According to a report from TMZ, music legend Prince (né Prince Rogers Nelson) has died at his Paisley Park estate in suburban Minneapolis. The news comes after an earlier report saying that police had been called to Paisley Park’s recording studio earlier this morning, and less than a week after Prince was rushed to the hospital after his private plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Illinois. The news has been confirmed by Prince’s publicist, as well as the Associated Press. He was 57.
Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 FM The Current is currently streaming an appreciation of the late musical genius, and you can read a tribute to Prince’s life and work from The A.V. Club’s Josh Modell below.
Writers are surely scrambling this minute to come up with words to describe Prince’s music and career that they didn’t already use just three short months ago to describe another musical polymath, David Bowie. But words won’t cut it here—it’d be like sitting down to read “Purple Rain.” Still, here are some facts and thoughts on a long, varied, and brilliant career cut incredibly short.
Prince—why bother listing his full name when there’s only one?—packed 10 musical lifetimes into a career that lasted 40 years. He began releasing music in his late teens and had his first platinum (and near-perfect) album at 21, with Prince. It’s tough to think of an artist that had a decade as incredible as Prince did immediately thereafter: From 1978-1988, he released nine classic albums, with musical growth spurts that are astonishing in hindsight.
He went from intensely sexy—For You came with a free poster of Prince posing in the shower—to political and spiritual (and still intensely sexy) in no time; you could almost hear him getting better and weirder from track to track and album to album. And unlike Bowie, who found his sounds by intensely collaborating with expert musicians, Prince albums were frequently all Prince, with him playing and singing just about every note.
And, again like Bowie, he had a natural pop sensibility that generated hit after hit after hit, from the minimal, perfect “I Wanna Be Your Lover” to the strangely perfect “Controversy” to “Delirious” and “Little Red Corvette.” And that’s all before 1984’s Purple Rain, the film and soundtrack that truly made Prince a household name. (It was around that time that the dumb media pitted Prince and Michael Jackson against each other in a silly attempt to pick a winner. Can’t we have both?)
But back to Purple Rain: As a cultural phenomenon, it’s something to remember. As a film, it hasn’t aged well. But as an album, it’s—sorry to keep using this word—basically perfect. There are nine songs on Purple Rain, five of which were hit singles. (And the rest probably could’ve been.)
By the early ‘90s, Prince’s muse no longer fell in line with what was popular in the mainstream, but that certainly didn’t stop him from recording and releasing music, both as a “slave” to major labels and later as an advocate for self-releasing music. His output didn’t slow at all, though it was heard more by hardcore fans—and there are many—than by the mainstream. As with other prolific talents, it can be a lot to sift through, but there are gems to be found on pretty much every Prince album in his massive, 39-album discography. Right up until the end, with last year’s widely panned HITnRUN double release, Prince was never anything less than interesting.
And he also—again like Bowie, sorry—seemed almost immortal, so to hear about his death at just 57 years old is a shock. Prince was strange, otherworldly, and always uncompromised. On his last big tour, he waited over an hour until everyone but the diehards had cleared out of the arenas then came back to play a few more songs. In most cities, he’d play a huge show and then go to a small club and play for hours more, jamming on songs that he might not have pulled out of the catalog for years. And though he cultivated his image very craftily, there was always the sense that Prince was actually really like his public persona, that he was a true mystery, and truly one of a kind. What he leaves behind bears that out. It’s just a shame the world won’t get to see what would’ve come next, and after that, and after that, because clearly he wasn’t going to quit until the inevitable happened.