Greil Marcus happened to be at my first Prince concert (he and I have been at a lot of the same shows over the years, including my first rock concert at the Fillmore in 1967), which would be irrelevant except he wrote about it, thus saving me the trouble:
Fronting a band of three blacks and two Jews from Minneapolis, Prince stormed into town on the heels of last year’s breakthrough Dirty Mind, was greeted by the most excited and diverse crowd (black and white, punk and funk, straight and gay, young and old, rich and poor) I’ve been part of in a long time, and sent everyone home awestruck and drained: “That was the history of rock ‘n’ roll in one song!” a friend shouted before the last notes of “When You Were Mine” were out of the air. All barriers of music, sex, and race were seemingly trashed by Prince’s performance ...
I have a habit of telling people Prince is the only artist where I was “there” at the beginning. It’s an exaggeration at best, nonsense at worst ... I picked up on him with Dirty Mind, saw him for the first time on that tour in 1981. I think it was the fact that not many people in my crowd knew him yet, combined with the part where that concert was one of the transcendent shows of my life. I like to think I’ve seen some great performers over the years ... some of them very good indeed. Sleater-Kinney is such a favorite of mine that I’ve seen them 14 times, not to mention two Wild Flags, two Corin Tucker Bands, and two Cadallacas. But as a live act, I place them just below the greatest. Same with Patti Smith, Pink ... great concerts, but not quite the peak. By 1981, my top two were Bruce Springsteen and The Clash. After that Prince show, the list grew to three.
(It’s weird I think of my being there early for Prince. I caught on to Bruce with Born to Run, saw my first Bruce concert on that tour. People think I was there from the start, but Born to Run, like Dirty Mind for Prince, was his third album.)
Let me return to Greil’s review for a moment. We can all agree that Prince was a dynamite live performer, that he created a tremendous recorded legacy, that he was so influential it seems like the word should be retired now. But perhaps the thing I found most amazing at that concert was “the most excited and diverse crowd”. I’m just an old rock-and-roller ... OK, I was only 27 at that show ... Bruce Springsteen is my favorite, and at his shows, the number of African-Americans on the stage often seems to outnumber the ones in the audience. My experience with “diverse” crowds is more like there being lots of lesbians at Sleater-Kinney concerts, or dads taking daughters to see Pink (lotta lesbians there, too). But that Prince show ... like Marcus, I’d never seen anything like that crowd.
Which may be why I was so sad the next time I saw Prince, on the Controversy tour. The crowd was once again diverse, but the lovely vibe was gone ... pickpockets worked the crowd on the floor, it was the only time in my life I’ve been anything close to being “mugged”.
(I should probably note, that second concert was at Civic Auditorium, which held around 7000. The first was at The Stone, which held 700.)
Prince crossed generations. I’ve been texting with my son and daughter a lot the last 24 hours, and my son hit the nail on the head. Talking about early memories, he said that “Little Red Corvette” was “like mom and dad’s voice.”
And about “Little Red Corvette”. What a great song! As I type this, I’m listening to another great song, “Head”, which isn’t exactly subtle. The singer meets a woman on her way to her wedding. He wants her, but she’s a virgin. “But you're such a hunk, so full of spunk, I'll give you head.” She’s so good at it that he “came on your wedding gown.” She married him instead, of course. And, in case this sounds like a typical male fantasy, he spends the rest of the song giving her head.
But I was talking about “Little Red Corvette”. Double entendre lyrics are a dime a dozen, but when they are as good as this, why quibble? The woman as Corvette, her pocket full of horses (some of them used). The way he “felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures of the jockeys that were there before me”. Like a cross of Bogie and Baby in The Big Sleep and Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues”, with the added loveliness of “But it was Saturday night, I guess that makes it all right”. And a great production. One of the handful of “might be his best” tracks.
Thinking about all of this, I’m realizing Prince did more than cross generations. He brought people together. The first time I saw him was with my brother and sister-in-law. On the Purple Rain tour, my wife and I went with friends, one of whom we had known since high school. I took my son when he was young. My best friend went to a Prince concert with our daughter. The last time I saw Prince, I sat with my son and daughter-in-law. My wife felt left out, was upset we didn’t think she’d want to go. So she got tix late, ended up with better seats than we had, sitting with our nephew.
To say nothing of the practical aspect of Prince. My son just texted me to say that “If there was no sign o the times, dishes woulda never been clean”. Although I admit, if it were me, I might have been so distracted by that greatest of all Prince albums that, rather than be inspired to finish the chores, I would have just been unable to work.
If you’ve gotten this far, you might have noticed there are no links to videos. Prince was famously vigilant about keeping his music off of YouTube. With perseverance, you can find a lot of good stuff. In the meantime, you could always go buy some of his music. Just try not to fall into the trap described in this Onion headline: “Nation Too Sad To Fuck Even Though It’s What Prince Would Have Wanted”.