(Pictured: Prince appears at the American Music Awards in January 1986.)
April 22, 1986, is a Tuesday. The nation is abuzz this morning over last night’s syndicated TV special The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults, hosted by Geraldo Rivera, during which a chamber below the Lexington Hotel in Chicago, where Capone had once lived, was opened on live TV. It did not contain cars, bodies, or money as hoped, only dirt and old empty bottles. Thirty-five percent of TV homes in America watched. In Madison, Wisconsin, just after 4AM, 20-year-old convenience store clerk Andrew Nehmer is murdered. Twenty-seven years from now, a possible suspect will be identified, but the murder will remain unsolved. Western diplomats continue discussions about a further crackdown on Libya, one week after retaliatory American bombing raids on Tripoli and Benghazi. The Libyan government is accused of sponsoring the April 5 terrorist bombing of a Berlin disco frequented by American soldiers, in which two Americans were killed and 79 wounded. President Reagan notifies Congress that the national security emergency regarding Nicaragua, in place since the previous May, will be continued. Tonight, Reagan gives a speech at the Heritage Foundation anniversary dinner. Several states get snow with record cold.
In today’s Peanuts strip, Lucy tells Linus about their sister-brother dynamic. Future football player Marshawn Lynch and future actress Amber Heard are born. Cliff Finch, who served as governor of Mississippi from 1976 to 1980, dies of a heart attack at age 59. On TV tonight, ABC’s lineup features Who’s the Boss, Perfect Strangers, Moonlighting and Spenser: For Hire. CBS airs the new family drama Morningstar/Eveningstar, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and The Equalizer. NBC counters with The A-Team, Hunter, and an NBC White Paper news special titled The Japan They Don’t Talk About, which shows how some Japanese manufacturing differs from the industrial powerhouse portrayed in media reports. The Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 122-104 to win their first-round NBA playoff series three games to none. After scoring 63 points in the previous game, Bulls star Michael Jordan scores 19. The Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets also complete first-round sweeps.
The Los Angeles Times carries a feature story on prolific session guitarist Tommy Tedesco. The Grateful Dead play Berkeley, California, and Rush brings the Power Windows tour to Greensboro, South Carolina. Van Halen plays the Rosemont Horizon in suburban Chicago, Stevie Nicks plays Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, and Neil Diamond plays the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Van Halen’s “Why Can’t This Be Love” is new in the Billboard Top 10; Stevie’s “I Can’t Wait” holds at #16. Prince tops the Hot 100 with “Kiss”; a song he wrote under an assumed name for the Bangles, “Manic Monday,” is #2. At #99, on its way out of the Hot 100, is “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E, co-written by Prince. In Macomb, Illinois, the local Top 40 morning-show host plays all of these songs, although his favorites at the moment are “Your Love” by the Outfield and “R. O. C. K. in the U. S. A.” by John Cougar Mellencamp, both of which sound great blasting in the car on warm spring days. Or they will, if spring ever comes to western Illinois.
Perspective From the Present: Prince’s domination of pop music in 1986 was remarkable, as described in this terrific piece by Slate‘s Chris Molanphy, which prompted me to yank the Prince post I wrote yesterday afternoon and intended for today, and put this one up instead. One Day in Your Life is the kind of thing I can do well, but I am unable to write a loving retrospective on Prince’s music and what it meant to me. That should have become clear to me yesterday, when I was writing and the following sentence just popped out: “By the time I became a Top 40 DJ a few years later, Prince was on the air all the time, the same as the weather forecast.”
Not every artist, not even the greatest and most prolific ones of our times, can move every listener, or change every listener’s life. Somebody else—many somebodies, if you hit up your favorite social media channels—is going to have to tell you about Prince’s greatness and what he meant. I’m not the one to do it. I don’t intend to demean him, or downplay his significance. He is, by any standard, one of the most significant musicians American culture has ever produced. But to this listener, it doesn’t feel like a personal loss, not like Glenn Frey or Merle Haggard. I’m neither proud of that nor ashamed by it. Although I hate the phrase “it is what it is,” it is what it is.