Saturday, April 23, 2016

It's OK to be different: Paying homage to the prolific Purple One, Prince, and David Bowie

It's fascinating how the older I get how someone's passing brings perspective. That's what happened after pop music legend Prince died unexpectedly Thursday.

Like many fans, I first had to wrap my head around the fact that such a productive and extremely talented musician (and I don't use that term loosely) had passed away at age 57. Gone too soon!

Then it hit me: I respected this enigmatic dude.

In short, I respect Prince for many of the same reasons I do my main man, the late David Bowie (who died Jan. 10 at age 69 after an 18-month battle with liver cancer): They both wrote their own music, played several instruments and love them or be confused by them, they did their own thing.

The charismatic and flamboyant entertainers were determined to pursue their creative interests, no matter what others thought about it. Prince and Bowie recorded what they wanted; if you liked it, great. If not, that was fine too.

If their songs or albums sold well or performed well on the charts, that seemed to be an added bonus. Each singer had glory years of being at the top of their game — and the music industry. And they also went through times when their music didn't sell nearly as well.

Love what they did, hate it or not understand it, it didn't matter. What was most important to Bowie and Prince was that they did what made them happy. If it made you happy too, all the better.

The similarities between Prince and Bowie are striking: Onstage, they embodied charisma and gave their all in every performance. One smile, expression or gesture sent fans into a frenzy.

Bowie and Prince are as recognized for their flair for fashion as they are for their unmistakable music. (Prince may have become synonymous with ruffled shirts, but Bowie rocked one during his 1990 greatest hits world tour.) They collaborated with and/or wrote songs for a who's who of pop music; Prince wrote tunes for everyone from Sheila E. to Kenny Rogers, many times under a different name.

Outsiders see them as odd, if not weird or freakish; they fans consider them visionaries.

Bowie and Prince embraced the feminine side of their personalities and had no problem throwing some "guy-liner" on to make their distinguishing features stand out, but they undoubtedly also played it all up. People remain fascinated about their love lives and lovers. Regardless of their androgyny, Prince and Bowie were seen with a gorgeous woman on their arm more often than not.

They had universal appeal. But deep down, each man was intensely private. Prince rarely granted interviews, much less ones on TV. Bowie became a virtual recluse in the last 10 years of his life. 

Fittingly, the last song each performer sang live served as an unofficial theme of their storied careers: Prince accompanying himself on piano to do "Purple Rain" and Bowie singing "Changes" in a one-off duet with Alicia Keys in 2006.

But the reality is that as seemingly eccentric as Bowie and Prince's personas were (the Purple One throughout his career and DB mainly in the 1970s with his various characters), offstage was a different story. Bowie as a regular ol' bloke who developed into a homebody and family man. There's no doubt both men were shy and soft-spoken (Prince seemingly barely spoke above a whisper) — a vast contrast to their outlandish wardrobe choices and stage/music video performances.

Certainly the greatest gift each performer gave to pop culture — and indeed, the world — was their powerful sense of uniqueness.

Neither Prince nor Bowie fit easily into a niche (or in DB's case, any musical genre). So the message they delivered so powerfully— whether it was intentional or borne out of their interests and circumstances — was it's OK to be different.

Thanks to these powerful, unforgettable and influential music legends, I've learned there's nothing wrong with marching to the syncopated beat of my own drummer — even if that percussionist plays a bit ahead or behind the beat. I've learned feeling different from and outside of others is something to be embraced. Bowie and Prince proved it's not just OK to embrace your uniqueness; they made it look exceptionally cool.

Thanks, Prince Rogers Nelson. Thanks, David Robert Jones Bowie.

For more Cary's Comics Craze tributes to David Bowie and other recently deceased performers, click here. 

To read the six-part "Bowie at his Best" set of tributes here at CCC, go here.  

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