"With an intellect, and a savoir-faire
No one in the whole universe
Will ever compare.”
- "7," by Prince
A few weeks back, while fighting off an itchy bout of insomnia, I found myself free-falling down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia. The trajectory landed me (not randomly) on the bio page for Madonna's Like a Prayer album.
Ever the Madonna-savant, I explored the familiar terrain of her greatest album of the 1980s with a mix of nostalgia and confidence: I was visiting the worn pages of a diary belonging to an old friend.
I wrote a research paper on her at my Catholic school, and while my classmates were spending their weekends playing soccer or hanging out at the mall (such were the activities of children pre-Internet), I was at the library, reading all the biographies I could get my hands on about my idol, Madonna.
The assignment was to write about someone you admire. The obvious choices were made by everyone else – Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and President John F. Kennedy.
I chose Madonna.
My teacher scoffed at the idea, but softened at my passion. I was the kid who spent classes writing song lyrics over and over into my notebooks, line-breaking the words into poems, in awe at the power a mere shift of a line had, how it could change the cadence and mood of the song.
She said, “Write a paper convincing me why Madonna is an appropriate subject for your research project.”
I spent hours at the library, carefully printing notes about Madonna's life onto lined paper. I emptied my pockets (and my father's wallet), making color-photo copies of my idol from magazines. I read the tabloid-esque articles along with well-written, thoughtful biographies. I absorbed everything I could sponge up from this blue-eyed giant of a woman, who at one time was a weird, nerdy Catholic schoolgirl in Michigan like me.
When I presented my written argument to my teacher, she acquiesced, and twenty-odd years later, I am awake at an odd hour, reading about the making of Madonna's Like a Prayer album.
As I walked through the history of the record, I spotted a song I hadn't thought of in at least a decade. I pulled the single up from my iPod, and in the ink-spattered darkness of the room, there was a light: beaming up in blue from the device, the voices of Madonna and Prince intermingling on the trippy, brushed-with-French-brusque “Love Song.”
My journey continued. My eyes blurred over the notable trivia: “'Til Death Do Us Part” is about Madonna's volatile marriage to Sean Penn. “Oh Father” is a wordplay on her relationship with her father and with God. These things I know.
But then -
“Recording artist Prince played the guitar on three songs from the album, 'Like a Prayer,' 'Keep It Together,' and 'Act of Contrition,' though he remained uncredited.” (Wikipedia)
Any trace of sleep that may have begun to weigh on me lifted. This was new. This was shiny! Who knew the electric shiver of guitar introducing “Like a Prayer” was done by none other than Prince himself?!
I immediately took to social media, and posted a message to a Prince-crazed friend. “Did you know,” I twittered, excited at this prospect, this little nugget of gold I'd dug up in the trenches of Wikipeida.
What else didn't I know? I clicked and linked and burrowed through the website, ending up on Prince's bio page. I was never a huge Prince fan growing up. I certainly appreciated his level of artistry. I knew that he could play pretty much any instrument, and that he had ascended early on from rock star to icon. But I worship at the feet of another musical icon, and her name is Madonna.
I was reminded that he wrote Sinead O'Connor's “Nothing Compares 2 U,” - proof that he was equally a master at songwriting. He produced albums where he played all of the instruments and sang all of the vocals himself.
Eventually, sleep swept in and held me in her arms. I never finished reading Prince's Wikipedia page.
There was no need. Despite all truths telling me otherwise, I always believe there's more time. There would be more Prince records, there would be more Prince collaborations. There would be more time for pop-up concerts in the middle of nowhere or cameos on random television shows. There would be more notches in his weirdness belt, because like all the greats, he let his freak flag fly freely, like David Bowie, like Mick Jagger, like Michael Jackson.
But he was separate even amongst the elite class of icons. He was arrogant, he was strange. He remained mysterious in a world that reports and records all. He was no one else ever but himself. He was fiercely devoted to his craft in a way that few ever are or ever will be on this planet.
As a superfan to another icon, I will respectfully leave the tributes flowing in today to Prince's devoted and loyal fans from the last several decades. I just wanted to pay homage to a man who was not simply musical, but who had music emanating through his bones.