You can say you loved him because he was a musical genius. (He was.)
You can say you loved him because he was the best guitar player of all time. (It’s defensible.)
You can say you loved him because he shredded the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI, because he destroyed his guitar solo during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at George Harrison’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, or because of “Purple Rain” (the album, not the movie).
But I think we also loved Prince – who died Thursday at age 57, having still not left his prime as a performer – because he did what most of us often fantasize about but will never pull off.
He played by his own rules. Always.
It could be irritating at times, for sure. As he had insisted practically since the dawn of smartphones, when he played at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena in 2011, an informal edict was issued that no one would be allowed to photograph or videotape his performance. (I remember hearing about a show Prince did last year in Louisville where fans didn’t heed the warning and found out what his punishment would be: He had the venue turn off all the lights, then proceeded to play in darkness.)
If consumers were interested in checking out his music, he didn’t make it easy. His catalog has been absent from streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify and Rdio, and finding a clean copy of his biggest studio recordings on YouTube is like trying to find a parking space at Walmart on Christmas Eve.
And while major recording artists from Billy Joel to Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga generally consider it an honor and a privilege to be parodied by “Weird Al” Yankovic, Prince wouldn’t hear of a “Raspberry Sorbet” or a “Little Red Chevette.”
“I approached him a number of times in the ’80s and early ’90s and he just wasn’t into it,” Yankovic once told me. “I got the message pretty loud and clear.”
In my review of his last Charlotte concert, I questioned Prince’s eclectic set list, which celebrated several obscure songs. He finished with “Baby I’m a Star,” leaving “Little Red Corvette,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “When Doves Cry” and other megahits on the table.
Having been given five years to ponder, I’ll say two things:
1) The world’s most brilliant people don’t do what people expect them to do, they do what moves them. That’s part of what makes them brilliant.
2) Oh, how I wish I’d gotten a chance to evaluate a Prince concert one last time.