Friday, June 15, 2018

Prince’s Vault | Lefsetz Letter

Hey, look me over
Tell me do you like what you see

Michael Howe asked me if I wanted to experience Prince’s vault. He was the Purple One’s last A&R guy at Warner Brothers, he’s the archivist.

Who’d turn that down?

So I went to a listening room in North Hollywood and…

The walking wounded. There are a ton of us around. Who experienced the golden age of music. From the Beatles to the internet. And I’m not saying the internet is bad, I love Spotify, but something’s changed.

It used to cost a lot of money to record.

Very few acts, relatively speaking, could be distributed.

Getting inside was almost impossible. But if you had passion and a work ethic, you could penetrate the bubble, although it was always hard to stay in.

And music drove the culture, it was everything.

We read the liner notes, we played our albums over and over. And the holy grail was to get inside the studio, where the sounds were laid down on tape, where the magic happened.

Not that you could not get close at home. It just required a few thousand dollars, to buy a stereo setup. That’s what you showed off, that’s what you were proud of, not the number of likes, not pictures of where you’d been, but the pure sound you could reproduce at home. And you had a mental wish list, you always wanted to upgrade. And you judged people on their sound system. And you listened. For the pure joy of it.

That’s what it was like in the room today.

First there was the equipment. Lipinski towers and subwoofers, a brand I’d never heard of, although I know EveAnna Manley, whose products were the link between said speakers and…the laptop. Yes, this would be impossible way back when. You’d have to change reels.

And that’s what Michael Howe has done, gone through all the reels. Prince recorded just about everything. From demos to live shows. And when his voice came out of the speaker…

You thought he was still alive.

It was that clear, it was that present. He’s counting down the numbers, instructing the band and…

Some famous tracks were written years before, there are multiple iterations, you can hear them develop.

And there’s video too.

This was back when you could only experience it at the club. When your show wasn’t dictated by the videoclip, when it wasn’t all on hard drive, when you used to have to know how to play!

And to see Prince in action…

His mop of hair going from styled to stringy as the gig progressed. Twisting and turning the lyrics for an audience rapt in attention. And then squeezing out notes on his Telecaster…

Yes, he didn’t always have the custom axes. He had to prove himself. He had to pay his dues. He had to make it.

And it was a slow ascent. His talent was there, but he did not emerge fully-formed. He changed. Didn’t always sing in falsetto, worked with different musicians, because you need a band, you can’t do it alone. On some of the demos he does play all the instruments, but to deliver live…

The band was well-rehearsed, he conducted it.

It was everything.

Now I listened to finished versions of songs made famous by other people.

Demos of household name songs.

Soundcheck workouts of songs long before they were finalized on wax.

It was amazing.

Not that everybody will care.

And it is kind of weird that he was lord of his kingdom, deciding what to release, and now he isn’t, and his vault is being raided.

But we want to know how he did it. We want an explanation. How did he become a star?

Through sheer will.

He needed it.

The same way Steve Jobs needed to change the world, Elon Musk too.

But back then it was music. A club. Quite large, but some were more passionate than others. They followed the game like sports.

And giants walked the earth, who might not be so good at speaking, but they could sure lay it down on tape.

This was the magic.

This is what we lived for.

It’s so weird to be jetted back to the garden, to have your brain prick up and your hair stand on end. Back when musicians channeled truth as opposed to being celebrities. When you listened to a record to be taken away, to a better place, a nirvana that only players had the roadmap to.

He’s so alive on the recordings.

But so dead in real life.

It’s a conundrum. Couldn’t his death be prevented?

But we’re all lords of our own domain.

But it’s our individualism that draws attention.

Prince was one of a kind.

Still is.


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