Thursday, November 2, 2017

"Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" - Interview with Cheryl Sonny Thompson

"I think people grasping for religion are afraid of hell and I think he'd been through enough hell to where he was grasping for spirituality." 

In 2013, I interviewed Cheryl Sonny Thompson, who worked as a production assistant for Prince's Rave Un2 the Year 2000 concert, which was broadcast on cable on New Year's Eve in 1999 and later made available on video.

I think I had to stay up until about midnight two days in a row to catch Thompson on the phone, but I didn't mind, of course. And like many of my interviews for this project, there were coincidences or twists of fate; besides sharing the same last name, Thompson and I are both from Cincinnati, Ohio.

But there's something else. I hadn't listened to this interview in years, but returning to it this week, I discovered it validates something I've been looking into recently: Prince's possible spiritual transformation in the last years of his life, and 2013, in particular, as a significant turning point. So revisiting this interview now--and hearing Thompson's perspective on Prince's spirituality in 2013--was perfect timing.

That really assures me that things (including the completion of this book) happen when they are supposed to, which, oddly enough, was a topic a Prince fan and I were discussing just before I transcribed this interview.

Of course Thompson also shared her opinion of Prince's spirituality when she worked with him at the turn of the century, just before his conversion to the Jehovah's Witness faith. In fact, the impact of the religion on Prince's was on display during the Rave show, where he memorably (at least to me) changed the lyrics of "Gett Off," rapping "23 scriptures in a one-night stand" instead of "23 positions in a one-night stand." He also changed the the title and lyrics of "The Cross" to "The Christ" because Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe Jesus was crucified on a cross.

I asked Thompson if Prince's performance of "The Christ," alongside his spiritual mentor Larry Graham, was moving.

"It must not have been moving because I don't remember that performance," she said. "My most memorable performance of the night was when he and Lenny Kravitz did 'American Woman.'" For what it's worth, that is a great performance, especially with Prince doubling Kravitz' vocal line on the guitar near the end. Re-watching it inspired me to learn more about their friendship, which Kravitz described in a beautiful tribute in Rolling Stone.

I'm actually looking forward to watching the whole DVD again. From what I remember, I enjoyed seeing Prince playing the drums, and the return of former NPG member Rosie Gaines. I recall not caring for the backup dancer. But I digress...

Thompson also had some experience working, not directly for Prince, but in his "sphere" in the 1980s. She did, however, walk right up to him and ask him a question: "Do you think that you've reached the Dionysus syndrome?"

During our interview, Thompson compared Prince to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and--wait for it--religious ecstasy, among a slew of other things. How perfect! Someone far more knowledgeable than I am needs to write a paper on that topic.

Thompson and I also talked a little bit about Prince's sister Tyka, his ex-wife Mayte Garcia, his battle with fear, and some of his other personality traits. I found Thompson to be extremely spiritual (not "religious"), which is not suprising, given the amount of people around Prince who were either already spiritual/religious or later became spiritual/religious. Thompson also cited a couple people (not Graham) whom she believes kept Prince spiritually grounded.

I would say most people, if not everyone, I've talked to when Prince was alive said they would work with him again, despite any previous conflicts. Thompson was an exception. No, she didn't bash him, but she offered an honest, understandable reason, and said:

"I wish him love. I wish him well."

What is your favorite performance from the Rave Un2 the Year 2000 concert?

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Everything You Think is True" - Interview with Sam Jennings

"I never felt like he was trying to force me or giving me any ultimatums or anything like that. I think he genuinely thought it would help my life and help everyone’s life if they believed in this religion." 

"Microsoft Type Cover 2 - IMG_4252" by N i c o l a, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Earlier this year, I interviewed Sam Jennings, who worked as Prince's webmaster--and later took on an art director position--from 1998 to 2007. Together they created the groundbreaking NPG Music Club, which won a Webby Award in 2006. Jennings also put together the amazing "Prince Online Museum," a comprehensive archive of Prince's websites.

Interviewing band members, engineers, friends and ex-girlfriends is obviously important for getting a sense of the influence of spirituality in Prince's music and life. Additionally, people like Jennings, or lighting and set designer Roy Bennett, bring valuable insight into the influence of spirituality in Prince's visual art.

I also wanted to talk to Jennings because he started working with Prince right as the superstar was studying the Jehovah's Witness faith, and stayed well after Prince's conversion. So it's nice to see this period through the eyes of someone who--unlike Prince's spiritual adviser, Larry Graham, or ex-wife, Mayte Garcia--had a less personal investment in Prince's faith.

Jennings did attend Kingdom Hall services dozens of times, but never converted himself. "I respect it and I was open to it, but it didn't take, I guess," he said.

On the overall influence of spirituality in Prince's work, Jennings explained: "I think that guided him for most of his career, actually--his belief in God and just doing what he feels is right."

Jennings was at Paisley Park for the first "Celebration" festival, where Prince previewed his Jehovah's Witness concept album, Rainbow Children, and lead spiritually based discussions with fans. I appreciated getting Jennings' take on the audience's reaction both at the "Celebration" and on the One Nite Alone tour, where Prince avoided playing his explicit hits and preached from the stage. I also asked Jennings for his take on director Kevin Smith's famous bit on filming the "Celebration" events.

We also talked about that persistent rumor that Prince's mother asked him to become a Jehovah's Witness before she died. Of course I'll elaborate more on these topics in the book.

Besides discussing spirituality, it was fascinating to hear how Jennings engaged Prince when the musician's name was the love symbol.

"It's funny because our biggest form of communication was instant messenger, so we would be typing a lot of times and he would have a screen name that he would use, which wasn't Prince or [the] symbol," Jennings said. "And so his screen name just became what I would call him if I had to call him anything." (Prince fans, can you guess the screen name if you don't already know it?)

But even after Prince went back to his birth name, Jennings found that he didn't have to call Prince anything when they were in the same room. (Who else hums that line from Prince's song "Ripopgodazippa"--"If you're always with me, you'll never have to call me"--when this topic comes up?)

I think Prince's name change is so compelling, and I hope someone at the next Prince-based academic conference tackles the subject.

I also enjoyed talking to Jennings about Prince's websites and online dealings. Even though I became a serious fan around 2002, I never joined the NPG Music Club. I'm not even sure I knew it existed right away. I was focused on reading Prince's biographies and listening to his music on physical CDs. I did spend time on the frustrating, though.

One of my fondest memories as a fan was when popped up online out of nowhere in 2013. I remember giddily accessing the site from my laptop in my bed, and rocking out to the super-funky "Same Page, Different Book" (a spiritual song, of course) on the 3rdEyeGirl YouTube channel.

Jennings also shared insight into Prince's motivation for suing his fan sites. That's another great memory; I remember sitting at the computer in my college library when Prince dropped his "diss" track, "PFUnk," in 2007 in response to fans' criticism. I lost my mind with excitement but had no other Prince fans to talk to (I wasn't part of a community back then).

Jennings and I discussed many other topics in our nearly one-hour interview, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to talk to him. (I'd love to get Prince's other art director, Steve Parke, next.) For now, I'll leave you with another quote from Jennings because I don't want to cry alone:

"Last time I spoke to him was in an e-mail exchange about a year after I left. ... I told him, 'Hey, I miss our friendship,'" Jennings said. "He e-mailed me back right away and said, 'We'll always be friends.' ... I always thought I'd run into him again. ... I think that was the biggest surprise when he did die is that, 'Oh, that's not going to happen.'"

What is your most memorable interaction with one of Prince's websites?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"Preach the Good News" - Extended Interview with Larry Graham

"It was never me pushing him or telling him what to do. ... I’m simply just teaching him what I know and then he could decide what he wanted to do with that information."

"Larry Graham" by JouWatch, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Back in 2013 when I was living the hectic life of a freelance writer (I'm blessed to have a full-time journalism gig now), I interviewed Larry Graham with an intention to place the article somewhere, anywhere. My communication with his manager had actually gone as far back as Prince's Welcome 2 America show at Madison Square Garden in 2010; I was hoping to talk to Graham then because he was an opening act.

So after two years of perseverance, I finally spoke to Graham about his career, and was unable to place the piece anywhere other than my website. After the fact, I had an editor tell me I should have played up the Drake connection a bit more (the rapper is his nephew). Oh well, you live and learn.

So I held onto Graham's cell phone number for three years, knowing I'd eventually have to call him back to talk about Prince's spirituality for my book. That day came earlier this year, and I've finally transcribed the interview.

Graham was Prince's spiritual adviser before and after Prince's conversion to the Jehovah's Witness faith (Prince was batpized in March 2003, according to Graham). Graham was very pleasant and patient during our conversation, and I am honored he took the time to speak with me. And he's a legend, for goodness sakes (I made my mom proud by getting this interview).

Some of the most valuable information I found out was the true start of their spiritual study, which I don't think many people know about; the titles of three religious publications Prince studied; and Graham's perspective on Prince's faith at the time of Prince's death (I think I startled him when I asked if he thought Prince died at peace with God). Graham also offered his opinion on reports of Prince's drug use.

Additionally, we touched on Prince's heavily religious Rainbow Children album (Graham likened it to his Ain't No 'Bout-A-Doubt It and Mirror albums with Graham Central Station in the '70s, following his own religious conversion), and the changes Prince made in his life and art in the 2000s.

This was such an important interview for me, and with both Graham's description of Prince's conversion and Prince's ex-wife Mayte Garcia's description in her book, I think I'm approaching a somewhat balanced picture of that time period.

Overall, I think some fans are too critical of Graham; we have to remember that Prince was an adult and ultimately made his own decision about his religion.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Thunder When I'm on the Mike" - Diamonds and Pearls Tour

While watching footage of one of Prince's tours, I always ask myself two questions to determine where he is spiritually: What necklace is he wearing? And how has he changed the lyrics to "Purple Rain?" Of course there are many other factors to consider, but those two questions have proven relevant time and time again.


Prince performs onstage on his Diamonds & Pearls tour, Ahoy, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 27th May 1992.

The Diamonds and Pearls tour fits right in here. I am currently studying that era, and I finally found a video online: the June 24, 1992 show in London. My analysis of the spiritual symbolism in that concert (which opens with "Take My Hand, Precious Lord") will be in the book. But I thought I'd share some of my general reactions.

I thoroughly enjoyed this high-energy show. As always, Prince demonstrates he is a dynamic singer, dancer and musician. I must say I was expecting dancers "Diamond" and "Pearl" to be more prominent; the TDK (Tony M., Damon Dickson and Kirk Johnson) dance troupe appears to get more stage time. And Prince's future wife, Mayte Garcia, is featured and, honestly, kept my attention more than Diamond and Pearl. 

I was also suprised "Damn U" and "Sexy MF," two singles from Prince's subsequent Love Symbol album, are included in the concert, but it makes sense given the project would be released a few months after the tour wrapped. And "Sexy MF" was released during the tour. Still, it's always fascinating to see how quickly Prince wrote and recorded new material. 

My favorite songs on the Diamonds and Pearls album are "Thunder" and "Live 4 Love," and the live performances of those tracks do not disappoint. I also love Prince's acoustic guitar playing on "Thieves in the Temple." You could definitely see that his interest in Middle Eastern music was growing; for example, Garcia wrote in her book:

"Prince was working hard to prepare the Diamonds and Pearls show, trying not to be distracted by the Arabic vibe and Egyptian imagery that seemed to be speaking to him. 'My heart's already there,' he told me, 'but my head has to do this thing right now.'" 

Prince is committed throughout the Diamonds and Pearls concert, and his focus is matched by his band, the NPG, which sounds fantastic. Rosie Gaines is especially impressive; I love Prince's reaction to her vocals.

Among Prince's tours up to 1992, I'd rank Diamonds and Pearls behind Sign 'O' the Times, Lovesexy and Purple Rain, but above the others--purely in terms of my personal enjoyment.

What do you think of the Diamonds and Pearls tour? 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"I Know That the Lord is Coming Soon" - Podcast Appearance

I recently taped a podcast with Zach Hoskins of dance/music/sex/romance. We spoke briefly about my experience at the Purple Reign academic conference at the University of Salford, but we spent most of the time talking about spirituality in Prince's music and life.

I talked about the outline of my book and some of the interviews I've done so far. And I really enjoyed hearing Hoskins' perspective on the topic. 

Click here to listen, and scroll through the rest of Hoskins' blog, where he is analyzing each song in Prince's discography. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"A Promise 2 See Jesus" - Thoughts on "Diamonds and Pearls"

"C'mon save your soul 2 night."

My serious introduction to Prince is unique, and it definitely informed my fascination with his spiritual journey. In high school, after watching "Purple Rain," I bought the soundtrack and then immediately picked up Rainbow Children because it was his latest album. So you can imagine how jarring it was to digest risque songs like "Darling Nikki" alongside Jehovah's Witness anthems.

The third album I listened to was Diamonds and Pearls, only because a friend of mine found the CD in her mother's music collection and burned a copy for me. The first track, "Thunder," opens with the lyrics:

"'Twas like Thunder--all thru the night/And a promise 2 see Jesus in the morning light."

Prince was talking about Jesus back in 1991? That was one of my first thoughts. But I would soon find out that, despite his fluctuating doctrines, Prince always expressed a belief in God and even adopted a spiritual mission to make others aware of God’s existence--which is the central argument of my book.

Despite that reference to Jesus, Diamonds and Pearls is not overtly religious; in fact, it's arguably a return to push-the-envelope form for Prince after the spiritually dense Lovesexy and Graffiti Bridge projects. My spirituality focused analysis will be in the book.

Diamonds and Pearls is the official debut of the New Power Generation (NPG), which is my favorite Prince band. As I analyze the album, I can't help but think about the narrative that has been repeated in the media: the Revolution was the only band that pushed Prince creatively, and the heralding of the NPG coincided with a loss of magic in Prince's music. I don't mind people taking that stance, but it would be nice to hear other narratives, and I didn't even think about the role that race might play in those arguments (the early NPG was mostly African-American, while the Revolution was more diverse) until recently, but that's not my study.

Back in high school, I immediately gravitated toward the Diamonds and Pearls track "Willing and Able," which is an infectious blend of gospel and country. I still love the song but I like the fact that I've been honing in on others like "Live 4 Love." I just love Prince's vocals and Michael Bland's drumming on that track.

In the past, I'd always skip "Walk Don't Walk," but I find myself listening to the song now if only because Prince is singing in his low register.

I'm excited to dive deeper into the 1990s NPG era. "A family is born," Prince wrote in the liner notes. "And God bless us cuz we fonky."

What's your favorite track on Diamonds and Pearls?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"U're the Reason that God Made a Girl" - Interview with Terri Ivens

"As far as loving God and being your best self, he was completely on board with all of that. ... Just having an open relationship and really understanding the power of God and that God is real and God is love and it was just really simple. It wasn’t a complicated, convoluted thing."

Actress and self-proclaimed "Jesus girl" Terri Ivens only dated Prince for a few months in the mid-1990s, but she was able to get an impression of his spirituality--at least enough to want to talk to me about it. And she still remembers those guitar picks that said "Love God."

I was fortunate to get in touch with Ivens through Prince's ex-girlfriend Devin Devasquez; sometimes, once one source speaks with me and discovers I'm not writing a tabloid, they will recommend another person for me. I love when that happens.

Ivens has kept pretty quiet about her time with Prince, despite being one of his muses, and possibly inspiring the song "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" (yes, even Prince's ex-wife Mayte Garcia acknowledged there may have been other influences).

Although Ivens' experience was largely positive, she did talk about an event that may lend a bit more support for Prince's possible lifelong struggle reconciling his preference for both the sacred and profane, which I'm exploring. I'll have more details on that incident in the book, of course.

So while the interview wasn't as extensive as others, it was definitely another piece of the puzzle I've been working at for several years now.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Insatiable's My Name When It Comes to U" - Interview with Robin Power Royal

"He talked about living in the moment. He talked about God being love. Did he talk about Jesus per se? ... No. We didn’t have long spiritual conversations. It was more or less about society, the way the world is, what’s going on with it and the people just being believers of love. He always described God as love."

I think most Prince fans know Robin Power Royal had a small role in "Graffiti Bridge" as Morris Day's girlfriend, and recorded an unreleased rap track, "Number One." However, I don't think many know the extent of her time and influence in Prince's life. Like Roy Bennett once said to me, "There may be one visual woman that looks like that’s the main one, but there’s quite a few on the side that you don’t see." So Royal was one of Prince's girlfriends from 1989 to 1991. She was poised to become the female rapper of Paisley Park Records--a job that eventually went to Carmen Electra. And Prince indicated that she inspired his song "Insatiable."

One of the most intriguing aspects of my interview with Royal was her treatment of Prince's gender. "I’ve never been around someone that was so much a boy and a girl like that in a male form," she said. Throughout our discussion, she'd slip into "they/them" pronouns for Prince and correct herself whenever she used "he/him." I didn't coach her on this or bring this up; I could tell it was her organic way of thinking and speaking about Prince.

To my knowledge, no one who knew Prince personally has addressed him this way, at least publicly. This year--and especially at the Purple Reign academic conference--is when I started putting some serious thought into that aspect of Prince's identity. When he changed his name to the "love symbol," a combination of the male and female signs, I don't think the media, his community of fans and the general public were prepared to delve into that analysis. And I'm not prepared to, either; I have to leave that to experts in gender studies. My book is primarily concerned with his spiritual identity.

I talked to Royal before Prince's ex-wife Mayte Garcia's book was released, and I found that a lot of Royal's descriptions of that early-90s era lined up with Garcia's descriptions. And again, just because dancers "Diamond and Pearl" were the muses Prince put forth in his art at the time, Royal played a role as well--just behind the scenes. (But there is a rare interview of all three women together.)

It was fascinating to hear how the "Diamonds and Pearls" world Prince presented with his album, tour and videos was an extension of his real life, according to Royal. (More on that in the book.)

Even though Royal parted ways with Prince in the early '90s, she still gave me tremendous insight into his spirituality later in life by telling me about a conversation they had around the time of his conversion to the Jehovah's Witness faith. It just goes to show you can't predict how valuable an interview is going to be. And honestly, it's rewarding to be able to amplify the voices of certain people from Prince's world.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

"The Beautiful Experience" - Mayte Garcia's Book

"He was always a spiritual seeker ... fascinated enough in all possibilites to integrate the signs of the zodiac and third eye and reincarnation into the Christian beliefs his Baptist mother and Seventh-Day Adventist father had exposed him to. He was way too smart to be sucked into something just because he was vulnerable in that moment."

I've been wanting to interview Prince's first wife, Mayte Garcia, since 2012, when I saw her on "Hollywood Exes." I was suprised by how much I enjoyed watching the show. (Click here to read my blog entry on the series.) Sometimes I get lucky and track down a source even after years of trying. At this point, I don't think a chat with Garcia will happen.

Fortunately, I have her book, The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince. I finally read it and I honestly think she answered all of my questions regarding his spirtuality, unless she held something back (hit me up if there's more, Mayte). I interviewed Larry Graham about Prince's conversion to the Jehovah's Witness faith, but it's nice to have another perspective on that transition--especially from someone who doesn't believe in the doctrine.

But Garcia also expounds on Prince's interest in Egyptology and some aspects of eastern religions prior to his conversion. I think this is a fascinating period in the artist's life (the early '90s) and at this point in my research, I think he was beginning to return to some of those interests before he died.

Overall, I think The Most Beautiful is a wonderful book. It's well-written, and, like "Hollywood Exes," showcases Garcia's charming personality. That isn't to say there weren't parts that made me uncomfortable. I was also felt incredible sadness and compassion for she and Prince while reading about the death of their son, Amiir. At times I almost stopped reading.

The book also opened my eyes to the full extent of Garcia's influence on Prince's music in the 1990s. Of course he had other muses; Garcia even admitted, "I know of at least three women besides me who believe ['The Most Beautiful Girl in the World'] was written specifically for them" (and I interviewed one of those women, but that's another blog entry). But Garcia was a mainstay onstage, in videos and argubly in his lyrics for much of that decade.

I also enjoyed her detailed descriptions of shows like their performance at the 1995 American Music Awards (with Prince's classic gum-chewing), and interviews with Oprah and Sinbad. I liked being able to go back and watch knowing what was going on behind the scenes.

Discussing Garcia's book also made me think about fandom, particularly its dark side. Some Prince fans absolutely despise her and her decision to publish the book. And when confronted with some of Prince's less than desirable actions described in the book (or, really, by any other source), some fans defend him to the point of delusion--or almost as if the women in his life deserved any poor treatment they received.

Now, of course, I am guilty of taking Prince's side on some things or rolling my eyes at certain people who knew him. But sometimes I need to check myself, and Garcia's book--in addtion to the process of writing this biography--helped me realize that. I would like to think I am learning to have more empathy for people in Prince's world and I don't think I allow my admiration for the late superstar to prevent me from viewing him as a human being with strengths and flaws--just like the rest of us.

 What do you think of Mayte Garcia's book?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Willing to do the Work" - Purple Reign Conference Presentation Video

As promised in my summary of the Purple Reign Prince conference in the UK last month, I have included video of my presentation, "Willing to do the Work: The Spiritual Mission of Prince, 1958 - 1988," and some details below.

That was most of the presentation, which I captured using an iPhone and small tripod. I was happy with my performance, and I think it was well-received. Many said they were looking forward to my book, and that encourages me to keep going. Of course the book will also cover Prince's life beyond 1988.

Talking to the other scholars during the Q&A segment and throughout the week really helped me with my research. As a result, I have a few new areas to explore regarding Prince's spirituality, and hopefully some new sources.

When I started this project, Prince seemed firmly rooted in his Jehovah's Witness faith, and I really thought my story would end there. However, in the last several years of his life, his spirituality seemed to be evolving beyond the boundaries of that religion. I'm looking forward to learning more about that.

Some photos:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"All the Hippies Sing Together" - Purple Reign Conference Recap

I'm still digesting my experience at the Purple Reign conference at the University of Salford in Manchester, England. The first of its kind, the academic conference brought in dozens of scholars from all over the world to present their research on various aspects of Prince's life and career in front of a public audience. I was fortunate enough to be among the presenters, and I thought I'd share some of my impressions, pictures and videos of the event, which took place May 24 - 26.

First, I was shocked and saddened by the May 22 suicide bombing at Manchester Arena. I'm glad I was able to attend the May 23 vigil in Albert Square to honor those who lost their lives.

A member of the Manchester Sikh community at the May 23 vigil in Albert Square

The Purple Reign conference organizers proceeded with the event as planned, demonstrating a resilience I saw time and time again across the city. The conference was also a needed source of positive energy; I can't describe the amount of love I felt among my fellow presenters and Prince fans.

On the first night, we were treated to a Q&A with Prince's former guitarist Dez Dickerson. I'd read his autobiography, so I knew a lot of the information he shared, but it was delightful to engage with him face-to-face. He was humble, funny and candid. He also played guitar for us, which was so surreal.

I also got a chance to ask Dickerson about Prince's spirituality. I'll include more details (and the video!) in a future post.

The next two days were filled with presentations on "all aspects of [Prince's] creative output and the ways in which it intersects with video, performance, literature, theatre, film, digital culture, design and fashion," as described on the conference website. These presenters were not your average Prince fans gushing about their favorite artist. They were serious students and professors drawing from a wealth of scholarly research.

I knew Prince was a significant artist in 20th- and 21st-century popular music, but hearing fascinating presentation after fascinating presentation really put his importance in perspective, and it took my breath away. Additionally, I left with the realization that there are hundreds of other opportunities for more analysis.

If you're having trouble understanding how one person could generate an entire conference, here's my very simple summary (which I also found myself explaining to Customs officials in airports): Prince recorded about 40 studio albums and allegedly thousands of unreleased songs; he pushed boundaries with his lyrics, fashion and sometimes androgynous image; he is partly responsible for the Parental Advisory label on recordings; he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and wore "slave" on his face in the midst of a legendary battle with Warner Bros. for control of his master recordings; and he was one of the first artists to utilize the internet to distribute his music directly to his fans. He also played multiple instruments, wrote and produced nearly all of his music and maintained a high standard of performance in his record-breaking live shows that is arguably unmatched by very few, if any, of his contemporaries.

With that said, here are my thoughts on just a handful of the presentations I witnessed:

Keynote speaker Sarah Niblock, who co-wrote Prince: The Making of a Pop Music Phenomenon, broke down Prince's style in fascinating ways that included discussions on everything from macaronis to zazous.

Although Prince often dismissed his link to Jimi Hendrix ("It's only because he's black. That's really the only thing we have in common," he told Rolling Stone), Tom Attah outlined the connection in his presentation on Prince and the postmodern blues aesthetic. Also, who knew Prince's "5 Women" borrowed heavily from B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone?" (hint: not me.)

Andrea Foy regaled us with intriguing stories of her Paisley Park adventures over the years (she even danced with Prince, you guys!). I'm looking forward to finding out more in her book!

I think I learned the most from the "esoteric French panel," otherwise known as Joni Todd's presentation on the similarities between Prince and painter Marcel Duchamp, and Karen Turman's examination of Prince and 19th-century dandyism. It would have never occurred to me to look into those topics.

Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy

Karen Turman

Chris Aguilar-Garcia, Scarlett Brown, Natalie Clifford, Leah Stone and Shannan Wilson provided interesting presentations on Prince and gender and sexuality studies. I think this was the most eye-opening segment for me because I never took time to view Prince as a queer, gay or trans icon. I realized I don't have a monopoly on interpreting Prince--he means so many different things to so many different people. At the same time, I was glad the presenters addressed Prince's contradictory statements and behaviors regarding these topics.

From left: Aguilar-Garcia, Brown and Clifford

Leah Stone's presentation on Prince and misogyny

I was one of the last presenters, and I was very happy with my performance. I will provide more details, along with video footage, in a separate blog post.

Other highlights from the conference included a viewing of "Under the Cherry Moon" at the Home theatre and more:

There was a special Q&A via Skype with Prince's cousin, Chazz Smith, who provided some endearing stories about Prince's childhood. I really wanted to ask him about his #justice4cuz campaign on social media, but I didn't want to bring the room down. I'm still wondering what that's about...

I met Casey Rain of the legendary website, and his Violet Reality partner, Kim Camilia.

We had an awesome dance party on the final night of the conference.

This is the moment when I started sobbing at the conference. It was hard seeing Prince's image projected everywhere, but the organizers saying their farewells really got to me. I still can't believe Prince is gone, but I find comfort believing he achieved so much and he's finally at peace. I also hope to use his example to live my life to the fullest.

It really helped to have other folks there whose lives have been impacted by the artist. The best part of the conference was being able to fellowship with people who are really like family now.

This was definitely one of the best weeks of my entire life. Thank you, Prince.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Paisley Park is in Your Heart" - Interview with Karen Krattinger

"[Prince's father] was a lovely human being. ... I think you have to have a love of God to have a heart like that."

Thanks to Prince's former press agent Robyn Riggs, I was able to get in touch with Karen Krattinger, who worked as Prince's production coordinator, road manager and general manager of PRN Productions from 1984 to 1989. She also helped build Paisley Park Studios.

Krattinger shared her experience returning to the Minnesota complex after Prince's death. I'm not sure if much of this will make it into my book, so I'll include it here:

"I absolutely lost my breath and burst into an emotional crying and heaving that shocked me," Krattinger said of walking into Paisley Park. She and other former employees took the public tour, which was a treat for the guides.

"They loved hearing our stories because everything they're going on is a script that someone gave them," Krattinger said. She also expressed that she was happy to be there even though she wasn't able to see her old office or the board room she decorated.

The parts of the interview I'll definitely use include Krattinger's details about Prince's relationship with his family. I always like asking people about Prince's dad, whose own spiritual beliefs may or may not have influenced Prince.

Krattinger said she considered Prince to be a spiritual person. Major Prince fans will know Krattinger was tangentially connected to "Blue Tuesday," an important day in Prince spiritual history (more on that in the book), so it was nice to chat a bit about that.

Because of Krattinger, I was able to get interviews with more of Prince's former employees (check back for those). I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to speak with someone so significant in Prince's career in the 1980s. And Krattinger told me her parents met in Columbus, Ohio, where I currently live! Honestly, I have experienced so many coincidences on this journey that I'm not surprised by them anymore.

Thanks for reading!

I will be presenting my research at Purple Reign: An interdisciplinary conference on the life and legacy of Prince at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, in late May. Click here to donate to my GoFundMe campaign. 

"Say Yes! Say No!" - Interivew with Robyn Riggs

"He would make decisions based on what God was telling him. Sometimes all of us would just go, 'Oh my gosh, oh really?' But in his mind, in his world, with his talent, where did it come from?" 

Sometimes you have to call a car dealership to get an interview for your Prince book. That's how I tracked down Robyn Riggs, who handled Prince's media relations in different capacities from roughly 1983 to 1988 as part of the Howard Bloom Organization. While she currently sells cars, she was once in one of the most powerful positions in the entertainment industry at just 25 years old.

What stands out the most to me about Riggs' time with Prince is the importance of saying "yes" and "no." For example, before she was promoted to the position of having sole control over his media relations, Prince's camp would often respond to journalists' inquiries with "no comment." That reaction arguably hurt Prince's image at the time (see the "We Are the World" catastrophe).

"We started making statements so we could have some kind of control over what was being put out there," Riggs said. "And it changed the dynamic, I think, of the way the press perceived him to be."

Just as saying "yes" to the media proved beneficial, honoring Prince's requests kept you employed (unless, of course, he got a bad "vibe" from you, then you didn't stand a chance). Riggs worked hard to fulfill Prince's wishes, but she wasn't afraid to stand up to him. But during one situation in 1988--involving Rolling Stone journalist Kurt Loder--she felt she had to say "no," and that was the end of her tenure with Prince.

"I had fallen on many, many, many swords for [Prince]," she said. "I couldn’t fall on that one."

(More on this in the book, sorry.)

While some people who knew Prince never saw his religious side, Riggs is in the camp that vouches for his spirituality even as early as the 1980s. She also provided me with valuable insight into his personality.

It was truly a delight speaking with Riggs, and she put me in touch with another important source: Karen Krattinger, who worked for Prince in many roles over the course of five years. Check back for a summary of that interview and more!

I will be presenting my research at Purple Reign: An interdisciplinary conference on the life and legacy of Prince at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, in late May. Click here to donate to my GoFundMe campaign. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Let Me Take U 'Round the World" - Purple Reign Conference

Great news! I have been selected to present at "Purple Reign: An interdisciplinary conference on the life and legacy of Prince" at the University of Salford in Manchester, England!

During the conference, which takes place May 24-26, scholars will discuss topics from "Prince as embodiment of the post-modern blues aesthetic" to "Prince, the representation of male pop stars and the discourse of girls’ magazines of the 1980s and 1990s." Of course I will present on Prince's spiritual journey, but only from 1958-1988--the span covered by my thesis at Ohio University.

The conference will also feature a Q&A segment with former Prince guitarist Dez Dickerson. It's funny because I've been trying to interview Dickerson since 2010. He even autographed his autobiography for me. I wonder if I'll get that interview now.

This is definitely one of my greatest accomplishments, and it will happen just four days after my birthday! I've had a really rough year, so this is a blessing.

I won't have time to visit London (it's five hours away), but I hope to hop over to Liverpool for some sort of Beatles tour.

As far as my book, I'm getting close to being done. I have an awesome agent who really believes in the project. We're still pitching publishers. I have a good feeling about one in particular; we're waiting for an answer. I'm also hoping I'll meet some publishing contacts at the conference.

I've accumulated an impressive list of interviews and I'm hoping to add more soon. I'm definitely going to lead with my participation in the conference when I submit requests.

As a journalist, I live a very modest lifestyle, so I've started a GoFundMe campaign for travel expenses. It's really for friends and family members who have seen me cry, scream and stress out over my book for years and want to help. However, I'll accept donations from any supporters.

I'll be sure to share pictures and video from the conference here. I'm also planning to ramp up my blogging.

As always, thank you for reading!

P.S. For those who haven't seen it, below is a picture of my tattoo, which honors Prince and represents the importance of music in my life. Wow, it's almost been a year since Prince died. It has gotten easier, though I nearly cried listening to "Diamonds and Pearls" the other day.