Wednesday, December 29, 2010

“It’s Just Around the Corner” – Slowly Progressing

There isn’t any huge news to report this week, but I am making progress with several small tasks. I am interacting more and more with Prince fans and contacting people for interviews. I also plan to consult another book agent and discuss my work on an online radio show.

I post frequently on the prince.org and princefams.com fan sites. The reactions are very interesting, and I take a lot of time to read through them and respond. Some of the opinions are very valuable; they make me think about my subject area in ways that I hadn’t explored. I am very thankful for these comments. After all, I want Prince fans to read the book.

One of my posts prompted a discussion of Prince’s possible dabbling in the occult. I’ve read a lot of material on Prince, but I’ve never come across this information. A lot of people dismiss the notion. I will look into it, and keep it in mind when I conduct interviews. If I find substantial evidence, I will definitely include it in the book. Some fans think that I will avoid topics that could potentially anger Prince.

I can’t predict what Prince will or will not like, but my goal is not to cater to him, nor to purposely upset him. I am trying to present an objective analysis of his spiritual development, and the motivation behind his change to the best of my ability. I am not arguing that his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness faith made him better or worse as an artist. While spirituality is the book’s main theme, I am not trying to create a piece of Christian propaganda, as some fans seem to think. I hope that people will enjoy the book no matter what they believe.

Aside from commenting in Prince forums, I have been trying to contact a few more people for interviews. Facebook is proving to be a useful method, but I have been waiting a while for some people to respond. My goal for the next week is to create a spreadsheet of all potential sources and record all the times of attempted contact. With this method, I can be sure that I am trying to reach them at regular intervals until I get an answer.

I am still waiting on Dez Dickerson. I am excited to start his book, My Time With Prince, this week. I have read the Prince biographies, but I would like to start reading his band members’ books (the few that exist).

One of my professional contacts at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland put me in contact with a book agent who may provide me with tips for navigating through the publishing industry. I hope to begin talking with the agent soon. As I mentioned in an earlier post, a different contact at the Rock Hall provided feedback on my manuscript a couple years ago. Now, I am about to submit my work to the director of my graduate journalism program. I hope that I can turn my book into my master’s professional project—a requirement for the degree.

Finally, I received an invitation to talk about my book on Paisley Radio . I will keep you informed.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

“Gotta Tell the Truth Y'all” - Interview with Gayle Chapman

I successfully secured my first interview for my book last Thursday! I spoke via telephone to Gayle Chapman, the original keyboard player for Prince’s band which would later become The Revolution. Originally from Duluth, Minnesota, Chapman moved to Minneapolis and played with Prince for two years.

I knew that Chapman would be a significant person to interview because there is an age-old story that she quit the band for religious reasons. According to numerous sources, Chapman, a Christian, grew uncomfortable with Prince’s lewd musical content. Chapman said that this story is false.

“All these books that are written are based on conjecture, other people’s opinions,” Chapman said. “Nobody bothered to ask me.”

There is also a popular story that Chapman disliked kissing Prince during the band’s performance of the racy song, “Head.” Chapman similarly denied this tale.

“It was work. I had no problem doing the work.”

Chapman shared the real reason for her departure and responded to my questions about Prince’s religion or spirituality during her time with him. We also had a fascinating conversation about spiritual light and spiritual darkness—concepts that I will definitely explore even more in my book as a result of our discussion.

Additionally, I asked Chapman if she was surprised that Prince converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith.

“No,” she said, and offered an intriguing explanation.

One of the major highlights of the interview was Chapman’s description of the event that led her to Prince.

“The strangest thing happened that moved me forward in working for him,” she said. “It was a spiritual experience.”

Honestly, I can’t say that I am surprised at this occurrence. Based on my research, I have found that Prince’s life and career are filled with spiritual events, visions and transformations. Prince worked with many people who were Christians or who later became Christians. There are interesting patterns in Prince’s journey, whether you call it God’s will, fate or a series of coincidences. Chapman dismissed the latter possibility.

“I don’t believe in coincidences at all,” she said. “I would like to think that God’s influence in somebody’s life is so powerful, it will affect them for generations.”

“I think the real truth is that’s how powerful spiritual light is,” she continued. “God knows what He’s doing.”

With regard to my interview with her, she said, “I believe that my conversation will affect you for a long time.”

I think she may be right. I really enjoyed speaking to her, and she gave me a lot to think about even outside of my Prince-related research.

I will discuss the interview in more detail in my book.

Now that I’ve talked to Chapman, I hope that band members Dez Dickerson and Matt Fink will speak with me about their time with Prince.

I’ll keep you posted!

“Ain’t Nothin’ Like Funky Music” - Prince at Madison Square Garden


I had one of the best nights of my life Saturday, December 18 in New York. Prince’s concert at Madison Square Garden was a non-stop party featuring countless hits, dancing, chanting, otherworldly musicianship and surprises. My favorite moments included Prince’s crazy solo on the lesser-known slow-jam “Shhh” and Sheila E.’s entrance on to the stage, which was in the shape of Prince’s famous symbol, during “U Got the Look.” I could barely contain myself when Prince invited numerous celebrities—from Alicia Keys and Jamie Foxx to Whoopi Goldberg and Spike Lee—to join him on stage during “A Love Bizarre.”

I won’t go into much more detail about the concert itself; reviews can be found all over the Internet (I will also post at least one of my own a little later on a different site).

Unfortunately, I didn’t receive a miracle, last-minute phone call granting clearance to sit in the press section or interview the performers. I did wait around Manhattan for the scoop on any after shows or after parties. Sadly, Prince did not perform after the concert. Instead, he had a celebrity-only gathering at the Village Underground.

My experience in New York really inspired me to keep going with my book. When I mentioned to a friend of a friend that I was going to see Prince, she responded, “I heard he’s all into being a Jehovah’s Witness now.” I get the impression that many people think Prince is a religious fanatic whose concerts are odd and preachy. I find myself wanting to scream, “He’s still funky!”

While you won’t find him doing “Darling Nikki,” “Head” or “Sexy M.F.,” he still plays a lot of his hits, and puts on a fun, energetic show. The concert at Madison Square Garden certainly proved this fact. There wasn’t any swearing and the artist did not make overtly sexual references, but there were no sermons either. I saw a mature, positive performer with a conscience, who was still accessible and entertaining. I like the fact that Prince has concerts that children and adults can enjoy without losing his swagger.

The other extreme response to Prince’s spirituality is disbelief. I find that many people won’t accept that Prince has changed from the explicit performer that he was in the past. My book traces Prince’s spiritual development over the years. I really believe that there is a need for this work.

Thanks for following me on my journey. There is more to come!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

“Where the Purple Party People Be” - Big Things This Week!

I’m expecting that this will be an important week for my “quest.” I will be in New York City on Saturday, December 18, for Prince’s “Welcome 2 America” concert at Madison Square Garden! I also have my first interview lined up for my book.

It’s not enough for me to simply attend this concert. I want to get a press pass, make my way backstage and meet Prince, the band and the other guests (e.g. Janelle Monae, Sheila E., Cassandra Wilson, Mint Condition, Esperanza Spalding, Maceo Parker, Sinbad, Lalah Hathaway and Graham Central Station).

Well, this probably will not happen, but I really tried. Ever since I battled fans on ticketmaster.com at 10 a.m. on October 30, I have been trying to contact Prince’s camp and the other featured artists’ management. Because I don’t work for Rolling Stone, or any other major publication, this is a difficult goal. I am just beginning my career as a journalist.

However, I do work as a music writer for acrn.com, and I did make contact with representatives for Maceo Parker, Esperanza Spalding and Larry Graham. At the time, definitive dates had not been confirmed for Maceo or Esperanza. Now, according to a few media sites, they will not be participating in this Saturday’s concert. Larry Graham and Graham Central Station, on the other hand, will be there. As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I am working on an interview with Mr. Graham. He will be available after the Welcome 2 America concert series.

It should come as no surprise that Prince is very private and mysterious. I don’t know that he has a publicist, and if he does, his or her contact information is not available. The kind people at the Harlem Children’s Zone—the organization that will receive the proceeds after Prince auctions a guitar from the tour—were kind enough to pass along my requests to Prince’s camp. That was the best that I could do.

I will keep trying up until Saturday. Perhaps I will get a phone call while I’m in line at Madison Square Garden. Miracles do happen, right?!

Fortunately, I do have a concrete phone interview with one of Prince’s former band members tomorrow. I’m really excited, and I hope it goes well.

Stay with me!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"I've Seen the Future and Boy, It's Rough" - What's Next

In all honesty, this quest marks a return after a two-year hiatus from my Prince book. After I graduated from Northern Kentucky University in 2008 with a B.A. in Liberal Studies (I studied a variety of subjects from flute performance to public relations), I was preoccupied with getting a job and planning for graduate school. I did manage to send my first query letters to book publishers.

I devised a two-part strategy. First, I’d consult the publishers who have already released Prince biographies, then I’d target publishers who specialize in music biographies in general. I assumed that both groups would appreciate my new angle on Prince’s life and music. I wrote to Helter Skelter Publishing Ltd, a subsidiary of Firefly Publishing, who published Dance Music Sex Romance: Prince, The First Decade by Per Nilsen. I also wrote to Watson-Guptill, who published Possessed: the Rise and Fall of Prince by Alex Hahn under the Billboard Books imprint.

Helter Skelter responded that they decided to pass on my book. I have yet to hear from Watson-Guptill, but I’m sure it’s safe to say that they were not interested. I suppose that even a new angle was not enough to justify placing another Prince book into the market.

After that, life got in the way of my publishing plans. I worked a full-time job, left the full-time job, traveled to Los Angeles as a finalist for an entry-level position with the Recording Academy, left Los Angeles when I didn’t get the position, studied and took the GRE and began the graduate school application process.

I have now completed my first quarter of the master’s program at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. A kind, fellow classmate referred me to his agent. About a month ago, I submitted my third query letter. Unfortunately, the agent does not think that my book is marketable in the current, difficult publishing industry.

I am not giving up!

So, what’s next?

The two most important steps are continuing to submit queries and expanding my book. The second step actually outweighs the first. My 80 pages were composed from extensive research of secondary sources—what others have written and what Prince has expressed via his creative works.

It’s time for me to talk to Prince and his family, friends and associates myself. Currently, I’ve sent interview questions to former Revolution band member, Dez Dickerson. I am also trying to confirm a phone interview with Larry Graham, the legendary bass guitar player (and fellow Jehovah’s Witness) who sometimes plays with Prince.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

“You Can Call Me a Dreamer Too” - How it All Began


I never imagined that I’d be writing a book on Prince. A few years ago, I was content being an ordinary fan. I cheered him on when he showed up and showed out with BeyoncĂ© at the 46th annual Grammy Awards. I went to the 2004 Musicology tour at the Gund Arena in Cleveland. I bought the 3121 album, which debuted at #1 on Billboard in 2006, and Planet Earth the following year. Like everyone else, I gawked at his rain-soaked silhouette at Halftime during the XLI Superbowl. Then, in my senior year of college, I took a biography class, and everything changed.

I was never even supposed to be a fan. Born one year after the release of Purple Rain, I am constantly hearing, “Aren’t you a little young to be into Prince?” Perhaps I would agree if past events hadn’t unfolded the way they did. It just so happened that I caught a re-run of Purple Rain on BET, eight years ago, during my senior year of high school. One scene especially caught my attention: the performance of the song “Computer Blue.” Shirtless and blindfolded, Prince kicks over the microphone stand and performs a hypnotizing guitar solo during the rousing rock number. Although fairly simple, the melody burned into my brain. I knew in that moment I had discovered an extraordinary musician. I was hooked.

The biography class assignment at Northern Kentucky University was only required to be 15 pages. I wrote 40. I continued my research through an independent study, and gave a presentation for the school’s Celebration of Student Research and Creativity. By graduation, I had amassed 80 pages. When I volunteered at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Education Programs Manager was kind enough to review my work and give me encouraging feedback. Thus, the quest to complete and publish my first book was born.

Have there been other books on Prince? Sure, there have been several. However, Willing to do the Work: the Spiritual Mission of Prince focuses on one distinct area of the artist’s life: religion. In the midst of his newfound popularity, fans and journalists alike express their bewilderment by a noticeably changed Prince. Once known for salacious songs and performances, the superstar is now a conservative dresser, self-censored lyricist and a devout Jehovah’s Witness. Through research on biographies, interviews, lyrics and performances, Willing to do the Work makes the connection between the rebellious revolutionary of the past and the spiritual servant of today. This is the first book to provide an in-depth examination of Prince’s spirituality throughout his life and music.

I was never supposed to be writing a book on Prince, but I am. Getting it right and getting it out has become one of my professional goals. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.