Two years ago today we lost Prince, one of the most important artists of the last 100 years. Doves cry on this day, and so do I. Prince's death still stings. More than Michael Jackson's death. More than David Bowie's death. More than the death of any other icon I can think of.
I saw Prince in concert only once, and it was a private show in NYC at 3 AM in an unimpressive warehouse in Chelsea in 1993. Here’s how I got in, it’s a pretty decent story...
I was working at ABC Radio Networks in NYC, the network was about to get bought out, and I was about to be laid off. My boss wrangled a job interview for me at WPLJ, a mainstream “hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s” FM station also owned by ABC. It was an incredibly popular in the city in 1994 (Billboard Station of the Year!), although I confess that 95.5 wasn't a "preset" on my radio. I wasn’t a real Hootie & The Blowfish fan. But the station needed an administrative assistant for the Programming Department. And I needed a job.
I look back on that interview and shake my head at how young and stupid I was going in. I had a massive chip on my shoulder, hoping it went poorly. I needed a job, but I didn't want the job. In truth, let's be clear: I didn't want any job. I had put a bow on my brief career as a professional actress a couple of years earlier and was now pondering how to reinvent myself as a singer-songwriter in the West Village. Somehow a 9-to-5 job at a major-market radio station felt like a fast track to selling out. After all, I was an Artist.
But, you know... rent.
I was interviewed by an unfathomably interesting (and wonderful) man, Tom Cuddy, Vice President of Programming. We met in his ENTIRELY PURPLE office. Once the shock of that color wore off, I started to notice the photos lining every wall—photos of Tom with almost every major artist of my lifetime (Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel—you get the picture). And I confess: those photos gave me a disarming adrenalin rush. All of a sudden it occurred to me that, well, maybe I could learn to love Top 40 music after all.
Tom asked if I listened to 'PLJ. I was honest and said that I didn't. He leaned back in his chair, slowly crossed his arms, then asked what music I really listened to. I’ll never forget this exchange: I said, “Prince. Joni Mitchell. XTC. But these days mostly Prince.”
He nodded up and down, so slowly that I could feel my hair growing. His lips formed the smallest smile but they stayed shut. He finally said opened them to say, “We never play those artists on this station. Ever. And this position does not involve trying to convince us that we should. Would that be a problem for you?”
I assured him that this would be no problem whatsoever, confirming my split-second decision to happily whore out my personal preferences for the possibility of meeting famous people, just for the fun of it.
I left the interview wanting this job—badly. I liked Tom. I liked the energy of the broadcasting studio at the end of the hall and the people at the desks leading up to it. I left the interview and walked the 30 blocks back to my job uptown hoping I hadn't screwed it up, but equally happy that I'd spoken my truth.
When I got to my desk, there was an official ABC inter-office envelope waiting for me, sent from the man who had just interviewed me. It occurred to me later that some anonymous bike messenger had probably passed me as I walked back to work. In the large envelope was another smaller, sealed envelope with my first name written in purple ink—the only color Tom used. Inside that smaller envelope were two tickets to that private Prince concert with a handwritten note.
It said, “Come work for me.” I did.
It was the best “day job” in the world, and Tom was an incredible boss. I learned more about the music industry in my two years at WPLJ then I might have learned in any other circumstance.
And the Prince show was, of course, astounding. He played from Lovesexy, from Sign ‘o the Times, from Diamonds & Pearls, from The Black Album. And he played songs I never heard before or since.
I mourn this loss, even after two years. I will dance to his music until the day I die.
And here's one quality of his work that becomes even more important to me as time passes: Prince was consistently “gender blind.” I’m not talking about his often androgynous appearance (like Bowie… the huge loss in 2016), or the deep sexuality of his music. By “gender blind” I mean that he always included incredible musicians in his bands who just happened to be women—from Wendy & Lisa in The Revolution… to Sheila E. on drums in New Power Generation… to his last configuration, 3RDEYEGIRL. You’ll never be able to name another artist alive was been 100% inclusive of women in an industry that has generally been an annoying boy’s club.
Below are two videos I've been watching.
The first was just released two days ago—previously unreleased rehearsal footage from 1984 to his own recording of Nothing Compares 2 U.
And then there's this incomparable live performance from the Super Bowl XLI halftime performance. Purple Raid in the pouring rain. Find me another live performance that can compare. I dare you.
If you haven't built your Prince playlist but have always meant to, may I commend to you the following tracks (in addition to the obvious ones):
Sign ‘o the Times Anotherloverholenyohead Push Gett Off Eye No Live 4 Love The Ballad of Dorothy Parker