Thursday, April 21, 2016
Prince, Memory, And Taping Off Of The Radio
I'm one of the millions of people stunned by the death of Prince today, and I thought I'd add my small voice to the chorus of mourning. His best musical years happened to coincide with my earliest consciousness of popular music. Back in 1982-1984 I started listening to top 40 radio, but the only album I owned was Michael Jackson's Thriller on cassette. I resorted to a practice that kids these know nothing of: taping off of the radio.
In 1984 my parents bought a boom box that enabled me to do this. The tape I made that year seems to have been lost to the sands of time, what I would give to have it back. So many evenings I sat with the radio on, my hand poised on the "record" button so I could get my favorite songs all to myself. When DJs talked over the intro it made me especially angry, because they ruined the song.
On New Year's Eve 1984 Casey Kasem was counting down the top 100 songs of the year, which made it the perfect opportunity for taping off of the radio. My older cousin in high school at the time babysat my sisters and I, and it was her who had cultivated my interest in popular music to begin with. (And she just emailed me as I was writing this. The age we live in now would've been incomprehensible in that 1984 world.) She encouraged our taping habit, and I distinctly remember being happy to have captured Billy Idol's "Eyes Without A Face," a song she especially liked.
Being young kids we had an established bed time, so my cousin promised that she would tape the songs we requested, and that she would tape the entire top five regardless of what was in it. The next morning I listened to the tape intently, and two songs most definitely grabbed me harder than any other: "Let's Go Crazy" and "When Doves Cry." Yeah, I got a kick out of "Footloose" and "Say Say Say," but damn, "Let's Go Crazy" was really something else for me.
It had such a feeling of energy. My sisters and I would go down into the basement of our house and put it on and dance around, hopping and running and laughing maniacally. It was such a fun song, and the lyrics about mortality flew straight over my head. As much as I loved the song, the epic, flaming guitar solo at the end was what I truly adored. It sounded like nothing else on the radio, which by the mid-80s was as homogenized as a stack of Velveeta cheese slices. It's the closest thing to Jimi Hendrix that anyone one else has ever done. It made me hunger for other music that transcendent.
And that was the genius of Prince. He made pop music, but pop music with something strange and beautiful at the heart of it. He could sing soul songs, but then peel off a guitar solo that blew anything that rock guitarists were doing then out of the water. Genres just didn't seem to matter to him. Now we are left in a musical world without him that is much poorer for it. RIP