Remembering one of the world’s great musicians

Obituary by Emmet Matheson, Craig Silliphant and Wanda Schmöckel


On April 21, music legend Prince passed away at the ridiculous age of 57. It sucks too much for words but Emmet Matheson, Craig Silliphant and Wanda Schmöckel took a shot at memorializing him anyway. Prince was too important to mourn silently.

Shakin’ That Ass

It was 1992.

It was the summer of grunge. We were 15 years old. We dressed in flannel and denim and peasant frocks from thrift shops. We dressed in band t-shirts we bought at record stores:  Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. We wore that yellow-on-black smiley face Nirvana t-shirt we got at the mall. We doodled Anarchy symbols on bathroom walls. We thought we were punk rock.

It was the summer of Street Fighter II. That was the only game that mattered in the Gravity Zone arcade at the corner of Broadway Avenue and 11th Street East in Saskatoon. Everything else was just something we played to pass the time while we waited for an opening on the Street Fighter II cabinet. Everything else seemed slow and outdated after we played Street Fighter II. In fact, if we weren’t hanging around the Street Fighter II machine at the back of the arcade, we were most likely hanging around the jukebox by the front door.

We don’t remember any of the other singles that were in the jukebox at the Gravity Zone. We just remember “Cream” and its B-side, “Horny Pony”.

Even though we were SO OVER commercial music from corporate labels, we made an exception for Prince. It wasn’t the abrasive music we listened to, like Dead Kennedys or Ministry or even Ice-T, who’d just released his Body Count album, that scared the establishment we held in such scorn (i.e., our parents). It was Prince. Prince held the #1 spot on the only chart that mattered to us, the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen, a list of so-called offensive songs that prompted the then-new “Parental Advisory” on the tapes and CDs we bought.

Those two songs on the Gravity Zone jukebox embodied the filth and the funk that menaced society in a way punk rock never would. That summer Prince released the single “Sexy MF”, the most daring and dangerous song we’d hear all year. Everything else seemed slow and outdated after we heard that.

The raw fury of punk or the pointed irony of grunge, we knew, wasn’t going to change the world. Real change, we were learning, came from shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass. /Emmet Matheson

The Guitar King

I’ve been a Prince fan since fifth grade, when my parents brought me a copy of 1984’s Purple Rain on cassette (which they subsequently confiscated when they heard the lyrics to ‘Darling Nikki’ blasting out of my room). There has been a lot said about Prince since his death, but when I think of the purple icon, I think of one thing that’s often left by the wayside.

Prince was a criminally underrated guitar player.

Sure, he’s known as a brilliant songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who often played all the instruments on an album. But we don’t always recognize him alongside the greatest guitarists of all time. In fact, when Rolling Stone first published their ‘100 Best Guitarists of All Time,’ they didn’t even include him on the list (that said, they did realize their mistake and added him to a later version).

I’m a guitar player, so I pay attention to that sort of thing, and worship of Prince’s guitar skills was where I personally connected to his music. I’ve always felt that Prince didn’t get his due as a guitarist.

Thankfully, that’s starting to change with his passing.  There’s an apocryphal quote from Eric Clapton floating around, where Clapton was asked how it felt to be the world’s best guitarist.

“I dunno,” Clapton is said to have responded.  “You’d have to ask Prince.”

It all starts with the basics, rhythm playing, which even a lot of the most famous axe men don’t pay a lot of attention to because it isn’t flashy. Prince’s rhythm guitar is an extension of brilliant rhythm players like Ike Turner, Catfish Collins, or Robert White from The Funk Brothers. Whether he was playing R&B, funk, or something more rock n’ roll or psychedelic, Prince brought a groove that swung with feeling.

And of course, Prince could shred with the best blues and metal guitarists out there.  Check out his insane rendition of Purple Rain at the 2007 Superbowl or his solo with Tom Petty and company on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ at George Harrison’s 2004 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Prince could unleash a singular fury, an epic blizzard of sixteenth-note triplets punctuated with unorthodox chromatics thrown in for good measure. And just when you thought he was wandering too far into wank territory, he’d throw in a greasy funk lick to bring you back down to Earth, swooning.

All without breaking a sweat. /Craig Silliphant

Prince Loved Me

When Prince stepped out of his bathtub and reached for my hand for the very first time, it felt like I was right there with him in his enormous flower-strewn bathroom. When Doves Cry should have marked a sexual awakening. Instead, I hit the snooze button in a panic and sat on those urges for few more years. I was 14 years old and I was embarrassed, freaked out, turned on — and completely ill-equipped to handle it.

At the time, I chalked up my reaction to just not liking his music, even though I knew I did. I’d anticipate it on the radio, but switch the channel before the first chorus as though I’d been caught doing something — either morally or aesthetically — wrong. In hindsight I can see what unsettled me was the clear intent in his voice and the strange way I imagined he was looking at me. At that time, a degree of casual androgyny was worn by a lot of male musicians, though this was mostly limited to hair and makeup. They still looked and acted like “men”. Prince wasn’t interested in that. He cultivated a kind of femininity that bore no resemblance to anything I’d seen before. In music videos, the expression on his face didn’t seem to reflect the predatory gaze of so many other sexed-up rock stars of the age. He wasn’t singing about us, but to us. Sure, he liked us-liked us, but he also just liked us. From the beginning, his band always put women front and centre — not just as eye candy, but because these women could play better than anyone else.

He also, almost exclusively, talked up the women artists he admired: Sheila E, Sheryl Crow, Angie Stone, Esperanza Spalding, and Janelle Monáe among many others.

By the time Diamonds and Pearls broke in 1991, I felt enough at ease to enjoy him in a way I couldn’t back in ’84. By then, it was clear to me that Prince just wanted to help me pick out my clothes because sometimes that’s what being in love is about. /Wanda Schmöckel