By Devon “Doc” Wendell
I’m sitting here at my filthy desk staring at my most cherished electric guitars and basses, wondering how Prince could be dead. I still haven’t processed it. Prince was the reason that I became a multi-instrumentalist. His magnetic, empowering confidence was so wonderfully infectious.
Whenever I’ve been faced with moments of self doubt as a musician, all I’ve needed to do was to listen to or watch Prince perform and it reminded me that anything is possible if you believe and work at it with everything you’ve got.
Like when Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson passed away, millions of people will forever remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned that Prince had left this planet. I know I shall never forget. I was in Carmel California with my girlfriend, contemplating my future. I decided to check my cell phone and there it was. It was all over social media. Like many, I thought and was hoping it was a hoax. No such luck. I suddenly felt as if I had been hit in the head with a brick. I went numb and still feel numb as I write this.
I never imagined Prince dying. He seemed immortal. He was this endlessly flowing life-force. There will never be another Prince. Not even close.
Nowadays, most tepid, American Idolized pop performers can’t play a single instrument. And if they’re caught on TV accompanying their auto-tuned created vocals on a guitar or piano with 3 overly simplified chords, their settle-for-less fans react defensively with “See, he/she can play an instrument; how amazing! I told you they’re talented!”. In all fairness, Prince did set the bar extremely high, to say the least.
Prince mastered over 20 plus instruments. He was the last true musical genius who possessed the skills of a top jazz or classical musician and was able to market high-art to a massive pop audience that reached all nationalities and demographics. How did he do it? Prince made music that was sophisticated yet accessible. Music that was fly, sexy, spiritual and sincere.
As a musician, producer and conceptualist, Prince’s contributions to American black culture can never be underestimated. No matter how freaky and sexually ambiguous his image would get, he always tapped into and supported the most powerfully significant elements of American black music from James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Sly Stone, to Earth Wind & Fire, Miles Davis and Al Green, to name only a few.
Comedian Dave Chappelle performed a tribute to “The Purple One” in San Francisco, several hours after it was announced that he had died. Chappelle referred to Prince’s death as being the “black 9/11”. Like his mentor George Clinton, Prince celebrated American black music with a poetic flamboyance, a knowledge of its history, and an unbridled love and affection that can never be overlooked. Although rock n’ roll is an African American art form, it has been co-opted by white musicians who have shamelessly colonized an entire industry out of the true roots of the music. Because of this, most viewed a black man with a guitar as being “strange” or “out of place” while holding onto some nasty ingrained stereotypes, especially since the death of Jimi Hendrix. But along came Prince who reminded much of the world where those wonderfully bent notes, screaming, fast runs and earth shattering power chords truly came from. Hopefully the world will never forget again.
Prince didn’t merely copy James Brown, Hendrix, Little Richard, P-Funk and Sly Stone. He channeled them. He was a vessel of the divinely spiritual and sublimely sexual. And he understood that they were both one in the same as did Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix. He was able to convey those all-powerful and beautifully transcendent experiences without flying too close to the sun as Jimi and Marvin did. Prince appeared to be in command at all times but there was a higher and more divine spirit feeding him that seemingly endless energy. Prince not only saw the mountain top, he grabbed it with both hands without an ounce of doubt or self loathing.
I recall having had some lengthy and profound conversations with B.B. King and Eric Clapton on how much Prince influenced them. Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, George Clinton, and Larry Graham all loved and worked with him. And he fostered some of their careers during some very tough times. No other artist of his or any other generation reached those trailblazers who had come before because his music encompassed everything they had done and much more. He was able to play R&B, funk, classical music, jazz, rock, gospel and blues. And he could fuse it all together effortlessly while creating something original and timeless. He held the key to that universal song. If Prince couldn’t do it, it couldn’t be done.
And now he’s gone at the age of 57. As much as I want to play his music as loud as possible for the rest of the day, part of me wants to hunker down in my bed and sleep until the awful year of 2016 has faded into the mist. Goodbye, Prince. Thanks for showing me and a countless number of other musicians that we could achieve so much more than we had ever dared to dream.