Friday, April 24, 2020

"Let's Go Crazy" - Some Thoughts on the "Grammy Salute to Prince"

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               Gary Clark Jr.

I don't think I've watched a Prince tribute in real time since the 2010 BET Awards. Those were happier times, of course. Prince was in the audience. He nervously watched a pregnant Alicia Keys climb on top of the piano. He proudly caught Patti LaBelle's shoe. He told young artists they didn't have to be as wild as he once was to be successful.

Ten years later, he's gone and tributes remind me what a unique talent we've lost. His music is difficult to cover. And we've seen a lot of the same types of performances over the years. I'm really thrilled that people are still honoring him--in prime time, no less. But I know I'm not the target audience.

With that said, I don't have anything especially negative to say about "Let's Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince," which aired Tuesday on CBS. With everyone staying at home due to the pandemic, the celebration had a captive audience. And from what I saw on social media, a lot of people enjoyed the performances. I hope casual fans were inspired to listen to more of Prince's music.

I do think some artists were under-utilized. For example, I really wanted St. Vincent to be able to shred on guitar, but I think she was limited by the song, "Controversy." I think it would have been neat to see artists incorporate small sections of Prince's lesser-known rock or jazz-influenced songs (e.g. material after 1989) that would prompt some viewers to think, "Wow, what was that? Let me look that up!"

I'm glad the show incorporated snippets of Prince's life story and performances, but they just me excited about the possibility of network TV broadcasting a Prince tour like "Sign O' the Times," "Lovesexy" or "Musicology" so casual fans can witness what he could really do. In 2012, the "Bad 25" documentary on Michael Jackson's 1987 album premiered on ABC. What if something like that was created for one of Prince's albums?

Overall, I'm glad I tuned into "The Grammy Salute to Prince." A few performances--and broader ideas--stood out to me:

1) Gary Clark Jr. and the importance of black guitar players honoring Prince

I was so happy to see blues/rock artist Gary Clark Jr. participate in the tribute, and I'm glad he played "The Cross." Black guitarists are often overlooked in the rock genre, and Prince is still underrated as a guitar player. And we do not talk enough about the presence of the blues in his music. Of course Prince influenced Gary Clark Jr. and a host of other black guitarists who are an important part of the rock genre. Hopefully this performance stirred up some of those truths.

2) Usher and the thrill of true showmanship

I am an Usher fan for many reasons, one being that he is a true entertainer. He is detailed-oriented about his vocals, choreography, swagger and fashion (he nailed the outfit, and I loved the quick little turn to show off the 1999-inspired artwork on the back of his jacket). He brought that element of showmanship that we used to see from Prince, Michael Jackson and James Brown. And friends--that element is fading in popular music.

3) Misty Copeland, Mavis Staples and the reality of loss

When I saw Misty Copeland dancing the same routine to "The Beautiful Ones" that I saw her do at Madison Square Garden with Prince 10 years ago, I immediately wanted to weep for her. I can't imagine how difficult that must have been to relive such a special moment with a friend, and I was not surprised when she was overcome with emotion speaking later in the show. And as I heard the legendary Mavis Staples sing "Purple Rain," I couldn't help but think, "Wow, losing Prince was probably like losing a son in her eyes." I don't think we as fans can understand how much some of these performers are still mourning--but they get on the stage to do their part to honor Prince.

4) Foo Fighters and the need for rockers to acknowledge Prince

I mentioned this earlier, but because Prince is underrated in the rock world, it was nice to see Foo Fighters participate in the tribute. While he was alive, rockers couldn't always get away with covering his songs. (I'm glad Dave Grohl mentioned that.) But now I'd like to see other folks in that community be even more vocal about Prince's influence as a rock guitarist during the "Purple Rain" era and beyond.

P.S. Someone on Twitter said D'Angelo should do an entire album of Prince covers and that's one tribute I would love to see.

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