The enigmatic superstar, Prince Rogers Nelson, is no more.
Here are a few things you must know about the purple world:
1. He Could Play More Than Two Dozen Instruments
Prince was a master of around 30 musical instruments, almost all self-taught. The first tune that he mastered on the piano was the theme of the Batman series from the 1960s. He regretted that he could not read notes and encouraged mainstream artists to learn ‘at least one musical instrument’.
2. He Was Granted Unparalleled Creative Freedom in His First Record Deal
He composed all songs and played all the instruments on his first album For You. He was a one-man band and a one-man studio. Warner Brothers recognised his talent and gave him creative freedom that was unheard of when they signed him at age of 20.
3. He Scribbled the Word 'Slave' on His Cheek to Protest Major Label Control over Artistic Freedom
Ironically, soon after signing one of the biggest recording deals in musical history in the early 1990s, he rebelled by scribbling ‘Slave’ on his cheek to protest the role of corporations in the music industry thereby diminishing artists’ rights.
He was the first major star to speak of justice for the music industry and inspired many artists to take similar stands. His much talked about name-change to an unpronounceable symbol was also due to the same reason. He revealed that “Prince” had just become a commercial brand for the record label rather than an artist.
He thereafter released previously recorded material under “Prince” to fulfill his contractual obligations and separately released material under the unpronounceable symbol when he came to be known as TAFKAP, or ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’, or simply, The Artist. He came back to his name in 2000.
4. He Had the No 1 Album, Movie and Single at the Same Time on the Charts
At one point, he simultaneously had the No 1 Album (Purple Rain soundtrack), the No 1 Movie (Purple Rain, the film) and the No 1 Single (When Doves Cry) on the charts.
He won countless awards including multiple Grammys and an Oscar. Though he was respectful towards the honours conferred upon him, a few lines from his song, The Same December, shed light on his thoughts on awards:
There once was a golden idol that went to the winners, needless to say it didn’t make them feel any less a sinner, ‘cause the very next morning the whole damn world was the same, the idol is still shining but the voice inside it said- There ain’t no winners in this game.
5. He Did Not Publicise Much of His Charitable Work
He did not like publicity for his charity work. Many associates confirm his discomfort with the media gaze on charitable work. He went about giving quietly and gracefully.
His 2015 Baltimore tribute concert called ‘Rally 4 Peace’ received accolades during trying times of racial tension. Peace is more than the absence of war, he sang.
6. He Was Extremely Well Read and Funny and Had Impeccable Sporting Skills
People close to him used to marvel at his knowledge about world events and the scriptures. He had a great sense of humour and though very reticent, those familiar with him were touched by his generosity and wit.
He was an ace at basketball during his school years and showed off his skills even during concerts. He was also an excellent ping-pong (table tennis) player.
7. He Supported New Artistes and Wrote for Others, Sometimes Under Pseudonyms
Prince propelled many artists to stardom. He was known for his protégés.
Besides others, Jamie Starr, Joey Coco, Christopher and Alexander Nevermind, were all actually Prince.
He was romantically linked with many of his protégés and other fellow artists, including Madonna, Sheena Easton and Kim Basinger, but none of the ladies in his life had anything bad to say about him, which reflects a lot about his gentle personality though he was also known to suddenly become aloof from his former associates.
8. He Was a Teetotaler and Was Steered Clear Off Intoxicants
He was a non-smoker and his favourite drinks were orange juice and green tea. He encouraged his band to always remain sober while performing and many of his songs subtly made his disdain known for drugs.
It is, however, ironic that one of the cleanest and fittest stars of our times may have died from a rumoured reaction to excessive painkiller medication in all probability for his supposed hip problem due to the splits he used to perform on stage and his high heeled shoes, though the reports of the examination would take a couple of weeks to be out.
9. He Stopped Using Bad Language in Concerts
Prince’s Darling Nikki from Purple Rain was the reason why the now familiar “Parental Advisory, Explicit Content” label came to be introduced.
The usage of profanity in his lyrics however decreased over the years. In the year 1987, he pulled back The Black Album just before the release date and ordered all copies to be destroyed.
The album, which was to be released with just a black sleeve with no other markings or artist information, later became a much bootlegged collectors’ item. He withdrew it since he thought it was too dark and would not have sent an appropriate message to his fans.
If the music video to Alphabet Street is played in slow motion, it contains a hidden message- “Please do not buy the black album, I am sorry”.
Later when asked by Oprah Winfrey if he regretted his raunchy past, he simply stated that it had gotten him to a place where if one brick was taken out, the whole house would crash signifying that it was just a part of growing up when one is young.
Later, he banned curse words from his recordings and also his concerts since he wanted people to attend his shows with their families to witness his art and music, "real music for real people", he would say.
10. He Altered the Course of Musical History
This one does not require any explanation. There is not one singular personality who has had as much influence on all modern musicians across genres as Prince. Traversing music forms, musicians and singers have listed him as a stellar influence and the spread of his power was discernible from the outpour of emotion on his death.
The world just stopped and turned purple. From fellow artists, political personalities and organisations, all paid tributes with statements and also lighting up of monuments and buildings. The expanse of his work cannot be matched by any artist. Even the best of the best were awestruck and tongue-tied in his presence, such was his charisma.
Every public appearance elicited a standing ovation. The amount of material in his vault is legendary. The music that we hear today, singers and songwriters have a lot to thank The Purple One for his crossover potential, mainstreaming of individuality, striking the correct balance between artistic, critical and commercial success and also showmanship and mastery on stage.
(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 a also 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.)