Personally, I kinda miss having to defend Prince. Back in the 80s, you were always a little guarded when you confessed you were a fan, because it seemed like everyone had something to say about him. "That skinny motherfucker with the high voice? Please!" Hip hop heads and funkaholics wondered why he messed around with falsetto ballads; old-school soulsters wondered why he used programmed drums and samples if he was such a virtuoso. At least one Billboard columnist questioned whether black music should permit effeminate males in its leadership. Religious friends thought it was disrespectful to recite the Lord's Prayer in "Controversy"; atheist friends didn't want to hear "God"; both camps critiqued his calling himself the Messiah (and his spelling) in "I Would Die 4 U." And that was before he wrote "slave" on his face, changed his name to a symbol, and stopped shipping platinum.
But now? After wearing down his critics inside the industry and out with decades of carefully crafted, insistently musical—if inconsistently engaging—albums and tours, Prince announced himself at the 2004 Grammys as elder statesman who could put the young folk to shame, and no one disputed it. The metalheads in Rainbow denim jackets I grew up with in Queens are now the people uploading his Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" to YouTube and captioning it "GREATEST GUITAR SOLO EVER!!!" The dudes who wondered why that high-heeled freak was running around with those tall white women are now saying the Black Eyed Peas' bombastic Super Bowl show was a disgrace compared to the tasteful showmanship and serious chops Prince displayed way back in... 2007. At the end of each sold-out Madison Square Garden show, today's most desperately buzz-seeking celebs elbowed each other for a place on stage. He's the hottest ticket in town. Don't get me wrong: I'm happy that Prince is happy, and that he's largely succeeded in making over pop music in his image. I just wish there was still someone around to argue with.