What makes a true Prince fan? A true Prince fan knows that every recording, every album, every decision that Prince ever made was the right one. A true Prince fan knows exactly what Prince would have said or thought in any situation, and they know exactly what he would’ve wanted. A true Prince fan had a credit card solely to pay for Prince tickets and merch on the off chance he came through their town. A true Prince fan is not to be questioned or disagreed with.
More than four years later, we’re still hurting. Possibly the hardest part of that hurt is having to watch everything play out from the sidelines. We watched an investigation into the circumstances of April 21, 2016, only to get more questions than answers. We watched the very public argument over the future of his Estate go from ‘who constitutes as an heir’ to ‘why can’t the heirs agree’ to ‘another heir sold their stake in the Estate because they couldn’t afford the lawyer fees anymore.’ We watched as labels battled over who had the right to distribute parts of Prince’s catalogue in the exact manner that he very publicly railed against for the latter half of his career. In the end, Warner Bros. seems the only one allowed to do much with it. Out of a 40-year career, only the work that occurred in a span of about 6 years has thus far been recognized. We watched from across borders as Prince’s home and studio complex was turned into a museum. Band members and those closest to him are divided into camps with an odd tension between them, obvious and ready to boil over.
On top of that, we’re fiercely protective of Prince’s legacy and reputation. Overprotective might even be a better term. Overly sensitive also wouldn’t be a stretch at times. All our lives we’ve felt a need to defend Prince. If you were a fan in the ‘80s, you likely knew at least one person who wasn’t afraid to say why they thought Prince’s style wasn’t something anyone should be down with. If you were a fan in the ‘90s, there was a popular anti-Prince narrative that The Artist himself didn’t do much to fight. In the early 2000s, the rest of the world was ready to talk about how Prince was going crazy. Then 2004 happened and the world fell in love with him all over again and we didn’t have to defend him for a few years. Then after Lotusflower.com soaked the wallets of his fanbase with no return… after the dancing baby lawsuit… after Prince Fans United… he didn’t go into the 2010s with the same support he’d had a few years prior. In short, the non-fair weather fans are used to being ready to defend.
When that hurt and that overprotectiveness mixes with internet rage… something ugly happens. We feed the trolls and let the trolls bring out our unreasonable tantrums. In the true spirit of the age of social media, several of the loudest voices loudly share only the truths that uphold the image of Prince in their mind. If something is in opposition or inconvenient or paints him as anything less than angelic, it’s ignored at best or met with rage at worst. We need to turn it around. The infighting only distracts the watching world from what we love. Stop being a true Prince fan and be a REAL Prince fan. We don’t have to draw attention to the mistakes, but we can’t pretend they didn’t happen. We can’t get mad every time someone has the audacity to say something we don’t agree with.
I love every Prince record, but I definitely don’t put Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic on as often as Sign O The Times. I am blunt about my opinion that “Work That Fat” is a terrible song. It’s “Bob George” meets “Gett Off” with juvenile lyrics that were likely just clowning around and never meant to be heard by anyone outside of his circle. But it got out. Am I any less of a fan because of my opinion on an outtake that was never meant to get around? No. Is Prince any less of a legendary guitarist, pianist, songsmith, producer, entertainer, et cetera because of it? Not by a long shot. Did he have any less impact on the music world or mean less to people? No. If Prince wrote on average a song a day for 40 years… through the laws of attrition alone they can’t all be on the level of “The Beautiful Ones.” A real Prince fan is honest about their fandom.
What makes a real Prince fan? It’s not how long you’ve been listening. It’s not how much of the music you own, through purchase or other means. It’s not the number of books you’ve read, t-shirts you own, or even the number of concerts you attended. It’s not how hard you come back against conflicting opinions. It’s not standing by while our Artist is slandered, but it’s not ignoring his missteps, either. A real Prince fan would let some of this go. Prince very publicly said he didn’t like the word ‘fan’ because it was short for ‘fanatic.’ While he may have taken that reasoning a bit farther than seemed reasonable at the time, we’ve been proving that right as a whole in the last four years.
Prince sneezed on stage once. A true Prince fan has a copy of it on three different bootlegs. A real Prince fan knows that has nothing to do with anything.