I saw Prince nine times over the years. I consider myself so lucky to have witnessed his talent up close. I adored his music more than any other artist. His recordings were the greatest of our time, like The Beatles were for the sixties. The only thing that could top his recordings were a live performance from the man himself. Each time was a special event in my life.
Less than a month ago I had one more chance to see Prince for his Piano and a Microphone tour. It was a last minute decision. I woke up to the news that Prince was coming in one day and I had half an hour to decide if I was going to the show or not because Prince was always so spontaneous. It was never even a normal experience to get a ticket. Oh the stories I could tell! I grabbed a ticket online.
Some friends of mine and I bumped into our friend Mark before the show at the Sony Centre in Toronto. Mark is probably just as big a fan of Prince as I am, if not more. He had just come from the earlier show. He told me Prince had played a little known ballad of his called Eye Love U but Eye Don’t Trust u Anymore from his album Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. We had just recently discussed this song on Twitter as a matter of fact. I couldn’t wait to hear it in the concert.
But, of course, Prince didn’t play that song for our show because every show was different for Prince. Instead, he started the performance with one of my favorite songs: Joy In Repetition. The fact that he started with this song revealed to me that this show was for the true fans. Only a real fan would even know this song since it was an album track on the Soundtrack to Graffiti Bridge, Prince’s sequel to Purple Rain which almost no one saw. On the album it is a guitar song, and somehow Prince had reworked it into a piano song. The second song was a B-Side called Girl from the 80s. This was a show for us!
Being a keyboardist myself I was so curious to see what he would be like on just a piano. I was expecting to hear him play all of his beautiful ballads, but the night was full of his funk and dance classics, like the song Controversy. He attacked the piano unlike anyone I have ever seen. He told us his father taught him to play, but not with music books and notes. He taught him to play with his toe tappin’. Prince really used the piano as a percussion instrument, which is what it is supposed to be.
A Prince concert is a little bit like being in a music school. He explained to us that funk is time and space. And then he would demonstrate by pounding out a funk song and then emotionally getting up and walking away from the piano for several bars only to comeback to the piano just in time to start pounding out the next verse. The silence in between is what he calls time and space, empty but somehow still full of energy and anticipation of what is to come.
In retrospect I should have known something was wrong. It was odd that he went on tour to do this intimate performance. He was also writing his memoirs, another sign that something was up. I remember the concert he cancelled at Massey Hall and I now wonder if that happened because of health concerns. I did not know he was sick but I now believe he knew for years that he was dying.
Prince has always been a religious teacher to me as well. Growing up in a secular home I found his religion alienating sometimes. I have to admit I only know the Lord’s Prayer off by heart because it was in the song Controversy. I didn’t even know it was the Lord’s Prayer for many years until I was in a church one day and I wondered why they were quoting a Prince song. But when I saw him in concert, and saw the spiritual energy flowing through him, it was my first real observation of how God can be tangible and real to someone and not some fictional character from a book.
He did play his beautiful ballads that night as well and several times when he would complete one of these songs, like Purple Rain or Nothing Compares 2 U, he would lift his hands up to God and just smile upwards quietly with his arms spread wide. That energy was real to him, and through him I could feel what he felt. And now I think he knew the time was coming.
Goodbye Sweet Prince. You will always be our King.