Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘music memory’

Going Down to Alphabet Street: A Few Princely Thoughts

In 1980s, concerts, music, Music/Memory, Prince on April 24, 2016 at 12:42 pm


My 18-year-old son, Jimmy, is an ’80’s skeptic. He simply doesn’t believe that the 1980s could have possibly been as great as many of us who lived through it say it was. In short, Jim doesn’t feel that the ’80s were “all that.”

I encourage this kind of thinking, probably because I remember what it was like, in the ’80s, to hear boomers endlessly crow about how the ’60s were so much better than the ’80s. Plus, it’s nice to have warm fuzzy memories of one’s youth, but nostalgia-mongering can close you down to whatever could be going on in your life right now.

So, when Jim disses the decade of Phil Collins, Alf and Hands Across America, I give him a pass to do so. But I will be adamant about one thing:

From a musical/cultural/wow-he’s-just-mindblowing standpoint, Prince was the greatest thing to come out of the ’80s. Or pretty much any decade you care to mention.

It’s hard for me to remember when I was first aware of Prince, though I’m thinking it was during the chart run of his breakthrough album, 1999 — though during the years 1980-1988, practically every album Prince made qualified as some kind of breakthrough. I do remember walking down Market Street in Center City Philadelphia, as a senior in high school. It was one of my first solo trips into the city and I heard Prince’s “Delirious”– has a song every so thoroughly lived up to the promise of its title? — spilling out of one of the downtown record stores I’d come to frequent in college. Hearing it at that moment wasn’t necessarily a huge moment in my life, but it’s also a moment that I never forgot, because it felt like walking by that store at that moment, hearing that song, was the absolute coolest thing I could be doing that day. And it was.

Of course, Purple Rain exploded all over the place in 1984. As far as I can remember, I’ve only ever seen the complete movie once, but it was a memorable experience  — at a drive-in just over the border in Delaware, with three or four friends. Purple Rain was shown that night along with Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact. A double feature for the ages.

I was very fortunate to be sitting in the mega-nosebleed seats at Philadelphia’s Spectrum on a Friday night when Prince and the Revolution, with opening act Sheila E, brought the Purple Rain tour to town. I am pretty certain that I was about as far away from the man and his band as I could possibly be but the concert was electrifying, as I noted in the November 29, 1984 edition of the Temple University News:


Here’s what I wrote about the Purple Rain album in the review:

The Purple Rain album, which defies simple classifications like “rock” and “soul,” will probably become one of the most influential albums of the last 20 years.

20? Try 40. 60. Oh, hell college-age Rich, just call Purple Rain one of the most influential albums ever. It’ll sound like a huge overstatement, but you’ll be proven right.

What is truly amazing is that I saw Prince again in 1988, touring behind his infamous, and unreleased, Black Album, as well as the officially released Lovesexy album. The Purple Rain hype had long passed, but the ’88 concert was even better than the ’84 show, with Prince in full command of his immense musical powers that night. From a purely musical standpoint, it was probably the best concert I’ve ever seen.

I’ve tried to keep up with Prince’s musical journey but since the mid-’90s, the man has made it easy, releasing floods of new music and daring you to follow along with him. The albums weren’t always great but the genius would show up when you’d least expect it, if you were patient. A well-informed box set covering the best of Prince’s post-1995 work would be a really good thing. But then, with hundreds of hours of music locked away in the vaults of Prince’s Paisley Park, we all need to accept the fact that there’s always going to be Prince music that we will never hear.

A final note. I saw a meme floating around Facebook the other day. It read “151,600 people die each day and no one bats an eye. Prince dies and everyone freakin’ loses their minds.”

I think this is a flawed meme. First of all,  I’m fairly certain that the friends and family of many of those 151,600 people were certainly affected by the passing of their loved one. Second, I’m not sure everyone was freakin’ losing their minds, though maybe some fans were going a little crazy, trying to get through this thing called Prince’s death. Finally, the text of the meme was accompanied by a photo of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ledger’s tragic passing was certainly greeted with much public mourning as well, so I’m not sure if that photo choice was meant to be ironic or not.

As it happens, of the 151,600 people who died on April 21, 2016, the one whose name I knew was Prince. If marking Prince’s passing and acknowledging how his work touched me means I’m freakin’ losing my mind, so be it.



NOW That’s What I Call New Year’s Eve

In Music/Memory on January 1, 2014 at 5:10 am


It’s late December 2013. Very late December in fact–within 30 minutes, it’ll be January 2014. A new year.

For the last few weeks I’ve been contemplating a list of my favorite albums of 2013. I’ve got a little stack of CDs that I’ve been listening to, sneaking them in among the Christmas albums. I’ve been trying to think about what I’d like to say about CDs by the likes of David Bowie, Elton John, They Might Be Giants and several others. Who knows? I may still get around to that entry, or those entries.

A funny thing happened on the way home from work tonight though. I realized that I wanted to pick up the 2013 volumes of the long-running CD compilation series, NOW That’s What I Call Music. I stopped at Wal-Mart, but they were fresh out of the all-important NOW 48, the latest in the series. However, a trip to Target satisfied my NOW needs.

I was surprised at how much I felt like I needed to hear the likes of “Suit and Tie” and “Mirrors” (both Justin Timberlake); “Blurred Lines” (Robin Thicke); “Get Lucky” (Daft Punk) and others one or two more times before the year of their original release tumbles into oblivion or, if “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year” is to be believed, takes up residence on an island in the Archipelago of Past Years. An island where “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” play on an endless loop and everyone twerks without remorse.

The more I thought about my sudden NOW obsession, the more it made sense to me. While there were certainly albums I liked quite a lot this year, the fact is that radio singles played a huge part in my daily life soundtrack, moreso than they have in years. I am not sure if this is because the big hits were stronger than usual this year–though some of them, like “Get Lucky” and Timberlake’s “Mirrors” are damn great–or if my ears happened to be in the vicinity of Top 40 radio stations more often this year than in recent years.

Either way, I realized tonight that the NOW that I lived in 2013 was, more often than not, soundtracked by Big Hit Songs that were destined for this year’s NOW compilations.

In short, this evening I became acutely aware that, in some distant unknowable THEN, I’m going to hear one of these songs and it’s going to immediately transport me to 2013, a year that was good and bad, by turns, like so many years. A year when Donna and I had been married just 21 years and when Jimmy was 16 and Chris was 11.

Maybe it’s strange to put that kind of future emotional weight on the pop tunes of 2013, but I can already feel it happening. That’s why I wanted to listen to these songs one more time in the here and NOW.

Happy New Year’s, everybody.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

Children's book author, ghostwriter, content creator, editor.

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