The king is dead; long live Prince

The Artist is somehow consistently among the greats and, still, underrated.

(Reo / Daily Trojan)

Rock ’n’ roll is in dire need of a re-crowning.

The modern era has rightfully slain the old royalty’s legacy, and it’s time to coronate the new legends of rock — starting with passing the crown down to its rightful owner, Prince.

Recent years have made it abundantly obvious that the ex-king of rock — Elvis Presley — was little more than a pedophilic fraud who appropriated Black music for a white audience. Couple that with September’s Jann Wenner debacle, and you have a crystal clear message: Rock is insufferably white — and Wenner is an imbecile.

Wenner, the co-founder of Rolling Stone and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, made headlines last September for saying women and Black artists “didn’t articulate” at the level of white artists in an interview with The New York Times. After losing his spot on the Hall of Fame’s board, he renounced his previous statement and aptly apologized for “badly chosen words.”

Like I said: imbecile. No news there. Nonetheless, Wenner’s comments did forefront a conversation that rock has been avoiding for far too long.

Historically, rock ’n’ roll has been a chalky boys club. AC/DC, KISS, even my beloved Ramones: all just a group of white guys being weird in varying ways. “The Masters,” according to Wenner — Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and five other pale dudes — made this reality blatantly obvious.

For any other industry, this would just be another depressing fact. White guys run a majority of American film, finance and the Fortune 500.

But when it comes to rock, an art form that posits itself as anti-establishment, the fact is extra-depressing. The existence of the pasty patriarchy should be what rock is fighting against, not for. And if people like Wenner weren’t given the mic, the true masters could see more of the spotlight.

Case in point, the greatest rock star of all time: Prince.

The genre-bridging, Bulls-loving Artist was too much of an icon (figuratively and literally) to be tied down by one label. While typically seen as more of an R&B musician, Prince had more rock star energy than anyone in Wenner’s book. From making his first album from the ground up by himself to turning his name into an unpronounceable “Love Symbol” in a pettiness war with his label, Prince was everything rock stands for — or, at the very least, should stand for.

Prince was born into nothing. He was Minnesotan. His father was a failed jazz musician. At one of Prince’s first Los Angeles concerts, he got ushered off stage by heaps of trash and food thrown from the crowd. Prince’s early years were not glamorous.

In spite of the muck, he still presented a glamorous image. He wrote, performed, produced and sang the vocals for his first album “For You” in 1978 entirely by himself — bar a few lyrics on one song. He developed a signature androgynous style that pissed off the narrow-minded masses. After releasing five albums over five years, he shifted attention to his first massive achievement: “Purple Rain.”

His last five albums had their share of success, but Prince had yet to reach Billboard’s No. 1 spot. With the release of “Purple Rain,” he finally reached it — twice. And then he won an Oscar.

Having released “Purple Rain” (1984) as a movie and album simultaneously — the album serving as the movie’s soundtrack — Prince raked in the awards in the summer of ’84. “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” both hit No. 1 on Billboard’s charts, the album did the same and the soundtrack won an Academy Award for Original Song Score.

In doing so, Prince became the first — and only — musician in history to have the top song, album and movie at the same time.

Elvis — the so-called “King” — dreamed of that level of success. Prince got it done.

Unironically, Prince made “Purple Rain” as a kind of faux-autobiography. The movie followed an up-and-coming artist, The Kid (Prince), rising to fame while contending with romance, family issues and band drama. The audience ate it up, simultaneously launching Prince to fame amid romantic flings, family issues and band drama.

No level of success could ever match what Prince achieved in the summer of ’84, but that didn’t mean he would stop trying.

Unlike some artists who fell out of the public eye in their later years — Axl Rose and Mick Jagger come to mind — Prince maintained international acclaim until his death. Then again, Prince probably wouldn’t call them his later years, as he didn’t believe in aging.

In 2007, approaching 50 years old, Prince was chosen to headline the Super Bowl XLI halftime show. What followed was — what most call — the greatest halftime show of all time. Sorry, Usher.

Prince was a machine.

At the time of his death in 2016 and over the course of a 36-year career, Prince had released 39 studio albums. Three albums were posthumously published since, and there remains a vault of music yet to be released.

Prince was a symbol.

Few musicians throughout history have the influence necessary to simply go by “The Artist” in place of any pronounceable name. Even fewer have the mastery necessary to go by that name without even uttering it.

Prince is the king.

He was inducted into Wenner’s Hall of Fame in 2004 — 18 years after Elvis’ induction — and left the hall silently after shredding a solo that words cannot do justice to.

There’s no reason that Prince should not be recognized as the greatest of all time. Well, no reason apart from your run-of-the-mill racism.

Though it should have been done long ago, there is no time like the present to tear down false idols and build up true royalty. Rock Mount Rushmore is overdue for dynamite and a fresh new facelift.

Collectively, by shifting the spotlight, that just might be achievable.

Reo is a sophomore writing about the overrepresentation of white guys in rock in his column, “Shredding the Masters,” which runs every other Thursday. He is also an associate managing editor at the Daily Trojan.

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