Artistic Genius?



I don’t get it.  I just don’t.  My inner curmudgeon demands expression.

The artist formerly and lately known as Prince is being hailed, almost universally it seems, as a musical genius.  Admittedly, I’ve only listened to samples randomly encountered, but his stuff sounds discordant to me.  I wondered then about the lyrics to his signature piece, Purple Rain.  Maybe, I thought, the genius is in those.  So I looked them up:

I never wanted to be your weekend lover
I only wanted to be some kind of friend
Baby, I could never steal you from another
It’s such a shame our friendship had to end

Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
I only wanted to see you
Underneath the purple rain

Honey, I know, I know
I know times are changing
It’s time we all reach out
For something new, that means you too

You say you want a leader
But you can’t seem to make up your mind
I think you better close it
And let me guide you to the purple rain

Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
If you know what I’m singing about up here
C’mon, raise your hand

Purple rain, purple rain
I only want to see you
Only want to see you
In the purple rain

Compare this to, say, these lines from an older style:

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

And when two lovers woo
They still say I love you
On that you can rely
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by

Moonlight and lovesongs never out of date
Hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny

It’s still the same old story
The fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by

Now you tell me which one’s more genius.  I’ve got my own opinion.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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12 Responses to Artistic Genius?

  1. Jim Ruebush says:

    I had some learnin’ to do to expand my appreciation of Prince Rogers Nelson. His artistry seldom crossed my path. What I did find out impressed me. He was talented in many areas. Some albums included all the instruments played by him on separate tracks. He was noted as an exceptional guitarist. I am trying to learn that instrument.

    I’m not arguing that you should raise him on a pedestal in your music room. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. He is like many others with talent that weren’t part of my life. Who was Herman Hupfeld?


  2. PiedType says:

    I loved rock music for decades, until rap got so prominent. I loved “Purple Rain,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Raspberry Beret,” “1999,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and other songs of that era. Sort of lost track of him after he became “the artist formetly known as Prince.” Never worried too much about the lyrics. It was more the music itself and the feeling and energy. I never knew he played all the instruments on those early albums. Amazing.


  3. Jim Wheeler says:

    Herman Hupfeld, the author of Time Goes By, lyrics and music, was, I found, a bit of a one-hit wonder. One of his oeuvres was “When Yuba Plays The Rhumba On The Tuba”, not exactly memorable. So, I get your point, Jim. Speaking as someone who has no musical talent at all, I’m willing to learn, although I’m pretty certain that my ear won’t change. I know Prince was accomplished at numerous instruments but nothing I’ve heard so far from him instrumentally can compare, in my brain, to, say, Chet Atkins.

    Learning an instrument late in life? Wow. Good for you. One of my sons, now in his 50’s, says he always wanted to play piano and has been taking lessons for several years now. We are feeling guilty that we didn’t perceive it when he was a kid. I will tell him about you.


  4. Jim, I so agree with you. But then I listen to Beethovan, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, so what do I know about music. I’m reminded that in our UU Forum yesterday, we had a neurologist presenting a paper on genius, comparing the lives — life incidents and behavioral similarities — of Einstein and Steve Jobs.


  5. Jim Wheeler says:

    Glad to know I’m not alone. Thanks, Helen. I don’t doubt that Prince was some kind of musical genius, I just think he occupied his own niche in that category. Or, maybe he shared it with Michael Jackson, I don’t know.


  6. Elyse says:

    I agree with you — and the movie that goes along with the second one is one of the best ever!

    I am not/was not a big Prince fan — wrong generation! But I am still shaking my head at the unusual number of death this year. that is tragic!


  7. Jim Wheeler says:

    Agreed on the movie, Elyse. What a jewel it is. Has a beginning, middle and end that all captivate. Memorable music. About love, war, politics, good and evil. You know the good will somehow win at the end, but the suspense is maintained.

    We saw The Revenant last night. I recommend it, but it’s not the complete package that was Casablanca. Wear your seat belt, though.


  8. aFrankAngle says:

    Of course the self description of “inner curmudgeon made me laugh. I can’t recall the song (not by Prince) but the same line was said 34 times … and that gets air time?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jim, you and I com from a different era. We had Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand singing songs from the best writers like Sammy Cohn, Johnny Mercer, Burt Bacharach, Rogers and Hammerstein, and Gershwin

    I was, and still am, a lover of jazz, especially the likes of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Stan Kenton, Stan Getz and too many others to name. I thought in the 50’s, when I was growing up, that rock & roll was just so much noise. Anybody who could play three chords on a guitar could be in any rock & roll band. But in the 60’s it got better. We had Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, the Beach Boys (who weren’t appreciated for their musicality until much later), Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Carol King and more.

    That said, I never did care for Prince – too ostentatious and flashy for my taste. Nonetheless, except for his singing, which was mediocre at best, he was a real musician. Sadly that didn’t come through in his performances as it does like, say, Lady Gaga.

    My daughter, who just turned 47, was still grieving over the death of David Bowie when she found out about Prince. But those guys were a large part of her growing up; listening to their music during important events in her life. Of course, she is not alone, as mourners for those guys number in the 10’s of millions. And I’m sure they didn’t mourn the passing of Frank Sinatra the way you and I did.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      You’re right, Herb, music is inseparable from culture in the formative years. It explains a lot. It’s no accident then that Prince’s albums are now taking off like a rocket. It’s not so much the music itself as the generational identity and networking that goes with it.


  10. henrygmorgan says:

    Jim: I totally agree with Herb in his musical taste. A jazz lover since highschool, I am often appalled at the lack of musical ability of many of the rockers I hear, and I wonder if any of these modern guitarists could play a D minor scale. They would be shamed by the skill of a modern jazz guitarist such as Barney Kessel, Mundell Lowe, Joe Pass, or Wes Montgomery. “Oh baby, Oh baby, Oh baby, baby, baby,” is a far cry from “My one and only Love.” My wife, a rock fan, says that all this just proves what an old fuddy duddy I am. I’ll take fuddy duddy. Bud


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