Monday, May 28, 2012

“Lay Back and Let the Vibe Just Flow” – Playing the Waiting Game

Although I’m looking at a variety of sources for my book (e.g. articles, lyrics, performances, other biographies), my project relies heavily on interviews that I conduct. A lot of Prince’s family, friends and associates are private and/or famous and busy like Prince. As a result, I’ve learned to accept that it may take weeks or even months for me to get a response.

For example, if I’m remembering correctly, I sent Prince’s former press agent, Howard Bloom, a message last spring, and he reached out to me a couple months later in the summer. I just so happened to be in Brooklyn at the time, and I was able to hop on the subway for an amazing interview with him!

On the other hand, it didn’t take long for pre-Revolution band member Gayle Chapman and the Rolling Stone journalists to get back to me and agree to an interview. I love when that happens, and I am very grateful!

Prince’s early Revolution band member Dez Dickerson also responded to me right away, but I never received a definite answer from him about doing an interview. I’ve been in touch with Larry Graham’s management for about a year and a half now, and I’m still trying to make something happen.

I am happy to say that last week, I interviewed C.J., a Star Tribune columnist, about her experience covering Prince. It was very easy to get in touch with her (more on that next week). Also, a MAJOR source for my book agreed to chat with me, but I’m waiting for the source’s schedule to open up. I never like to reveal the name until after the interview, because plans fall through sometimes, but keep your fingers crossed for me!

So, you just never know what will happen when you take on a biography like this. You try not to get your hopes up, but you keep thinking positive, and move forward. There’s nothing like the thrill of getting that “Sure, I’ll talk to you” message, even if it’s six months later.

Happy Memorial Day!

Monday, May 21, 2012

“Run to the Light; Leave Your Past Behind” –What Prince and Donna Summer Have in Common

I never knew that the late disco icon Donna Summer stopped performing “Love to Love You Baby” at one point in her career because it conflicted with her religious beliefs. I’ve been reading this fact in many of the reports since she passed away four days ago. Of course, Prince can relate; he no longer performs risqué songs like “Darling Nikki” or “Head” at his concerts out of respect for his faith.

There are numerous artists who similarly changed the content of their music and performances for religious reasons. In fact, I seem to discover a new one every day. I’d mentioned five other born-again musicians in an earlier post, but I only know of Little Richad and Al Green making changes to their repertoire. Others whom I did not mention include Ma$e (briefly), Cheryl “Salt” James of Salt ‘N Pepa and Coko of SWV. See more here.

I've been thinking about these "transformations" and wondering if it may be a cultural trend. The majority of the popular artists whom I hear about are African American. Why is that? Perhaps it's because the church has always played an important role in the African American community, and many R&B singers develop their talent there. I haven't done too much research on this outside of Prince's story, but I would like to. I'll be keeping my eye out for books and dissertations on the subject. Maybe it's something that I will take on after this book (yikes!).

R.I.P. Donna Summer

Monday, May 14, 2012

The “Mamma-Jamma…Behind a Typewriter” – Four Important Prince Journalists

"Geroge [Clinton] told me how much he liked Around the World in a Day. You know how much more his words mean than those from some mamma-jamma wearing glasses and an alligator shirt behind a typewriter?" --Prince, Rolling Stone, 1985

That’s definitely one of my favorite Prince quotes. Of course there are some music journalists who, as Prince would also say in that Rolling Stone interview, write for each other and relish tearing artists apart. However, we’re all not like that. Some of us genuinely care about the music, and are committed to telling the truth—not just being clever.

I don’t know enough about the following writers to comment about the integrity of all of their work, but I know that they have a lot to offer as far as covering Prince. I’ve already interviewed others who have written about Prince, and here are four more journalists whom I think will be useful sources for my book:

  1. C.J.—C.J. is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. CJ has been covering all things Prince for a number of years, and she seems to be “in-the-know” about Prince’s family, friends and associates who live in Minneapolis.
  2. Jon Bream—Bream is another columnist for the Star Tribune; he covers popular music. He also wrote one of the first —if not the first—Prince biographies, “Prince: Inside the Purple Reign.” The book has been well-received and cited by other Prince biographies that I’ve read.
  3. Neal Karlen—Karlen is a former contributing editor for Rolling Stone who interviewed Prince for two important cover stories in 1985 and 1990. He is also based in Minneapolis.
  4. Lynn Norment—Norment is the former managing editor of Ebony who wrote all of the magazine’s features over a 20-year period. Prince opened up to Norment about his spiritual beiliefs.
As I mentioned last week, I’ve been focusing on learning more about Prince’s family and religious roots. I think that the Minneapolis-based journalists above could provide great insight.

I’ve also received affirmation that my blog is really proving to be useful in my journey! As you’ll remember, this blog is on both Blogger and on my website. A reader from Park Avenue United Methodist Church left comments on the latter site, offering to help me get in touch with some of the members who remember Prince! I am especially excited about this because I could not get access to or attendance information from the church records.

Thanks for reading, mamma-jammas! Until next week….

What other journalists should be a part of the list?

Follow me on Twitter: @miss_ethompson

Monday, May 7, 2012

"What's Your Family Name?" - Exploring the Nelson Family

Last week wasn't terribly eventful. In a recent post, I mentioned that I was researching Prince's earliest religious experiences, particularly those at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. Well, I've started the process of requesting church records to confirm his involvement in the church.

Working on this project has brought up another area of interest--Prince's family members. I'd already researched (and written a little about) some of them, but I'm now learning just how many "Nelsons" there are. He has at least six siblings (mostly half-brothers and half-sisters). Sadly, a couple of them have passed in recent years. Also, his parents are no longer living.

I don't have high expectations for speaking with many of Prince's family members, and I've noticed that not many of his other biographers haven't been able to talk to them, either. Given that many of Prince's current and former music associates have signed non-disclosure agreements, I'll bet that his family won't be very forthcoming. Some have been (and may still be) estranged from the artist. However, that is not going to stop me from trying. I'll probably begin contacting them in the next couple of weeks.

Aside from that, I'm going to spend this week re-reading what I've already written for the book (approximately 100 pages). I want to get a sense of what additional questions that I still need to get answered. After that, I'd say my next two priorities are writing to Tavis Smiley, as I talked about in a previous post, and redesigning this blog website.

Thanks again for your time and support! You are an integral part of this process!

Follow me on Twitter: @miss_ethompson