When I was a young pup, I was a dancin’ fool. Yup. You heard it right – me. A dancin’ fool. Every chance I got, I would bust a move, anytime, anywhere. I was even a member of a breakdance troupe for a while, called the Pop-Lock Breakers (well, a troupe would be stretching it – it was me and and another guy named Kevin). I especially loved gettin’ down to Prince tunes – Little Red Corvette and 1999 were my early faves – which didn’t do me any favors at school, as the dudes considered Prince to be “chick” music, and even most of the chicks thought him to be a little, umm… feminine, thus making my penchant for the lil’ man from Minneapolis a touch, umm… strange.
I didn’t care – what did those people know about music outside of AC/DC (amazing), Iron Maiden (awesome) and Willie Nelson (a legend, even in 1982)? Nothing. Things changed, of course when Purple Rain came out (for the chicks, at least- I finally had some people in my corner)- it was undeniable, and in ’84/’85 Prince was everywhere. I had this major thing for a girl named Marnie Gunther in the next town over from Meadow Lake (Loon Lake), and I went to a school dance there armed with a cassette copy of Purple Rain, cued up to “Let’s Go Crazy” in case the DJ didn’t have the extended guitar solo album version (the radio edit was lame). My plan was to get him to play it and I would wow Marnie by cutting a rug while Prince was laying down that immense solo. It kinda worked – I think I made out with her for a few minutes later that night, but in the end, what I really remember about that night was the awesome power of Prince when it was blasting, loud.
In the fall of my grade 12 year, this weird dude moved to town and started attending Carpenter High, and because he was weird, I was immediately drawn to striking up a conversation with him at the smoking doors. He had a cool t-shirt on, and funny hair, and Chuck Taylors, like the Ramones wore. His name was Ed Van Vliet (yeah – Van Vliet, like Captain Beefheart), and we soon discovered a mutual interest in music that was far beyond anyone else’s in school. We became fast friends and spent hours listening to records at his place. His fave? Prince. He had all the records, and all the offshoot records, too. Morris Day and the Time (Jungle Love? Are you kidding?), Vanity 6, Wendy and Lisa, Sheila E., you name it, Ed had it. It was dirty stuff, all those love jams and sexfunk, and we loved it. It seemed to help with our luck with the girls, too (although he was far more successful than I) – there was something about being a Prince fan that made you more confident with the ladies. I was soon writing “U” instead of “you” in my love notes, “4” instead of “for”, “2” instead of “too” or “to”, and wearing really bizarre pants.
Because I had a comrade-in-weird, I kinda put to the back of my mind the ridiculousness of it all (I was slightly ashamed of my Prince fascination, what with the Christian guilt that hung like an existential yoke around my neck), and when I finished high school and moved away from my pal Ed to Calgary in the fall of ’86, I kept it to myself.
It was hard making friends in the new city. I was searching for someone who had the same need for musical stimulation and adventure as I did, and the closest I came in those first couple years was this dude named Rhys – a really good guy, but I blame him for doing some serious damage to my psyche and musical development and stunting the growth of my knowledge. See, he had gone to the Berklee College of Music in Boston – a far-off, exotic school – and I took every word out of his mouth as gospel, since he was a far more experienced and learned scholar, a sage and wise music guru… who was really into Toto. And Steely Dan. Because of him, I thought “jazz” was Pat Metheny‘s mid-80’s recorded output and Dianne Schurr, that Coltrane and Parker and Mingus were hacks (even though I had never really listened to them), that Miles Davis’ best record was *cough* “Tutu“, and that Marcus Miller was a genius (a whammy bar on a 6-string bass? Seriously? I now know that a whammy bar is generally a bad idea on ANY guitar – unless your name is Neil Young – and any bass with more than 4 strings isn’t a bass, it’s a weapon of wank). I began to have the opinion that the Band were hacks who couldn’t play or sing or write a decent song, and that Keith Richards was a moron. I was totally brainwashed, and yes, I drank the Berklee Kool-Aid.
I spent a goodly amount of time walking around dazed and confused about what was “good” about music – I played Rhys a song I had written and he told me it was ‘wrong’ (Looking back on that, I think, “Wrong? How can it be wrong? It might be bad, but a song cannot be wrong”) – was everything that had moved me up until that point total garbage? Stricken with guilt about my plebian taste and wracked with insecurity, I found myself at Rhys’ place for a party one night.
“Have you heard this?”, he asked, holding up a vinyl copy of “Sign O’ The Times” by, you guessed it, Prince.
“Umm… No.”, I responded. I thought it was some kind of trick question, a ploy to set me up for ridicule and embarrassment in front of everyone at the party. I was aware of the new record, but was so unsure as to whether or not I should like it based on the opinions of my guru, was afraid to buy it.
“Oh man, you gotta hear it. Unbelievable!”
He dropped the needle, and for the next four sides, I was in heaven. I mean, ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘1999’ and ‘Dirty Mind’ and ‘Around the World in a Day’ were great, but this… this was masterpiece. Hard, dirty, funk next to beautiful, ornate pop songs beside warm, inviting R&B; and gospel tunes. This thing was unlike any record I’d ever heard, and to this day, remains one of my favorite albums.
I’ve been playing “Starfish and Coffee” from “Sign O’ The Times” live for a long time now, mostly because it feels good. I mean, gooooooooood. And, it is always nice to give the audience a bit of a reprieve from the sad bastard, wrist-slitting effect of most of my material. You cannot be in a bad mood after hearing or singing this song. Is it the best song on the record (one where there are no bad songs)? No, but I would say it’s my favorite.
Funny. After all my teenage worry and concern over my provincial taste, it was the guy who made me insecure about it who validated it just by putting on a Prince record. I now appreciate Steely Dan’s music, and can understand why some folks would be into Dianne Schurr (even though I’m not). However, I’d rather listen to paint dry than Pat Metheny, and as for Toto… I’ll just say this – Rhys, if you’re reading this, thanks for exposing me to all the music, and no disrespect 2 U.
Prince’s “Starfish and Coffee”
(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)