“Reign of the Prince of Ages”: Prince, a Mozart of our time, a musical genius, a craftsman

By on June 7, 2017

Today would have been Prince‘s 59th birthday — he was born on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota — and so, like many of our fellow music-minded netizens, we’re remembering him today, and planning on spinning some of his ’80s albums. We also invite you to join us in checking out an hour-long documentary we’ve got streaming over on our Night Flight Plus channel, called Prince: Reign of the Prince of Ages.

The funny thing about Prince and birthdays, though, was that Prince didn’t really like to celebrate his own, as he told Dutch TV host Ivo Niehe during a 1999 interview:

Prince thought his refusal to even acknowledge or celebrate his own birthday kept him young.

“I don’t celebrate birthdays,” he told Niehe during the Dutch TV interview, “so that stops me from counting days, which stops me from counting time, which allows me to still look the same as I did ten years ago.”

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This wasn’t a one-off comment about hating his own birthday but actually more of a personal policy about birthdays which he apparently expressed often during his life; it should also be noted that Prince was also a member of the Jehovah’s Witness faith, a group who, as a rule, do not celebrate birthdays.

Prince would have to end up talking about birthdays every now and then — certainly it came up as a topic on or near June 6th each year — but we were a little surprised by this curious perspective about birthdays which he often shared with those who wanted to engage him on the topic.

For example, he once told Mel B (a.k.a. the Spice Girls’ Scary Spice), during an interview at Paisley Park, that he associated his birthday — everyone’s birthday, really — with the fact that we were born into the world and then told, at some point during our childhood, that we’re all going to die. Everyone.

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That’s why he tells Mel B, “… If we never knew we were gonna die, we wouldn’t celebrate our birthday.”

He then added, with a rather definitive punctuation point to end discussion on the topic once and for all: “I’ll celebrate the day I die.”

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Nevertheless, and despite the fact that he’s no longer with us, we don’t really know if he’s really off secretely celebrating his earthly birthday today somewhere in the universe — perhaps upon the moment of his death he became a glittering star that is today looking down on us from somewhere up in the crowded heavens — but whether he’s celebrating or not, we hope Prince Rogers Nelson would have forgiven us for wanting to think about him today.

Maybe he’d even be okay with us watching this documentary, which details how he rose up in the world to become an icon while going on to change pop music forever.

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The Prince: Reign of Prince of Ages documentary focuses on both his life and his work, from his troubled childhood in Minneapolis on to becoming one of the most popular and innovative artists in contemporary music.

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Produced by Will Conley, and directed by Ray Newman, Prince: Reign of the Prince of Ages was originally released back in 2005 as a 90-minute doc by Visionary Entertainment, under the rather ho-hum title Prince: The Unauthorized Biography.

In July 2016 — just a few short months after Prince’s sudden death last year on April 21st — this DVD was edited down, given its sparkly new title and then re-released by our content partners at MVD.

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Here’s what it says on the back of the DVD:

“Prince is a true pop legend and an inspiring success story, and his rise to icon status is charted here in this revealing documentary. Beginning with his troubled Minneapolis origins, we see how this talented multi-instrumentalist and singer became one of the most innovative and recognizable voices in contemporary music. Covering his domination of the charts in the ’80s and early ’90s, with singles such as ‘Raspberry Beret’ and ‘U Got the Look,’ this programme also delves into his ubiquitousness in the tabloids due to his name changing shenanigans. Audiences are treated to a rare, intimate view of the artist through archive photographs and interviews, painting a fascinating portrait of an artist of almost mythological proportions.”

We have to admit, this is a curiously charming little music doc, and fans who already know their fair share of Prince-related ephemera and odd trivia about his Purpleness will no doubt note there are a few inaccuracies and bits of misinformation strewn here and there, which just adds to the mysteriousness of this sixty-minute movie, we think.

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It should probably be pointed out that this documentary also contains no recordings or performances by Prince either, which is fairly standard for unauthorized documentaries, but there are a lot of great photos of Prince and some non-performance footage pieces throughout for you to enjoy.

There’s also some rather rambling narration, written by Ché Salm and voiced-over by narrator Theron K. Cal — we think actually sorta adds to its charm — as well as some of the vintage-looking ’80s-era computer graphics, which reminds us of the types of Chyron identifiers that we used to use ourselves in our earliest episodes of “Night Flight” (back in the early ’80s).

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Here’s one example of what we mean by rambling narration — a summation that wraps up the end of the film, in fact — which provides us with one of the best examples of what we meant by “charm”:

“In the year 2004, the Prince of Ages prevails, a Mozart of our time, a musical genius, a craftsman, publishing more than twenty-seven albums, playing them back-to-back, over thirty-two hours of pop, a symphony, amounting to two times the output of Madonna and Michael Jackson combined. Without reservations, Prince fathered the Eighties children, embodying diversity, sexual fire, and a revolution, an unforgettable and rare combination of musicianship, audiences heir to the throne, a galaxy of music that weighs. Hail the Prince of Ages.”

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We’re still wrapping our head around all that, but that’s why this documentary is so much fun to watch, you never quite know what you’re going to hear — or see — next.

Check out the trailer:

Also, and unlike a lot of the documentaries we feature over on Night Flight Plus, this documentary doesn’t focus too much on telling us about the life and work of Prince from the perspective of  one of his fellow musicians, producers, record label executives or music critics.

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In fact, most of the interviews here are with Prince’s fans, who usually seem to have been recorded outside of concert venues where Prince is performing.

There’s also interview segments with singer/songwriter/producer Christopher Lynn Baccus, whose only IMDB credit is for composing some of the music for the 2004 video documentary John Holmes: The Man, the Myth, the Legend. Yep.

If you feel like celebrating what would have been Prince’s 59th birthday today, why not join us and spin some of his albums, and have a look at Prince: Reign of the Prince of Ages, as well as some some of our other Prince music documentaries — including Slave Trade: How Prince Re-Made the Music Business (be sure to read our blog on that one too); Prince: The Glory Years Unauthorized, and Prince: Up Close & Personal -- they’re all streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.