In 1994, I bought an obscure CD-ROM called Prince Interactive. One reviewer called it “a weird Prince CD-ROM press kit that people paid money for”. Maybe that’s true but I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the wonderful fantasy world within the disk. It was a virtual trip through Prince’s world with the object being to unlock hidden puzzles for the reward of hearing his songs and seeing iconic videos like Diamonds & Pearls, Cream and Get off. It was simple and sometimes glitchy but it was thoroughly Prince in its opulence, grandeur and generous servings of graphics, songs and videos. I just checked – I still have that disk and its liner notes.
I think what Prince taught me was the power of artistic certainty. He knew exactly what he wanted from his life and his music. The stories of his perfectionism in both live performances and in the studio are legendary. I think nature has a lot to do with talent and the end-product of an artist. However, I also think strength of ego and certainty of purpose without the drag of self doubt produces great artists. They see the end result with pure certainty. They may have to struggle to get there, but they know where they are going and the strong ones arrive.
I think the single greatest example of Prince’s artistic certainty was his 2007 Super Bowl halftime appearance. It was pouring rain in Miami that electric night and the halftime producers were freaking out. The smooth slick stage was not built to be wet and Prince would be gripping a 120 volt electric guitar throughout the performance. When the senior producer called Prince to determine his state of mind, Prince asked, “Can you make it rain harder?” It was at that point the producer knew something great was about to transpire that night.
In stark contrast to other Super Bowl performers lip syncing their latest hits in meticulously choreographed movements, here was Prince singing a mix of his tunes and covers to the world with a mesmerizing clarity and honesty. Performing on, of all things, a stage shaped as the symbol he created as his personal identity. And in the end, closing with Purple Rain, one got the sense that the Gods had arranged for an epic performance that night in Miami. Every time I watch and listen to that performance I get a little closer to understanding what it means to have artistic certainty of purpose.