I was deeply saddened when David Bowie died earlier this year and thought nostalgically of the many hours I spent listening and dancing to his album, Let’s Dance, in the 80’s. The day I learned of Prince’s untimely death, I got the wind knocked out of me. In recent years I’ve been less likely to listen to Purple Rain than to Bowie’s “Cat People” or “Suffragette City” with my son, an avid Bowie fan. Still, if there is one musician that shaped my transitional teen years, it’s definitely Prince.
Long brocade coats, asymmetrical hairstyles, one long earring, lots of black eye liner, Prince and the Revolution was the look to which I aspired in the 80’s. It’s a wonder my copies of 1999 and the 12″ single of “I Would Die 4 You” / “Erotic City” aren’t completely worn out. One of my prized possessions is a special edition, purple, vinyl 45 of “When Doves Cry.” I had Prince’s butt cleavage sporting poster from the 1999 album on my bedroom door, much to my mother’s complete horror. Prince even inspired an ongoing theme in my current work for over a decade but for different reasons.
It’s no secret that I’m also a die hard fan of Jim Henson’s work. I was skeptical in the late 90’s when his son, Brian relaunched the old show as Muppets Tonight, as skeptical as I was when Disney recently launched Muppet Studios. Leave it to Kermit and crew to always come through.
The episode of Muppets Tonight with the then known The Artist Formerly Known as Prince is one of the very best. Muppets in Purple Rain gear, it doesn’t get any funnier than that…until Prince gets off the elevator to meet them, and he looks like an average Joe in a letter sweater. It’s his skit about how he can create songs about anything that is the consummate answer to that stupid question most artists hate, “Where do you get your ideas?”
The idea that you could create song lyrics out of menu items speaks to the point that creative people see ideas anywhere. Put the setting in a Muppet commissary and things get a little zany. – Were they purposely referencing Monty Python’s Spam sketch? Who knows. – I picture Muppets Tonight writers brainstorming a skit about how you can write music about anything. Life imitating art imitating life. Colorful, texturally fascinating, and always goofy puppets surrounding a rock star, known for his relentless pursuit of excellence, talking about eating starfish with coffee.
That’s the real genius of any artist, to imagine something no one else has or would and then birth it into being, really, really well. This is the kind of absurdly out-of-the-box creativity I spend my life pursuing in all types of media.