Dearly Beloved, We R Gathered Here 2 Celebrate His Life

In the last four months this blog has come to feel more like an obituary than a cultural chronicle. We opened the year in memorial of David Bowie whose secret battle with cancer came to an end on January 10. Then the Eagle’s frontman Glenn Frey died eight days later. Alan Rickman, Merle Haggard, one by one the entertainment world mournfully reported the loss of yet another great artist.

Yesterday that trend continued with perhaps the most shocking loss since Michael Jackson’s death in 2009.

Prince Rogers Nelson, better know as Prince… or that weird symbol no one could pronounce…died in his home studio at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He was 57 years old.

While an autopsy investigation is set to take place on April 22, little indication has been give to the cause of death for the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter. The news of Prince’s sudden and unexpected demise has left fans the world over in disbelief.

If this description sounds a bit sterile it’s because I’m sick of writing about great artists from my childhood dying. It’s a somber experience. As a writer I want to use my skill set to capture the memory of the departed as eloquently as the English language can. But I would prefer to go back to writing about cartoons and movies; 2016 has been a rather morose year.

Nonetheless, we will celebrate the life of a musical icon who rose to prominence in the 80s with hits albums such as 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign “O” the Times. Now one thing we can’t do is post a bunch of cool videos from YouTube because Prince was vehement about copyright issues and fair trade. But to be honest posting even a fraction of the highlights from The Purple One’s illustrious career would probably crash the WordPress server, so here’s a quick list you can feel free to explore at your leisure:

1999 – Prince’s career began in the late 70s, but this 1982 album was his breakthrough which featured the hits “Little Red Corvette,” and the title track which probably earned Prince half-a-billion dollars in royalties on December 31, 1999 alone.

Purple Rain – his biggest selling album, certified platinum 22 times over. The soundtrack to the movie of the same name starring Prince as “The Kid,” the album held the number one spot on the Billboard charts for 24 weeks and spawned the hit songs, “When Doves Cry, “Let’s Go Crazy,” and the title track.

Parade – follow up to Purple Rain featuring the number one hit song, “Kiss.”

“Manic Monday,” “Stand Back,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” et al. – despite a prolific catalog, Prince still found time to pen and play on hit songs for other artists, often using writing pseudonyms so no one knew they were his.

TAFKAP – Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in 1993. Why? It was a giant middle finger to his record label, Warner Bros., who he felt was stifling his artistry. Ever the provocateur, Prince was also a coy adversary who leveraged his image to discourage his opponents. It was kind of a bad ass move.

Super Bowl XLI – Billboard.com has called it the greatest Super Bowl half-time performance ever. Appropriately a downpour ensued for “Purple Rain.” Can’t make this stuff up.

Doin’ it All – it’s also not widely known but important to note that as a multi-instrumentalist Prince played most, if not all, the instruments on his albums. His live performances were perennially lauded, and he was critical in the development of many well know musicians and entertainers such as Vanity, Apollonia Kotero, and Carmen Electra.

As a cultural figure, Prince was an icon. His absence leaves a bottomless chasm in the musical landscape, one further cratered by the losses of Bowie, Frey, and Haggard. Indeed, death is a natural circumstance of life. But if life is just a party, and parties aren’t meant to last, it sure seems 2016 has its number of the metaphorical curfew.

“The afterworld – a world of never ending happiness; U can always see the sun, day or night.”

                     – Prince Rogers Nelson

 

My Trust in God & Man

Every loss is unique as it is something unique and irreplaceable we lament. David Robert Jones, better known as David Bowie…Ziggy Stardust…the Thin White Duke…was “one of a kind.” Those aren’t my words. They actually belong to my mother, a woman not known for deep appreciation of rock and roll. Yet even she is not beyond the influence of modern music’s greatest chameleon. On January 10th, 2016, Bowie’s legacy was forever cemented. Artist. Icon. Global treasure.

Retrobacktive serves to chronicle the 1980s. Bowie’s music as a whole is timeless, yet his many personas and experimentation can be easily compartmentalized due to his ferocious focus and deft ability to reinvent himself. In honor of him, Retrobacktive pays memorial by considering some of Bowie’s finer points during the 80s.

“Ashes to Ashes” (1980)

 

“Ashes to Ashes,” from the 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was described by Bowie as “wrapping up the seventies really.” He considered the song a modern nursery rhyme that seems to deal with the artist’s own recovery from years of drug abuse. Both the song and album went to No. 1 in the U.K. and the video (co-directed by Bowie himself) is considered a landmark in the then burgeoning video music landscape.

“Under Pressure” (1981)

It might be the greatest collaboration in rock history. Officially released as a Queen song on their 1982 album Hot Space, controversy still abounds as to which musicians contributed to what parts of the song. As far as the lyrics are concerned the consensus generally points to Bowie as the primary writer. Regardless of the minute details the song’s juggernaut crescendo has few rivals in pure rock majesty.

Let’s Dance (1983)

After a roller-coaster decade of successes and setbacks in the 1970s, Bowie reached his commercial apex in 1983 with the U.K. No. 1 album, Let’s Dance. Focusing on a hybrid of synth-pop, blues rock, and funk, the album produced some of Bowie’s most popular hits, including the title track, “Modern Love, and “China Girl.” Bowie himself, however, often felt stifled by the album’s success, telling David Fricke in a Rolling Stone interview, “I had every intention of continuing to do some unusual material after that. But the success of that record really forced me, in a way, to continue the beast.”

Live Aid 1985

In addition to a high-energy performance at Wembley Stadium for the televised, multi-venue 1985 Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief, Bowie and Mike Jagger debuted their video for the song “Dancing in the Street,” with the single’s proceeds going to the charity. It was another top ten hit for Bowie.

Labyrinth (1986)

Never confined to a single medium, Bowie made more than one venture to the silver screen, but perhaps outside of The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie’s most memorable cinematic performance was as Jareth, The Goblin King, in Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth. While not a box-office hit upon it’s release, the film has since gained a cult following and for many Gen X’ers this was their first introduction to the late, great David Bowie.

“As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three: how long and what do I do with the time I’ve got left?”

Bowie released his final album, Blackstar, two days before he died. Peel away all the layers – and there are many – at his core Bowie was a prolific musician as dedicated to his craft as any artist before. Despite an 18-month battle with liver cancer he carried on gracefully and left the world with a final gem in one of the most colorful catalogs of creation the world has ever seen. He leaves a great void in our world where the stars, indeed, look very different today.