Prince: Another Toll Paid on 2016’s Road of Heavy Losses


Prince

When you’re a child, you might not be accepting of things like cauliflower, bedtime, or the lack of the latest, greatest Tonka truck in your life. But a guy swathed in eyeliner and lace on a purple custom Honda CB400A? That’s perfectly fine. Totally bad-ass, even. That the man funked as hard as anybody has ever funked, and shredded on an off-brand Telecaster as ridiculously and face-meltingly as anybody has ever shredded on any guitar, made complete sense out of what should’ve been a tangle of incongruities. It was Prince, after all.

The last six months or so has seen America unpack a heavy parcel of meaningful celebrity death. Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie, Abe Vigoda, Phife Dawg, Harper Lee, Merle Haggard. If you weren’t necessarily a metal person, chances are still good that you liked Motörhead. If you liked popular music at all, there’s a good chance a piece of Bowie’s career resonated. Vigoda’s passing shook the jokey foundation of the internet. College students of a certain age held up A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory as a totem. What American hasn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird in school? Even the Nashville brosephs Haggard couldn’t stand loved the man’s oeuvre. After all, ex-con Merle stood as a totem of authenticity. But Prince? Prince is universal in a way that none of the rest were.

Musicians of all stripes loved Prince. Thugs loved Prince. The normiest of normcore suburbanites loved Prince. People who couldn’t stand Michael Jackson loved Prince. People who worshipped Michael Jackson loved Prince. At some point, you very likely put a Prince composition on a mixtape/CD/playlist given to somebody you wanted to make time with. If you have ever ridden a motorcycle in Minneapolis, you’ve experienced a “Hey! I’m Prince!” feeling. If you have been to Minneapolis at all, Prince invariably gets mentioned before Mary Tyler Moore, before the Replacements, before Hüsker Dü. Before Bob Dylan, even. Yes, Dylan’s from Duluth, but Bob’s legacy alone is enough for a whole state to glom onto.

I was born in 1975, which means I can scarcely remember a world without Prince. After school, we would dance on the playground to “Let’s Go Crazy” and “1999.” We didn’t understand most of what he was singing about, but it had a good beat and the man shimmered. The Trans-Am and the Corvette were my favorite cars, and Prince wrote a song about one of them. This, of course, was before the Countach truly slipped into the laser-hued consciousness of young boys sometime around 1985. Even fully in the grip of my Lamborghini obsession, the first time I sat in a Corvette—a white 1964 convertible at McClellan Air Force Base around 1987—was one of the bigger thrills of my young life. The first Vette I ever drove was a freshly restored 1973 with a hot 383 in the nose. It did not feel especially Purple. Instead, it felt a lot like my old 1970 Buick Skylark.

At my first 10Best after joining the C/D staff, we had a couple of fresh Stingrays for evaluation. One featured an automatic transmission and chrome wheels, and the other was a Torch Red Z51 manual with black stripes. The former was a good car. The latter was a ridiculous sonofabitch; everything I’d ever wanted a Corvette to be from the driver’s seat. I purloined it for the drive to the airport once we were done with testing. Before I left our 10Best base of operations, I stowed the top, connected my phone, and cued up a song. You already know which song. And if you say you wouldn’t have done the exact same thing, you’re either a liar or you suffer from some perverse hatred of joy.

Chevrolet posted a tribute image to social media yesterday, a simple studio shot of a red 1963 Sting Ray’s split rear window with the words, “Baby, that was much too fast,” above the car’s roof. It didn’t feel crass. Or gross. Or that GM was in any way trying to cash in on the death of a man who meant so much to so many. Instead, it felt tonally correct. And in an age where the General’s advertising is pretty uniformly crummy, the hulking automaker captured what we were all feeling. 57? 57? Even freaking Bowie made it almost to 70, and Prince Rogers Nelson somehow seemed even more ageless than the Thin White Duke.

Of course GM was required to pay tribute. He added to the mystique of their marquee automobile in a way that nobody had since the Beach Boys’ “Shut Down” in 1963. And let’s face it, “Shut Down” is a dorky anthem of adolescent fantasy in which some jackhat in a Sting Ray street-races a dude in a Max Wedge. “Little Red Corvette”? It’s about the complex power of sexual allure. Only nerds worry about their pressure plates. Anybody who’s ever been pulled home from the bar by a fast new lover, one perhaps wildly out of one’s league, can relate to the ambivalent wash of anxiety, determination, and arousal. Advantage: Prince.



Or you can skip all the pointy-headed analysis, climb into a Stingray, crank Prince, rip down a country road with the radio blaring, knowing full well that you are completely and totally that guy—and do it without a care because the experience is exactly as good as it’s supposed to be.

Prince may have thought farther ahead than most of us, but he was also exceptionally down for the pleasures of right now. And in the days when the eggheads dissect The Purple One’s relationship to modern music, modern gender and sexuality, and modern culture in general, it’s worth noting that the reason we care so much in the first place is that the man hooked us at the most visceral of levels. And it doesn’t get a whole lot more visceral than the right car on the right road, with the right song playing loudly.


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