Jesus, this is terrible. Just terrible. Prince is dead. There’s no way to wrap your arms, or your head, around it. Just pick a moment and fixate. Like that time he burned “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to the ground.
You likely already watched this again yesterday. Good idea. Watch it again today. The occasion—George Harrison’s posthumous 2004 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which had evidently devolved into one of those banal music-biz hoedowns where 12 grim-looking dudes somberly strum acoustic guitars in unison—is not important. As with so many notable global events—as with the whole of this thing called life—it was a random, meaningless, banal occurrence into which Prince injected vitality, meaning, confusion, danger, unquenchable joy. Which is to say, he injected himself. So to speak.
It’s a full two minutes before you even realize he’s there, skulking at the edge of the stage like the Cheshire Cat holding Chekhov’s gun. About 90 seconds later, George’s son, Dhani, who has been somberly strumming an acoustic guitar and wobbling a bit and hiding behind Tom Petty, gets a crazed, ecstatic, Awwwww shit look on his face, and you don’t have to wonder what he’s looking at.
Whereupon Prince makes his guitar violently weep for 12 hours. It’s actually less than three minutes, but it feels like a lifetime, an extravagant and well-lived lifetime, a deafening riot of howls and machine-gun blasts and gloriously excessive bullshit. It also clearly goes on for much longer than it was supposed to, given how hilariously, visibly irritated Tom Petty gets. But Dhani is your audience surrogate, in that he looks delighted, particularly by the gag where a no doubt well-compensated Prince associate in the crowd physically holds Prince up as he shreds. When the song ends, our hero nonchalantly tosses his guitar in the air and saunters off, and you don’t see the guitar ever come down, because maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it was caught by another well-compensated Prince associated hanging from the ceiling. Or maybe it just, y’know, ascended.
It’s the perfect Prince moment: perplexing, bombastic, self-aggrandizing in the uproarious extreme, maddening for some, exhilarating for all nonetheless. It’s tempting when someone of this caliber dies to do the whole There Will Never Be Another ________ thing, and to blame it all on millennials, on the internet, on the death of the monoculture. We just went through it with Bowie. But the truth here is simpler, and somehow both comforting and devastating: It’s just that we’ll never again get someone simultaneously this talented and this bizarre ever again, someone so capable of turning every eccentricity into a mainstream triumph.
He wasn’t quite made for these times, and we weren’t quite made for his. He never seemed quite comfortable in this dope new era where music is basically worthless, where your songs are loss leaders for your brand. Even his blockbuster MTV videos aren’t reliably available on YouTube. His Muppets Tonight rendition of “Starfish and Coffee” lives on, though.
Sorry, I keep getting distracted. If you insist on streaming, your only option right now for luxuriating in his full catalog is, yes, Tidal, which has a 30-day free trial and is about to get a boost that will dwarf anything Kanye West or even Beyoncé could hope to concoct. Or, do what Prince would definitely want you to do, and actually buy his albums. Any of them. Do 1989's Batman, back when the words “pop” and “R&B” and “obscene” and “Batman” meant very different things. Do 2014's sneaky-great one-two punch Art Official Age and PlectrumElectrum, sprawling founts of sci-fi funk and snarling garage rock that fueled his startling Saturday Night Live medley. Hell, do Purple Rain, because you know you want to.
Trying to impress someone? Consider the beloved 1988 bootleg Small Club, an after-hours blowout in The Hague, the afterparty to another, earlier full show likely full of huge pop hits, now giving way to a greasy, rambling, virtuosically lascivious funk jam session full of deep cuts and half-deranged covers. (The guitar solo on “Just My Imagination”!) Listen to it here. It’s incredible. It makes him seem both deeply human and impossibly alien, flaunting that singular ability he had to pull you closer and push you away, leaving you suspended in midair, rapt and bewildered. “Well, this beats going to sleep, don’t it?” Prince smirks at the onset; I can confirm this to be true.