By Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News [Editor’s note: This article was written in 2004. Now that we are in the future, my, how Prince was such a visionary. RIP, Prince.] The lazy take on Prince in recent years was that his best days were behind him. His sales were down, the media said. His music wasn’t as good as it used to be. His behavior was erratic – the name changes, the record company wars. Game over.
He turned his back on opportunities other performers would sell their souls for. The term “difficult” got slapped on him. Still more jeers from the sidelines.
But the truth is more interesting than the fiction. The man who once was one of the biggest rock stars in the world saw years ago that the music industry couldn’t keep doing business the way it had, so he went directly to his fans online.
And halfway through the most successful tour of 2004, in a summer when almost every other tour is tanking, Prince’s concerts are a virtual coast-to-coast sellout, breaking records in major cities. One Pepsi Center show next week is sold out, and the other is close to it.
His new Musicology album is great and near the top of the charts. All the hot young artists in 2004, from Alicia Keyes to Outkast, bow to him. And it has finally dawned on the record industry that selling music online is the future.
It turns out Prince made the moves everyone else wishes they’d made. While the music industry flounders, Prince flourishes. Does he ever just want to say “I told you so?”
“No!” Prince says, shaking his head firmly, but smiling slightly during a rare interview before a recent concert here. To hear him tell it, no vision was needed, anyway.
“It’s almost like hearing a weather report and knowing it’s going to rain. You can tell people and they either believe you or not.”
Rather, Prince says, he’s disappointed the industry didn’t come along for the ride sooner. His label, Warner Bros. Records, had put great faith in him early in his career, but wavered as the years went on. “It just means they weren’t enlightened enough or had the same faith that I had. If you love somebody, you should always love them.”
The multitalented performer knew when he started this fight – when he went after Warner to gain control of the music that had made hundreds of millions of dollars – that it would be a long road.
“You’re just worried how you’re going to get out of this and not look like exactly what I eventually ended up looking like – this spoiled, pampered baby,” Prince says.
But the need to keep his music pure – and Warner’s refusal to release it – left him with no choice. “Before I left Warner Bros., I had a big and successful career in all areas. If they wanna run (a single) up the chart, they’ll do it.”
He couldn’t play that game anymore. “I grew up when albums came out every three or four months. I wanted to make a lot of music.”
And he wanted ownership of the copyrights, but the label balked. “Whoever created it is the owner. Is that even a question?” he says incredulously.
But now, backstage in Milwaukee, he smiles and chats happily about his life and music. “I’m not bitter or mad. You’ve gotta tip your hat” to the music industry, he says, sarcastically, for making so much money off artists’ sweat for so many years. “It worked great for them.”
The man behind the myth
Prince talks in passionate italics and exclamation points, enthused with music and society, far removed from the man of few words you often see in TV interviews, but every bit as intense.
Before the interview he ran an hourlong sound check, personally tweaking the sound on every microphone onstage, including those deep in the saxes of Maceo Parker and Candy Dulfer.
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Favorite Quotes: So what does he tell them? “You get the artist you deserve,” he says. . . “We have more record companies and look at their (failure) rates. They’re trying to make more and more money. We gotta maybe get back to making some good music.”