Is it the past or whatever? Who cares.
Dave here. Please pardon the stray thought. This thought starts with the amazing abundance of Prince clips that have arrived on YouTube, and as of this writing are still there, since his passing on April 21st. There’s the 1983 gig where they premiered much of Purple Rain. “Erotic City” (with a dash of “Sex Shooter”) live in 1988. I’ve watched the Sign o the Times movie on Georgian YouTube (it got taken down). Some clips of “Party Up” from 1981. Damn.
First you should know about me that Prince is probably the person who’s music I listen to the most, or second most. It’s a close race with Robert Ashley. Both of their work merits relistening after relistening. Also there’s a lot of both of their work out there. Ashley is bigger to me in inspiring how I want to use language. Prince is bigger in how I want to deal with sound. A powerful 1-2 combination of stunningly original Midwestern musical minds.
I can’t stop watching these clips. I intend to just dip into one for a minute to see who’s in the band and what their rep was in that era, but soon I’ve wasted an hour. Just gone. Not so much thinking about Prince’s passing and mourning the absence of his driving energy, but totally captivated at how fucking good he was at everything, and how good his music still sounds.
This is supposed to be a common experience in this day and age. One click leads you down a hole. Whether it’s music, animal videos, people opening boxes, whatever, I think this is maybe how video culture works in 2016. I feel pretty outside of that. Anyway, it’s a strange juxtaposition for me to be finding this with Prince videos. I’ve been looking for Prince videos on the internet for years now. Once in a while you’d find “Private Joy” live in ’81 and hold onto the link like a squirrel with a nut, watching it once a day for two weeks til it was removed. Just a month or two ago I was watching the “Glam Slam” video, with its improbable string orchestra, when I got home from work (love that polka dot suit).
I have a lot of respect for Prince for choosing to control, and then successfully controlling, his output in this way. It preserved the departed feeling of searching for a cultural object, something that was one of the singular joys of my youth. Finding a Prince video online in the first decade of YouTube has been emotionally akin to requesting the Atalanta VHS through the CUNY library system when I was in grad school and making a trip to my folks’ place just to watch it. Or better yet, I think of my pilgrimages through the East Village ending up on Carmine Street in the late 90s, one of two suburban Davids on a quest to educate myself about obscurities housed at Kim’s, Rocket Science, Norman’s, etc, etc. It was a slower process in person – it might take a few visits of seeing (and this is a mildly embarrassing actual example) the 1974 Steely Dan bootleg (c’mon, they barely played live then, and SO MUCH MICHAEL McDONALD harmony!) before I worked up the cash and the nerve to pull the trigger. But when you obtained such an item and took it home, you wanted nothing more than to sit inside of it and soak it up when you got home.
These Prince clips are having the same effect on me, but in 2016, in one week, there have been more clips uploaded than I could hope to digest in a couple years. My listening has settled into a pattern (which I associate with Anthony Braxton) of drilling yourself on a single recording, not all at once, but over weeks or months. I want to take each one of these Prince clips and treat it like I have with 1999 or Act I of Now Eleanor’s Idea. I imagine many these clips will start disappearing shortly, and that feels okay. I’m game to pursue this beloved music.
I have mixed feelings about feeling this way, but I’m okay with music being hard to obtain. I’m also okay with all music ever being totally free. Who can even wrap their head around these things. This topic is ultimately not that interesting, I mean, what I think about it isn’t.
Recently a song lodged itself in my brain at work. A more accurate way of saying how I felt about it is that I was graced by a visit, in this case by Canned Travolta’s cover of “When It’s Time to Change”, a punk update of a song from the Brady Bunch. I walked around for hours singing it to myself, assuming it was only on a 45 in the poorly-kept filing cabinet of WESU Middletown, along with Tex Rabinowitz’s “Hot Rod Man”, which was the crux of some flirtation the first time Lynn and I ever hung out 15 years ago. Only after a day of this resignation did I bother to check, and of course it’s on YouTube.
I’m resisting having a point here. I don’t think things are bad, or that they were better before. It seems like on most levels things are pretty good on these fronts right now, but there’s some tension at the bottom of that feeling. I’m noticing how formative this constellation of ideas were for me. This is the sideways compartmentalization I’ve done in dealing with being sad about Prince’s passing and my own feelings about needing to step up creatively with one less brilliant person on the planet.
I’ll just say that if that outdoor market just south of Tower Records on Broadway were still there, the one where you could buy bootleg videos of say Earth, Wind, & Fire in 1978 or Pearl Jam in 1991, I would totally go there and just stare at things for a while. That’s where I’m at.