Bobby Singh – Prince: A Personal Essay
Everyone I know loves Bobby Singh, including me. He is a gracious man. Calm, unassuming, always quiet, in the background, camera at the ready. He stands, surveying his surroundings with an eagle eye, concentrating on trying to see the tip-off that signals him to raise his camera to his self-taught eye a nano-second before his subject inadvertently “poses” for the picture Bobby has been waiting for. He is patient, focused, and as deeply committed to his craft as his childhood hero was to his.
We all have friends or know someone whose love of a recording artist and the music they make informs their lives as much as their environment and their families. There are those who will never forget their personal experience with the music of Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, James Brown, or Ray Charles. We ourselves, have our own musical heroes we will carry with us for the rest of our lives, and Bobby’s experience is no exception.
He is not alone.
…but when we lose our heroes, when mortality strikes down even the most immortal of them, we ARE alone. We are as alone as a person can be…because it is with that loss that we truly learn, truly realize, what these people have meant, and will mean to us, for the rest of our lives.
Bobby delivers a eulogy for his musical inspiration here, in a brave, and I am sure, difficult to write, show of love, respect, and appreciation for a man who touched many who felt the same, deep, connection.
Bobby shares his personal journey with us. A journey informed by Prince Rogers Nelson that started when Bobby was 11 years old and will continue as long as Bobby continues HIS journey.
Thank you for sharing this, Bobby. We are in your debt.
bob segarini Toronto April 2016
You can see Bobby’s amazing music photography at this link….
Bobby Singh – Prince: A Personal Essay
Prince Onstage with Bobby Looking On – MuchMusic Interactive 2004
Have you ever met him? That’s where everyone goes when they hear about my love for Prince. Oh sure, I got stories to tell, but here’s the thing. You don’t meet Prince. He decides to let you into his world long enough for you to feel his presence, and just like that, the moment is lost forever. You know how people always go on and on about successful and charming public figures, that when you meet them, they make you feel like you are the most important person in the room to them at that moment? Prince did not do that. You conceded time and again that there is no one more important, nor commanding of any room in which he was present or even thinking about entering.
Now let me preface the rest of this essay by stating, in a rather futile attempt, that I am not crazy. That’s what all sane people say isn’t it? I’ll let you in on a little secret. I am a Prince fan. Not a sycophant, but definitely a die-hard. Sure, it can sound obsessive, and there have been times in my life that my loved ones worried about my mental health, but I assure you, I’m OK.
Well, not today. Not after hearing the news I didn’t anticipate hearing for many years to come. A constant, important presence in my life for 27 years is dead.
I feel so lost. Nothing tangible has changed in my own life, but I feel empty. I feel like my friend is gone.
I don’t quite have it in me to join the public celebrations. I celebrated his music and life everyday, in some way, personally or publicly. What’s missing? Most significantly to my life, I know I will never see Prince walk out on stage again. Each and every time I saw that little figure strut out on stage, it was euphoric. All was right in my world. It didn’t matter what he played, or the size of the venue, or where I was standing, I felt happy; connected. Connected with this singular force of energy and joy that nobody could take away from me.
The first time I saw Prince perform live was in 1993. Overcome by the sheer spectacle of my first concert, ever, I couldn’t believe that I was going to see him. That guy on stage, was a real living, breathing embodiment of all of those albums, and posters and magazines that adorned my bedroom. He was, a person, sort of.
Just under a month ago at The Sony Centre, I felt like I was 14 again. That same feeling of awe and disbelief washed over me. Sure I had seen him about thirty-six, thirty-seven times since, including just four days prior in Montreal, but every Prince show was its own moment in time, where nothing else existed.
Prince live at the Sony Centre March 25th 2016 (Audio Only)
Knowing I will never experience that again breaks my heart.
You can go anywhere else and read about his career, witness examples his talent, and I encourage you to do that. You can read about his influence in black culture, or popular culture as a whole, his role in what led to the censorship of records, his fight against the record companies, internet piracy, the boundaries he pushed and the controversies, and what he did to the world when he came on the scene.
I’ve read it all. I wasn’t there when he hit the scene.
Prince’s career began the year I was born.
When I was 11, I hit Prince’s scene.
Immediately after the sad news broke, Bob Segarini called and left me an incredibly touching and heartfelt message offering his condolences. Yes, let it be known that The Iceman has a heart of gold. He also offered me this space, to organize my thoughts and emotions, cope with what’s happened and maybe help a few readers out there do the same. I do not claim to be a writer, so forgive me if it goes astray.
Going back to that initial question, I have had the experience of interacting with him if you will call it that. I would love to say it was because of some professional achievement, or merit on my part but of course not. It was being in the right place at the right time.
In 2006 I went to Las Vegas for a weekend to check out a pair of shows during his residency at The Rio. I sat in his 3121 restaurant one late afternoon, ordered some salmon and a glass of wine. The salmon was tepid and overcooked but I didn’t expect too much. Then Prince walked in through one door, strutted across the floor of the almost empty restaurant. Did a scan of the place, I held up my wine glass, he nodded, and strutted away. I seem to recall that next bite of salmon was the greatest bite of salmon I have ever taken since.
The next morning just before sunrise as Prince finished up a private set in that same restaurant he sauntered by to exit the little room and I patted him on the shoulder and just said thanks. He gave me a goofy smile and vanished. I don’t know if he thought I was talking about the salmon or the shows but either way that’s all I could muster up.
“Vegas, 2006 with the Rio hotel in the background adorned with Prince’s symbol for his club 3121 residency. Saw him perform four times in two nights, including two private shows in his restaurant. After the last set I patted him on the shoulder and said thanks and he just gave me a goofy smile and vanished. The sun had come out and i got my first bit of sleep that weekend….”
In Chicago a few lucky fans got to sit in on the sound check and after learning that Ticketmaster fucked up our seating arrangements, he stopped the rehearsal and sat down with us in the front row and heard us out. I chimed in about my positive ticketing experience the year before in Denver before someone spoke over me. Prince raised his hand “Let him speak. What happened to you in Denver?”
I’m sorry, I don’t remember what I actually said at that point because Prince had silenced a group of people for my benefit and now waiting patiently for me to speak.
The next year at Paisley Park, Maceo Parker was into his second hour of an opening set and we were taking a little break from being funky by sitting on the ground, resting up our poor feet. Suddenly a high-heeled book kicked us on the leg. Prince pointed to the stage and motioned for us to get up dance. Now, I don’t do well with taking orders but when Prince tells you to dance, you dance!
Maceo Parker with Prince – Pass the Peas
Prince, Maceo Parker, and Johnny Blackshire – Red House (Purple Version)
Oh and I also got to wash his car. Now wait, stop. I know you’re thinking that I just finished telling you I wasn’t crazy and now this?
In June of 2001, my good friend Rick and I had the opportunity to go to Paisley Park a day before the week-long festivities kicked off. The staff of the place saw they had a couple of suckers on their hands and decided to bestow upon us, exciting opportunities to show Prince just how much we love him. In other words, chores.
Bobby at the Gate
After the entry-level stuff like vacuuming the foyer, and mopping the bathroom floors (stay with me) our next task was to go into the soundstage and roll up these giant murals which were the backdrop of the current stage. The soundstage. The room in which Prince and the band were currently rehearsing. After years of being told to not go near any sound check, rehearsal or in Prince’s general vicinity, we were now being instructed to walk in during a rehearsal. So in we went.
Prince was on stage, performing “Housequake” with casual intensity (it’s a thing only he does) and Rick and I approached the first mural, and began to roll it up like an old carpet. In my excitement I guess I was working too damn efficiently because Rick signaled for me to slow the fuck down and draw this moment out. I looked up, and Prince was eyeing us suspiciously, as well he should be. We carried the first mural out of the hall and into the next room and jumped up and down all giddy-like.
We repeated the task on mural number two, as slow as humanly possible, and then it was over. Except it wasn’t.
Prince was going to put a few of his famous cars on display and we were asked if we would help make them more presentable. Like, with a sponge, soap and a hose. Absolutely! One of the guys tossed a set of keys over to Rick. “Move this limo from there to there.” We jumped into Prince’s private car from the Purple Rain era, and took the greatest joyride of our lives: all of ten feet including a three-point-turn. Champagne glasses and China doll masks were all that was left of the unimaginable debauchery that car had seen in the mid-eighties.
A little while later as we dried off the white Thunderbird from the Alphabet Street video, rehearsal had ended and the band came out and admired the cars, or more likely, our handiwork. Morris Hayes proceeded to get fingerprints on the BMW as the crew was goofing around. Suddenly we heard the voice. “Morris! Get away from my car! Get your nasty hands off my car!” Standing in the Paisley Park doorway was Prince, post-rehearsal, dressed to the nine’s grinning and laughing, looking almost like a regular person, squinting in the bright sun without his shades. There stood Rick and I laughing and part of the crew, we were just this close to being invited in for tea and cookies, I could feel it! Except no. He noticed us. We immediately grabbed the nearest rag and started to superficially polish the Thunderbird. He was Prince again. He scurried back inside. Within minutes the building manager came out and reminded us that we had signed our NDA’s before entering the premises. Duly noted.
Now, I think I’m a rational somewhat intellectual person. So why did I do this? Why did we pay good money to travel to Chanhassen Minnesota on our vacations to roll up carpets, mop floors and wash cars? Because Prince.
When I saw the photo of the cop cars parked outside those same doors, my heart sunk. That building is so near and dear to my heart and the place where only good memories are kept, I couldn’t bear to see it. I have avoided all news coverage of his death and the gossipy details. What’s the point? If he had to go, I’m at least thankful that he went at Paisley park.
Paisley Park was a magical place to me. It was Prince’s inner sanctum. Where he created and in turn invited us in to share his creations. It was unreal to me that the most introverted, private musician would open up his doors and invite a small group of lucky fans to be a part of his life.
I met my two best friends at Paisley Park. Rick, Samantha and I were all strangers when we walked into that place for the first time in June 2000. Friday October 5th of 2013 we returned to Paisley for an impromptu midnight show, a month after the two of them were married. Prince changed all of our lives, and we’ve spent the last few days together sharing those memories, and mourning his death.
When faced with the question “What does Prince mean to you?” I’m at a loss. I’ve never had to verbalize or quantify it before. I made killer mixtapes that answered that question man! Oh and the tapes were a thing of beauty.
The reality was, nobody ever appreciated these tapes as much as I wanted. They’d look at the 3 volume set with custom cover art and tracklisting and say something asinine like “I just wanted the greatest hits.” GREATEST HITS?! How dare you! Each volume you hold in your hand barely represents a genre from Prince’s catalogue.
There is a Prince for every occasion. Your solo dirty dance party, your air guitar anthems, your grand seduction…
There was also a Prince that could score a rock opera based on Tim Burton’s Batman. That may not sound like the ideal entry point for fandom, but in 1989 I was an 11-year old comic book nerd and my only previous musical purchase was the Wrestling Album featuring Hillbilly Jim’s “Don’t Go Messin With a Country Boy”, purchased at the height of Hulkamania It was time to step up my game.
I sat in the car on the way home from Shopper’s World and unfolded the accordion style tape inlay and soaked it all in. The first time I would read those magic words “Produced, Arranged, Composed & Performed by Prince”
That’s it. That’s what spoiled music for me. Since that day I have held every performer to that standard, and needless to say I have been sorely disappointed.
I tried my hardest to push the merits of Prince as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader…to my shock and dismay, my sixth-grade peers didn’t think Prince was cool at all. Vanilla ice, MC Hammer, Milli Vanilli, that, I was told, was where it was at. Prince was a fag, anyways. I was further, that by extension, I too was a fag, which was news to me.
Much to my surprise, the sentiment didn’t change much in the years to come.
In the most formative of years you do your best to not deviate from the norm, lest you are taken to task for your uncool choices. I had no plans to ruffle feathers or take any stand, but having to defend my love of Prince’s music and, thereby my sexual orientation, day in and day out in the time of grunge and angst, each time with increasing passion and confidence, I learned what was important to me and why it felt good to stand up for something instead of blend into nothing. It made so much more sense to me to celebrate beauty, sex and life than wallow in the superficial suburban angst and anger.
The inside of my locker was a beacon of purple and gold symbols. I stood out like a sore thumb, but I loved it. I could handle being called any name in the book, I just let it slide. I didn’t, however, pass up any attempt at fighting for the respect Prince’s music deserved. Despite all of the worldwide success and adulation, record sales and fame, Prince was an outsider who did whatever the fuck he wanted to do, and deep down isn’t that the type of person we all dream of being? I do.
For twenty-seven years I have invested my time, energy and money to own every piece of music Prince has made and to see him get on stage whenever and wherever I could. It goes beyond the music. With such an intense emotional attachment to this man’s work and what he has done for me, there is a strange relationship that’s formed. Every time I yell or scream during a live set, I hope, I just hope he heard it and that he felt it. I only wanted to acknowledge how much he meant to me and that like in any relationship between two people, the love and appreciation is mutual.
I have struggled to write and re-write this piece to make sure I express everything I’m feeling about Prince’s death but its impossible. It’s impossible to say it all. I could go on and on for volumes but I know it would benefit no one but myself.
Sometimes it’s as clear as day and other times I have no fucking idea at all how I let someone I don’t know, define my adult life and I feel like a silly fool crying over his loss. But ultimately, it’s not about rationalizing my feelings. Prince taught us that if it feels good do it. So I have, and I will continue to do so.
Thank U Prince. I hope U see The Dawn and that it’s even half as beautiful as the world you created for me.
An Album of Live Prince Performances taken by Bobby Singh
Montreal Video Taken By Bobby
Bobby, Samantha, and Rick – Montreal 2011
Some Rare Prince
Prince Was a SONG Writer
…and Sadly and Finally….
WCCO Coverage in Minneapolis
Bobby Singh is a Guest Writer we hope comes back anytime he wants to.
Contact us at email@example.com
Bobby Singh is a music photographer based in Toronto Ontario, with the occasional jaunt in New York City.
Follow him on instagram and twitter @fohphoto and visit https://frontofhousephotography.com/