Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Prince of a Guy

There is a thing that happens when someone famous dies where all of the weirdness, bad behavior, and even criminal behavior vanishes from the discussion and we all pretend to feel bad that famous character died. Even weirder, people who disliked, hated, or even wanted to imprison or hang the famous dude now sing his praises. When” Nixon died, probably the most hated man in the United States during the second half of the 20th Century, people who once would have shot the man down on sight praised his “leadership.” When Prince died, the world of “crazy Prince” stories turned into “super humanitarian who was the nicest guy you ever met” stories. Weirder, people I know who had told me tons of the crazy Prince stories practically rewrote their own personal history to make him saintly. I suspect this is something I should have learned as a child, but the only traditions my parents tried to pass on to me were religious and none of that took. Thanks to that flaw in my upbringing, I tend to see people the same after they die as before.

One of the first crazy Prince stories I ever heard came from a live sound guy who was working in marketing with Midas (when Midas belonged to Bosch Communications Systems in Minnesota). Many of the Bosch folks were in some way connected to Prince’s Minnesota facilities or his touring history. This guy was Prince’s tour manger for  few years and was pretty close to the purple guy for a while.

During one of Prince’s European tours, he became infatuated with Holland’s windmills and bought one to be delivered and setup at his Chanhassen home. That happened and for a few moments he was happy with his new purchase. Sometime after the installation, Prince called his tour manager and bitched, “It’s pointing the wrong way.”

“It points the way the wind blows, Prince.” Was the only logical reply.

“We’ll see about that,” said Prince. A few days later, he had the windmill torn down and discarded.

prince-s-no-1-fan-kevin-smith-is-crying-purple-tears-over-prince-s-passing-946385My first personal moment with Prince was the night a friend had invited me to the grand opening of the club where he worked in Minneapolis. He had designed the new sound system for the club and I had consulted with him on some of the technical aspects. Along with getting paid, I got tickets for the grand opening and invited  couple of friends along with my wife. The club had a balcony and we picked out a table in the middle next to the parapet. It was a nice location, but we were the only people in the balcony so there were a lot of tables available with equally good views of the stage.

We ordered drinks and appetizers and were engage in the usual pre-rock show converstions when a guy the size of a buss showed up and said “Prince wants to sit here.”

I said, “There’s lots of room up here, why our table?”

“Prince wants to sit here.”

I was about to blow him off when my friend appeared and explained that Prince wanted the entire balcony to himself and that we’d have to move. By then, the main floor was over-crowded because the usual morons who chase around Minneapolis following Prince had shown up. So, there was no place for us to sit that would give us much of the new sound system experience or any kind of sight line to the stage. We left.

It was several years later before I saw my friend again and he was still embarrassed about the Prince debacle. He was equally baffled that I didn’t know Prince was a big deal in Minneapolis (or anywhere).

For years, a couple of my geek friends did most of the studio maintenance for Paisley Park. Prince would go through phases where he would sour on his techs (mostly when they insisted on getting paid) and his studio manager would shop for a new tech.

During one of those moments, I took the call to service the studio’s SSL patchbay problems. I had to do a little parts chasing and one of the studio employees showed me a room full of “condemned” equipment where I could salvage a couple of connectors for my repair job. When I asked why all of that stuff was crammed into the room, he told me that when a piece of equipment baffled or irritated Prince, he had it banished to this room. I said something about that being “pretty idiotic” and went on with my work. While I was there, I ended up doing a couple of other small repairs and between the travel time and work the bill ended up being about twice the retainer I’d insisted on (because I knew that Paisley often didn’t pay its bills).  Of course, Paisley Park still owes me about $500 for that repair visit. In the Kevin Smith video at the top of this essay, Kevin mentions that Prince had every room in the facility mic’d and after hearing that I’ve wondered if my slight cost me getting the invoice paid?

Over the next decade or so, I’d get a call or an email from the Paisley studio manager of the moment asking if I could stand-in for the regular tech until Prince got over whatever mood he was in at the moment. I’d remind them that Paisley still owed me money and they’d go away. The last time Paisley rattled my cage was a few months after I retired and had sold almost all of my test equipment. Again, Prince was pissed at his regular tech and nobody else would take a chance on getting paid for doing the work. The email said, “Are you really retired or would you come look at our SSL?”

I wrote back, “I’m retired and you still owe me money. So, yes and no.”

To double-check my retired status, the studio manager called some of my friends from the music school where I worked and asked them to use their influence to get me to do the Paisley job. The only one who gave it any sort of shot emailed me and asked, “Still retired.”

I wrote him, “Yep.”

He replied, “Thought so.”

A couple of months later, we were having a beer and he filled me in on why that conversation had taken place.

It was pretty well known that nobody was ever supposed to “look at” Prince or talk to him. I never had the opportunity to break that rule, but I probably would have just to see the reaction.

One of the moments that many people use to justify their reverence for Prince was his solo at the R&R Hall of Fame (“the greatest solo ever”). For sure, that was a pretty good performance. It wasn’t even in the top ten rock solos from my personal experience, but he certainly acted like he thought he was showing up the stage. The bit where he tosses his guitar into a roadie’s hands and struts off like he “showed ‘em” pretty much confirmed all of my biases about Prince. It just looked like an act of disrespect to me.

The other credential his fans give for his Princelyness was when Clapton was asked what it felt like to be the greatest guitarist in the world and he replied, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Prince?”

There are a couple of ways to take that and my take would be that Clapton was saying the only guy arrogant enough to believe he was the greatest guitarist in the world would be Prince.

Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.