More on Prince. Tavis Smiley interviews. Re-invention. Fan trust. Covers. What’s in a name? Lenny Bruce. Goyish or Jewish?
Roger CortonI read your post on Prince. You’ve talked many times of the difficulty in mixing yourself.
JCHIt’s awful. You tend to hear the music as you wish it sounded. You don’t hear it as it is. I’ve rarely talked with other musicians about it, but it’s as clear to me as a sky of azure that almost everyone suffers from this to one degree or another. Which is why it’s so dangerous to be a one-man-band. But he had that gift. Apart from all his other talents, that was the deal–seeing reality for what it is.
RCSo you’re downplaying his playing (sorry.) But you do the same things. You do it all.
you have an obligation to give the audience what they want, but also lead them a little further to what they need. He was always thinking about how to take listeners just outside their comfort zone and get them to dig new material.
JCHI’m gonna get punished for this, but from what I can hear he was an OK guitar player, drummer, whatever.
JCHLook, I’m not Trump so don’t look at me like that, dude. I’m not sure what he actually played on any given record, but let’s face it, the guy wrote funk and RnB songs. They weren’t exactly compositionally or technically all that adventurous. Wonderful? Yes. But I’d argue that Stevie Wonder was a far more advanced writer. Steely Dan. Prince was, to coin a Donald Fagen expression, a competent, professional musician. That sounds snarky, but it’s actually a high compliment for old school musicians. He was competent. He played the parts properly. There’s simply nothing all that spectacular in his playing–other than that voice, of course.
RCWhich is a gift from God.
JCHAmen. I certainly could never hope to sing anywhere near as well as he so hopefully I compensate a bit in the instrumental department. At least a leeeeeeetle bit.
RCAlright, I think I get you. As you like to say, he played what the song needed.
JCHExactly. But to be clear, I do want to distinguish between Prince and what someone like James Brown would do… you know just running around the stage noodling on different instruments as a stunt. (Sorry James, you know you’ll always be Soul Brother #1 to me, but I gotta tell it like it is.) Anyhoo, that’s not what I mean. Prince was obviously no joke as a player. He was competent in the best sense of the word. But he was certainly no threat to a Hendrix or Keith Emerson or whatever other hyperbole you’ll probably come across in the months to come.
RCMoving on. So you mentioned that Tavis Smiley interviews with Prince. That was wild. I’d never seen Prince act ‘normal’ before. (laughs).
JCHThose were cool and I recommend that everyone check ’em out. It seemed like Prince had to get to a certain age or maturity to be able to say anything about himself.
RCI was struck by how much Prince talks about his audience. How he values them so much. Over and over he refers to them as being sophisticated. For instance, you’ve talked a lot about the perils of playing covers. I didn’t realize that Prince almost never played covers. I saw him years ago and it never occurred to me he wasn’t playing ‘the hits’.
JCHMaybe because he had so many hits you just didn’t notice he wasn’t playing 1999! Anyhoo, I didn’t realize that for a long time, either. But that just shows the integrity. For me the danger with covers has always been that it completely takes the audience’s mind off what yer trying to say today.
RCMaybe he felt just as concerned. Maybe it’s another case where you realize that everyone worries about the same things.
JCHThat’s a great point. Kinda cheers me up a bit.
RCHe also talked about how grateful he was that the fans trusted him.
JCHIt’s like I’ve said before. Something my Conducting 101 teacher told us on day one. He said that as a conductor you have an obligation to give the audience what they want, but also lead them a little further to what they need. He was always thinking about how to take listeners just outside their comfort zone and get them to dig new material. Which is really hard in the classical music game.
RCBy that I guess you mean that you need your fans to be willing to follow your trajectory as you change and grow.
JCHAbsolutely. I keep hammering on it over and over but an artist has to constantly re-invent themselves. You can’t just keep playing the same ol’ ‘hits’ and still be considered worthy of the name ‘artist’.
RCLike you say, we all see those guys every week at the casino.
JCHI literally shudder when I see a guy I used to play with, that I respected, in that situation. Prince’s ability to re-invent himself and take his audience with him is just another aspect of his genius. An overlooked aspect.
RCIt’s funny you say that. I think a lot of people thought he became sort of a joke when he changed his name to that prong symbol.
JCHI’m starting to think it was all part of the plan. By doing that, he immediately dialed down expectations. He immediately checked out of the Madonna, U2, Michael Jackson, super-artist category. And then he could just concentrate on playing to his real fans. I mean you have to admit it, the people who showed up to all his later concerts were just NUTS. They were willing to follow him wherever he wanted to go. They just wanted that great show and they trusted him to bring it.
RCThat’s a great point. When you shake off the TMZ superstar persona you can just focus on the music and not worry about getting the next mega-hit. Planned or not, it really allowed him to do exactly what he wanted to do without worrying what Rolling Stone might have to say.
JCHWe should all have such worries (laughs).
RCSomehow Jewish and Prince just don’t seem to go together.
JCHI’m not sure. You’re referring to that Lenny Bruce bit I played for you years ago. I think Lenny kinda thought of ‘Jewish’ and cool as being synonymous. He certainly considered anything square to be Goyish.
RCInstant potatoes. Scary Goyish (laughs).
JCHYou do remember. There was nothing instant potatoes about Prince. If you recall the whole bit, Ray Charles? Very Jewish. And there was nobody funkier than Brother Ray.
RCOK, so I stand corrected. Maybe Prince was Jewish.
JCHExcept for the mustache. But the hair? Definitely.