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?