I remember how I first heard that Prince had passed away in 2016. It was the wife of an acquittance of mine. I think I met her once. I don’t even know how she had my number. I was walking my dog around our neighbourhood in London, and I get this random text. ‘Have you heard about Prince? What do you think happened?’ I literally stopped in my tracks. WHAT?!? I was just starting to accept that David Bowie was no more, and now this? It’s hard to explain- I had met Bowie and Prince each once, so it was not like I had some close relationship with them as people. But what they stood for in so many ways- on a personal level- my childhood, me falling in love with music; but also more importantly from a cultural, global perspective, how these two weirdos from unlikely backgrounds had rose to not just national but international success, flying the freak flag for non-comformists, the creatives, the dreamers all over the world- who does that now? They blazed the trail for any kid who dared to look beyond the expected, and to explore all the corners and crannies of possibilities. With both of them gone, that possibility for who we could be seemed to also be extinguished.
It has just been revealed, not so surprisingly, that Prince had a massive not so secret vault of unreleased material, in the heart of his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota. One collaborator, composer Brent Fischer, who worked with the icon for about three decades, guesses that only that 70% of Prince’s material has yet to be made public. Considering the artist put out an astounding 37 full albums during his career, it is staggering to think how much more music has been squirrelled away.
Which leads to the next question: if an artist does not publicly release a song or an LP, is it because they did not deem it right, finished or in a state for a large audience? In this case, does it impact the artists legacy or vision to let such work be made readily available? Or does it not really matter, as we only really refer back to the big hits that any group had during their heyday? The random, unfinished Amy Winehouse album Lioness, was put out in 2011 after the singers sudden passing. Featuring an array of demos and unreleased songs, the record was a strong seller when initially out; but you rarely if ever hear anyone reference it when discussing the singer’s catalog and contributions. I also harken back to my days at Interscope Records, where every quarter seemed to feature a track or two of ‘found’ Tupac Shakur vocals, his voice hauntingly placed over and interspersed in a variety of songs by other artists. Similarly to Winehouse, it’s almost always the late rappers classics like ‘California Love’ or ‘Keep Your Head Up’ that people play, not a one-off single by forgotten groups featuring a sliver of the Pac’s disembodied raps.
I still can’t believe that Prince is gone. With him died a ray of hope and a beacon for freaks everywhere. I would love to hear what his wacky and weird mind came up with, then threw aside into his secret cavern of music. However, I don’t know if an avalanche of cast off will really do much to endear him to a new generation of fans except water down the amazing catalog that he gave us. Maybe it’s best to keep the Aladdin’s Cavern closed in this case, and let Prince’s near perfection of a discography speak for itself.