As a child of the '80s, I knew Prince from the radio, because every year or so he'd release a song that dominated the airwaves for months at a time, and those songs accrued into a permanent preeminence within the era's pop music. "Little Red Corvette." "Raspberry Beret." "When Doves Cry." "Purple Rain." "1999." "Kiss." Even to an 11-year-old kid in suburban South Florida, there was no question about Prince's flaming brilliance.
I found another side of Prince in college, when I was a more astute listener and inclined to make my own decisions rather than tune into radio-fed hitmaking. I discovered that the last 60 seconds of "Darling Nikki" is one of the greatest musical climaxes ever recorded. That the scream that kicks off "Gett Off" is pretty much a continuation of the one that closes "Darling Nikki." That the lesser-known album Come—the one that stated on the cover "Prince: 1958–1993"—provided a funky, invaluable lesson on sexual reciprocation.
But the biggest treasure I found was "Seven." It was my college girlfriend who turned me onto the song, a B-side to the 1992 album known as Symbol. "Seven" plays like the audio to a sort of quasi-religious manga movie, packed to the brim with sonics and yet perfectly contained in its own fantasy world. Its storyline wavers between Prince's Seventh-day Adventist past and the tenets of Jehova's Witness he was then exploring. It samples turntable scratches, sitar and Otis Redding. Its lyrics and sound effects—clashing swords, kung-fu swoops, demonic laughter—convey scenes of cinematic warfare. And it features one of Prince's strongest, wordiest hooks:
All seven and we'll watch them fall
They stand in the face of love and we will smoke them all
With an intellect and a savoir faire
No one in the whole universe will ever compare
I am yours now and you are mine
And together we'll love through all space and time
So don't cry
One day all seven will die
Who are the seven? I always presumed the seven deadly sins. The song describes a battle between soldiers of light and armies of darkness, but the chorus focuses on man's potential for benevolence and bravery despite his tendency toward craven behavior. Prince is singing about nothing less than the war—universal, personal, eternal—for human transcendence. This is a pop song of the most profound ambition and flawless execution.
The same guy who that year wore assless pants to the MTV Music Video Awards was singing about the fated glory of all mankind. Whether or not you're a person of faith, you know the struggle. How do we win? With an intellect and a savoir faire. These are instructions for living life, people.
The friction of the profane and the sacred—it's magnetic. As a species, it is who we are. It is who he was.
Today Prince left us far too young. Today he loves through all space and time. Rest in power.