By DAVID HEALEY
Prince. He’s the 5-foot-2 performer once nicknamed The Purple Midget. The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. The songwriter whose racy lyrics inspired Tipper Gore to push for parental advisory labels on CDs. And he’s coming to your living room this Sunday as part of the Super Bowl halftime show.
At first listen, Prince might sound like an odd choice to entertain 45 million Americans. A relic from the ’80s. Controversial. Talk about wardrobe malfunction … here’s a guy who struts on stage wearing a purple jumpsuit.
But you have to love the music. “Purple Rain.” “Little Red Corvette.” “Raspberry Beret.”
“I was working part time in a five-and-dime
“My boss was mr. mcgee
“He told me several times that he didnt like my kind
“cause I was a bit 2 leisurely”
Most of us have had a boss like Mr. McGee at one time or another. We can relate.
Whenever I hear “Purple Rain” it’s suddenly 1984 once more and there I am listening to the music blare from Karen Scott’s MGB convertible. It’s high school all over again.
Ronald Reagan was president. Nuclear Armageddon with the Soviet Union lurked on the horizon. The Howard County Times ran a feature article about a family with a bomb shelter in their back yard. The next week the newspaper published my letter to the editor pointing out that if Washington took a direct nuclear hit, we’d all be vaporized, bomb shelters or not. “Red Dawn” starring Patrick Swayze was a hit at the movies. Nobody had heard of AIDS yet. And Prince wanted us to “party like it’s 1999.”
Sounded like good advice at the time.
And what’s with that name? Prince? Believe it or not, it’s for real. Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958. It was a dispute over his name with his record label, Warner Bros., that brought on the whole “Artist Formerly Known As” thing in 1994. Prince would appear in public only with the word “SLAVE” written on his cheek. He explained: “Prince is the name that my Mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. … The only acceptable replacement for my name, and for my name, and my identity, was a symbol with no pronunciation …”
That was taking a stand in a major way. It also marked the beginning of Prince’s slide into obscurity for the next decade.
One sure way to earn royalties as a musician is to come out with a Christmas song or else do a song you know will get lots of airplay as the millennial odometer rolls over.
Remember that Y2K business, when planes were supposed to fall from the sky? We spent New Year’s Eve at home, waiting for the lights to go out and watching videos while the kids slept upstairs. Woo-hoo. Talk about “two thousand zero zero party over …”
Prince himself performs the song at a New Year’s Eve concert and vows never to sing it again.
“I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray
“But when I woke up this mornin’, could’ve sworn it was Judgment Day
“The sky was all purple, there were people runnin’ everywhere
“Tryin’ 2 run from the destruction, U know I didn’t even care”
Finally free of his Warner Bros. contract in 2002, Prince became Prince once again. His Musicology Tour rakes in $87 million in 2004. That same year, Prince is ranked 28th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Yes, there were those weird years when he was the Symbol. Not that Prince ever slacked off. He collected a whole hatful of awards. Grammys. Golden Globes. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Behind the scenes, he quietly wrote songs performed by everyone from The Bangles (“Manic Monday”) to Alicia Keyes and found time to help out Stevie Nicks. He even has a song in the animated film, “Happy Feet.”
Meanwhile, I decide to skip my 20-year high-school reunion.
It’s a good bet that we’ll hear some of these ’80s hits as part of the Super Bowl show. Those songs always will be his most popular. Who knows what he’ll wear? But odds are the crowd won’t throw garbage at Prince, which is what happened in 1981 when he opened for the Rolling Stones with nothing on but underwear and a trench coat.
On Super Bowl Sunday, you have to be Somebody to perform for 20 minutes in front of an audience of millions. You’ve got to entertain. You’ve got to deliver the goods. Or else everyone walks away from the TV to load up on hot wings.
Last year we saw the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger is the same age as my dad but he’s still jumping around on stage in leather pants. Go, Mick!
The year before it was Paul McCartney. Sir Paul. Like Elton John and Rod Stewart, the former Beatle is a knight of the British Empire. If Americans could be knighted for their contributions to pop music, Prince would likely be titled by now … although “Sir Prince” would have an odd ring to it.
There’s always the chance that if you skip the halftime show, you’ll miss pop-culture history in the making. I mean, who can forget the infamous 2004 wardrobe malfunction when Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake performed. I was in front of the TV that night, but at the crucial moment I was opening a fresh bottle of Sam Adams. I had to rely on instant replay so I could hold up my end of the water-cooler conversation the next day.
The odds are pretty good that Prince will do something weird, or that something weird will happen. This is the same guy who appeared on the infamous February 1981 “Saturday Night Live” episode when the f-bomb got dropped on live TV (but not by Prince). And don’t forget that this is the guy who took an unpronounceable symbol as his name.
It’s Super Bowl Sunday, after all. Anything could happen, baby. “We’re all excited, but we don’t know why.
“Let’s go crazy. Let’s get nuts.”
(Editor’s note: Much of the information about Prince’s career comes from wikipedia.org)