's presence and skill seemed unearthly, and his legacy is likely to prove immortal. But don't ever say that the Purple One was one-dimensional.