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Sign ‘O’ the Times

For reasons too byzantine to relate without sounding really really strange, I’ve spent much of the day listening to Prince’s 1987 “Sign ‘O’ the Times”….a sprawling mixture of pop, soul, funk, and hip-hop that serves as a reminder of how much better Prince is than just about anybody else when he decides to use his talents instead of taunting us with them. “Purple Rain” was of course his commercial peak, but Sign ‘O’ the Times”, which came 3 years later, is undeniably his artistic masterpiece, even if it sold only a fraction and has largely been forgotten.

It’s easy to focus on how weird Prince is instead of how disgustingly and indeed insanely talented the man is. Plays guitar like Hendrix. A peerless bandleader like James Brown. Can out-funk Rick James. Make women forget Marvin Gaye. Can dance Michael Jackson under the rug. A fearless innovator like Stevie Wonder. In the 80s Prince set the bar so high that when he was merely a little better than everybody else critics got mad at him and haven’t really forgiven him since. It took a recent sighting of him playing an incandescent solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony (Prince made it in his first year of eligibility) to remind everyone that the guy was still around. Lurking. Who knows what he might do next. He’s still a freak.

Prince music is not generally the sound booming out of my car speakers. Indeed, when I picked up my daughter tonight with “Housequake” playing so loud that the parked car was still moving, she seemed appalled. She then said it sounded like “Michael Jackson really really drunk”, which I thought was pretty cool. She then told me she never heard of Prince. Not cool. I tried to get her into it….but when she asked how old he was and I told her (52), she groaned and said listening to someone that old was “really really creepy”. Frankly, after a few minutes I think she was sorta digging it but would never let on because that would be really really creepy.

Music is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. You can never reach the bottom of the well. A lifetime is not nearly enough to sample the treasures out there, no matter how big your Ipod is. I largely missed this record the first time around because music was a diversion at the time. Now it’s air…..and I’m determined to gulp all the good stuff I can before I’m poisoned to death by the radio. No more putting things in neat little boxes. There’s a record store in Houston that refuses to segregate records by “style”. It simply throws everything in one huge alphabetical lump, with Prince and the Pixies and Pavarotti and Planxty all within an arms length of each other. It seems such a simple concept. It’s all music. Tying yourself down to one sub-section is like wearing the same clothes everyday. Eventually, you’re gonna start to attract attention for the wrong reasons.

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit now. But you get the idea. Give Peace a Chance and all that, you know? Try something a bit different. Turn down that side-street even if you’re not sure where it’s gonna take you. With a good soundtrack at our fingertips, we’ll always find our way home again.

In a bit…


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