Friday, April 19, 2019

"Incense and Candles" - Giveaway!


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Friday, April 12, 2019

"Try to Clock 'Em" - Love Symbol by the Numbers


Prince had a thing for numbers. Most people know he utilized them as shorthand for words (2 in place of two, 4 in place of for, etc.), but he also integrated them into his lyrics. And he returned to certain numbers time and time again. For example, "7" is not only the title of one of his 1992 singles, but the number can be found in songs like "Nothing Compares to U," "I Love U in Me" and "My Name is Prince."

His 2006 album, 3121, adds up to seven; he famously played three Minneapolis gigs on July 7, 2007; he charged fees of $7.77 and $77; and so on. (He was also born on June 7.)

As a tribute to this obsession, I thought I'd recap one of my favorite Prince albums, 1992's Love Symbol, by pointing out just a handful of special numbers in the lyrics.

"In the beginning, God made the sea," Prince raps on the opening track, "My Name is Prince." Perhaps one of the most recognizable Biblical phrases, "In the beginning" is written in Genesis 1:1. However, according to the text, God didn't make the sea until the third day, outlined specifically in Genesis 1:10. In his next line, Prince raps, "On the seventh day, he made me." The Bible states that God made man on the sixth day and took a break the next day. Prince pokes fun at the change; "He was trying to rest, y'all" when He heard a guitar, Prince says of God with a wink.

Prince frequently altered scripture in his lyrics. It's fascinating to consider the myriad reasons for this practice. Did he do it to inject humor, as in the example above? Did he do it to adhere to a rhyme scheme? Did he do it to convey a new message that didn't fit within the confines of Christianity? Did he even do it consciously? These are the things I think about as a nerd.

Love Symbol listeners can also learn what it takes to love Prince. On the song "Love 2 the 9's," Prince orders rapper Tony M. to give a woman a 37- part "questionnaire." While there are only 18 questions in the song (yes, I counted), there's some helpful information for the ladies out there. Among other things, you must be prepared to stay awake for 14 hours, and lie down on a bed of thorns to be with Prince. What a cake walk.

Love Symbol on CD

One of my favorite tracks on the album is "Blue Light," which finds the singer looking for common ground with his less adventurous lover. "I'll be 117, you'll be still sayin', 'Baby, not tonight,'" Prince sings. The song is one of his multiple forays into reggae-lite; others include "Ripopgodazippa," "The Sun, The Moon And The Stars," a remix of "Pink Cashmere" and, arguably, the keyboard solo on "When U Were Mine," especially the version from One Nite Alone... Live! I think that, because I like Prince so much, I'm more open to his experiments (I know he disliked that word, sorry) with other genres. In my opinion, he always found a way to make it interesting.

I think Love Symbol has a lot of songs that shouldn't work, but do. For example, "The Continental" is an amalgamation of hip-hop, honey-dipped falsetto vocals, rock guitar licks and a jazzy B section, which I love. I can tolerate the "rap" by Carmen Electra, although Prince's lyrics point more toward his future wife, Mayte Garcia. He references a woman flipping .75, or three quarters on her stomach, which is a belly dancing trick for which Garcia was known.


When it comes to his lyrics, Prince is as bold as he is quirky. It wasn't until recently that I realized he described himself as a "50-50 girl" in the song "Arrogance." Of course, people always speculated about myriad aspects of his identity, and were aware that his symbol was a combination of the male and female signs, but I can't think of another black male recording artist who made a similar public statement during the 1990s. I think it was quite revolutionary given the limited way we discussed identity 30 years ago.

In his 1996 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince said he created "another person" inside as a coping mechanism during his childhood. "We haven’t determined which sex the person is yet,” he said.

"Arrogance" also includes one of my favorite Prince lyrics: "Pimp rag, Tootsie Pop and a cane." It's a description of Prince's look at the time.


The album's highest-charting single is "7." Take a guess where it landed on the Hot 100 (you're right). In the liner notes, Prince includes the words "Revelation The Book," written backwards, beside the song, giving listeners a heads up that his source material is the Bible's Book of Revelation, which is rife with references to the number.

While Prince's dedication to Christianity is apparent, he also incorporates references to reincarnation, specifically with his lyric about being present "12 souls from now." And Garcia, who co-stars in the video, has a perspective that leans more toward Indian spirituality. In her book, The Most Beautiful, she writes about Prince slaying seven versions of himself.


Prince circles back to Genesis on "And God Created Woman," a re-telling of God's creation of Eve from Adam's rib. "Bone of my bones ... flesh of my flesh," Prince sings, echoing Genesis 2:23. At the Prince from Minneapolis SymposiumDr. Patricia McKee broke down the ways in which Prince alters the Biblical account in his lyrics. I'm hoping to include more from her paper, "'Lie down beneath my shadow with great delight': Prince interpreting biblical text through song," in my book.

A multi-genre project like Love Symbol would not be complete without an operatic near-finish; "3 Chains O' Gold" is the penultimate track that shares its name with a film starring Garcia as an Egyptian Princess. Again, it's a song that shouldn't work, but I enjoy it, especially given its squealing guitar solo.

The concluding track, "The Sacrifice of Victor," is one of Prince's most personal to date. Reflecting on his childhood, he reveals everything from his struggle with epilepsy to his experience with the Civil Rights Movement. For example, Prince sings, "In 1967 in a bus marked public schools/Rode me and a group of unsuspecting political tools."

As recently as last year, it was assumed Prince was incorrect about the year, because widespread school desegregation efforts did not begin in Minneapolis until the 1970s. However, according to research by historian Kristen Zschomler, Prince may have participated in a “voluntary urban transfer program” with approximately 79 other African-American students.

Though less operatic than "3 Chains O' Gold," the gospel-influenced "Victor" closes the album with an uplifting message: "I know joy lives 'round the corner," Prince sings. "Amen."


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Friday, April 5, 2019

"Rock a Party Like Nobody Can" - Four Takeaways from the Prince Batdance Symposium


Last weekend, I had the honor of participating in the Prince Batdance Symposium--a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Prince's Batman soundtrack--at Spelman college. I moderated a panel of scholars presenting on Prince's image and style. It's hard to believe this was the fourth Prince conference I've attended in two years. It never gets stale, though.

Here are my top four takeaways from the event.

1) Prince's powerful, ongoing impact on his employees, friends and fans 

Day one of the symposium featured a live interview with Chuck Zwicky, Prince's engineer during the late 1980s. There were many gems in the conversation, including a funny story about the song "Shall We Dance," which ultimately went to Prince's bass player, Brown Mark.

I also enjoyed hearing Zwicky's opinion of Prince's song, "Xtraloveable." He remembered complimenting Prince on the early version, but was disappointed when Prince re-cut it into a "Vegas tune." Additionally, Zwicky offered interesting commentary on the way Prince recorded background vocals; he said Prince seemed to place more of an emphasis on creating "different personalities," rather than perfect harmonies.

Symposium creator De Angela Duff with Chuck Zwicky

I appreciated hearing Zwicky's candor regarding Paisley Park; he feels it should be a working studio rather than a museum.

But above all, I was most affected by Zwicky's recounting of a "lucid dream" he had about Prince prior to the symposium. In the last few weeks, I've heard two other people who knew Prince talk about him sending them messages through dreams.

Though people like Zwicky haven't worked for Prince for 30 years, they still seem very much connected to him. It really speaks to Prince's boundless influence across time and distance.

Additional info: See @darlingnisi's #Batdance30ATL Day 1 Twitter moment


2) The significance of centering Prince scholarship at a historically black college

My older sister attended some of the symposium on day two. As she was explaining how nice it felt to be at Spelman, I had a realization: I was completely comfortable during the entire weekend. I was not consciously aware of my blackness as I typically am in almost every other environment, because most of the scholars looked like me.

By hosting the event at a HBCU and including black scholars, it was virtually guaranteed that presenters would be comfortable and knowledgeable enough to incorporate Prince's blackness into their discussions. That is extremely significant for two reasons. One: Prince's blackness was important to him, and informed many of his artistic, charitable and political decisions. Two: Much of what has been published about Prince excludes this aspect of his humanity and art.

Captured from a presentation by Kamilah Cummings

Dereca Blackmon presents "Two Become One - Prince and the Integration of Self"

A standout moment for me was when Dereca Blackmon referenced the 1981 New York Times article, "Is Prince leading Music to a True Biracism?" I've cited this piece as evidence of the racism Prince faced entering the music industry. For example, the writer, Robert Palmer, states: "The fact that white rock fans and radio stations have tended to banish him to the black music ghetto says more about racism in contemporary pop music circles than it does about Prince's songs or his presentation."

I've noted that, while Palmer is being complimentary, he is doing so under the false impression that Prince is biracial, and implies that this identity has informed Prince's fusion of "black and white music," and thus his success. Of course that is all very problematic--and demonstrates why Prince lied about his heritage--but Blackmon took it a step further.

"This is an example of the white gaze because of the construct of black music being a ghetto ... instead of a fountain of influence for all types of music," she said.

Additional info: See @darlingnisi's #Batdance30ATL Day 2 Twitter moment; See Scott Woods' essay, "Reclaiming the Black Prince"; See Muse 2 the Pharaoh: Unpacking Race in the Legacy of Prince


3) The myriad opportunities for future study

One reason Prince conferences never get boring is because they always teach me something and reveal just how much more there is to study. That is because Prince, as my friend Joy Ellison put it, is "so vast."

Dr. Karen Turman's presentation on "Symbols and Silhouettes in Prince's Fashion" included so many fascinating details, from key designers and dress historians to translations of Japanese characters on his costumes. And I'm planning to read Monica Miller's writing on black dandyism!

Captured from a presentation by Dr. Karen Turman

Speaking of clothing, Christopher Daniel talked about two designers I'd never heard of: Louis and Vaughn. They created the 1999/Purple Rain-era ruffles look for Prince, but I'd only ever read about Marie Frances' work during that era. I can't wait to research them!

Captured from Christopher Daniel's presentation, "The Latest Fashion: Revisiting the Relationship Between Prince's Discography and Costuming From 'For You' to 'Batman'"


4) The joy of being around purple family

Since presenting at the Purple Reign Conference at the University of Salford in 2017, I've met and kept in touch with so many wonderful prince scholars and fans. It was great to reunite with them at the Batdance Symposium. It truly is a family, and being around them lifted my spirits after a rough week back home.

I feel that Robin Power Royal, who worked for Prince in the late '80s and early '90s, put it so eloquently:

"People that are Prince fans, once they come into contact with other Prince fans, it’s an automatic love," she said. "If you love Prince and I love Prince, then we should be able to love each other. And that’s a beautiful thing."

Symposium creator De Angela Duff (center) with the Image & Style panel

The Batman Soundtrack/Nude Tour Roundtable discussion panel

From left: Purple Reign Conference co-organizer Dr. Kirsty Fairclough, me and Dr. Karen Turman

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Friday, March 29, 2019

"Songs We Used to Sing" - Reflecting on Lotusflow3r


More than any other artist, Prince provided the soundtrack to roughly the last 15 years of my life. I vividly remember walking across my college campus during my freshman year, listening to "What Do You Want Me 2 Do?" from the Musicology album. I can picture myself eating candy in my dorm room, dancing to "Jam of the Year" and "Fascination" from Emancipation and The Truth, respectively (I'd just discovered both albums, thanks to Half Price Books).

I can also see myself sitting at the computer in my college library, freaking out over Prince dropping "PFUnk" in response to criticism from fan sites. I didn't have a purple family at the time, so I only had my uncle (a Prince fan from the early years) to tell.

Ten years ago this week, Prince released his Lotusflow3r triple album. I was between college and graduate school, figuring out what to do with my life while living at home. I figured I'd share some memories associated with each disc.

MPLSound

My most vivid memory associated with this disc is watching Prince perform "Ol' Skool Company" on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on March 25, 2009. In fact, I was "talking to" this guy ("dating" is too strong), and I arrived at his house just in time to watch. I think I was more excited to see Prince than him. Poor dude.



Favorite tracks: "Ol' Skool Company," "Valentina," "No More Candy 4 U"

Check out my discussion of "Valentina" on the Prince: Track by Track podcast here.


Lotusflow3r

In 2009, I went to Los Angeles to interview for a position with the Recording Academy. It was a pretty crazy time. For example, I went to the newly opened Grammy Museum, fainted in the elevator from heat exhaustion, iced my behind with a pack of frozen vegetables at my friend's apartment, and ultimately went to the hospital to get an X-ray of my tailbone.

Through it all, I was listening to Lotusflow3r. I distinctly remember playing "4Ever" and being sad about some guy. Also, I didn't get the job.

With my friend, Sarah














Favorite tracks: "Feel Better, Feel Good, Feel Wonderful," "Wall of Berlin," "Dreamer"

Click on each song above for my discussions on the "Prince: Track By Track Podcast."


Elixir

"To all the haters on the internet, somebody's looking at you!" You know who you are. You don't like this album by Prince's protege, Bria Valente, but I do. There are some really beautiful songs and vocal arranging here.

Also during 2009, I didn't have a car, and was using the Cincinnati bus system to get to and from work. I do not miss it. In fact, a man with an open wound sat next to me and nearly bled on me. I thought I was going to pass out at the sight of it, and I was too shy back then to draw attention to myself by instantly moving away.

Anyhow, I remember listening to "Home" over and over on the bus. Everything about this song is dope, from the groove (listen to that acoustic guitar!) to her vocal choices. I also love the idea of finding a sense of peace with another person. In my interpretation, the lyrics provide an intimate peek into Prince's search for that, but through the eyes of the woman who would eventually be his partner. It's a very human moment, and I felt I could relate to him as someone searching for the same thing.

"In your life, there are many houses, but now you finally got a home."



Prince really outdid himself lyrically on this whole album, expressing a lot of his desires and flaws (see "Kept Woman")--all from the vantage point of the woman in the relationship. I need to write more about this underrated album one day.

Favorite tracks: "Home," "Here Eye Come," "Something U Already Know"


What are your opinions on--or memories associated with--the Lotusflow3r project?

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Friday, March 22, 2019

"Where'd You Get Those Glasses?" - Interview with Wally Safford

...With a little help from Jerome Benton

Photo courtesy of Wally Safford, pictured with Prince. 

"'17 Days' was about me."

"And 'Gett Off' was about me."

"'Pussy Control' was about me."

Those were some of the revelations that occurred during my interview with Prince's dancer, bodyguard and friend, Wally Safford, who called me with Jerome Benton on the line. Safford and Benton, former member of The Time and The Family, ran down a list of songs that Prince wrote about them.

They, of course, were joking.

"We are comedians," Safford said. "This is what Prince thrived on. He was a practical joker."

Well, there was one song that referenced Safford. The story of "Wally" has become legendary among the fan community. According to engineer Susan Rogers, Prince recorded the song in 1986 and had it erased. He recorded a new version, which recently surfaced on YouTube.



"That was a conversation between me and Prince," Safford said of the content of the song.

In most other cases, when it comes to subjects of Prince's songs, only the late superstar knows for sure.

"Everybody can come up with some creative connection to any one of Prince's songs," said Benton, whom I have also interviewed separately. "How many women have claimed to be 'Little Red Corvette?'"

"That was about me," Safford said, laughing.

Since Prince passed away, there has been an increasing amount of scholarship and other coverage of his life and career, as well as a re-examining of old narratives. Many people, myself included, are advocating for more diverse voices in this work. And as I spoke with Benton and Safford, I became excited by the value that they can add to the discussion, if they choose to do so.

"You let everybody else tell their story [and they say], 'All Wally is, is a bodyguard,'" Benton said. "There's more to him."

Much like bodyguard Harlan Austin, Safford became one of Prince's close friends. Having previously provided security for musical acts such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Safford met Prince in 1979 and worked with him through 1987.

Safford noted that there was a tight-knit group of people, including dancer and security guard Greg Brooks, who hung with Prince. "We were considered the Purple Gang," he said.

Both Benton and Safford were around to witness Prince and his father, John L. Nelson (Safford called him "Pops"), create on the piano, and join in musical discussions.

"With Pops, we talked about music a lot," Safford said. "Mainly jazz. His favorite artist was Charlie Parker. I would go to Tower Records to get him some cassettes and ... we would sit and listen."

There's so little knowledge about the extent of John L. Nelson's impact on Prince's music. It's great to know that there are people around who could help fill in those gaps.

Photo courtesy of Wally Safford, pictured with photographer Steve Parke at 2018 Celebration at Paisley Park

But my study is on Prince's spirituality. Safford said Prince was "always spiritual," and both he and Benton kindly shared their perspectives on his journey (there will be more in my book, of course).

While Prince has written so many straightforwardly religious songs ("God," "The Cross," "Anna Stesia," etc.), others also made a profound impact. Safford pointed to Prince's spiritual connection to "Purple Rain." In fact, both he and Prince's former press agent Robyn Riggs had similar observations about that.

"He would come off the stage and he would be in an emotional state," Safford said. "Prince was special. He was sent here by God for a special reason."

"His journey was pretty amazing," Benton added. "He started out onstage with the Rolling Stones, and wasn't accepted by that culture of people. ... At the end, he was onstage with the [purported] greatest guitar players of all time, which were all white [at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction], and they had to sit back and watch him destroy."

Safford left Prince's employ when Prince made personnel changes to his band.

"I wasn't angry or bitter with Prince because, as a kid off of Rosa Parks Boulevard, right down the street where the 1967 Detroit riots started, I was winning," Safford said. "I went around the world six times with this guy. ... The pleasure was all mine."

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Friday, March 15, 2019

"A Guitar That Can Part the Sea" - Prince's Moses References

Note: I do not think Prince is Moses.


I think most casual fans are aware that Prince referenced religion in his music. Those who were really into the Purple Rain era would know about the song "God," which is a recounting of the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible. If they stuck around for Lovesexy, they would have heard Prince proclaim Jesus as his God on "Anna Stesia."

Those who paid some attention in the '90s might have heard Prince reference the Biblical creation story again on "My Name is Prince," or praise Jesus once more on "Holy River."

But there are so many other Biblical references, both coded ("De-elevator," "Spooky Electric" even "love") and conspicuous. And Jesus isn't the only person getting shine. Prince also alludes to the prophet Moses quite a bit. With that said, I give you some of those occasions.

Moses
Charlton Heston in the The Ten Commandments. Photo: "Moses" by Superfloop, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0


"Thieves in the Temple" - Extended version (1990)

To make a point about an ex-lover, Prince sings, "You led me on, thinking you was Moses, herding sheep blindly through a fantasy.” 

Did Prince use these analogies because they were easily accessible, given his religious upbringing--or just given his life in a Christian-leaning Western country? Plenty of American writers employ Christian imagery regardless of their personal faith.

Something else to chew on: Is "Thieves in the Temple" even about a lover? Could his plea, "Love, come quick," be directed to God? These are ideas I discuss in my book. 

Side note: Prince is dancing his behind off in this video.




"Chelsea Rodgers" (2007)

The Planet Earth track is about a model whose soul and personality are as beautiful as her appearance. It is said to be inspired by a real-life woman, but I wonder if all the attributes in the song were real or projected on this goddess by Prince for purposes of the song. Whatever the case, Prince paints her as a spiritual guide, teaching him information about ancient civilization.

"Moses was a pharaoh in the 18th Dynasty," he sings.

So this is a bit of a trick. I originally thought research would lead me to Moses, but it appears Prince is referencing the Egyptian name Thutmose. Several pharaohs took the name during the 18th Dynasty, which lasted in Egypt from 1549/1550 to 1292 BC. Because the name is sometimes stylized as Thutmoses, Prince may have shortened the name.

Interestingly enough, some theorize that the Biblical Moses did cross paths with Thutmose III. They believe the Exodus--Moses and the Israelites' exit from Egypt--occurred in 1446 BC, which was during Thutmose III's reign.

Coincidentally, Akhenaten was also a pharaoh during the 18th Dynasty. According to Prince's ex-wife Mayte Garcia's book, he once believed he had a special, spiritual connection to the pharaoh.

Additionally, some scholars suggest Egyptian pharaoh Amenmesse (or Amenmose) is the "real," historical Moses, but he ruled during the 19th Dynasty. So who knows what Prince believed about that theory.




"Feel Better, Feel Good, Feel Wonderful" (2008)

This Lotusflow3r track allegedly addresses Prince's long-term battle with the music industry. With the bitter dispute with Warner Bros. over a decade behind him, he has a more amiable attitude toward record labels in the song. However, he can't resist reminding them of his musical prowess.

"I've got a guitar that can part the sea," he sings. He is comparing his instrument to the staff Moses used to part the Red Sea (with assistance from God) and lead the Israelites to safety.



As if that weren't boastful enough, Prince doubles down on the staff metaphor with the following lyric. "Don't mean no disrespect I ain't trying to brag/But that might be the same one that tapped on the crag/And brought forth water that quenched your thirst."

According to Numbers 20:7-11 in the Bible, Moses used his staff to bring water from rock so the Israelites could drink during their journey in the wilderness. In Prince's mind, the music brought forth from his guitar is comparable to that water.

Can we really argue? Exactly fifteen years ago today, he did this:



Am I missing any other Moses references?

Check out my discussion of "Feel Better, Feel Good, Feel Wonderful" on the Prince: Track by Track podcast here.


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Friday, March 8, 2019

"She Gave Me Seven" - Top Blog Posts

As this blog approaches its ninth birthday, I figured it's a good time to look back at my most popular posts of all time. I'm fortunate to have some new readers (I've been a lot more consistent), so I hope you'll find some content you haven't discovered yet.

7. "U Call 'Em Bodyguards But I Call 'Em My Friends" - Interview with Harlan Austin. I met Prince's former bodyguard, who was a Jehovah's Witness long before Prince, at the Prince from Minneapolis Symposium. He is one of multiple people who share the perspective that Prince struggled to reconcile his spiritual beliefs with his explicit music.

6. "Think About the Future!" - Upcoming Projects from Prince's Protégés. Before Prince died, there were several non-music projects from protégés (think "Hollywood Exes"). In this post, I mention Shelia E.'s autobiography and a rumored reality show featuring Jill Jones.

5. "Interactive" - Prince Twitter Chat (2011). I still don't know how this blew up on my blog; I didn't even get many responses on Twitter. But it's cool to revisit. For a more robust conversation, check out my 2019 Twitter chat here.

4. “Gotta Tell the Truth Y'all” - Interview with Gayle Chapman. This is the interview that started it all! Way back in 2010, most folks still believed Chapman left Prince's band for religious reasons. But she told me that wasn't the case.

3. "Preach the Good News" - Extended Interview with Larry Graham. You can't do a book on Prince's spirituality and not interview the legendary bassist and spiritual adviser.

2. "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" - Interview with Cheryl Sonny Thompson. I think this interview blew up because the production assistant is not part of the group of people who always get asked about Prince. She really opened my eyes to some possible changes in Prince's spiritual path around 2013.

1. "All Good Things, They Say, Never Last" - Interview with Jerome Benton. Prince's friend and former member of The Time and The Family called this interview "different" (which I took as a compliment) and kindly promoted it on social media. He was sweet and funny, and he called me "Miss Thompson." It was a pleasure.


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