It’s not a thousand years away, it’s not that far my brother
When men will fight injustice instead of one another
It’s not that far if we all say yes and only try
Then Heaven on Earth we will find
No one man will be ruler
Therefore love must rule us all
Dishonesty, anger, fear, jealousy and greed will fall
Love can save us all
— Prince, Still Would Stand all Time
The news was harder to digest because of the extraordinary events that unfolded that day. As I type this on my purple computer, it is tough to control my emotions.
On 21 April 2016, I received a Prince CD from Amazon that I had ordered. Of course, I already owned a copy, like I did of every Prince album since 1978, but it was on tape and had worn out.
Later in the evening, while going to a family dinner, the same CD played in my car and I fielded a volley of questions from my son about some lyrics from Thieves in the Temple.
I shuffled the songs on the CD and we reached our destination just as the opening lines of Let’s Go Crazy prophetically exclaiming, “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life”.
Soon after that, in response to an opinion piece by Dr Shashi Tharoor, I tweeted a link to one of my old op-eds which started off with the lyrics from When Doves Cry.
A few minutes later, I received a call from my younger brother, Navjosh, an acclaimed music critic. With a heavy voice, he said, “He’s gone. Prince is gone.”
He said he got the news when he asked a Prince related question to rapper Royce 5’9” (one-half of the duo with Eminem named Bad Meets Evil) whom he was interviewing.
It was a series of bizarre events.
Prince of Hearts
My world – my purple world – was shattered. Not everyone understands the pain of losing an icon who has inspired you in every little thing you do, much beyond their music. The first word of solace came from Vishal Dadlani and I shall always remember him for that.
Feeling cheated by my musical companion, I, inexplicably, feel lonely today.
The impact of Prince on popular culture can be discerned from the media and social media which exploded purple in tribute. From artists to NASA to the President of the USA – everyone put out sombre, tearful, deep, touching messages.
Never before had the world seen such an outpouring of emotion for a cultural icon. The usual terminology ‘one of the greatest’ was replaced by ‘the greatest’ for the non-conformist genius who transcended all barriers.
Flamboyant on stage and extremely introverted in private, the man could play close to 30 musical instruments, almost all self-taught. A gifted virtuoso, he played almost all the instruments on his debut album at the age of 20 with the stamp of the now familiar ‘Produced, Arranged, Composed and Performed by Prince’. He later touched superstardom with his album 1999, released in 1982.
It was 1984’s Purple Rain which made him a global household name and propelled him into the musical stratosphere. The album spent 6 months at the No 1 spot of the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. At one point, he was No 1 on the album, movie, and single charts.
The stark When Doves Cry, one of the greatest singles of our times, has a story. Prince removed the bass from the song and everyone was skeptical. How wrong they were!
Charting his own course, in 1985, he released Around the World in a Day much against business advice. It was a complete departure from the sound of Purple Rain, proving that neither would he rest on his laurels nor would he tread the beaten path. Of course, the album hit the No 1 spot.
Sexual to Spiritual, Androgyny to Masculinity, Controversy to Charisma
His enigmatic persona, till the date of his death, was a natural trait. Though used as a tool of mystique by record labels in the beginning, it became a part of the Prince legend.
In 1986, Warner Bros was against releasing Kiss as a single from Parade. The stripped down funk song became a dance floor anthem and again hit No 1 on the Charts.
1987 saw the release of Sign O’ the Times, a two-disc tour de force which remains one of his most eclectic records. The title song subtly tells the world about the ills of drug abuse, AIDS, and the arms race.
He could effortlessly glide from pop to rock to heavy rock to funk to soul to poetry and just about everything under the sun, just as he could also swing from the sexual to the spiritual, androgyny to masculinity, controversy to charisma – a master of all.
He famously told Oprah Winfrey that he’d make one song a day and, of course, as we all know, his vault holds more than a thousand unreleased songs which could power the musical universe for a long time to come.
He went on to sell more than 100 million records worldwide. But in 1993, after signing one of the biggest record deals, he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and scribbled ‘Slave’ across his cheek stating that artists did not have rights over their art while corporations were ruling the roost.
The only superstar to take this stand, he gave strength to many young and struggling artists. He abhorred publicity about his charity work and kept his generosity towards the needy under wraps.
In Every Way, an Inspiration
Personally speaking, I grew up on his music and he inspired me in many ways. I have liberally cited his life and lyrics in my work and books. Behind the impeccable music, the everlasting art and the complexities of his talent were simple messages which many of us could imbibe – perfection, hard work, peace, compassion, passion, individuality, standing up for justice and a drug-free world.
An on and off vegetarian, he encouraged a healthy lifestyle but it seems that his message of not celebrating birthdays to ensure a long life (the day you stop counting, you’d live as long as a tree, he said) was for us, not for himself.
His life collided with his prophetic lyric ‘maybe I’ll die young like heroes die’ from Under the Cherry Moon.
In hindsight, I think his deeply personal Way Back Home released in 2014 summed up his remarkable life: All I ever wanted was to be left alone....just trying to find my way back home.
You are home now Prince. You have left us alone. The doves are crying. Goodbye my inspiration.
Don’t have to say I miss you
‘Cause I think you already know.
(Greatly influenced by Prince’s art and music, Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate in the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association. He is also a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels.)
(This story was first published on 24 April 2016. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Prince’s first death anniversary.)