“To have ‘It’, the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes.”
So wrote the British novelist Elinor Glyn in her 1927 book, “It”. The book was later adapted into a film starring the silent movie queen Clara Bow – a defining persona and leading sex symbol of the Roaring Twenties whose nickname, “the It girl”, was coined was by Glyn herself.
Glyn was the first person to attempt to define the ineffable – that innate, transcendent quality that is impossible to teach and even harder to learn. But, it’s observably true – universally so – that we all know it when we see it. And I, and millions more around the world, saw it in spades from Prince Rogers Nelson.
There has been much written about the talents of Prince in the last few days. His death came as a shock to the world. His genius has been acknowledged by almost everyone in the music business and beyond. People all over have been crying like doves.
For those of you unaccustomed with the genius of Prince, dig, if you will, a picture: Imagine that the best singer in the world, the best songwriter in the world and the best producer in the world all died at once – utterly heart-breaking. Then one of the greatest guitarists in the world and one of the greatest dancers in the world also died – disastrous, tragic, completely devastating. And then, to top it off, the world’s sexiest, consummate frontman dies as well.
Well they all did. They were all Prince.
No other artist had that “strange magnetism”, as Elinor puts it, quite like Prince. He could sing like a bird, dance like a pro, shred like a god, and rock a crowd harder than they’ve ever been rocked before – all while strutting to a tune he wrote and he produced. And he looked cooler and sexier than anyone else who attempted just one of those things.
“I just want your extra time and your *kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss*… kiss,” sings Julia Roberts in the bathtub with her bulky Walkman. Richard Gere walks and sits beside her but she doesn’t notice and keeps on singing. She opens her eyes and humbly takes off her headphones.
“Don’t you just love Prince?” she asks. “More than life itself”, Gere replies.
This little scene from 1990’s “Pretty Woman” wonderfully captures the effect Prince’s music has on people. It’s fun, it’s sexy and it’s completely irresistible. Try and sing along to his songs and you quickly realise: you can’t. (Who can?) But when you do, you can’t help but close your eyes, smile and be in your own little purple world. And for Prince fans, that’s a world of never-ending happiness; one where you can always see the sun – day or night. That may seem heavy-handed, but it’s not. It’s true.
In his song “It” from the album “Sign ☮ the Times”, Prince tells us that he “thinks about it baby, all the time – all right.” Here, in typical Prince-fashion, he’s talking about sex. But when we see Prince perform, when we listen to his records, we, too, think about ‘It’ – a different sort of ‘It’ (mostly), but one that the human experience treats with just as much elation.
Why? Because Prince had ‘It’ – more so than virtually anyone else. Whoever was responsible for dishing out that stuff at birth was feeling extraordinarily generous when Prince showed up. For who else had such magnetism that attracted us all? Who else had such energy and passion when they performed? Who else had such power, such talent? No one. Prince was king. And his reign was purple. He managed to be one of the century’s supreme examples of the hardest aspiration in all of art – a true original.
Nothing compares 2 U, Prince – not a goddam thing. Elinor Glyn may have provided the first definition of the elusive ‘It’, but a simple picture of the Purple One in the OED would suffice even better.