In the two years since writing about Purple Rain, my interest in Prince had actually grown so gradually, I scarcely noticed I had become a fan. His untimely death affected me a lot more than I anticipated.
I bought up a whole bunch of his albums after hearing the news, partly to get ahead of everyone else buying Prince albums after hearing the news. I didn’t do that for David Bowie, and Bowie had far more influence on my favorite artists than Prince. But through my brother, Prince had a definitive presence in the household of my family.
My first pivot from ambivalence to appreciation dates back to 2013, when I picked up a vinyl copy of The Family for $0.50. I made an offhand remark on Facebook that The Family was the album Prince should have released instead of Around the World in a Day, to which a friend replied, “WRONG!” I enjoyed The Family, and it made me wonder what it would have sounded like had Prince recorded it.
But in the interest of balance, I picked up Around the World in a Day. I heard it once in 1985 when my brother played it on the family stereo, and I decided it was one too many. Nearly three decades later, I could see how my friend could declare my opinion “WRONG!”, but I’m still hoping a future reissue campaign brings The Family back from obscurity.
The next pivot was The Black Album. I was browsing the “P” section of Sonic Boom’s used CD bins, looking for John Zorn’s Painkiller. Instead, I found a bootlegged copy of The Black Album. I picked it up, familiar with the mythology of the album. Back in 1994, I almost considered getting a copy of the album myself.
The bootleg turned out to be a decent if flawed transfer from vinyl, so I bought a used copy of the official pressing from Discogs. Critical consensus indicates The Black Album would have been groundbreaking had it been released in 1987 instead of 1994. Decades removed from that context, The Black Album is still an odd duck in Prince’s output, which probably lends its appeal for me.
In the days following Prince’s death, I filled the gaps in my collection between 1999 and The Love Symbol Album. I haven’t reached a point where I want to explore anything before or beyond that fertile period, with the exception of HITnRUN Phase Two. That’s more than enough music to keep me occupied for a while.
2016 has been pretty brutal for rock heroes, and I must confess an ambivalence for most of the figures who have shuffled off this mortal coil. But something broke with Prince. For many years, I dismissed him out of habit because of a silly, sibling rivalry turf war. When I started to appreciate him, it was in a cool, intellectual way. I admired the craft that went into his albums, but I didn’t let myself love them the way long-time fans do.
That ambivalence finally melted into fondness, but it took his death to make that happen.