Prince: “Don’t die without knowing the cross.”

I’m still absorbing the news that Prince has died. I confess that this was like a punch in the gut for me. Little known fact: I’m a huge fan of the artist formerly known as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” His music was the soundtrack of about a decade of my young life. In some ways, that is a sad commentary because so much of what he sang about was foul and salacious. But that is not why I was listening. I was listening because he was a musical genius—a kind of post-modern cross between James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, but better than both of them.

Prince was an American original and an amazing performer. He was always doing his own thing and innovating musically. He was performing since the 70’s, but he broke-out as a superstar in 1984 with his album Purple Rain. At a time when hip-hop was just about to hit the mainstream, here was a black man making music out of metal riffs in a lead single that had no bass guitar. I repeat. His first big hit had no bass guitar, and yet “Doves Cry” was Billboard’s number one single of the year. The sound was original, the harmonies mesmerizing, and I was hooked.

I was transfixed by his music for the rest of the 80’s and early 90’s. For me the high watermarks were Purple Rain, Sign O’ the Times, and Lovesexy. I probably still know every line and note of those albums backwards and forwards. I am not recommending that you buy them. As I said, much of it was lyrically salacious. But they were also musically brilliant. I still think they are.

To this day, my favorite performance by Prince was the 2007 Super Bowl Half-Time show. I can’t think of anyone who has ever put on a more impressive performance for that event than Prince did. It actually rained during his “Purple Rain” finale. It was an unforgettable spectacle for the 100,000 people in the stadium and for the 100 million watching on television.

All of the above is what everybody knows about Prince, but none of that came to mind today when I first heard the news of his passing. What came to my mind was that he just entered into eternity and that I didn’t pray for him enough. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, he was a genius musician. But he was also a man. And it is appointed unto man once to die and then to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). His death like every death reminds us that we need to number our days because they will be over before we know it (Psalm 90:10, 12).

Over the years, I’ve often wondered what the introverted genius was really thinking. Prince’s music was a window, but it was a murky one. There was the dark stuff. A lot of it. But then there was also a song titled “The Cross” from 1987’s Sign O’ the Times:

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry, he is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross…

We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry for he is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all, y’all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah

We all have our problems
Some are big, some are small
Soon all of our problems, y’all
Will be taken by the cross

I don’t know what Prince was thinking about at the end, but I hope it was this. It is a good word, perhaps even a better one than Prince knew when he wrote it nearly thirty years ago. “Don’t die without knowing the cross.”

Prince was 57 years old when he died today.

Prince Rogers Nelson (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016).

17 Responses to Prince: “Don’t die without knowing the cross.”

  1. Denny Burk April 21, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

    P.S. I am aware that Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001. Before that, I think that he was a Seventh Day Adventist. In any case, he wrote “The Cross” over a decade before his conversion to JW.

  2. bobbistowellbrown April 21, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    My son said this about attending one of his performances, “he steered clear of his nastier songs and I remember him even saying that he doesn’t perform many of them anymore because of the content. Not that all of his content on stuff he performed or is really known for is all that much better.”

    I hope he did know Jesus.

  3. Dan Phillips April 21, 2016 at 5:29 pm #

    Calling him “post-modern cross between James Brown and Jimi Hendrix” nails it awfully well. He had the moves and showmanship of the former, and the fire and talent of the latter. That Super Bowl halftime was a jawdropper; I’m not sure I realized what a guitar virtuoso he was.

    And, like Michael Jackson, a sexually-ambiguous(-except-unambiguously-not-good) enigma, though I don’t know what being JW did for or to him. (So was Jackson, in his childhood, coincidentally.) I’ve read of people being surprised to find him at their doorstep with an Awake! in hand.

    It’s hard when milestones like this pass, isn’t it? Being older, I know that feeling.

    My greatest musical hero is Chicago’s Terry Kath, who never got the well-deserved appreciation in his lifetime that Prince did. Died tragically of a stupid gun-handling accident in his thirties, one wonders what he could have accomplished with another couple-few decades. Now a wealth of concert vid is available, and I don’t mind admitting I tear up looking at this blaze of talent and energy, snuffed out too soon. He spoke of “the Lord” once or twice in his songs, but no real sign of faith.

    Sorry, bro. Death is awful, a thief and a destroyer. We’ll be well rid of it when our King puts all to rights.

    • Ian Shaw April 22, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

      The closest thing that younger people have to compare him to today would be Bruno Mars. Mars is a musician, not just a singer. His first Superbowl show was amazing. No lipsyncing and a live band. Providing Bruno Mars does what he’s doing for another 20 albums…

  4. Guy B April 21, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

    “The Cross” as a song has meant so much to me in my life. I first heard the song in 1991 when I went on my SEARCH (SEEK EACH OTHER AND RECEIVE CHRIST’S HAND) retreat with my catholic youth group. The song was just so beautiful and, to me, the most beautiful song he ever wrote. This retreat came at a time when I was questioning a lot about my faith and my belief. As a 16 year old, I just lost a good friend who had died unexpectedly. This was coupled by the deaths of some close relatives as well. I needed the retreat but I believe God needed me to be on that retreat. It was his way of bringing me back to him. I remember hearing this song and the line “We all have our problems” and that resonated with me.
    From that day forward, I had a new leash on my faith life. Yes it has slipped at times but it is much easier getting back. I used “The Cross” as my testament song when I was on team for our Men’s Cornerstone Retreat just 7 year ago at my church. When I was picked to be on team and told I needed a song, there was no doubt what song I would pick even 18 years later!
    Prince puts into words so eloquently what it means to be Christian. I find it absolutely amazing that a pop star of his magnitude could do this. Today, as I hear about his passing I am flooded by emotion because of this song and because I saw him live in concert and could see how much he enjoyed playing for the fans. I am scared to die without knowing the cross. I am rejoiced in the fact that Prince did know the cross as he passed into the next life.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Christiane Smith April 22, 2016 at 9:45 pm #

      Hello GUY B. . . . that song, ‘The Cross’ has very powerful lyrics. I see why you chose it. And I see where DENNY got the title for his post.

      “Black day, stormy night
      No love, no hope in sight
      Don’t cry, he is coming
      Don’t die without knowing the cross
      Ghettos to the left of us
      Flowers to the right
      There’ll be bread for all of us
      If we can just bear the cross
      Sweet song of salvation
      A pregnant mother sings
      She lives in starvation
      Her children need all that she brings
      We all have our problems
      Some BIG, some are small
      Soon all of our problems
      Will be taken by the cross
      Black day, stormy night
      No love, no hope in sight
      Don’t cry for he is coming
      Don’t die without knowing the cross
      Ghettos to the left of us
      Flowers to the right
      There’ll be bread for all, y’all
      If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah
      We all have our problems
      Some are BIG, some are small
      Soon all of our problems, y’all
      Will be taken by the cross”

  5. Bob Stith April 22, 2016 at 12:56 am #

    I wonder if Vanitys rather radical conversion had any impact on him.

  6. Ian Shaw April 22, 2016 at 11:58 am #

    People forget how impressive of a guitar player he was. Eric Clapton was interviewed once and they asked him, ‘how does it feel to be the world’s greatest guitar player?’

    His response: ” I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Prince”. That’s quite a big pat on the back coming from Clapton.

    • Jim Harrison April 23, 2016 at 7:20 am #

      Unless someone has a source for this quote, file it under “Urban Myth”. I’ve been hearing this exact quote, with various guitar heroes’ names plugged into it, since I was in college in the early eighties. Back then, at least in Christian circles, the question was asked of Hendrix, and he supposedly answered, “I don’t know. Ask Phil Keaggy.”

  7. MFish April 23, 2016 at 11:04 am #

    RIP…PRINCE…my prayer is he did know Jesus as his personal savior! Praying for the family, friends & many fans…

  8. barryjoslin April 25, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    Several days later, I am still heartbroken over his death. I loved his music, and he created art that has stood the test of time. No one will remember the top 10 hits of this week, but they will always sing along with “Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain,” not to mention about 50 others/ (1999, “Let’s Go Crazy!” “Little Red Corvette,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Kiss,” and one of my favs, “Starfish and Coffee.”) He slept like 3 hours a night and performed marathon shows. A true artist and genius. I am still so sad for his passing. For many reasons.

    Good post, Denny. Thanks for that.

    Barry

  9. William Smith April 26, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    Those of us from Minnesota feel a special connection to Prince and his music. I’ve always been a big fan of his but never really so much his most popular songs. I fear his autopsy report and what will happen with his estate. As he was such a prolific song writer here’s another one that he co-wrote in 1991 called ‘Love thy will be done’ It’s really quite pretty and like so much in the last few days is now available on Youtube:

    Love, thy will be done
    I can no longer hide
    I can no longer run
    No longer can I resist your guiding light
    That gives me the power to keep up the fight

    Love, thy will be done
    Since I have found you my life has just begun
    And I see all of your creations as one
    Perfect complex
    No one less beautiful
    Or more special than the next
    We are all blessed and so wise to accept
    Thy will love be done

    Love, thy will be mine
    And make me strive for the glorious and divine
    I could not be more, more satisfied

    Even when there’s no peace outside my window
    There’s peace inside
    And that’s why, I no longer run
    Love, thy will be done

    Love thy will be done
    I can no longer hide
    I can no longer run

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