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Why Prince’s Super Bowl Performance, ‘New Girl’ Cameo Proved He Was a God

His genius is too large and variable to sum up, and the loss is way too fresh and painful for me to get a handle on just yet. But here are a few scattered thoughts about the passing of Prince:

  • The greatest thing about Prince’s famous Super Bowl halftime show is not his amazing playing (though that is stunning, as was this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance, in which he destroyed “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”). The best part is not the way he didn’t promote a particular album or kowtow to any of the commercial concerns of the gig. The great thing is not his casual but total command of the stage, his band, his voice and his ability to hold a crowd in the palm of his hand. No, the great thing about it is that even in the midst of horrible performance conditions that included wind and driving rain, Prince is enjoying himself. His satisfied grin is just fantastic. It’s as if he’s saying, “Oh, this rain? Yeah, I wanted that. I commanded that. You’re only now just realizing that I control the weather?” Good God. What a legend.
  • His appearance on “New Girl” in 2014 was beautifully random — and that’s what gods do, right? They touch down on our humble, workaday Earth in the most unexpected places, when and where you least expect them. It wasn’t necessarily a Hall of Fame episode, but it was fun, and you could tell that everyone in the cast was internally screaming “That’s Prince, I’m working with Prince! Wow, Prince!” the entire time, which gave the whole endeavor a loopy charm. I love the idea of Prince sitting at Paisley Park, binge-watching TV and giggling at the antics of the friends in the loft on “New Girl.” He had good taste in comedy, as in everything else.
  • I was working at a movie theater in Calumet City, Illinois, when “Purple Rain” opened. It was in the gigantic theater across the street from where I sat — there were two different theaters close to each other in the River Oaks Mall. A small riot occurred when tickets sold out and people couldn’t get into the theater. People broke stuff. No one got hurt, to my recollection, thank the purple god. But imagine the passion people have for a performer when they destroy stuff because they can’t see his movie. In the clinically focused, focus-grouped, corporate movie environment of today, I just can’t see that happening at a big suburban mall outside Chicago. This is a small part of what hurts about losing a genius like Prince: What other performer would people riot to see these days — not even in person, but in a movie?
  • As a Chicagoan, it always meant a lot to me that Prince stayed in the Midwest. Of course he flitted around the country and wasn’t always gutting out the winters with the rest of us. But he stayed. Prince’s Paisley Park complex in Minneapolis was like Elrond’s Rivendell; even if you had never been there, you were glad it was there. It was ours. Prince flew the freak flag for Midwesterners, and he never completely left us. For that alone, I’m grateful.
  • Why, why, why David Bowie and Prince just months apart? Why? They had so much in common: They had deeply revolutionary spirits and cared nothing for norms and rules, unless they could bend them and break and shape them into something new. They taught this Midwestern kid that being bold and weird and strange were not just good things — being weird and creative was actually a superpower. These men both just died way too young. I’m a non-violent person, but I’m fighting the urge to punch 2016.
  • Despite the similarities to Bowie, Prince was one of a kind. Both men played with gender in truly subversive ways, but there was a heat and intensity to Prince that contrasted with Bowie’s puckish reserve. Prince was sexy and smooth and enigmatic, but in his music he was also emotionally vulnerable in any number of raw, moving ways. Traditional definitions of masculinity meant little to him. He simply had his own way of being in the world, and all the conversations we’re having about sexuality, sex and gender fluidity — Prince was decades ahead of all of us.
  • Think about all the ways in which musical artists — all content providers, really — are trying to control their careers and their work. Well, Prince was way ahead of everyone there too (and he would have rightfully hated the term “content providers”). Decades before other artists got on the bandwagon, Prince took a huge risk by walking away from his contract and deciding to do his own thing outside the constraints of media conglomerates. Or if he did work with conglomerates, he did so on his own terms. That’s the gold standard for all artists, and he was way out ahead of everyone else.
  • Prince was one of the greatest musicians of all time, one of the greatest songwriters of all time, one of the most memorable human beings of all time, and he presaged and helped bring about a media revolution. To say he’ll be missed is an understatement. 

Words can’t sum up the greatness of Prince, though his iconic lyrics will live on forever. But when it comes to this exceptional man, only a symbol will do.

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