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 prince.org 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.