Monday, April 30, 2012

“Without God, It Wasn’t There” – 5 Other “Born-Again” Musicians

Happy Monday! I’m thrilled because I’m meeting my blogging goal—I’ve published an entry every week this month! I’ve actually been busier than ever—I just completed a piece on Left Eye for Sister 2 Sister magazine—but I’ve managed to stay on task!

So, let’s get into this week’s topic, starting with a highly-cited, quote from Bono:
Great music is written by people who are either running toward or away from God.”

I personally think that is spot-on. I’ve found that the concept of God shows up in the music of the greats, whether they are honoring a specific faith, or searching for life’s answers. In a past blog entry, I mentioned that researching other popular artists with spiritual journeys was on my to-do list. That project has been on my mind lately, so I thought I’d share the artists whom I plan to study:

  1. Little Richard: The rock ‘n’ roll pioneer has struggled between the secular and sacred his whole career. He even went into the ministry at one point. His story was portrayed by actor Leon in a made-for-TV movie, but I didn’t care for it. I’ll stick with the biography.
         Planned read: The Life and Times of Little Richard by Charles White

  1. Al Green: I think it’s pretty much common knowledge that the R&B icon became a pastor and ventured into gospel music.
          Planned read: Take Me to the River: An Autobiography by Al Green and Davin Seay.

  1. Marvin Gaye:  I knew that the Motown superstar was brought up in a religious household—his father, who ultimately took his son’s life, was a minister—but I never really took the time to read about his spiritual struggles.
           Planned read: Divided Soul: the Life of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz

  1. Bob Dylan: I’m still confused about this, but apparently Bob Dylan was, at one point, a born-again Christian, and the period is documented by two albums, “Slow Train Coming” and “Saved.”
             Planned read: Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan

  1. Stevie Wonder: I have been listening to the Motown legend’s “Fulfillingness First Finale” album since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that the album followed the artist’s near-fatal car crash. While I can’t necessarily classify Wonder as “born-again,”—I haven’t heard him exalt Christianity—it definitely seems as if he experienced a spiritual transformation (listen to “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “Heaven is Ten Zillion Light Years Away”).
            Planned read: Sign, Sealed, and Delivered: the Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder by Mark Ribowsky.

I’m already excited about the parallels that I already see between Prince and the artists above in terms of spiritual journeys.

What other artists would you add to the list?

Monday, April 23, 2012

“Hello!” – Who’s Talking Prince on Twitter?

In my job as a social media manager of a customer management company, one of my tasks is to identify key industry influencers on Twitter. I’ve been trying to apply the same techniques that I use in my job to my research for my Prince book. It’s important for me to interact with Prince fans and experts on social media—they are sources of information and potential readers of the book. I’ve started a list of key Prince influencers on Twitter:

  1. SeeNote (@2_tha_9s): Provides a lot of exclusive Prince material
  2. Drfunkenberry (@drfunkenberry): Go-to source for Prince news and event details (including Prince’s afterparty locations)
  3. ( @princeorg): Twitter account of the most comprehensive Prince fansite. It is currently inactive.
  4. Princefams (@Princefams): Twitter account of the only other major Prince fansite.
  5. Peach&Black Podcast (@peach_and_black): Twitter account of the popular podcast based on Prince. The podcast even caught Prince's attention!
  6. Me! (@miss_ethompson): journalist sharing her progress on her Prince book and engaging in Prince-related discussions on Twitter.

I don’t think Prince is on Twitter. There seem to be a lot of imposter accounts tweeting from his perspective, and I’m hesitant to follow any of them. I wish more people were tweeting about Prince, including the manager of

What other Prince-related Twitter accounts should I be following?

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Everybody Wants Salvation of the Soul" - Religious Roots

I think the most challenging part of tracing Prince’s spiritual journey is gathering information about his earliest religious experiences. Luckily, several sources identify Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis as the place where he attended Bible study as a child (I actually included the church in a past blog entry, “‘Around the World in a Day’ – Prince’s Spiritual Landmarks”). It was also the church that Prince returned to when he married his first wife, Mayte Garcia (who, by the way, will star in a VH1 reality show, “Hollywood Exes").

I would love to go through the church records to confirm Prince’s attendance. I also plan to speak with someone about the core beliefs that Prince would have been exposed to by attending the church. There are reports that Prince’s family classified themselves as Seventh Day Adventists, so it would be interesting to get more clarity about exactly where the family stood.

The Minnesota newspaper, Star Tribune, is a valuable source of information about this topic. I’ve found articles about Prince’s wedding and his half-brother’s funeral at the church. The newspaper also interviewed a former youth leader at the church who said the artist attended church camp. In my research, I’ve selected a specific group of magazines and newspapers to study for information about Prince, and how the media viewed him. I am going to think about adding the Star Tribune to that group.

I’ll keep you posted on my church research. Hopefully a trip to Minnesota will be in the near future!

Monday, April 9, 2012

“I Knew This Dude, He Was Very Cool” – Bios, Bios, Bios!

Every biographer knows that you have to check out what has already been written about your subject. When I started my book a few years ago, I made sure that I researched what was what out there on Prince. So far, I’ve read: "Dance Music Sex Romance: Prince: the First Decade" (Per Nilsen), "Possessed: the Rise and Fall of Prince" (Alex Hahn), "Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince" (Liz Jones), "Prince: A Thief in the Temple" (Brian Morton) and "Prince: A Life in Music" (Matthew Carcieri). In my opinion, Nilsen, Hahn and Jones provide the most substantial view of the artist.

Since the publication of the books above, and especially within the past two years, many more Prince books and documentaries have hit the market. Granted, many of them are “unauthorized” or “unofficial,” but it’s very interesting to see that there is still a great interest in Prince’s life. Luckily, none of the authors have tackled the spiritual angle in depth, so there is still room for my book. Also, no author has interviewed Prince for his or her biography, so I can still hold out hope to be the first!

It's that time again to do some reading. Whether or not there is new information remains to be seen, but so far, a lot of reviewers don’t seem to think so. Still there are a couple books that have received a positive response-- "Prince: Chaos, Disorder and Revolution" (Jason Draper) and "Prince: Inside the Music and Masks" (Ronin Ro). I’m also excited to read the more academic treatments of the subject, such as "Prince: the Making of a Pop Music Phenomenon" (Stan Hawkins) and
"The Lyrics of Prince Rogers Nelson: A Literary Look at a Creative, Musical Poet, Philosopher, And Storyteller" (Claude L. McInnis Jr. & C. Leigh McInnis).

Sometimes biographers will help each other out. For instance, Per Nilsen gave Alex Hahn access to his interviews. I would like to, at the very least, chat with some of these Prince authors. Years ago, I shared a little bit of my work with James E. Perone, who wrote "The Words and Music of Prince," and was delighted to hear that he agreed with my analysis of Prince’s spiritual journey. I think it’s great when writers support each other. I’ve reached out to Alex Hahn, but I haven’t heard back. Hopefully I will get to interact with other Prince biographers soon.

What is your favorite Prince biography so far?

Monday, April 2, 2012

“Why Should You Wait Any Longer?”—Getting Back On Track

It’s always humbling and terrifying when I post a new blog entry—especially after being inactive for some time. I am not off to a very good start toward my goal of regular blogging in 2012, but there’s still time!

Obviously, I need to create a schedule. I’ve decided to devote each Saturday to research, and I will summarize my progress/findings in a weekly Monday blog post (eventually, I want to work up to more than one post per week).

So, what’s new? Well, in my absence, I’ve continued my freelance writing, and I got a full-time job managing social media for a customer relationship management company. The position has kept me quite busy, but I hope to apply what I’m learning to my Prince-related social media efforts. I’d like to get more involved with fansites and; podcasts Purple Knights and Peach & Black ; and Prince-related Twitter personalities like @drfunkenberry and @2_tha_9s. If you have any suggestions of others to follow, please let me know!

In terms of interviews, I tried contacting Denise Matthews (a.k.a. Vanity of the Prince-created girl group "Vanity 6") multiple times. Prince’s former press agent Howard Bloom considered Matthews a friend, and suggested that mentioning that I’d interviewed him may help. Unfortunately, she has not responded, and I don’t expect her to. She didn’t respond to Alex Hahn for his biography on Prince; I just don’t think she talks to the press about Prince. Besides, she probably has to parcel out her time carefully; she still does dialysis three times per week, according to her website.

I’m getting a bit anxious about talking to Larry Graham. I’ve been in touch with his management for over a year now. We haven’t been able to set anything up. I know he’s been busy with his “Funk Around the World” tour. Hopefully we’ll get in touch when that winds down.

I was happy to locate producer Chris Moon and engineer Steve Fontano
online. As most Prince fans know, they worked on the artist’s first album. I’d love to interview them. I’m also planning to contact guitarist Mike Scott, who played guitar with Prince during the “Musicology” era.

I was most excited to learn that Jill Jones, Prince’s backup singer during the 1980s is following me on Twitter! I hope to talk to her. I may be wrong about this, but I don’t think she has given any extensive interviews about Prince in recent years.

I’m going to choose one day per week to write interview questions for a few people before I contact them. As I learned from contacting Roberta Burroughs to schedule an
interview a couple months ago, some people may be ready to talk on the spot!

I’ll let you know what happens!

Peace y’all. Stay funky!

Follow me on Twitter: @miss_ethompson