By Ariel Levine
I would like to tell you about the greatest two minutes of live music I’ve ever witnessed in my life.
June 16th, 2010. B.B. King’s Blues Club, New York City.
At the time, I was working as a sound guy for a local band who frequently played the opening slot at BB King’s for many of the living legends who came through to play there. This job had many perks. I had the opportunity to open for Dave Mason, Ian McLagan, Lovin’ Spoonful, Southside Johnny and many more. That band was The Funky Knights (look them up!), and the legendary act they were opening for that night was Larry Graham & Graham Central Station.
Funky Knights’ set had come to a close, and with it, my duties for the night. Since I was technically a member of the “talent” that evening, I was able to watch the rest of the show from the roped off VIP section of the audience. I invited KiNDERGARTEN bandmate, Zach Abramson to come watch the show with me, as Larry Graham is one of his biggest bass influences.
The VIP section is particularly darkened that evening, it was darker than normal. As I began to wonder why so blacked out, Zach taps me on the shoulder and gestures toward a table about 15 feet from where we were standing. Sitting at that table, and surrounded by about 700 lbs worth of big black bodyguards was a tiny little glowing figure, draped in a white suit. That figure, sitting but 15 feet away from us was Prince. And I mean tiny….and I mean GLOWING!
So, you know when you’re a little kid? And you see famous people on TV, and you can’t fathom the idea that they’re just normal people? Like if you ever saw a famous person in real life, would they be pixelated and glowing like they are on the TV? Then as you get older, especially growing up in New York City, you realize that famous people are just regular humans who don’t glow.
Well Prince…..Prince was glowing. He had a radiant aura of light that shot out of his body and surrounded him in a forcefield of pixelated wonder. It was like looking at a ghost, a burning bush, an angel, a cartoon character. I couldn’t grasp that I was looking at a normal human being…Because I wasn’t. I was looking at Prince.
When I came to, I realized I was staring with my mouth wide open. I quickly diverted my attention back to the stage and the GCS show already in progress, before Prince or one of his mountainous bodyguards made eye contact with me.
So back to the show. Deep into the set, Larry Graham starts in with Sly’s “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin” (Graham was the bassist originally responsible for this infamous bassline.) Now, Graham has this schtick he does during this song where he’ll bring regular audience members up on to the stage to join in on the fun. He’ll give said audience members a tambourine, or put them in front of a mic to have them sing along for a bit. (It sounds dangerous, but man it really really works!) Then his disciples will escort them off the stage as he brings on the next participant. As this is happening, I look to my left to notice that the glowing white figure was gone, no longer sitting in his booth. That’s right, Prince is nowhere to be found, I guess that’s the end of that.
Just then, Graham calls out “You, sir! How bout you, young man…you wanna come up and play?” And with that, the tiny little glowing figure FLOATS out onto the stage, is handed a Stratocaster, and starts destroying the room with his effortless guitar and voice, his elegance, his unmatched groove, his mastery. The room got really loud. Then incredibly silent. We were all completely floored and glued to Prince as he played through the song with the band. Zach and I looked at each other in utter disbelief. Prince had brought the room down in a span of two minutes, barely touching the guitar, barely singing. Just being on stage and doing what he does so effortlessly.
This lasts for 2 whole minutes. Then he hands the guitar to a band member and walks off stage. He doesn’t bow, hedoesn’t wave, just walks off never to be seen again that night.
And THAT was the greatest 2 minutes of my entire life.
I didn’t know this until today, but that moment is actually on YouTube. You can see what I saw that night right here:
On a more personal note, I am once again floored by the passing of yet another Idol of. This is really sad…like, Bowie sad. All the same weird, confusing emotions I had when Bowie died are flooding back into my person. Only Prince’s death is even more tragic, sudden and unexpected.
Prince had such an incredibly profound impact on my musicianship and the way I write and play music. As I’m sure he did with most of my musical peers.
He was, hands downs, the GREATEST guitarist to ever live. This became apparent to me that night at BB King’s. Not the result of some epic shredding solo, but by the way he commanded such a simple rhythm part with complete effortless mastery. Nobody can handle that instrument the way Prince can. He was accurate, had better timing than a clock, was soulful and funky as hell, and can rock harder than the rest. He had a unique way of holding the guitar that was cocky and confident, that hearkened back to Hendrix but brought it into the 22nd Century. Nobody can touch him on guitar.
Matter of fact, nobody could do anything better than Prince could do it. He was just better at everything than anybody. Fact. He’s not recognized for his guitar wizardry because he is so much more than that. His singing, songwriting, producing, his ability to master every instrument he touches will be his legacy. His incredible body of work, and his drive to keep working, keep making more and more music is what he will be remembered for.
I mean, the man has so many albums, I have never been able to keep up. I’m still collecting them.
Prince transcended music as we know it. He bent genres, he crossed into other people’s genres and showed them all how it was done. He mastered funk, soul, pop, jazz and even hard rock. I used to be a dive bar DJ, spinning hit songs to keep the patrons drinking. Our number 1 rule: “When in doubt, Prince”
And his ballads? I melt. Yes, I love his funky grooves. But let’s take a moment to recognize his ability to write a gut-wrenching ballad…”Call My Name” “Scandalous” “This Could Be Us” “On The Couch” to name a few. They tear at my heartstrings the way a lion tears at the open cavity of a zebra. My god.
Well, that’s about all I have to say about Prince right now. Like Bowie before him, I’m deeply saddened by his passing. And though I didn’t know him, something really hurts inside of me. And like Bowie, I’m not trying to make this all about me. I know we are all hurting, he belonged to all of us. But I wanted to share my personal feelings about this Tiny Little Glowing Figure who impacted me so much.
I just can’t stop writing songs about you. I love you so much.
Ariel Levine is a mainstay in the San Diego music scene as well as a guest player on 60 Cycle Hum demos and an all around great guy. Find out more about Ariel here: http://www.ariellevine.com/