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Razer: Purple Poetry for Prince

Prince the very great artist is dead and this is sad for a range of reasons, not least of which is our cold reminder that poetry is in a critical condition. What the fan needs now is not another obit reminding her that this man recorded more great albums than Bowie, provoked more marvellous controversy than Madonna and offered more teenagers a hint of the ineffably sublime than Sia. What she needs now is a poem.

WH Auden might have been a good man for the job. I am fairly confident that he would have admired The Revolution’s work on Around the World in a Day almost as much as he admired WB Yeats. For whom he wrote,

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

In the guts. Those clever or lucky enough to have given Prince’s works an intimate audience will know that’s where he rests. Like Bowie or Madonna or Sia — whose charms I personally don’t quite grasp, but this is an ignorance made clear to me by the intestinal devotion of her young fans — he was a truly digestible artist.

There are many good pieces paying tribute today to Prince’s virtuosity, his playfulness and his marvellous refusal to behave as he should. I haven’t found it yet, but I am sure there is an homage to the movie Purple Rain, which is, in one reading, mythologising schlock but, in another, the best teen rock movie of all time. There is a headline perfectly formed by those geniuses at The Onion which proceeds Nation Too Sad To Fuck Even Though It’s What Prince Would Have Wanted. Hashtag SoTrue.

But there is, so far as I know, no poem yet written for a man so magical, he could even make Sheena Easton seem hip for a couple of minutes.

There is, or there soon will be, a thousand public diary entries written by persons of my approximate age. We X-ers will tell you how we were transported by Prince from our dreary bedrooms and far away from the oppressive suburbs etc. into an uplifting purple fantasy beyond race, gender and our own earthly scent etc. I will read these things gladly and I will revisit those memories of teen hope provided to me by a man who never, unlike Bowie or Madonna, gave himself over to the familiar affections of the market. Prince, bless him, never became uncool.

But, what we need right now is a poem.

This important man has earned more than personal reminiscence and even though I am tempted to tell you about the time my little sister asked me in the early 1980s if I thought it were possible that Prince really was a purple dove — look. At the time, it seemed plausible — I won’t. Because I am not up to the job of honouring Prince.

This is a job for the poets.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

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6 responses to “Razer: Purple Poetry for Prince

  1. I saw Prince and his piano in Melbourne recently. I’ve seen a lot of pianists from all genres and he wiped the stage with the lot of them, such is his breathtaking virtuosity and musicianship. He was on the opposite side of the planet to home and had just learned that one of his dearest friends and colleagues had died. How do you do that? How is it that we expect artists to demonstrate that ‘the show must go on?’ He was so gracious. So gracious. It was one of those rare points in time that you know will stay with you forever.

    And people complained that they didn’t get two hours ‘worth’, but only 1.30. As if you could measure that experience in minutes – as if you can pay in minutes for such an experience? What is wrong with people? So here’s my ode. This is how it is for many musicians. It’s by the Canberra band ‘Hands Like Houses’

    I won’t ask for a second
    I won’t ask for a chance
    I won’t look to the heavens
    I found hell where I stand

    And I feel like I am fighting a lost cause
    Just to be heard I can’t hear from the howling
    Drowning every single word

    Let me count the ways you kill me, you kill me

    And I feel like I’m floating
    Face down in a crowd
    Caught up in the current
    In an ocean of sounds
    How did this room become so crowded
    With no walls to keep us in
    How did we end up here
    Surrounded on all sides
    Yet so alone

    Let me count the ways you kill me

  2. Thanks Helen. I still remember listening to you when you delivered your heartfelt comments about Kurt Cobain so many years ago and reading your comments above triggered that memory again. It is a strange thing when artists pass whom have touched you to the core of your being. I have been a fan of Prince since my teens. I moved to Sydney in my twenties and the whole music world opened for me listening to JJ which went on to be JJJ. I enjoyed Club Veg and you and Mikey and Prince and a whole host of others. These parts become part of the whole that became me. I felt saddened when Bowie passed but I cried a little when Prince died due to the feelings I have for his pure unadulterated talent. For a 52 year old ‘married with two kids’ man to admit his passing hit me does not make me feel ashamed. It makes me feel better for having had the experience of growing up with his music. I like the fact it hurts as it reminds me I am alive and still human. Thanks for your comments and thanks for still being around.

  3. Brilliant Helen. I’ve been devastated twice in the passing of Bowie & Prince. Why do brilliant artists go so soon when we have dross that just doesn’t die? Life just isn’t fair sometimes.

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