It would be impossible for me to write anything here concerning music without addressing the untimely death of Prince Rogers Nelson at the age of 57. At the time I am writing this, no cause of death has been determined for The Purple One, but that has not stopped the air of general weirdness which orbited Prince in real life from following him on into the afterworld. Federal drug agents are scouring Paisley Park, a Minnesota lawmaker is proposing an act which would protect Prince’s name, voice, and likeness from unauthorized use, and a Colorado prison inmate incarcerated on a firearms charge is now claiming he is the sole biological heir to the late singer’s estate.

Rather than focus on Prince’s habit of taking in young, attractive, female protégés, his occasional practice of posing175059__prince_l nude for album covers, or that one time at the MTV Music Video Awards when he graced the stage wearing a butt-less yellow outfit, however, I would prefer to remember the man here for the sheer and astounding amount of musical talent he possessed. In short, Prince was a genius. He could not only play virtually any instrument, he could play them all with precision and expertise. His music transcended boundaries and color lines, bringing fans of rock, funk, and hip-hop all together under one big purple umbrella. He could be dancing with explosive grace one minute and throwing down a raging, gnarly guitar solo the next. His talent level was almost otherworldly, as if it emanated from some place the rest of us could never truly understand.

In an era before YouTube and when MTV was still in its relative infancy, I still knew who Prince was, and I understood what he was capable of. How could I have come to this knowledge with only limited exposure? Simple – Prince was talented beyond belief, and he held absolutely nothing back. That epic guitar solo at the end of the song “Purple Rain”? That ear-piercing electric squall at the end of “Let’s Go Crazy”? That nearly-mystic 12-minute set at Super Bowl XLI? And, of course, who could forget “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? These sounds were all produced by a man using every ounce of his talent.

When I listen to the radio today, I hear an awful lot of restraint. It is as if learning to play an instrument skillfully has become some sort of unforgivable crime. My generation grew up with Edward Van Halen, Bruce Hornsby, Billy Sheehan, Eric Clapton, and countless other musicians who not only learned their instruments well, but also weren’t afraid to turn them loose in inspiring musical ways. While there are phenomenally talented players making music today, you have to dig pretty deep to find them. I miss the days when a well-constructed guitar solo meant just as much to a song as the vocal melody or how much of a hook the chorus has. This is not to say there is no good music being produced anymore, because there certainly is. Somewhere along the way, though, we lost our appreciation for sheer, jaw-dropping virtuosity.

How is it we all remember Prince so fondly, when there were so many aspects of his life which defied convention? Simply put, we appreciated the fact that Prince never kept anything off the table. When he took the stage, he was a maestro at work, and even those who may not have realized what was drawing them in knew there was something unique and special in this diminutive, one-of-a-kind performer. When Prince passed away, so did a piece of American musical heritage. That is why I say rest in peace to The Kid, the Artist Formerly Known As. There may never be another one like you.
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