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Prince's Mystique Grew Even As He Stayed Out Of The Hollywood Spotlight


When the word got out yesterday that Prince had died at the age of 57, tributes began pouring in. And in remembering Prince, a lot of people are saying his performance at the 2007 Super Bowl was one of the greatest halftime shows ever.


PRINCE: (Singing) Oh, no. Let's go. If you don't like the world you're living in...

MONTAGNE: And we have in a studio this morning NPR TV critic Eric Deggans joining us to talk about Prince. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: And - we just heard that little small bit from Prince's Super Bowl performance. Talk to us about why that was so compelling.

DEGGANS: Well, he's performing in the rain. He's nailing these complex dance steps. He's doing great singing. He's burning on the guitar in a downpour. And he made it look so easy. I mean, that was his trademark. It was the product of this tireless work ethic that he had, this boundless talent that he had and these amazing songs that all came together.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, unlike a lot of rock stars, Prince did not do many in-depth television interviews or appearances. Why did he keep away from the Hollywood spotlight?

DEGGANS: Well, he had this mystique that he liked to preserve about himself, particularly early in his career. Like, when he was on Arsenio Hall's first late night talk show many years ago, he even bolted from the stage after he finished playing one song because it looked like Arsenio was going to try and grab his arm and ask him a question (laughter), you know.

And I think one reason the movie "Purple Rain" was such a big deal for Prince fans is that it was this semiautobiographical story that gave you some insight into his life, his personal history and his band. But he did deliver some amazing performances on TV. He was on Arsenio's talk shows. He did some great stuff "Saturday Night Live." And there was this moment during a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison where he upstaged Tom Petty, Stevie Winwood, Jeff Lynne - all these great rock artists - with this burning guitar solo on the song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." I think we've got a clip of that.


PRINCE: (Playing guitar).

DEGGANS: Now, that is Prince proving he can play guitar better than some of the best guitarists in rock on their own stage.

MONTAGNE: You know, of course Prince was very serious about his music, but he could laugh at himself occasionally. He had a great reaction to a sketch about him that appeared on comic Dave Chappelle's show on Comedy Central. At one point - why don't you talk to us about that?

DEGGANS: Well, Chappelle had put together this skit about a real incident where a guy from the show, Eddie Murphy's brother Charlie, had got challenged to a game of basketball by Prince, and he lost pretty badly. And Chappelle dressed like Prince in the skit, and the punchline was that when the game was over, Prince served them pancakes. So Prince later wrote a song called "Breakfast Can Wait" and put a picture of Chappelle dressed like Prince on the cover instead of himself. So let's check out some of that song.


PRINCE: Grits and gravy, grits and gravy - cheese, eggs and jam, oh. Can't nobody cook it like you, girl.

DEGGANS: Yeah. So - that makes me kind of hungry right now, I've got to say.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, I have to admit it.


MONTAGNE: Well, you met Prince, and he spoke about the state of the music industry. What did you find that he wanted to get across?

DEGGANS: Yeah, this was last year. He was witty. He was a little shy, but he was very confident about his message. And he was kind of charming and eccentric all at once. He had doves in this conference room where we met. And he talked about taking his songs off of other streaming services and putting them on this new streaming service called Tidal. He called contracts with major label record companies slavery and said young artists shouldn't sign with them.

And that really made an impact with me because I was a young artist in the mid-1980s. I was in a band that was signed to Motown, and I remember how we would take apart his songs like the Zapruder film. I mean, we would analyze this to figure out how he did what he did. And we looked up to him and his stand against the record companies and taking control of his music was something, I think, that inspired a lot of us. He was a musical genius.

MONTAGNE: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans - thanks for joining us.

DEGGANS: Yeah. You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "PURPLE RAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.

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