Saturday, May 19, 2018

"Cross the Line" - Interview with Ingrid Chavez

"It just seemed like, in his mind, he was always balancing that thing between love and sex and God."

Photo courtesy of Ingrid Chavez

It was Friday, April 20. I was sitting in a French bistro in Edina, Minneapolis, minutes away from the house Prince rented in the late 1970s. Just a couple hours earlier, I'd been crying my way through a tour of Prince's final home, Paisley Park. Days before, I was presenting my life's work--my research on Prince's spirituality--at the University of Minnesota.

And then, in walks Ingrid Chavez, Prince's "Spirit Child," who inspired a pivotal moment in his spiritual journey in the late 1980s. My life was a dream.

Of course Chavez knows all about alternate realities. She lived in Prince's world for an intense, three-month period beginning in December 1987 after they met in a club. They inspired each other through the art they created; Chavez shared her poetry with Prince, who, in turn, composed its musical accompaniment.

The fruits of their labor became Chavez's May 19, 1992 album, released in 1991. And Prince was moved to shelve the dark, explicit Black Album, and release the upbeat, spiritual Lovesexy project, which arrived in 1988 with his nude picture on the cover, and references to Jesus and "Spooky Electric" (arguably Satan) in the songs.

"I feel like somebody will blame me for his weird period," Chavez said, laughing and looking as gorgeous and vibrant as she did on the Graffiti Bridge VHS tape my family wore out in the 1990s.

As the fan community celebrates the 30th anniversary of Lovesexy (I'll be presenting at a symposium at NYU Tandon dedicated to the album in a couple weeks), it's easy to forget the album was not a resounding success. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, it was Prince's lowest-charting album in several years, and the accompanying tour saw lower attendance than previous outings.

And the aforementioned Graffiti Bridge, Prince's 1990 movie co-starring Chavez, fared poorly at the box office.

Still, both Lovesexy and the Graffiti Bridge movie and soundtrack were important spiritual statements for Prince, and the time he spent with Chavez was a catalyst. She characterized that period as an innocent exploration of "God and love and sexuality."

"We were like children who were free from all the stuff that we were taught, and so we got to spend that time remaking it for ourselves," she said.

Chavez and I talked further about Prince's beliefs on the subject matter, and his reaction when he first heard her spoken-word recording "Cross the Line," which he later used in his Lovesexy tour (more on that in my book).

"You could see that he was just wide open to whatever was coming to him," Chavez said. "He was just open to the signs like, 'I'm listening. What are you telling me, universe? What's next for me?' And I happened to be dropped into that."

But being in Prince's world wasn't without its challenges, especially when one is viewed as a muse. Chavez played the part of an angel in Graffiti Bridge, but Prince also expected her to fit a certain mold offscreen. Chavez and I discussed those limitations, as well as the capricious nature of the environment.

"When you're in and you're with him ... it's like heaven," Chavez said. "And then when you're not it's like you've been cast from heaven."

After parting ways with Prince, Chavez started a family and continued her music career (fun fact, she wrote Madonna's song "Justify My Love" with Lenny Kravitz). This summer she will release a new album, Memories of Flying. The track "You Gave Me Wings" is a tribute to Prince that recalls that magical winter 30 years ago.

"He gave me wings," Chavez said. "I took off after that."