I begrudgingly became a Prince fan. Why? Well, when you’ve got a best pal that listens only to Prince and you’re hanging out with him nearly every weekend it’s inevitable that the “Purple One” is going to rub off on you. Prior to meeting this best pal in the third grade I can remember hearing songs like “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious” on the radio going to and driving home from town with my mom and thinking “I like this but I don’t know why.” When you hear lines like “I guess I should’ve closed my eyes/When you drove me to the place where your horses run free/’Cause I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures/Of the jockeys that were there before me”, at 8 years old you’re not equipped with the life know how to understand that lyrical situation. But still, those songs got me tingling a bit. There were some feels for sure. But by the time 6th grade rolled around I was well into Ratt, Van Halen, Quiet Riot, and Twisted Sister, while my buddy was bringing over cassettes of Duran Duran, Madonna, and of course Prince.

My time frame for getting to know Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson was adolescence. Ages 10 to 14. Those albums were 1999, Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day, Parade, and Sign ‘o the Times. That was a time span of 5 years. In five years he redefined what it was to be not only a musical superstar, but what it was to be an artist. Each one of those albums were uniquely their own little worlds. Each contained massive radio hits, but hits on Prince’s terms not anyone else’s. Not only was he this Machiavellian character, he was the absolute creator of his own universe. He employed band members, and some were very recognizable in that five year time frame. His band “The Revolution”. In the studio he was the Revolution. He created those records on his own, much like some strange alien creature moving from instrument to instrument in the studio. He made the sounds he heard in his head, and then instructed others what to do live. It was certainly a crew live, but behind the curtains one guy was running the show. He wanted to shock and offend just as much as he wanted to entertain. He made funky, dirty music that was meant to titillate and make people think. He used sexuality like an instrument; and instruction tool to open eyes and minds. But within those five years he went from end of world parties to a concept album that teemed with dance pop and jazz.

The man knew no boundaries. He didn’t take no for an answer. Regardless of your feelings about him or his music, you had to respect the artistry and fearlessness in his music.

I’d have to say Purple Rain, for me, is the record that affected me the most as a kid. The purple smoke and mirrors facade that hid the fact that Prince made a masterpiece of pop music. It ranged from Hendrix-ian guitar mania(“Let’s Go Crazy”), straight up boy/girl love song(“Take Me With U”), to one of the most perplexing radio hits of the 80s(“When Doves Cry”), Purple Rain had everything. Oh, it also had some naughty bits in it for some pre-adolescent confusion(“Darling Nikki” and “Computer Blue”). There seemed to be something for everyone on that album. My parents weren’t fans of Thriller, but dammit they sure did like Purple Rain. It was a bi-partisan record, at least in our house. As I’ve gotten older Sign ‘o the Times has become my go-to Prince record, for sheer volume and artistic reach, but Purple Rain never disappoints.

So here’s to that awkward kid from Minneapolis, Minnesota that grew up to change music forever. He blew boundary lines; musical, sexual, societal, and artistic to pieces and rebuilt to according to his rules. From one Midwest guy to another, thanks Prince. Thanks for being as weird and strange as you were. And for being as beautiful as you were.

R.I.P., Christopher Tracy.


Editor’s Note: The Prince videos available are sketchy at best, so I felt this was a fitting way to pay tribute. D’Angelo did this song justice, one of my absolute favorite songs.

 

17 thoughts on “R.I.P., Christopher Tracy

  1. I can’t say I was ever a fan, though I appreciated his creativity. I first heard Sign O’ The Times and couldn’t digest it all, though I did like a bunch of songs. I only recently started looking at albums again and bought Purple Rain when I saw it cheap (cheaper than now! Opportunists have taken over Discogs!). Unfortunately it didn’t make much of an impression. After that I was a bit overwhelmed when I started looking at what to listen to next. I guess I just never really found an ‘in’ at the right time.

    A friend has helped me out over the last week, though. He’s a huge Prince fan and we got chatting about the music and I told him just what I wrote above. I’ve really enjoyed Dirty Mind and revisiting Sign O’ The Times (which is still a bit daunting). Currently listening to Parade and will revisit Purple Rain (he told me to listen to Purple Rain until I love it).

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  2. “He used sexuality like an instrument.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. I was also too young at the time when I sang along with the lyrics to understand eat they really meant. I just knew they stirred something in me that music hadn’t stirred before. And when I was old enough to understand, I appreciated him on a whole new level. He was the soundtrack to my journey from childhood to adulthood. I hope you find the love, or at least neutrality.
    Really enjoyed reading this, thank you.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your similar experience. It’s great to be able to appreciate Prince on so many other levels throughout your life. It’s sad there won’t be new ones with him.

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  3. Nice one. I’ve always been a singles buyer and from 1999 (the song) onwards I bought most of his stuff for years and years. SOT knocked me out, it still does, Parade too; but I’ll never see what all the fuss was about Purple Rain, I just don’t get it.

    What a guitarist!

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    1. I’m not sure what it was about Purple Rain that hit me so hard, but it was a pretty overwhelming thing for me. I wish now that I’d been into the 7″ singles back then. Sadly, I was not.

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  4. Been sharing my Prince experience so much lately, I should just write something, but everybody else is too, so I’ll share with the few people I’m moved to share with.
    I’m 42 now, so we’re roughly the same age. My interest in prince started with my mom’s record collection and when I first started digging through her collection at the age of 6, I discovered Elvis first, then Motown and Micheal Jackson etc. Then a bit later I came across ‘For You’, ‘Prince’, ‘Dirty Mind” and ‘Controversy’ all at once. I was intrigued of course, I devoured all of those records over the course of a year or so and when 1999 was slated for release that Xmas, I made my grandmother take me to Record Theater (Buffalo) to get that as a present for my mom. This was the first record hustle I ever pulled at the age of 8 so I could secretly have access to this much anticipated release, though my mom was stoked as well and we both enjoyed it of course, as did everybody else that year. I was sucked in by the art and music of course, a double lp that you could really get lost in.
    By 1984 I too had discovered other stuff, mainly I was listening to WBNY college radio and picking up on the first sputterings of Hip-Hip when there were still dj’s actually cutting and mixing records live on air, I also was just starting to get into Punk and East Coast Hardcore and Skate Rat music discovered on vhs Skate tapes etc. Punk had already been revealed to me by the whole aesthetic of the Controversy album, so I naturally dug that path. I’d already seen the MJ Thriller tour and was actually turned off by the ginormous hype and overblown puppet show. I was saved a few months after that when my mom announced one night that her friend had stiffed her and she had an extra ticket for the Purple Rain concert!
    I’ve always remembered it as beginning with a really long Timbale solo by Seila E. in the dark with glow in the dark drumsticks with the house lights coming up and Prince in back on a riser, naked in a claw foot bathtub launching into Darling Nikki. After reviewing the set list online I see that may have happened later in the set but my memory has chosen to retain those indelible images as the real beginning of what was the most influential concert I ever attended at the tender age of 10!
    Of course we loved the movie and I also bought ‘Around the World in a Day” and “Parade” which accompanied his second movie “Under The Cherry Moon” which was a fun and whimsical film itself. I lost track after that as I was head deep in Punk and Hardcore by then and any shock value that pop music had to offer had worn off or would never be surpassed by those genius releases.
    These we also records that stoked my interest in the vinyl experience as I poured over those records like any kid in the 60’s or 70’s may have scrutinized a Beatles or Zep record, looking for hidden meanings in the artwork. I’ve been an avid collector ever since.
    The other thing I’d like to add is that I never enjoyed any of those records with friends and I don’t know that I would have even copped to liking him at school or anything, I was an only child and these experiences were very private, never really thought about that until now…
    RIP Prince! Thanks for opening up my mind at the perfect time!

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    1. Man, I LOVED this! Thanks so much. To see Prince at 10 years old? Purple Rain tour? Wow. Just wow. Sounds like your mom had some damn good taste in music. What a group of LPs to come across. Thanks again.

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      1. My mom had a sick collection in retrospect, some common fare like Zep and a few Beatles slabs, though she was a bit young to have caught that British Invasion thing, thankfully she’s not a Beatles freak. But she did have nugs like Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Ummagumma, T-Rex Beard of Stars…Hendrix. Another thing I should include to illustrate is that she was a white lady and I have a mixed background, so there was that love of soul and funk music as well. It was a single mother situation too, so I struggled with identity as a kid and Prince took that racial ambiguity and made it a positive thing and in just the right way, MJ kinda took that thing too far. Anyway, yeah, my mom had pretty progressive taste for conservative Western NY circa late 70’s early 80’s. Thanks for responding!

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      2. It sounds like you had a great, expansive musical palate to pull from. Going from 3rd grade and Prince to 7th grade and hardcore punk. That’s a pretty diverse(and excellent)jump. I stayed in pretty much terrible LA sleaze rock till about my Freshman year. I discovered speed metal and ‘Electric Ladyland’ all in the same summer. I was never the same again.

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      3. I was really lucky, by the time I got to high school, while everyone was figuring all that shit out, I was off and running. I had friends in record stores that hipped me to stuff before it broke, everything from NIN Pretty Hate Machine to Nevermind to all of the UK heavy stuff, MBV (when they were still jangly psych-pop), Slowdive. Chapterhouse, Flying Saucer Attack, Ride. As far as LA, I gravitated toward the punk scene. I had promos and mix tapes from 12 inch vinyl of that stuff before it all caught on and the term ‘Alternative’ came about. I remember the point in high school when jocks that used to give me shit for being a weirdo wanted to know what I was listening to!

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      4. That’s a satisfying moment, when the jocks are asking you what you were listening to.

        I was in a Midwestern black hole growing up. No cool record shops, no underground scene. Hell, I was lucky I came through it like I did. I had an older brother that had art school friends, so I was at least finding out about Faith No More, The Cure, The Fall, and Ministry by early 1988. I remember getting my brother into Soundgarden’s ‘Louder Than Love’ in 1989, so I felt we helped each other out a bit.

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      5. Yup, it was archeology of sorts, or like detective work, you had to know who to talk to and the right questions to ask, not to mention actually reading liner notes and following up on producers and labels…a lot of ‘blind buys’ where you really didn’t know how the record was gonna be cause you only knew one song from it…the rest could suck and you’re out $7.99 or whatever a new record cost back then. Luckily I rarely had that problem. 😉

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