Prince circa 1985. Photo by the LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
It's now been a little over a week since a jealous God rescinded Prince Rogers Nelson, universally beloved musical polymath and lyricist, patron saint of ectomorphic sexuality, human synecdoche of the color purple, noted keytarist (he held a US patent on the instrument) and the last human being to be given a pass for replacing words with numbers. These are but a few of the endless accomplishments that flooded obituaries over the course of the last week.
Indeed Prince was so influential and prolific, and so mercurial as a personality, that he fuses neatly with his myth, making it impossible to tell the truth from the fiction. Which makes the recent tabloid coverage of the days leading up to his death—that he was reportedly addicted to Percocet, that he allegedly had AIDS—doubly upsetting. Whatever the truth turns out to be, it's worth remembering that Prince's very inscrutability was always his strength, and the facts always manage to upstage what we think we know for sure. We're talking about a man who became a devout Jehovah's Witness after penning lyrics so filthy they were directly responsible for the creation of the Parents Music Resource Center, the group that distributed Parents Advisory stickers.
How can you summarize the life of a man who changed his name to a symbol, dated Audrey from Twin Peaks, and tried to convince Vanity to change her name to "Vagina"? What legend could possibly contend with the paradox that was Prince?
What follows is a short list of prevalent but fallacious rumors, malfeasances, and misapprehensions that needn't clutter the Purple One's legacy, much as that legacy seems designed to keep us wondering, as Prince himself asked, "Is this reality or just another façade?"
Prince Designed the Air Jordan Sneaker
Sort of makes sense, right? Prince clearly knew his footwear (and his hosiery, and his tassels, and his cravats), but the idea—widely promulgated online—that Prince invested in Nike in 1971 (when he was 12), got Michael Jordan to sign with the shoe company in 1983, then designed his eponymous shoes is just as crazy as it sounds. Whatever sneakers Prince was using, we all know that cat could ball.
Eric Clapton Called Prince the World's Greatest Guitarist
This is a public service announcement: You needn't revaluate your sense of Eric Clapton's humility based on this scurious internet item, which claims that, when asked how it felt to be the world's greatest guitarist, Slowhand replied, "I don't know. Ask Prince." He said no such thing and in fact the whole thing's a throwback to a quote Jimi Hendrix was supposed to have said about Rory Gallagher, which isn't real either. It's turtles all the way down, this one. You know what Clapton did say? He said, "Her name is Aphrodite and she rides a crimson shell." Big deal.
Prince Hated the Internet
It's true enough that Prince said, "The internet is over" in 2010, but he probably meant the internet he had helped to create by being one of the very first recording artists to take advantage of the fledgling technology in 1994, when he embarked on a "virtual tour" via 1994's Interactive CD-ROM. He made a boxed set (1997's Crystal Ball) available through a website, started a digital subscription to compete with Napster, and went on to win a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. Prince was heavily identified with the internet circa 1995 when jokes about the nascent Information Superhighway were as ubiquitous as rapping breakfast cereal characters, hence his appearance in a Simpsons episode where he is seemingly part of a Radioactive Man newsgroup. Which reminds me...
Prince Was on The Simpsons in the 90s
And he was. For about two seconds, in a non-speaking role. But this turns out to have been but a glimpse of things that might have been, as Prince turned down a chance to guest-star in a Conan O'Brien–penned fifth-season episode that would have served as a sequel to "Stark-Raving Dad," with Leon Kompowsky convinced he is the Purple One in the yellow flesh after being cured, The Ruling Class-style-style, of his delusion that he is Michael Jackson.
Prince and Michael Jackson Were Rivals
It may not be long before we start to hear spooky Jacko/Prince coincidences à la JFK/Lincoln. Both died at home under mysterious, possibly pharmaceutically-induced circumstances; both were flamboyantly-coiffed leading artists of the 1980s; Michael was called the King of Pop, while Prince was called... Prince. So it might be natural to assume, as has been claimed, that there was some wrinkle in the two's relationship, perhaps dating back to Prince turning down Jackson's offer to collaborate in "Bad." (Prince biographer Touré relates a charming anecdote about Prince rerecording the song to send back to Michael as a "kind of superstar way of saying, 'Fuck you.'") But lest this turn into a classic Beatles/Stones dichotomy with rival street gangs wearing frilly scarves or single sparkly gloves, let's be clear: The two respected each other's output and were, according to Prince's keyboardist Cassandra O'Neal, as amiable as you'd want two massively-talented thin-waisted superstars to be.
Prince Recalled Every Copy of an "Evil" Album After a Bad Trip
I think this one is reductionist—not to mention that it seems to be a variation on the time that an LSD-addled Brian Wilson, yes, shelved the track "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" during the Smile sessions because he was convinced it had pyrotechnic powers. Drugs or no drugs, Prince probably had perfectly good reasons for disowning The Black Album (finally released by Warner Brothers in 1994). Although it makes for a fascinating listen now, it's clear that it was no kind of follow-up to Sign o' the Times and reveals an artist somewhat uncomfortable with his success and image, as well as the alarming Prince-bashing "Bob George," in which an in-character Prince lashes out at his critics.
Prince Needed Hip Replacements After Years of Dancing in Heels
Another mean deduction, along the lines of Bon Jovi's stomach pump or Marilyn Manson's rib. Obviously, the dust has yet to settle on Prince's health issues in the last decade of his life, so we won't know if there's anything to the rumors that Prince's faith caused him to refuse the blood transfusions he needed to survive—but at least we can stop blaming the shoes.
Prince Once Ran a Personal Ad Looking for "the Most Beautiful Girl in the World"
Actually, unlikely as it seems, I can't find any evidence that this one is false, so if you want to believe that Prince ran an ad with a blurry picture asking you to spend holidays at Paisley Park, be my guest.
Prince Doesn't Believe in Time
Assuming he wasn't thinking of Morris Day, this stems from what is probably the best Prince interview of all time, in the pages of Notorious, where he answered a question about his Adonis-like youth by saying, "I don't believe in time. I don't count. When you count, it ages you." Look, Prince said a lot of crazy things in interviews. He also sang a lot of crazy things, and those are the words we should abide by. In other words, it's not the time that matters—it's the sign o' the times.
Prince Was a Solo Artist
And he was, of course. But something that can't be said enough is what a collaborator Prince was and how much of his work was shaped by his ability to recognize and surround himself with talent. Now only did he share songwriting credits with members of the Revolution and the New Power Generation and mentor Shelia E. and the Bangles, he wrote songs for Chaka Khan, Paula Abdul, and Sinead O'Connor. Nor did he forget his origins in the Minneapolis funk and soul scene, as catalogued in Numero Group's superb Purple Snow boxed set, continuing to work with the members of Minneapolis stalwarts Flyte Tyme and recruiting his childhood roommate André Cymone (who took in Prince as a teenage runaway). Like Bowie before him, he remained active in producing and promoting music up to the time of his death, all of which should be an inspiration to all of us still trying to get through this thing called life. And life is the word that means forever, and that's a mighty long time.
Recent work by J. W. McCormack appears in Conjunctions, BOMB, and the New Republic. Read his other writing on VICE here.