Home / Music / The Rockologist: His Purple Highness Said What?

The Rockologist: His Purple Highness Said What?

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

For my first Rockologist column in awhile, I thought I’d write about Prince. Anybody remember him?

Anyway, a week or so back his Purple Highness made some news with his comments in an interview with London’s Daily Mirror to the effect that “The Internet Is Over”.

Oh, really?

I’ve always liked Prince. Musically, the guy is just about as close to genius as it gets (or at least he once was), and for awhile there back in his Purple Rain eighties he was commercially pretty much unstoppable as well. Like a lot of the great ones who’ve had ten year lapses between great records — Springsteen, Dylan, and Neil Young all spring to mind here — I also never counted out the possibility of a miraculous full-on artistic comeback for Prince.

He’s definitely still got the musical chops to pull it off for one thing. As recently as 2004, I witnessed a Prince show (touring behind his then current album Musicology) that I’d rank as among the most electrifying live performances I’ve ever seen.

But let’s face it.

Prince’s greatest songs — which are what it really comes down to anyway — are long since behind him. By my own estimate, the last truly great Prince album — start to stop — was 1987’s Sign O’ The Times. In 2010 terms, what this means is that when it comes to anything being truly “over,” Prince may just want to consult his mirror.

Still, naively flawed as it may be, I have to admire Prince’s Purple way of thinking, at least in principle.

Like many forward thinking artists, Prince chose early on to take a proactive stance towards the challenges posed by the emerging internet technology of the time, and the resulting new paradigm of marketing music.

Some of his ideas were good ones too. Coldplay and Tom Petty (among others) have long since adopted Prince’s original idea of giving away CDs at their concerts for example. Some of his other ideas — like going after internet sites and blogs who dared to reproduce his exalted Purple likeness — well, maybe not so much.

Even so — and you can debate his Purple wisdom until you find yourself under your own personal Cherry Moon — I have to applaud a statement that gets so directly to the heart of the matter as this one:

“I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.”

That to me says it all right there.

This so-called, great new paradigm of commercial music distribution via the internet is no more a revolution than it is a case of trading one devil for another. The suits may be new ones, but they are still suits just the same. For all of this talk of a wild, wild west atmosphere affording greater and freer access to music at the click of a mouse or the touch of an iPhone, today’s corporate technology behemoths seek to control this — most often at the expense of the artists — every bit as much as yesterdays major label distribution system once did.

On that point, his Purple Majesty is spot on.

Which is exactly why the most forward thinking artists — like Radiohead and most recently Wilco — have sought out their own distribution models.

The recording industry is not alone in its troubles though. It’s hardly news to anyone at this point, but 2010 has proven to be a tough year for the concert business as well.

Some of this can be easily explained away of course. Nobody was counting on Bono breaking his back on the eve of the West Coast leg of U2’s 360 Tour, or on Art Garfunkel pulling out of the latest Simon & Garfunkel reunion for similarly health-related reasons. Other factors in the downturn of ticket sales however, aren’t quite as easily explained.

Take the return of Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair festival for example. After an absence of more than a decade, surely the idea of bringing back a little late nineties-style “grrrl power” had to be a no-brainer, right?

As well-intentioned as the whole Lilith Fair idea might have been in the nineties, the combination of softer leaning rock and feminist politics just doesn’t seem near as attractive now as it did back then. Even with the hip-hop flavor of Mary J. Blige co-headlining some of the shows, this just doesn’t add up to a can’t-miss lineup in times where the entertainment dollar might normally buy you that type of a soapbox.

McLachlan herself is a wonderfully gifted artist, but is years between albums and artistic relevance. She is best known today as the face and the voice of those late-night TV animal cruelty ads. Once Carly Simon pulled out of Lilith Fair, McLachlan was left with a supporting cast of artists like Sheryl Crow, Heart, and Erykah Badu — all of whom bring considerable artistic credibility, but limited box-office appeal to the table.

What’s missing, but sorely needed to sell tickets — for better or for worse — is the star power of a Beyonce or a Lady Gaga. The fact that Lilith Fair is in commercial trouble this year should surprise no one who was paying any kind of attention.

Taking both McLachlan and U2 out of the equation for a minute though, the current woes of the concert business run far deeper. While there’s no Coldplay, Radiohead or Springsteen level sure-fire ticket selling bet out there this summer, what’s left has been strangely hit and miss.

Some acts — like Roger Waters and Neil Young — have been doing surprisingly well.

In the case of Waters, a chance to see The Wall performed in it’s entirety, complete with all the props of the original show (which only played a few cities during its original 1980 run) comes as close to a Pink Floyd reunion as its likely to ever get. Neil Young’s Twisted Road shows offer a rare opportunity to see a living legend in an intimate setting where he’s been dividing the sets between the acoustic folky-favorites, full-on electric solo shreds with Old Black, and premiering brand new songs like “Love And War.”

Meanwhile, normally solid summer tour warhorses like the Eagles and the American Idol franchise are seeing empty seats and canceled shows.

The Eagles inflated ticket prices are most likely finally catching up to them, and quite frankly it’s about damn time. Hell froze over long ago gentlemen, as did the price for a nostalgic evening at the Hotel California.

Similarly over-priced acts (and I’m talking to you, Neil Young) might want to take note. As for American Idol? Well, a season whose brightest light was Crystal Bowersox will only carry you so far, right?

Getting back to Prince, there is one other comment he made in that London Daily Mirror interview that I think bares repeating here:

“The Internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated.”

Amen, brother.

Like the psychedelic sixties before it, today we think of the eighties/MTV era as a time of great new artistic breakthroughs and possibilities. Some of those who pioneered them — like David Bowie, U2, or even Prince himself — remain either active or influential today.

Others — like Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper and Boy George — have lingered on as reminders of a simpler time every bit as rooted in nostalgia as the love beads, tie-die, and patchouli incense of the sixties.

It’s time for the next New Paradigm.

Powered by

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • zingzing

    billboard says #3. if they’re wrong, so am i. the followup (and far superior album,) 3121, most certainly did make it to #1.

  • Zing,

    Unless my age really is starting to affect my memory (among other things apparently, at least according to El Bicho), I’d swear Musicology did make it to #1…but if your research indicates otherwise, than I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.


  • zingzing

    “I’m not sure how the Musicology CDs given away at the shows on that tour were scanned, but I do know that they were…which was how the album got to #1.”

    except it didn’t get to #1, it got to #3 (bummer). but by doing a bit of research, i found that the concert cds were indeed counted, although they only totaled about 25% of the actual sales, and cds sold before the album’s street date were not counted into the total (which would have gone up significantly if the had been counted, and the album would have gone to #1).

  • “There’s certainly a lot to be said for the joys of minimalism — at least as long as it’s not the only option we are limited to.”

    Indeed. There is something pathetic about the way in which easy access is trumping technological advances in sound reproduction. There go the market forces for you. Eclecticism and true appreciation are drowned in the sea of mediocrity.

  • Agree totally on the role of the original music press here, Mark.

    From Patti Smith through the Chameleons, I can’t begin to count the bands I might have missed out on, were it not for reading about them first in rags like Creem and Trouser Press, and even Rolling Stone as a teenager and as a young adult.

    Even more so, writers like Lester Bangs and Ira Robbins played a huge role in inspiring my own like-minded efforts at communicating my own passion for music. So on that note, very well said, sir. Who needs higher education, when you’ve got the college of musical knowledge? As Springsteen once wrote, “we learned more from a three minute record, than we ever learned in school.”

    But as far as MP3’s go…look I download the shit just like everybody else. And, bearing the lack today of a viable rock press or credible indie music retail, I see it as a great means for sampling things I may not have otherwise heard, much as I once did getting the counter jockey at the record store to play something for me when I was younger.

    In that respect, it serves its purpose I suppose.

    But as a primary means of delivering music, new or otherwise? Sorry, but no, I’m not buying it.

    As a means of delivering complex, multi-layered musical work I can’t see how or why a musical artist today would be motivated to create something like a “Pet Sounds” knowing that the listener would likely only even be able to hear most of it on today’s delivery system of choice.

    Yes, “Good Vibrations” sounded great even on a tinny sounding transistor radio speaker in the sixties. But that was merely the hook designed to get the listener to take in the full experience on something more substantial at home.

    Seriously, if the primary means of delivery today sounds like shit (at least in terms of fidelity), what motivation does an artist have to deliver a sonically multi-dimensional work like Brian Wilson or Springsteen did back then?

    Speaking of Bruce, A lot of people today bitch (myself included) about his work with Brendan O’Brien. But if you think about it, this may just be his own way of adapting to the realities of modern-day recording. There’s certainly a lot to be said for the joys of minimalism — at least as long as it’s not the only option we are limited to.

    For all of this big new world of possibilities afforded by instant internet access to music (among other things), it seems to me much of this comes at the cost of a creative process requiring the sort of thought process that comes from something deeper within.

    In other words, with a few notable exceptions, it tends to move us backwards, rather than forward… at least artistically speaking.


  • Especially to LB, because he’d never forgive me!

  • Not at all, Chris, and I profusely apologize. Sorry guys!

  • Gays?

    Would that be one of those Freudian slips, Roger?

  • Interesting discussion, gays, reminiscent of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s complaint against the Industrial Revolution, about works of art becoming subject to the vagaries of the market place.

  • My real point here though, is that there may actually be TOO MUCH music for one person to assimilate out there. Because anybody with a drum machine can now put his “music” online, it becomes harder than ever to actually find it.

    hmmm…i sort of know what you’re getting at glen but i don’t see this as a problem. i mean, in the past we have always missed out on good music, because record labels were the filter and they made bad decisions.

    not only did i find a lot of good music at my local record store (and their demise is indeed a sad thing) but i also relied on magazines…reviews and ads in things like Creem…then i would seek out the record.

    i see a lot of recommendations from internet friends as being like that. c. rose asks me if i’ve heard of a certain group and then i check them out.

    as for there being too much out there, it’s not a problem for me. i’m constantly deluged with great new music. wish i had more time to listen to it all.

    the thing about the mp3 is that people have chosen convenience over sound quality. it’s the same thing that happened with the cd. i read all the time that people are going to one day wake up and realize how they’ve been hoodwinked by the “crappy sound”…i doubt it. they’re sitting there looking at facebook while their itunes plays in the background. it’s not that important to them.

  • Glen, back in the 50s and 60s, even the first half of the 70s, it was possible to have a pretty good overview of what was going on in Western music.

    You’re right, these days there is too much music for anybody to assimilate and in many ways I regret that. However, surely the point isn’t whether we have a comprehensive awareness, it is whether we are enjoying what we are listening too. If we aren’t, there are many, many avenues to finding something new and that has to be a good thing.

    As to listening to “recommendations made by people whose opinions I trust”, well, I don’t trust most people’s opinions that much, including my own, but when I talk about music with people I find interesting rather than predictable, I’m definitely going to check out their recommendations.

    I wouldn’t worry about finding the needle in the haystack, if the needle is worth having, it will find you sooner or later.

  • What’s really needed is a more effective vetting system.


  • I don’t recall a single sentence in my article or in any subsequent comments where I made reference to any specific age group. Am I missing something in my own words here?

    I guess you’ve sort of got me on PT though…sort of.

    I discovered PT right here on BC through recommendations made by people I met and trust here. But it wasn’t through sifting through thousands of web sites, but rather through specific recommendations made by people whose opinions I trust. Could’ve just as easily been through a friend I know in the “real world.”

    Anyway, I sort of agree that the idea of getting your band heard or some exposure isn’t anything new. Under the old music business model, this fell mainly to radio and retail, and was based on a relationship similarly based on trust. You either discovered new music by listening to your favorite radio station or through your trusted source at the local record store (usually it was the latter).

    Nowadays, most of those indie record stores are gone (thank you, MP3), and internet recommendations (such as those you get at Amazon.com) are automatically generated by a bot based on your buying habits. It’s not the same thing.

    My real point here though, is that there may actually be TOO MUCH music for one person to assimilate out there. Because anybody with a drum machine can now put his “music” online, it becomes harder than ever to actually find it.

    I know it sounds like a cliche, but it really is the needle in a haystack effect.

    If someone could come up with a more effective way to market this music, one where there is actually a chance of reaching the target audience…now, that would be revolutionary.


  • You played the age card first with your proclamations about young people and their relationship to music.

    “I believe there is very likely a great undiscovered band or artist out there…probably several actually…that are going unheard because most of us don’t know they are even there.”

    You act like that’s unique to the Internet age. It’s not but at least now each band has a better chance of being heard. They didn’t when there was a finite numbers of label and slots on radio playlists. Where did you discover PT? On the radio or through the Internet?

  • I guess I just don’t like to miss out on anything Jordan. I also have to confess to a certain laziness about sifting through the cyber muck that probably comes as a product of being spoiled by too many years working in the business and having access to pretty much whatever music I want.

    But, your point is well taken.


  • Jordan Richardson

    But the law of averages could have happened at any time, though. There could have been a greater composer than Bach, for instance, but we may not have heard of him or her for a number of reasons.

    Citing too much art to sift through is, frankly, a problem I’m more than happy to have.

  • Zing,

    I’m not sure how the Musicology CDs given away at the shows on that tour were scanned, but I do know that they were…which was how the album got to #1.


    Ouch! Did you really have to play the age card here? I would’ve expected better from you. That said, I’ll address your two other points.

    I brought up the issue of reporting because there is a parallel here. As with the music business, print journalism has taken a major hit due to the internet. Newspapers that have been around for generations (including one here in my hometown) have shut down, leaving many fine editors and writers unemployed. If this were due to actual progress, I’d be fine with it. But the standards for quality writing are much looser in the internet model (as you well know) than with traditional journalism, because the model is based on search engine driven traffic. So, writing is reduced to “content” and in many cases, even the most basic grammatical standards become relaxed in the interest of quantity over quality.

    To some extent, this is a parallel which also exists where internet music is concerned. There is such an insane glut of “product” out there due to the instant access bands have now, that many great artists are no doubt going to become lost in the shuffle.

    Which brings me to the final point…

    I believe there is very likely a great undiscovered band or artist out there…probably several actually…that are going unheard because most of us don’t know they are even there. The law of averages practically guarantees it given the huge amount of music that’s out there right now. No parallel dimensions necessary…it’s simple mathematics.

    The problem is you can’t know about this great undiscovered artist if you can’t hear him/her/them. And sifting through everything that’s out there to find it could literally take years or even decades.

    So yes, I submit that if the Beatles, Dylan or whoever came along today rather than decades ago as they did, the chances are better than good they’d never be discovered.

    And as someone who loves music, well to me, that’s just a damn shame.


  • “eventually music consumers will need something more than the instant gratification afforded by immediate access to a song that sticks in their head for a minute, delivered in a rather crappy sounding format at that.”

    This just sounds like it’s coming from an old guy screaming on his porch as the world passes him by. Exactly how many young people do you actually know that informs your knowledge as to what their relationship with music is? From what I see at the festivals and my friends and family, ranging from their twenties to 11, I don’t find this opinion to be valid. You presume your relationship with music is more meaningful. It’s not.

    And honestly can we all stop with the MP3 snobbery? It’s a rather tired and overblown position by a certain age demo about a format that works well enough for people. Considering what little space they take up, it allows people the opportunity to try new things, even older bands that have great depth in their writing and playing unlike most of the music that’s being made today. Plus, it sounds better than music from AM stations played to factory car speakers so spare us how great the fidelity was back in your day.

    “and it goes for credible reporting just as much as it does for music.”

    If you can’t find any credible reporting, that may be on you. Just because there’s more reporting to sift through doesn’t mean there’s not good reporting out there.

    “None of them would stand a chance of being heard by a mass audience in the present climate.”

    Not sure what you base that on since that’s impossible to know without access to a parallel dimension. Is there a band today you are saying that equals those listed that’s being ignored? Anyway who cares? Luckily I don’t need to validate my tastes with the masses.

  • zingzing

    actually, glen, i didn’t mention that musicology went to #1. 3121 did. but did musicology? i dunno. and did those concert giveaways count towards billboard/soundscan/riaa sales figures? now that you mention it, i dunno either. i wouldn’t have thought they would, although such a thing hadn’t been tried before (at least on such a scale), so maybe they did.

  • The Doors? The Beatles? Springsteen? The Cure? Public Enemy? David Bowie? Dylan? Radiohead? Nirvana?

    None of them would stand a chance of being heard by a mass audience in the present climate.

    To say nothing of a smaller, more directed artistic voice like Tom Waits or Pati Smith.

    But hey, viva la Internet, right?


  • Prince’s comparison to MTV is in fact misdirected exactly because the target audience was precisely pinpointed, thus restricting access to certain artists who didn’t meet the demographic target.

    On that point, you are 100% correct.

    However, I am not at all certain that is what he meant by his overall statement. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of his reasoning (he is Prince, after all), I do think he makes a very valid point in terms of the overall bandwagon effect.

    The internet will come and go, just as MTV did before it. Oh sure, the medium will remain. But eventually music consumers will need something more than the instant gratification afforded by immediate access to a song that sticks in their head for a minute, delivered in a rather crappy sounding format at that. And developing artists are eventually going to realize that just getting your song out there isn’t nearly enough — getting it actually heard by a receptive audience is the real key here.

    As it currently stands, the music business is being run by corporate types who entered into it on a “this could be fun” sort of lark, but who have no concept of the actual artistic process involved in creating great and lasting work of any real artistic merit. There are no real Ahmet Ertegun’s out there in a world populated by corporate bean counters of the worst sort, at least not from where I sit.

    Hence the collapse of the music business, and the reduction of its once strong audience into virtual gawkers, in search of nothing more meaningful than the next quick fix or five minute thrill they have been taught to seek out by the ten second attention span of the “revolutionary” internet experience.

    Pay attention, man. All of this instant accessibility has come at the cost of any real substance — and it goes for credible reporting just as much as it does for music.

    Enjoy your “revolution,” but I need something more substantive.


  • I don’t get the praise for Prince here. He comes off looking like an uninformed fool the world has passed by as he blathers on not knowing what he’s talking about. Good for him that he probably has enough F-U money so he can try to do what he wants with his music but I bet no one follows his doomed business model.

    “The Internet’s like MTV.”

    Right because everyone could have their music videos seen on MTV. Oh wait. No they couldn’t. But with the Internet every band can set up a page somewhere or upload videos to YouTube and get their music heard by people who stumble across it. It’s nothing like MTV.

    Another area that you are misreading. iTunes isn’t like the labels. They are like the record shop. Should Tower Records have been paying artists advances? Now everyone can go on consignment and earn something through a sale when they appeal to a consumer. It’s a much more equitable system and makes the artist work rather than laying around after scoring a bloated contract.

  • Zing,

    The one thing you neglect or maybe forget to mention is that the #1 status and 2 million sales of Musicology only occured because it was given away at all the shows on that tour (which was a very hot ticket and may also be why you never got a copy of it yourself).

    Speaking of alternative distribution models…


  • zingzing

    glen: “He looks at the modern distribution models the same way he looks at music itself…”

    actually… what with his 90’s internet-only releases, the daily mail thing, the packaging concert tickets with albums, etc, etc, he’s been messing with distribution models longer than most. i just think he might have realized how futile it is. or maybe it’s that when someone can go to the internet and download his music for free rather than go to the internet and pay for the music, they’ll probably go there and download it for free. i would. he would too probably. if he wasn’t prince. because prince doesn’t do things like other people do. things.

    it’s not that he’s old school. it’s that he’s bitter. personally, i think he should stop having to worry about his career so much and just get back to making music. if he’s sick of being the business man, i call it a good thing.

  • zingzing

    to be fair, prince sold at least 2 million copies of musicology (the only album of his that i don’t own… very strange) and close to a million of 3121 (his best album since he broke from warners, methinks), while hitting #1 with 3121 (in its first week of release… the only other of his albums to do that was batman). it’s hard times for sales figures for most artists, but for an artist 20 years past his peak? dismal.

    still, whatever he does, says, sings, plays or shits out from here to eternity, it can’t mess with the wonder that was his 1980-89 work (nor the beautiful creative dusk of the first half of the 90s–with hindsight, some of this stuff is incredibly good). there is not a more accomplished musician or pop artist on the planet. the man’s a god. i’d bet on his creativity and genius above anyone else out there, and i’d bet it against anyone in the rock era. he’s just better.

    i wish he had been smart with his money (not that he’s poor or anything), so he could take a few years off, really work on something and have time to employ some sort of quality control. given a few years, he could put together a lean, mean, startlingly good album, i’d bet. too bad he spends his money like he still sells a gagillion albums every time out.

  • If I were Prince, I’d probably be more focused on the upfront money too, given the fact that he hasn’t had a bonafide hit in something like two decades.

    I agree that the long dime makes much more sense than the quick nickel if you are actually going to be selling some records. But Prince hasn’t really sold albums in substantial quantities for awhile now, rendering the point somewhat moot and actually strengthening his own argument somewhat.

    I don’t agree with everything Prince says on this subject…but I do admire his purity. He looks at the modern distribution models the same way he looks at music itself…Prince is an old school guy through and through. I like that about him.

    As far as commercial digital music goes, I might change my own mind about things if two things happened: One, a better sounding model replaces the now standard MP3 you get through iTunes. Two, a better mousetrap is built to afford a greater means of mass exposure to those indie artists Mark references.

    In the meantime, companies like Apple and Google are nothing more than the new Warner Bros. and Tower…only with a lot more shareholders to please. And getting your music instant access on the internet is simply the trade off for becoming lost in a sea of faceless new bands.


  • Tom Johnson

    Prince, as brilliant a musician as he may be, is clueless when it comes to this subject. He could distribute his music via Itunes without a label and make a lot more than he would through a label alone. That he is entirely focused on up-front money should be the key here. He is stuck in old-world thinking.

  • “The Internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated.”

    Amen, brother.

    sorry, have to totally disagree here. Prince might see the same people attempting to control things, and that (sort of) true for music coming out of the major labels.

    but for artists not connected with a major, a record label being a concept that itself has run out of gas, the internet is a great thing.