Prince died today, at the age of 57. Social media is filling with tributes to Prince's legendary life—his career as a spellbinding musician, his potent individuality, his reputation as a breaker of cultural boundaries and a pusher of envelopes.
But perhaps no single paragraph better captures Prince's phenomenal appeal than this one, from a 2004 profile of Prince in The Nation written by Jody Rosen, who is now a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.
After a brief review of Prince's Musicology, which Rosen called "the most sharply produced of any record in Prince’s catalogue," Rosen notes that Prince played nearly every instrument on the album, and then sums up Prince's insane talent in a single, enduring paragraph (emphasis mine):
It’s that preposterous one-man-band virtuosity that insures Prince’s place in the rock-and-roll pantheon. In terms of sheer musical talent, Prince has no peer. He is both an anomaly in the history of twentieth-century pop music and that history’s logical end point–all of the excitement and grandeur and nonsense of rock and roll (and virtually every subgenre) embodied in one preening, doe-eyed, androgynous, biracial, sartorially resplendent, sexually and spiritually obsessed musical polymath. When he emerged from Minneapolis in the late 1970s wearing thigh-high boots and bikini underwear, he seemed like a period curio: a creature sprung from disco-era clubland who played choppy funk on New Wave keyboards. But by the time of Purple Rain, it was clear that Prince was a musician for the ages. He mashed together gospel, soul and funk, gentle folk, hard rock, Tin Pan Alley pop and a dozen other styles, sometimes–often–in the space of a single song. He played guitar like Jimi Hendrix and wrote melodies like the Beatles; in his remarkably nimble voice you could hear echoes of guttural James Brown, silken Al Green and John Lennon, in his hoarsest primal-scream mode. No one before Prince had done so many things so well; twenty-five years later, his successor has yet to arrive.
On Twitter on Thursday, Rosen summed up his paragraph in an even more concise sentiment:
Watch some of Prince's greatest live performances, and you'll see what Rosen's talking about. Prince wasn't just a great musician; he was a singular one.