If there is comfort, beyond songs and memories, it comes from the depth and breadth of the writing that has followed the dreadful news of Prince's death.
Not surprisingly, Prince consumed a great deal of the shared critical consciousness of the past four decades. The mark he left is handsomely (how else?) revealed in several obituary appreciations remarkable not for having been turned around so fast, but for containing so many years of expansive thoughts and conflicting feelings in such cogent forms.
I know not everybody likes to read smart writing about musicians who appreciably changed the world. But for those who do, let the pieces listed here serve as a rejoinder to the familiar social media refrain, "no words." The writers below, who have spent so much of their lives investigating their love for Prince (as a means of affirming and consecrating it), beg to differ.
“The Beautiful One: Remembering Prince’s Rich Life and Legacy” by Michaelangelo Matos on MTV.com
Prince was writing and recording songs at a furious rate, and by 1981 he was siphoning them off onto albums by a series of protégé acts, beginning with the Time, whose debut came out that summer. Fronted by his old friend Morris Day, the band dressed in vintage-shop zoot suits and came off onstage, quite deliberately, as the id to Prince’s ego. “Prince is the Minneapolis sound,” Jimmy Jam told Billboard in 1985. “People like us, Vanity, the Time — we’re all sort of like his children.”
“Listen To My Body Tonight: How Prince's Transgressive Spirit Broke Boundaries” by Ann Powers for NPR.org
Prince overcame such prejudices, first and foremost, by crafting a sound that unceasingly moved among sources, interconnecting funk rhythms with glam guitar, Smokey Robinson-esque vocal flexibility with Kraftwerk-kissed robotics, Cab Calloway's stylish humor with Eddie Van Halen's peacock flash. Thirty seconds into a song like "When You Were Mine," "Kiss" or "Erotic City," a listener's affective loyalties begin to fall away. At house parties like the one where I did the twist with Pete and on dance floors where his early hits mingled with those of his occasional lover and collaborator Madonna, punks threw off their leather to play with disco dollies and even the classic rockers in the crowd found themselves reaching for falsetto notes.
Stevie Wonder chokes up on Anderson Cooper:
i’ve seen him come out of a flying pirouette into the splits, prod a security guard in the ribs and signal to him that he saw something going on that he didn’t like on the balcony but still be shredding a face melting guitar solo he’d been playing throughout. Didn’t miss a trick. I’ve never seen play or sing a bum note, not hit a beat. And I’ve never seen him have a drink.
“The Purple One” by Carl Wilson on Slate
He didn’t merely combine R&B, rock, electro, funk, jazz, singer-songwriter folk, orchestral pop, and his other influences; he catalyzed them into a new chemistry, a periodic table of Prince elements that countless artists who followed would employ. The word “crossover” never seemed appropriate, the way it did for Jackson, because rather than moving astride genres, he made them come to him, pulled by his own magnetism—the intersection ran directly through his pelvis. And of course that was a pelvis we often saw displayed in black lingerie, nearly bared beneath fur and feather garments, enhanced with visual double-entendres as he straddled his brightly colored and curlicued guitars (or in phallic silhouette at no less straight-acting an occasion than the NFL Super Bowl halftime show, in the pouring rain, as if the heavens themselves had gone moist between the thighs), and a thousand other variations. He wasn’t just a hybrid creature musically but sexually and sociologically, an evolutionary leap in the same kind of complete way.
“Prince Was One of Pop Music’s Greatest Champions of Women” by Jesse Dorris on Slate
If Sheila E. was his rock behind the drum kit, Susan Rogers was his studio support. One of the few female engineers in the industry, Rogers was generally the only person Prince allowed in the room as he recorded and re-recorded and re-re-recorded his tracks. Alan Light’s 2014 Let’s Go Crazy persuasively makes the case that, without Susan’s technical wizardry, keen eye, and boundless patience, it’s possible Prince might never have finished a song in the 1980s.
“How Prince Ruled the Charts in the ’80s—Even When His Name Wasn’t on the Songs” by Chris Molanphy on Browbeat/Slate
“As if all this appreciation for Prince’s core output weren’t enough, there were the hit sounds and hit songs Prince just gave away. In 1982, he penned and produced Vanity’s minor hit, queer club smash, and raunch classic “Nasty Girl.” In 1983, he performed an uncredited keyboard arrangement on Stevie Nicks’ most enduring solo hit, “Stand Back” (No. 5). Then, in 1984 alone: “The Glamorous Life” for Sheila E. (No. 7), “Jungle Love” for the Time (No. 20), “I Feel for You” for Chaka Khan (No. 3), and even “Sugar Walls” for Sheena Easton (No. 9 in early ’85). Phil Collins openly admitted he pinched the keyboard hook of “1999” for his chart-topper “Sussudio” (No. 1, 1985); Prince generously didn’t sue. In addition to writing “Manic Monday” for the Bangles, Prince’s 1986 smash “Kiss” was taken back to the Top 40 by Tom Jones with the Art of Noise (No. 31, 1989) and to the top of the U.K. indie charts by the Age of Chance (U.K. Indie No. 1, 1986). Prince’s 1990 flop movie/hit album Graffiti Bridge generated its longest-lasting hit not from his own single “Thieves in the Temple” (a No. 6 peak but only a 13-week chart run) but rather from the single he penned for Tevin Campbell, “Round and Round” (a No. 12 peak, a 29-week run). And, perhaps most famously, a deep cut Prince penned for the short-lived Time spinoff band the Family, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” became an improbable, culture-commanding global smash for Sinéad O’Connor (No. 1, 1990).”
“The Night Prince Walked on Water” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib on MTV.com
And of course there was rain, as if summoned by the man himself. The elements favor some of us more than others. When we speak of Prince in Miami, at halftime of Super Bowl XLI, let us first speak of how nothing that fell from the sky appeared to touch him. How his hair stayed as perfect as it was upon his arrival, wrapped tight in a bandanna. All of my friends leaned close to the TV on that night and wondered how someone could play that hard, that furiously, in the midst of a storm. This was Prince, on a stage slick with rain, walking on actual water. There are moments when those we believe to be immortal show us why that belief exists. I will only remember Super Bowl XLI by what happened at halftime. Nothing before, and nothing after
“Grief at the Gates of Paisley Park: Mourning Prince in Minnesota” by Ana Marie Cox for MTV.com
What the people here really have in common is that they are crying, or are about to cry, or are trying not to cry. The purple and the tears are the only real clues about what could have ever drawn together a crowd this diverse. Though it isn’t just the mixture of races that’s noticeable — it’s the range of ages, from babes in arms and toddlers to gray-haired women in flowing tunics with faded tattoos.
"Minneapolis in Mourning: A City Celebrates Prince" by Keith Harris in Rolling Stone
“Here, as throughout Minneapolis – which struggles through a citywide day of mourning for a hometown hero like no other – stories about Prince circulate. Someone recalls pumping gas on a winter night in the 'burbs, looking over to see a driver in a Vikings parka, saying "Hey Prince" and getting a friendly nod.”
"What it was like to get schooled by Prince" by Melissa Maerz in Entertainment Weekly
Prince’s rep told me there were rules about the questions I was allowed to ask. “Could I ask about the upcoming album?” I wondered. There may not be an upcoming album, the rep told me. Could I ask if he was ever going to release those lost tracks he recorded with Miles Davis? Nope. No “personal questions” were allowed.
"Let’s Work" by Jes Skolnik on Medium.com
“I am somewhat flamboyant. Genderweird, ill-at-ease in my body so: here, I will take up space in your field of vision because otherwise you would see right through me. Prince — and David Bowie — taught me to be this way. I would imagine that I am not the outlier in this, for once.”
"Prince Made Me Free" by Jane Coaston on MTV.com
“Prince wasn’t effortless. Everything about Prince was the result of a lot of hard work, and thought, and a large closet. Prince would never just put on a pair of jeans. Prince wasn’t Springsteen, wasn’t Kurt Cobain. Prince WOULD wear a full leather suit and stare soulfully out at a Minnesota river, looking fabulous as hell. Prince was what happens when you create yourself exactly as you want to be and you just don’t give a single solitary fuck what anyone else thinks about it. He crafted himself in his own image, brick by brick. I can’t think of a better way to explain being queer.”
"A woefully insufficient reflection on Prince" by John Moe in TheCurrent.org
This essay is not going to work. It will not do the job of summarizing Prince, his music, his presence, his influence, his voice, his style, his humor, or any other noun you choose to put after the word "his." There is just too much about the guy. He was too many things. I've been a writer my whole life and have never had a more challenging assignment than "reflect on Prince." Words really do fail.