“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life.”
— Prince, June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016
By Nick Tsui
If there was any hope that 2016 would ease up with the loss of music icons like Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey, and David Bowie, the death of Prince surely snuffed it out. However, with each loss, new awareness of their music for future generations and realization of their contributions take place on a global and personal level. For me, my first appreciation for Prince was when I was still living at home and watching Pretty Woman with my parents and sisters in the living room. There’s the classic bathtub scene with a young Julia Roberts playing the part of prostitute Vivian Ward — covered in bubbles, eyes closed and headphones turned up to 11 while singing along to Prince’s “Kiss.” After her “interesting” vocal performance is caught by her client, a wealthy businessman played by Richard Gere, an embarrassed Vivian asks “Don’t you just love Prince?”
“More than life itself,” Gere replies. I think a lot of people feel that way.
Fans of all genres of music loved Prince Rogers Nelson or any other alias he reincarnated himself as. He was born on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minn. and died at the untimely age of 57, but made a lasting impression. Regardless of how many awards he’s won, the way he lived his life says it all. He broke barriers and defied racial stereotypes, was regarded as a sex symbol for his androgynous and amorphous persona, empowered women, was a multiinstrumentalist, boosted the careers of countless musicians, and, most importantly, did things the way he wanted to and answered to no one.
Prince lived his life the way we wish we could live our own.
When I found out Prince was doing a three-date engagement at Mohegan Sun a few years back, all I knew was that I was going to try and have him sign my guitar. I’ve been collecting signatures of legendary musicians on an old Takamine acoustic for more than a decade now. I knew the odds were against me but I was going to try anyway. On December 29, 2013 I packed up my guitar, got a full tank of unleaded at Friendly Barry’s for $28.25 and hit the road. I arrived early enough to make an attempt, yet really had no good plan of action, so I did the only thing I could think of; I walked up to the security guard at the arena entrance. The older man with thick glasses, clad in uniform, recognized me.
You were here last night weren’t you?” he asked. “Yeah,” is all I managed to reply.
“Come this way,” he says as he motions for me to follow him. As I trail behind, into the Mohegan Sun Arena halls and locker rooms, it takes all the self-discipline I have not to react like a fanboy when I see the logos, markings, and signatures of the bona fide titans of music; the ones who only play this kind of venue and nothing less: Bruce Springsteen, KISS, Santana, Bon Jovi.
Silently, I’m praying that Prince is also walking these majestic halls and I can ask him directly before I either lose my composure or get my cover blown. It doesn’t happen. Instead, I get taken to this other guy — huge, bald, and probably somebody high up in the production. He’s friendly and asks if I’m with the opening band. And this was it. I got that gut feeling you get when you know if you keep playing along with this game it’s going to end badly, so I came clean. I opened the case and showed him what I was trying to do. The friendly version of “Huge Bald Guy” disappeared at this point and was replaced with one of contempt.
“I don’t even know how you got down here, but what you want is never going to happen,” he assures me. And with that, another person whisked me back out into the lobby faster than a speeding ticket.
At this point, the chances of making any magic happen with a signature were dashed. I had lost the element of surprise and by now I could feel every security camera on me. But nothing could take away the magic of getting to see Prince perform live.
After a personal appearance and endorsement on Janelle Monae’s blistering opening set, the man himself took the stage to play for the crowd. He blasted into hits like “1999” and “Nothing Compares 2 U” to the screaming approval of fans. His catalogue and various projects are so many that I didn’t know every song by any means, but everyone, including myself really did lose their heads when he played “Let’s Go Crazy” followed by “Sign ‘O’ The Times.” During the performance, he stressed the importance of real music and real musicians; he had an entire orchestra of them along with stage props for full effect. That came into particular use during “Purple Rain” when he picked up the guitar that was in front of him and played the power ballad solo before wrapping it up with one of my personal favorites, “Raspberry Beret.”
When it was all over, I headed home. The next day I did some research and found out that Prince hadn’t signed anything since the early ‘90s unless it was an official document, or contractual in nature. He also doesn’t do pictures with people; at least that’s what some of his band members told me as they were walking around the casino that night. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t know that bit of information before I tried because I might not have. Dreams don’t become reality if you don’t try. I never truly gave up on the idea though, but it didn’t occur to me I had just seen him give his final performance in the area. Until now, I didn’t realize just how lucky I was and that I walked away with something just as good. I saw much more than a show. I saw a genius at work.
Nick Tsui eats, sleeps and breathes music. With his acoustic Takamine in tow, over the past decade he has traveled the country in search of some of the greatest guitar legends of all time including Bo Diddley, Les Paul, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and BB King — just to name a few. Today, Nick’s guitar is tattooed with the signatures of more than two dozen of his guitar heroes. He lives in Dracut and attended school at UMass Lowell, where he studied psychology. Besides collecting music and interviewing the players, Nick provides food for the music-lover’s soul at Howl and also writes for The Blues Audience Newsletter. Give him a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org