Nothing Compares 2 Prince

I know I said I’ve been really busy the past two weeks, but if I don’t write something, I’m gonna go crazy. I have a pile of books to write about (naturally), but what I’ve been reading for the past two weeks is mostly about Prince. His death now looks like a drug interaction (note to self: do not mix Ambien for sleep with painkillers…) or just a straight Percocet (Oxycontin + Acetaminophen) overdose.

My wife Camille and I have really been torn up about Prince’s death. I sort of shrugged when David Bowie died, and I have lots more Bowie music at home than Prince. But this was like our brother died or something, and I’m not sure it’s merely because we spent three years living about five miles down the road from Paisley Park (we lived in Hopkins). Camille even met Prince a few times in the early 90s, when she would go clubbing in Minneapolis and Prince had like a booth in back at the Pacific Club (We’ve been the First Avenue too, I think).

I think it’s mostly mourning the passage of genius. Supposedly, when they asked Eric Clapton how it felt to be the greatest living guitarist, he said “I don’t know…you’ll have to ask Prince.” Now, anyone who knows anything about Clapton, who wouldn’t even give an inch to Jimi Hendrix, suspects a Prince fan made that all up. But I’ll leave it up to you: check out the solo Prince whips off during George Harrison’s tribute during While My Guitar Gently Weeps as Prince falls backward off the stage (and then Prince throws the guitar up in the air at the end and walks off the stage with that little grin of his that says “Top that…if you can.”

The 2004 video is here.

Prince comes on at 3:28, wipes the fretboard at 4:02, falls at 4:40 or so (and without missing a note: check out the glee on Tom Petty’s face as realizes what will happen), and “the toss” is at 6:09.

Prince supposedly found the sounds of the guitar “limiting” and often playing all instruments on his albums, except, famously, the saxophone. His drumming has been described not as flashy, but as solid as handclaps. Since I have a soft spot of multi-instrumentalists like Brian Jones, I think that explains a lot of why I’m mourning the loss of Prince. I admit a lot of his post-80s stuff was barely listenable, but there were some goodies in there, and once you’ve done it all, you basically having nothing more to prove and can do anything you want to amuse yourself.

Let me close with a word about Prince’s lyrics. Like Hendrix, I think Prince’s skill with words has been under-appreciated. I’ve been listening to Sinead O’Conner’s recording of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U a lot lately. Prince has a version too, usually a duet with men’s and women’s parts, but I think it works best as a soliloquy on the part of one person pleading with a former lover. Let me break it down for you so you know what I like about it (my comments in parentheses):

Nothing Compares 2 U

by Prince

It’s been seven hours and fifteen days
Since you took your love away
I go out every night and sleep all day
Since you took your love away

(Note the fault of the breakup: the other person “took” their love away. I’m blameless!)

Since you been gone I can do whatever I want
I can see whomever I choose
I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
But nothing
I said nothing can take away these blues
‘Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares to you

(Note the tone: the sky’s the limit without you, babe! And note the strict grammatical objective wording “whomever” instead of the more common “whoever.” Also, never mind that I never took you to a fancy restaurant when we were together…heck, I can do that now that I don’t have to pay for you too! I like the subtle way this subtext opens up the narrative, although it still hurts that you’re gone.)

It’s been so lonely without you here
Like a bird without a song
Nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling
Tell me baby where did I go wrong?

(Ah! Maybe I *did* have something to do with the breakup, but I have no idea how you could have found me less than perfect. Where did I mess up? Give me a hint…)

I could put my arms around every boy I see
But they’d only remind me of you
I went to the doctor guess what he told me?
Guess what he told me?

(I love the challenge in the “guess what he told me?” line. The implication is that the doctor said we should still be together, if not for your health, then certainly mine! And the repeated challenge is pure genius. But the doctor’s advice was different…)

He said girl you better try to have fun no matter what you do
But he’s a fool
‘Cause nothing compares, nothing compares to you

(This is the payoff of the whole song: life is no fun since you broke up with me, and it will never be. We MUST be together, and if that stupid doctor can’t see that, then he’s obviously a fool.)

All the flowers that you planted mama
In the back yard
All died when you went away

(This is my favorite lyric in the song. See! Not only am I suffering, but you killed our flowers! It’s not clear why the singer could not water the stupid flowers. I can’t hear these words without thinking they are a metaphor for Prince’s legacy: the “flowers” he “planted” – I mean the songs he performed – will wither and die “when he went away”.)

I know that living with you baby was sometimes hard
But I’m willing to give it another try

(The song ends with the hope of reconciliation. Note that there is no sign anywhere that this return is possible, and likely is not. Just as well: it puts the blame firmly on the other person again…living with you was so hard, see? But, gosh, I could try again if you really ask me nicely…)

Nothing compares
Nothing compares to you
Nothing compares
Nothing compares to you
Nothing compares
Nothing compares to you

(The song ends with the theme repeated over and over…)

Goodnight, Sweet Prince!

We’ll not see another like him for a long while.