The Final Course: Thoughts on Bourdain, Food, and Travel

A void was left by the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, a giant in seemingly whichever field he chose to work. I felt a connection to this man whom I never met. We shared physical stature, geography (I live not too far from where he got his culinary start in Provincetown, MA), and the love of both cooking and writing. Less superficially, we both became fathers to daughters later in life, fought battles with substance abuse, and as it is now painfully evident, struggled with mental health issues.

The outpouring of grief following his suicide suggested that I underestimated how many people also felt a connection. I shouldn’t have, as he was a supremely gifted raconteur. Bourdain began his professional career in the restaurant industry, one known for attracting outsiders, oddballs. And it was this fresh perspective that made his observations so captivating. Edgy, often sarcastic, always brilliant, he held up his own brand of binoculars to our eyes so that we could better see not just foreign lands, but parts of our own cities we often overlook. As a writer, his voice was strong and consistent throughout whatever he touched. As I read (and re-read) his breakthrough account of a working chef’s life, Kitchen Confidential, many years ago, I couldn’t help but hear his voice in my head as if it was an audio book.

It’s no wonder that food and drink were such potent vehicles for Bourdain’s storytelling. Wine can offer a window into a place – from the soil and geography (or terrior as it is known) to the climate. Food is the history of a region, amalgamations of the cultures who have came and went, served up on a plate. The other pillar of his works was travel, which is a bit of a different animal. Travel is about your story; it’s your experience and it can only be truly appreciated once you stop listening to tales of others and open yourself to the world. I feel that Mr. Bourdain’s legacy is best honored not by “likes” or retweets, but when you put down the phone, get off the couch, and go out there and live your own stories.

Inside the Purple Vault of Prince

“I think over 70% of the music we’ve worked on for Prince is yet to be released.”

-Brent Fischer, Grammy winning composer and collaborator with Prince

And that’s a LOT, seeing how Prince put out nearly 40 studio albums released during his career of as many years.

Now, I’m not going to eulogize him – others more capable have done it already since his death last week. I prefer to focus on the music, and the hope that there still may be more to come.

Recording engineer Susan Rogers was hired Prince in 1983 to work in Paisley Park, his personal recording studio in Minneapolis, MN. She explained “I want us to have everything he’s ever recorded right here,” for convenience as well as for the sake of preservation. “When I left in ’87 it was nearly full…it was just row after row after row after row of everything we did.” And that was nearly three decades ago. By her estimate, of Prince’s best “30% (of recorded music), I’ll bet the public has heard about 20% of it.”

prince
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Hans Martin-Buff, another studio engineer, helped Prince record in the 90’s and confirms the prodigious output of the man: “In the same way that most people have a conversation about their day, Prince creates music. It’s effortless for him.”

Evidence of Prince’s willingness to shelve quality material is found in the story of his legendary¬†Black Album, his 16th studio record. Officially it has no title and is credited to no artist, as the LP and CD covers were simply black with no text. He decided it should be pulled prior to the scheduled release date in 1987. The story goes that he felt it was too dark and negative, and out of step with his spiritual feelings at the time. (Note:¬†The Black Album was eventually released in 1994 in limited numbers and without a single or a marketing push from the label. Due to these circumstances, it is regarded as one of the most heavily bootlegged albums of all time, only adding to the artist’s aura of intrigue.)

Not to be excluded from the discussion are Princes electrifying live performances, which were also heavily documented. Alan Leeds, former head of Paisley Park Records says “[Prince] recorded every concert he ever did…so the wealth of material goes way beyond just studio recordings.” If you just know the studio hits, please try and check out some videos of Prince to see what an amazing performer he was, ripping out Hendrix-like guitar runs in between soulful vocals and tightly choreographed dance breaks, and making it look as easy as getting out of bed.

Michael Bland, who was a drummer for Prince goes on to say “There’s all sorts of music in the vault, there’s two other movies that nobody ever saw….I can’t even tell you how many songs were recorded because it happened so frequently.”

Though we can all keep our fingers crossed on the release of some amazing new music, Bland points out that there may be a benefit to keeping it under wraps: “It keeps the mystique only because the door is shut.”