Friday, July 12, 2019

"Pop Life" - Seven Questions for Laura Tiebert

"Life it ain't real funky unless it's got that pop." 

Photo by PhillipsPhotosCDP

To experience life in Prince's high heels, one doesn't have to write timeless music, sell out arenas or attempt to hit a dozen splits at the drop of a hat. Following Prince's example can mean fasting, developing a personal style and making time for play in your busy, adult life.

That's what Minnesota mom Laura Tiebert has been doing since the beginning of 2019. Each month, she completes a Prince-inspired task (she even changed her name in April), and writes about it at She hopes to turn "The Year of Living Like Prince" into a book.

"The impetus, in part, for this project was seeing how people in a fan community can sometimes put that person on a pedestal, and in the process let themselves off the hook," Tiebert said. "[They say], 'Oh, this person's a genius. I could never do this.' Well, you know what, you can do more than you think and you have talents. And it's your job to get out there and share them."

Originally from Wisconsin, Tiebert gravitated toward Prince's music as a teenager. As life got busier with a successful writing career, marriage and parenthood, she lost track of the enigmatic superstar. But when her husband's job prompted a move to Minnesota just before Prince's death in 2016, she was drawn back into the music. A year later, she published a biography, The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988, with co-writer Alex Hahn.

Tiebert graciously answered seven questions about her passion for Prince.

1. On the spectrum from "casual fan" to "hardcore fan," how would you rank yourself?

There are still a lot of people who know much more about Prince than I do. I'm not a musician, there are things about the music that I don't understand, but I'd put myself right up there. I think I've fallen into the category of hardcore fan. ... I'm so grateful for his music and his legacy because it's led me to an amazing place where I feel like I'm serving my purpose in life. Living like Prince and spreading the word, it feels like my purpose.

2. How did your connection to Prince change when you studied his work as an adult? 

I just realized that I had missed a lot, like thousands of songs worth of a lot, and there was so much more to learn. And I think coming to it again now as an adult with teenagers [of my own], I heard the songs differently. I heard different things in the music, and it did resonate with me on a more spiritual level. It was almost like my eyes opened and my heart opened.

3. Other than wearing a "mankini," are there things you won't do while trying to live like Prince?

Working 20 hours a day--I can't. I'm a mom and I have to be up at 6 a.m. to get the kids to school. I can't stay up 'til 5 a.m. and then go to bed and wake up at noon. It's just not going to work for me.

4. As you discovered different aspects of Prince's personality while writing The Rise of Prince, did your relationship with him shift at times?

There were a lot of nights when I would be in front of my laptop, like clutching handfuls of hair going, 'Why, Prince, why?' ... We know he had a dark side and sometimes that was a little hard to stomach. And Alex [Hahn] was very good about facing that and not glossing over it. And I think it's an important part of his story to acknowledge that he wasn't a perfect person.

5. What's something you've learned about Prince that you haven't shared?

For fans, I think they would be interested to know that Prince had invited [author] Betty Eadie to go on tour with him. I think a lot of people know that he was a fan of [her book] Embraced by the Light, maybe they even know that he wrote "Dolphin" for her, and "Into the Light" was inspired by that book. But they might not know that he had taken it to the level where he wanted to give everyone at his show [in the early '90s] one of her books. Then, he was going to have her do her author presentation. It never came to be because Betty decided she couldn't hitch her horse to Prince's wagon per se. But wouldn't that have been something?

6. How does your family respond to your interest in Prince?

In the beginning they thought I had lost my mind, which is completely understandable because I had. But now they just accept their weird mother. And I think as the project develops, they're sort of seeing the greater purpose in it. We've welcomed all kinds of visitors into our home and people stay in our guest room, [which] is decked out in all things Prince. I have confined it to one room. So I'm very proud of myself for that.

I have a very patient and tolerant husband and I greatly appreciate that. The first Mother's Day after Prince died, he went to Electric Fetus [record store] and he got me Dirty Mind. I opened it up at the dining room table in front of the kids and I started sobbing. And the kids, their eyes were like saucers. They were like, "Who is the man in the bikini briefs and why is my mother sobbing?"

7. Besides turning "The Year of Living Like Prince" into a book, what are your long-term goals?

I'm starting to see that "Living Like" could become a series. This could go on and I think there are things to be learned from all sorts of successful people. Right now my life's dream has always been to have a book that came from my heart, and that's what I'm hoping "The Year of Living like Prince" will be. And if I accomplish that, then I'm giving myself a pat on the back. I hope to be able to bring people along on the journey: "Live Like Prince in 2020." Maybe people can follow along in an online class and we'll grow it from there. I also think it's possible that people could pick who they want to live like and I just simply teach how to [do it].

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Friday, July 5, 2019

"All That Glitters" - Review of "Gold Experience: Following Prince in the '90s"

As a newspaper journalist, your beat can depend on a variety of factors: level of experience, holes in coverage and, if you're lucky, level of interest. When I finished journalism school at Ohio University, I was offered a job as a crime reporter in a rural town in Ohio. I almost took it, but ultimately decided I couldn't live on the salary. I think I would've liked the beat, but I'm not sure I would have been mentally strong enough to handle the content.

Not that my job as a reporter with Columbus Alive has been 100 percent uplifting. During the last three years on the "community" beat, I've seen great loss, corruption and despair in the city. However, I've had enough fun moments to balance it all. 

I love my job and I wouldn't trade my experience for anything--except to be in journalist Jim Walsh's shoes. For nearly a decade at the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, he handled the "Prince" beat. Most people know the late superstar was a prolific recording artist, but one might not think there would be enough content to keep a reporter busy on a weekly-to-monthly basis. 

But then again, many people don't know much about Prince after the '80s. Reading Walsh's book, Gold Experience: Following Prince in the 1990s, I got a clear picture of the artist's amount of activity during the decade. When he told a crowd at his Paisley Park abode, "It's your house, too," he meant it. At one point, he threw parties and concerts nearly each weekend at either his home or his Glam Slam nightclub in Minnesota, and Walsh was present for practically all of it.

A compilation of his articles from 1994 to 2002, Gold Experience takes readers inside those magical, late-night/early-morning events (I would've paid hundreds to see Prince lying on his back playing blues guitar during a loose jam). But the real treasure in the book is its insight into Prince's personality, and a relationship of mutual respect between a journalist and his subject. 

"It all, always comes back to God." - Prince to Jim Walsh, 1996

Taking a cursory glance at national articles and some biographies, one would conclude that Prince was a desperate madman during the 1990s. Having been on the ground in Prince's hometown, Walsh is able to present that common perspective--including his own reservations about the artist--against a more realistic look into Prince's motivations and, more importantly, his humanity. I think readers will also come away with a greater appreciation for the music (though I don't share Walsh's level enthusiasm for the album Come). 

Because Prince was fond of Walsh, allowing him to pen liner notes for his 1995 album, The Gold Experience, and once delaying the start of a show until the reporter arrived, I worried the book would be too biased, praising everything about the musician. I quickly learned that, while Walsh presented himself as a writer "always rooting for Prince, or defending him," he was critical when he needed to be. And there were times Prince made it known he wasn't happy with him.

But there's a difference between being critical and being nasty, as many journalists were when writing about Prince. It was refreshing to read a different approach. Additionally, unlike many other reporters, Walsh was thoughtful, intelligent and respectful. His two interviews with Prince--one in person and one via fax--were some of the most insightful I've read.

"The state of race relations affects me more than ever now that I run my own affairs." - Prince to Jim Walsh, 1997

One of best gifts a journalist can get is knowing their work is being read--and that it is making a difference. Walsh had the great fortune of getting Prince's attention; the artist even summoned him to Paisley Park to share his thoughts on one article, line by line! 

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Obviously, Walsh's articles impacted Prince, but, more importantly, they are making a difference now that the superstar is gone. In the market of Prince books, blogs, articles and podcasts, we need more thoughtful, probing views into this remarkable talent--especially during the '90s, when so many people wrote him off. Gold Experience gets it right.

Subscribe to my e-mail list for updates on my book on Prince's spiritual journey. Click here.

Friday, June 28, 2019

"A Beauty Like Yours" - Interview with Di Quon

Photo courtesy of Di Quon

"I want to do everything."

A succinct answer to a question about life goals resulted in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for actress Di Quon. Back in 1994, Prince sent out an ad recruiting women for "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" music video. The submission process required Di Quon to record a video about her dreams, so she enlisted the help of a friend.

"It was three minutes of me just directly talking into the camera," Di Quon said in a recent phone interview. "I said, 'You asked me what I wanted to do, and I'd like to do everything.'"

Di Quon transferred the footage to a VHS tape and sent it to Prince's team. They called her, but had a puzzling question.

"They're like, 'Hi. The Artist would like to know if you're in one of these commercials or shows,'" Di Quon recalled. "And I was like, 'Commercials or shows?' And they said, 'Yeah, we have six hours of video and we can't find you.'"

Di Quon realized she'd taped the wrong footage and explained her mistake. But Prince requested she come to Paisley Park studios to film the video anyway.

"When I got to the set, he said, 'So you want to do everything? ... I think I have something for you,'" Di Quon said.

While the other actresses in the video portray women seeing themselves depicted in their dream roles on a large screen--wife, mother, comedian, singer, etc.--Di Quon is shown off to the side, or assisting the women. But hers is one of the first faces shown when the video starts.

Click here to watch the video. 

And because she was in multiple scenes, she never really left the set like most of the other women.

"They would get to go to his club [Glam Slam] or they would go have dinner," she said.

But the upside was spending time with Prince.

"He was a total gentleman," Di Quon said. "He always made sure you were comfortable."

He even showed her one of his new guitars.

"He's like, 'Do you want to see something?'" Di Quon said. "It was almost like a kid that had something new."

Months after the shoot, she and the rest of the cast were invited to a premiere party at Paisley Park that paled in comparison to the famous NYC nightclubs, like the Limelight and Club USA, where Di Quon would dance.

"His party was 10 steps above that," she said. "One room had tiles on the floor, and you would step on them and they would make sounds. ... [And] it would play back what you just programmed."

Afterwards, Di Quon ran into Prince a few times at a nightclub where she worked.

"He was just so kind," she said. "He has this very larger-than-life persona. ... [But] he was really one of the most normal, down-to-earth people when you're one-on-one with him. ... He was a really great human being and I wish that I had gotten to know him better."

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While Prince was encouraging artists to create music independent of record labels, Di Quon went on to work for Sony Music, interacting with megastars like Celine Dion, Marc Anthony and Michael Jackson.

"I think that, because I had that experience with Prince, I was able to be a more capable person in the music industry," she said.

Her connection to Prince also helped her when she transitioned into acting.

"The initial credit of having been in this Prince video that everyone has seen was really meaningful in terms of getting my first shoots," she said.

Today, Di Quon has built an impressive resume of film and TV projects, including roles in "Maid in Manhattan," "Grown Ups" and "Kevin Can Wait." She recently wrapped an indie film, "Soulmate(s)."

Also a wife and mother, Di Quon realized she achieved her goal of doing "everything," as she told Prince 25 years ago.

"I look back and I'm like, 'Wow, I actually did a lot of those things [shown in the video] and I'm still creating the path,'" she said.

Learn more about Di Quon on IMDb or

Subscribe to my e-mail list for updates on my book on Prince's spiritual journey. Click here.

Friday, June 21, 2019

"The Spiritual World" - Interview with Lisa Chamblee

"He lived in spirit because he was always a vessel for music."

Photo courtesy of Lisa Chamblee
The first time audio engineer Lisa Chamblee saw Prince with music staff paper was a legendary night at his Paisley Park recording studio.

"I was setting up all of the music stands and he said, 'Make sure we have pencils,'" Chamblee recalled. "I go and sharpen all these pencils and he's walking around, like making sure everything's right and he puts the paper down. And I'm looking at it like, '[This is] dope!'"

That was the night Prince, bassist Sonny T. and drummer Michael Bland--practically a holy, musical trinity--recorded nearly a dozen songs in one session. Prince gave the original New Power Generation band members some chord changes and let them fill in the rest. Several tracks, including "Love Like Jazz" and "Wall of Berlin" (my personal favorite) surfaced on Prince's 2009 album, Lotusflow3r.

"That was spiritual," Chamblee said.

Declaring "I am music" and crediting God as the source of his inspiration, Prince made it clear that the very act of playing music was spiritual.

"He was living his purpose," Chamblee said. "His purpose was to touch people through music. And he fulfilled it."

While Prince's playing is moving on its own (I personally think some of his guitar solos are healing), he consistently provided inspirational messages through his lyrics. In fact, the thesis of my forthcoming book is that Prince's spiritual mission was always to make others aware of God's existence.

Chamblee and I got into some of the spiritual messages in Prince's music.

"When I really listen to his stuff on a spiritual level, I get that he's doing a modern-day Negro spiritual," Chamblee said. "It's catchy, so it catches your attention, but then it has coded information. It talks about oppression, but also talks about freedom and showing us the way."

I'll go through Chamblee's specific examples in the book, but I do want to note that, the same week I talked to her, I was reading about a similar perspective in the Howard Journal of Communications' Prince issue. Some scholars propose that Prince's references to the "afterworld" and "new world" in his songs go beyond religion to describe a future for black people that is free from oppression.

While Prince was proud of his heritage and wrote some songs specifically for black people, he also encouraged unity among all races, Chamblee noted.

"The love for Prince has no color or nationality," she said. "He's beloved by the human race. I bet the [extraterrestrials] love him, too."

Born in Minneapolis, Chamblee honed her skills as an engineer in the Twin Cities and graduated from the Institute of Production and Recording (IPR). She went on to gain a credit as an assistant engineer on Prince's 3121 album. There's a terrific profile on Chamblee by the PRN Alumni Foundation, which honors Prince's legacy as a humanitarian.

"I am grateful for this organization because we carry on his missions, especially giving to the people he gave to," she said.

Focusing more on spirituality in our interview, Chamblee discussed her own experience with the Jehovah's Witness faith, which Prince adopted later in his life. Chamblee did Bible study with members of Prince's inner circle, but was too much of a "free spirit" to join the religion.

We also talked about Prince's belief in the "third eye," an esoteric concept of an invisible eye, which provides spiritual intuition.

"The third eye is like your entrance into the spirit world," she said. "He was very spiritual and he lived in spirit because he was always a vessel for music. And that is a huge spiritual experience in itself because anytime you have nothing and then all of a sudden there is something, there's spirit involved."

Subscribe to my e-mail list for updates on my book on Prince's spiritual journey. Click here.

Friday, June 14, 2019

"Funky Fresh for the '90s" - Favorite Prince Songs (Part 2)

Back in 2015, I attempted to identify my favorite song from each of Prince's albums from 1978 to 1990. I might make different choices today, but I'll let that list stand.

I thought I'd continue that series by sharing my selections from his 1990s albums.

1. Graffiti Bridge (1990): "The Question of U." What a bloody fight between that, "Joy in Repetition" and "Elephants & Flowers." "The Question of U" is just so intriguing due to the dark mood, voice effects and hand claps.

2. Diamonds and Pearls (1991): "Thunder." If you'd asked me this question about 20 years ago at the beginning of my fandom, I would've said "Willing and Able." But I've grown to love this album so much more since then. "Live 4 Love" is such a burst of energy--largely due to Michael Bland's drumming--but I have to give it to "Thunder," which is a genius composition. You can also pull no less than three interpretations from the lyrics.

3. Love Symbol (1992): "Love 2 the 9's." Unpopular opinion for sure. Yes, I know "7" is on this album. "The Sacrifice of Victor" is also a fierce competitor (I often rewind it just to hear the harmony on "Amen" at the end). This is another album that has grown on me, and I think it's one of his strongest from the decade. "Love 2 the 9's" just makes me happy; Prince was so good at capturing pure joy in his compositions.

4. Come (1994): "Papa." I read about this song before I ever heard it. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the ominous music and heavy, allegedly personal lyrics. It's one of his most unique songs, and the end tugs at my heart every time. "If you love somebody, your life won't be in vain."

5. The Black Album (1994): "Bob George." I don't have a strong personal connection to this album. I have grown to appreciate it, especially through hearing analysis from black scholars on its cultural significance. "Bob George" is Prince at his funniest and quirkiest.

6. The Gold Experience (1995): "Shy." Why am I subjecting myself to this exercise? It's painful to make these choices, but the bass and guitar parts on this track are so interesting (please listen closely in your headphones). I am also a sucker for Prince showing off his Sly Stone-esque vocal ad libs. And it's really great songwriting; the lyrics are creative and vague, so you can have fun filling in the holes. "Cool, dark skin and hot virgin white..."

7. Chaos and Disorder (1996): "The Same December." Break out the tambourines! My favorite part of this song is the gospel music-inspired outro. He switches up the groove multiple times throughout this song, and it's all very delicious. There are also thought-provoking lyrics about unity and the power of perception: "You only see what your heart will show."

8. Emancipation (1996): "Jam of the Year." This is an underrated gem. In the past, it took me a while to comb through this three-disc album and appreciate the songs. However, I instantly loved the laid back groove of "Jam of the Year," along with Rosie Gaines' amazing riffs. Just recently, while listening with headphones, I noticed some ad libs by Prince that I never caught before. That happens a lot with his music.

9. Crystal Ball (1998): "Crystal Ball." I'm not a huge fan of this album, but there are a few tracks I'll play from time to time. The title song, recorded back in 1986, is a 10-minute opus combining all the familiar Prince elements--war, sex and Jesus--over an orchestral arrangement by Clare Fischer. I also have some deeper thoughts about Prince's crystal ball imagery that I'll share in my book.

10. The Truth (1998): "Animal Kingdom." This is one of Prince's top ten albums of all time. I can say that with confidence. When I was younger, I never had any bootlegs of Prince music, so I didn't even know he had a lot of acoustic tunes before I found this project at Half Price Books. I have such a personal relationship with all of these songs. As the years have passed, I find myself drawn to "Animal Kingdom." Prince managed to make a really eccentric song that is still soulful as hell (again, please listen closely to his vocal ad libs).

11. The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale (1999): "Old Friends 4 Sale." More times than not, Prince's re-worked versions of songs are inferior to the original versions. This iteration is an exception; to me, it's equally as strong as the 1985 version. The orchestration is beautiful, and I will always be a sucker for recordings that feature Prince doing soulful vocal ad libs (as you may have gathered by reading this list).

12. Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999): "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold." This album is a contender for my least favorite Prince project of all time. This song is one of its few gems. It's R&B with an Arabic flavor and Biblical lyrics--all things that I love. Plus, I'll always remember seeing this video when I was a young teenager and thinking, "This sounds good but he's ... odd."

Can you pick just one favorite song from each '90s album? Please comment with your lists below!

Subscribe to my e-mail list for updates on my book on Prince's spiritual journey. Click here.

Friday, June 7, 2019

"It's June" - Prince Birthday Giveaway!

Congrats to the winner, Nate E.! 

This contest has closed. 

Subscribe to my e-mail list for updates on my book on Prince's spiritual journey. Click here.

Friday, May 31, 2019

"Come to the Park and Play" - Interview with Kathy Good

Photo courtesy of Kathy Good

It's been over 25 years since Kathy Good went in search of Prince in New York City. Trudging over snow and ice in the dead of winter, she asked passersby where he might be. Visits to Central Park, the zoo and even a rooftop proved fruitless.

That was the story line for Good's audition tape for Prince's 1994 video, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." A huge fan since the early '80s, the New York native saw Prince's vague newspaper ad--"Eligible bachelor seeks the most beautiful girl in the world," it read--and sent in a couple snapshots at the behest of her friends. Selected as one of the finalists, she was asked to submit a video.

Then, Prince called her at home.

Kathy Good's audition video for "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" 

"He said, 'Who did your video?'" Good recalled, laughing. "Those were the first words. ... And he asked what I was wearing."

With a background in sound recording and experience managing post-production for commercials and film, Good's audio/visual skills were evident. Prince saw something in her and invited her to be in his music video.

Prince's newspaper ad for "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,"
courtesy of Kathy Good

According to Good, original plans to host the shoot in Los Angeles were derailed by the massive 1994 earthquake. To her delight, production was moved to Prince's home, Paisley Park.

At the airport, she met a woman who was also en route to the video shoot.

"I was like, 'Wait a minute, there are other girls?'" Good said. "'I thought I was the only one.'"

Correspondence from Paisley Park,
courtesy of Kathy Good

In fact, Prince featured several women of myriad colors, shapes and sizes in various roles (singer, mother and even president).

With her dreadlocks and signature top hat (she wears one every day), Good felt out of place. She was also one of the oldest women there.

"I'm this funky girl and there were all these girls with beautiful hair and long eyelashes," said Good, who did her own makeup for the shoot. "I'm just not that kind of girl. I'm a nerd."

But in the video, Good, who portrays a director, is striking. Though Antoine Fuqua was hired to direct the video, Prince ended up coaching Good through her performance. They also formed a bond on set.

"I followed him all around," she recalled. She also stood in for his lighting and held his cane while he filmed his scenes.

"After a while he just gave it to me," she said.

At the end of shoot, Prince pulled her aside. "I want to work with you," he said. Nothing ever came of that desire, but she did see him again at one of his shows in New York.

"He's like, 'Hang out and we'll dance together,'" she said. But she didn't want to be a hanger-on.

"I'm just not about being in that scene," she said. "What did I have to show him? I didn't have anything. I didn't have music."

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Now that Prince is gone, Good has her memories--watching him walk up the stairs in pants that exposed his behind through a layer of mesh; that time he told her not to dirty up his bathroom; that other time he joked about disliking peanut butter and chocolate cookies.

But she has so much more. Like others who have interacted with Prince, she has been inspired beyond measure.

"After the whole thing happened, I was like, 'Well, what was that all about?'" Good said. "'It's gotta be something more.' And I thought, 'Well, maybe it's to come into my own. I never was doing what I really should be doing because I'm a creative person. And I was doing a job that wasn't creative at all, and it was very frustrating to me. But when he died, I thought, 'You know what? You just have to go for it.'"

Today, Good is fully committed to her work as a watercolor painter and writer, creating whimsical, Gothic characters for children. She recently completed her first art show at her local library.

Painting of Prince by Kathy Good.
"It's small, just like him," she said.

More than 25 years after being found by Good, Prince remains a steady presence in her life.

"I think he just had such a big, powerful soul that touched so many people in a cosmic way," she said.

Follow Kathy Good on Instagram @kgoodart

Subscribe to my e-mail list for updates on my book on Prince's spiritual journey. Click here.

Friday, May 24, 2019

"She's Our Inspiration" - Prince and Aunt Esther

"Hold, it Fred!"

The unmistakable voice of Aunt Esther rings out at the end of Prince and the New Power Generation's 1991 song, "Gangster Glam." In the video, a classic for the "mankini" scene alone (just watch and you'll understand), the God-fearing older woman's picture flashes across the screen in sync with the line.

For those who didn't grow up in the 1970s--a golden age for black television--or catch enough old TV reruns in later years, Aunt Esther Anderson was a character on "Sanford and Son," starring comedian Redd Foxx as widowed junk dealer Fred Sanford.

Portrayed by comedian LaWanda Page, Aunt Esther was Sanford's sanctified sister-in-law. She never missed an opportunity to reprimand the irascible Sanford, often with her trademark phrase, "Watch it, sucker!" Their classic trading of insults--usually in Sanford's Watt's, Los Angeles, home--was a highlight of the show.

In real life, Page and Foxx were great friends. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1920, Page grew up in St. Louis, attending elementary school with Foxx. She spent time playing the chitlin' circuit, a series of venues accepting of black people, "where if you ain't home by 9 o'clock you can be declared legally dead," she once said. Page moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s. There, she joined comedy group Skillet, Leroy & Co. before Foxx recruited her for "Sanford and Son."

"I'd freeze up every time Redd would come into the rehearsal hall," Page said of her rocky first days on set. "They were going to let me go, but Redd said, 'No.' ... I went over to Redd's house that Sunday and we went over that script and got it together! Redd told me to let myself go and do it my way ... and when we taped on Tuesday that's just what I did. And, baby, it went over!"

Running from 1972 to 1977, "Sanford and Son" was a highly successful sitcom--though not without its criticism--breaking barriers for and influencing future black shows. It was part of noted producer Norman Lear's stable of hit shows, which were celebrated for tackling social and political issues of the day. (A testament to Lear's ongoing significance, live remakes of his shows, "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons," just aired on ABC Wednesday, May 22.)

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A teenager in the '70s, Prince clearly watched "Sanford and Son" like most American families. And like many black artists, he was inspired by iconic black characters like Aunt Esther, and paid homage to her through his songs and videos. In addition to appearing in "Gangster Glam," the character shows up in 1992's "Sexy M.F." in the most fitting way: as part of an insult-trading session.

"Would you check my messages, please, and see if Prince's mama called?" NPG guitarist Levi Seacer says in the video, holding up a fan with Aunt Esther's picture printed on the front. The fan was later made available as part of a "Sexy M.F." promo kit, which included the song on a gold 12-inch record.

"She's our inspiration," Prince said of Aunt Esther in a 1991 Spin article.

"Black comedy feeds all other black art," said writer Scott Woods, whose book of essays, Prince and Little Weird Black Boy Gods, was released last year. "If you were rocking [Redd] Foxx in the late '60s or early-mid '70s, you came across Page. ... She's easy to love as ribald comedy goes, and she was just obscure enough by the '80s that you could borrow her energy and stuff without being obvious."

That content was mined from six comedy albums, including 1972's gold-certified Watch It Sucker!, which capitalized on the success of "Sanford and Son." While Page was a devout Christian as "Aunt Esther," her stand-up was extremely raunchy. Of course, that same dichotomy was not foreign to Prince, who could write spiritual songs like "God" or "Anna Stesia" just as easily as explicit songs like "Head" or "Darling Nikki."

LaWanda Page portraying, of course, a religious woman on "The Richard Pryor Show." 

While Prince later became a Jehovah's Witness, Page was not affiliated with a particular group. Nonetheless, she was said to have "strong religious convictions," according to an interview with Ontario Daily Report.

While Redd Foxx's life ended tragically in 1991, Page lived a decade longer, and saw a resurgence in the '90s. She had guest roles on TV shows like "Martin" (Martin Lawrence and Tichina Arnold's ribbing was reminiscent of Foxx and Page) and cameos in movies like "Friday," which featured her, ironically, as a foul-mouthed Jehovah's Witness.

She also collaborated with RuPaul, guesting on the drag queen's classic 1992 song, "Supermodel (You Better Work)," and starring in the music video for "Back to My Roots" in 1993.

"I loved making it," Page said of the video in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "They treated me like I was Queen Elizabeth.”

When asked about retiring, the comedian said, "Honey, I tried, but people won’t let me.”

It's too bad she never appeared in the flesh in Prince's videos. For "Gangster Glam," Prince also attempted to get video star Leisl AuVante to say, "Hold it, Fred!" during the shoot.

"I tried over and over but I couldn’t catch the rhythm," AuVante said in an interview with writer Laura Tiebert. "He knew I was always a beat behind.”

Prince and Page shared more in common than a robust sense of humor. Like the Purple One, she was an entertainer of many talents, getting her pre-comedy start as a dancer. She added a fire-eating act, billing herself as the Bronze Goddess of Fire, though she nearly burned a club down perfecting her tricks. She later showed off her skills in a circus-themed episode of "Sanford and Son."

Like Prince, Page had a charitable spirit, caring for her ill mother and divulging plans to open a school for handicapped children to Jet magazine.

Jet magazine, Oct. 6, 1977

After decades in entertainment, Page died at 81 years old in 2002 from complications of diabetes. Her memory lives on through fans like RuPaul, who quoted a line from the comedian's Watch It Sucker! album on a recent episode of "RuPaul's Drag Race" ("You was crazy as hell when they brought you here, but you're in your right damn mind now").

"As a tribute to comic genius LaWanda Page, I pronounce
military as 'mill-lent-terry,'" RuPaul tweeted on May 24, 2016.

Billed as the "queen of comedy" during her career, Page is viewed as a pioneer for other women comedians.

"I did attend her funeral out of homage and respect," said comedian Luenell, according to writer Darryl Littleton. "[I said], 'Thank you for the work that you have done. Had it not been for you there would be no opportunity for me.'"

"It makes me happy that I’ve paved the way for a lot of young comedians,” Page once told Entertainment Weekly.


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Friday, May 17, 2019

"Surely people that created rhythm and blues ..." - Howard Journal of Communications' Prince Issue

"Let's stop and take a moment to look at yourself. There is nothing minor about you. You are a blessed people. You're the most talented on Earth and you are still grateful. That is why upon winning in their game, you always thank God. Tonight, I would like to ask one favor of you. Imagine what it would be like in our own game." 

- Prince, 2000 Soul Train Awards

In December, the Howard Journal of Communications published a special Prince issue, "Centering race in the life and work of 'The Purple One.'" The icon's racial politics are examined through a collection of papers covering everything from his stance on intellectual property to his depiction of the black experience in music videos.

"It is critical that we strive to ensure that the legacy and essence of Prince not be viewed solely through a hegemonic lens, highlighting him as a man who transcended race;" editors Kimberly R. Moffitt and W. Russell Robinson write in the intro, "But instead, as a musical genius we believe embodied his blackness as a forethought, not an afterthought to his authentic self."

Moffitt and Robinson were inspired to create this issue at the 2017 Purple Reign Conference, where they presented their work, "Transgressions in Purple: The Prince Protest Mixtape, Vol. 1," at the University of Salford. During the week, they said they noticed emphasis placed on Prince's universal appeal, while his race was minimized.

I don't recall feeling that way at that particular conference (I presented on spirituality), but as I've participated in more academic events, engaged with fans online and consumed new articles on Prince, I've noticed a troubling whitewashing of his image.

That is why I was so thrilled to discover this special issue of the Howard Journal of Communications. The scholars have produced significant, thought-provoking writing on Prince and race. Honestly, I feel it should be required reading for fans interested in understanding Prince's motivations. And I would love to see versions of these pieces created for mainstream publications and websites (Essence, The Atlantic, etc.) so casual fans of Prince and/or popular music have access to this information.

Unfortunately, Prince's heyday preceded two developments: A greater amount of black writers employed at media outlets (though still not nearly enough) and the advent of the internet "think piece." Today, each time Beyonce releases new music or visuals, there is so much intelligent analysis on her symbolism and other messaging--and it always centers her blackness. We barely had that in real time for Prince's output. That's why so many of us are pushing for it now.

This journal issue impacted me emotionally and intellectually, and allowed me to examine some of the problematic, race-based messages that even I had internalized about Prince. I will need to spend more time with the issue to fully digest its contents, but here are several immediate takeaways from my first reading.

1. Prince loved and supported black women.

Kamilah Cummings' brilliant and exhaustive paper, "Sisters in the Shadows: an Examination of Prince's 'Strange Relationship' with Black Women," is the content I have been craving for a while. It has been unsettling to see the erasure of black women in Prince's legacy in both scholarship and mainstream media.

Black and white people alike have charged Prince with practicing colorism in his romantic life, and highlighted the contributions of non-black women to Prince's career. Since Prince's death, we have more information about the black women (of all hues) that he dated and the black women he supported philanthropically. We've also learned more and more about the black women working for Prince behind the scenes.

And we now have scholars like Cummings who can go back and analyze and synthesize Prince's lyrics, visuals, interviews, selection of musicians and vocalists, as well as other decisions--which we've had in front of us all along--to demonstrate just how much Prince elevated black women.

None of this is to say Prince was perfect and didn't evolve in some of his viewpoints or ways of expressing his support of black women. Cummings addresses that growth, and ultimately accomplishes her goal to present Prince's support of black women "as an indisputable example of his love of not only black women but of his own blackness and the black community."

2. Prince's spiritual messages intersect with his messages about race.

When it comes to spirituality, Prince loved to talk in code. He has confirmed "de-elevator" means the devil in "Let's Go Crazy." He's given enough context clues for fans to make an educated guess that "Spooky Electric"--referenced on the Lovesexy album--is the devil. In "Anna Stesia," he reminded us that "God is love," which would cause one to interpret his future use of the word ("Let love guide you to the Purple Rain;" "Love opened its arms;" "Live 4 Love") as a code for the deity. I could go on and on.

But this journal opened my eyes to the possibility that Prince's descriptions of spiritual paradises are promises of liberation for black people, specifically. In his paper, "Purple Visions of Blackness: Prince's Expansion of the Depictions of Black Experiences Though His Music Videos," Sedrick Smith cites videos like "Holy River" And "Betcha By Golly Wow" to demonstrate Prince's hopes for black people.

"Prince takes earthly elements (stars and rivers) and uses them as gateways into new future realms for black people," he writes. "In these future realms black people are free to be whomever they wish to be, however they wish to be."
"It'll be all over when the people are free/Free to be who and what they want to be." - Prince, "Act of God" (2010) 
As a result, I've been inspired to think about Prince's references to the "new world" and "afterworld" as more than Christian-based views of heaven. I'm reminded that some of Prince's most religious projects are also his most pro-black. The Rainbow Children, with its Jehovah's Witness doctrine mixed with messaging about the evils of slavery ("Muse 2 the Pharaoh," "Family Name"), is a prime example.

Prince's practice also brings to mind African American slaves' practice of using spirituals as texts for liberation from oppression. A day before I read this journal, I interviewed one of Prince's black employees, who interpreted songs like "Beautiful, Loved and Blessed" as being directed toward black people, even though the lyrics do not explicitly reference them. I do not take that as a coincidence.

3. Prince's name change to the Love Symbol is a commentary on the effects of chattel slavery.

This conclusion seems straightforward enough; after all, Prince did write the word "slave" on his face while challenging Warner Bros.' control over his creativity and ownership of his master recordings. But Anjali Vats' paper, "Prince of Intellectual Property: On Creatorship, Ownership, and Black Capitalism in Purple Afterworlds (Prince in/as Blackness)," delved deeper into the ways Prince signaled the damaging and lasting effects of slave owners re-naming African Americans.

The practice deprived black people of their right to keep their given, African name, and stripped them of their personhood and identity. It also provided white slave owners with "parental authority." Remade as property, black people's labor built wealth for the sole benefit of white people.

"The moniker 'Prince' became a corporate entity, a brand decoupled from the person," Vats writes. And Warner Brothers had authority and ownership over the music produced under that brand. Therefore, Prince's name change provided a freedom his ancestors were not able to experience.

Vats points out how the unspeakable and "empty" signifier is a fitting name for a brand that yields zero profit for Warner Bros. Furthermore, the writer brilliantly links the record label's inability to decipher the Love Symbol to illiteracy rates among black people in the aftermath of slavery. Unlike his ancestors, Prince was able to "best" his masters, "whose literacy did not match that of their star artist," Vats writes.

Prince could not totally prevent white control through naming. Reminded of the condescension and superiority slave masters exhibited while branding black people (literally and figuratively), I realized how hurtful media's nicknames may have been to Prince--especially when it came from another black person. With that in mind, Prince's song "Billy Jack Bitch," in response to gossip columnist C.J.'s "Symbolina" nickname, takes on a new meaning for me.

"What if I called you silly names/Just like the ones that you call me?" Prince sings. "What if I told you that you're worth/Only half of what you be?"

That last line is particularly chilling, given the history of subjugation of black people upon coming to America to be renamed, enslaved and oppressed.
"People, people what's ur name? Maybe we should start all over. Let everybody get in the game." - Prince, "Family Name" (2001)
4. Prince presented an expansion--not a transcendence--of blackness.

This entire special issue does a remarkable job of highlighting how Prince's image, behavior and business decisions reveal the expansive nature of blackness. For example, Prince's refusal to be included in Warner Bros.' R&B catalog was not an attempt to transcend race, but to demand greater respect as a black artist.

"[It] was an important act of claiming equality of creatorship and ownership, one that pushed back
against the notion that black art was and is inferior and deviant as compared to white
art," Vats writes.

Similarly, when Prince presented multiracial utopias ("Uptown," "Paisley Park"), he was advocating for equal participation in society for the black race.

As the articles lay out, Prince moved beyond stereotypes of black masculinity (dressing in traditionally feminine attire and showing vulnerability in lyrics); the black experience in many of his videos (eschewing violent, criminal depictions) and black women in lyrics (pushing back against demeaning language used by hip-hop artists). But that was to demonstrate that black people could be shown in more than one way.

By fighting for independence from his record label, referencing the exploitation of black artists before him, encouraging younger black artists to avoid record deals and emphasizing the power of black ownership across all industries, Prince was dedicated to expanding the current reality of being black in America.
"The system is broken. It's going to take the young people to fix it this time. We need new ideas, new life. ... The next time I come to Baltimore I want to stay in a hotel owned by you." - Prince, Baltimore 'Rally 4 Peace' concert (2015)
"What he showcased throughout his career was that blackness could be infinite, equally as unbound by convention as music could be," K.T. Whiteneir writes in his paper, "Dig if you will the Picture: Prince's Subversion of Hegemonic Black Masculinity, and the Fallacy of Racial Transcendence."

He continues:

"Rather than defining it as transcendent, and unintentionally dismiss a critical aspect of the artist and his work due to a limited scope of analytic vision, we as scholars and consumers are responsible for digging deeper into the artist's intent and expanding our own critical lenses if we are to engage with the sophistication of his work."

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Friday, May 10, 2019

"This Kind of Beauty ... " - Prince's "Most Beautiful" Women

Meet the stars of "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" video.

Photo by Phil Simms

In 1994, roughly two years before he married Mayte Garcia, Prince released the video for "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." However, the production didn't feature Garcia, whom Prince was dating at the time.

"I know of at least three women besides me who believe it was written specifically for them," Garcia said in her book, The Most Beautiful. "Take a look at the music video. ... You'll see a collage of girls and women of every age, race and body type. This was his love song to all of us."

The video was directed by Antoine Fuqua at Paisley Park. The Training Day filmmaker described the dreamlike environment in an interview with HuffPost.

"It was just women everywhere, hanging out and sitting around," he said. "It was like walking into a Warhol painting with rock stars hanging out."

Fuqua's favorite memory was Prince "floating" down the staircase to meet him.

"All I saw was this red, paisley-type outfit," Fuqua recalled. "It was like something out of an amazing Fellini movie."

As dreamy as Prince was, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" is all about women, and they are shown watching their fantasies come to life on a movie screen. The cast includes people who played special roles in Prince's life, and others whom he just met. Here's a brief introduction to a select few.

In the video, Nona Gaye portrays a black woman as the 43rd U.S. president.

"He was an incredible man, an unbelievable, unfathomably talented artist--we all know that--but he was also a beautiful, beautiful man," the model, singer, actress and daughter of Marvin Gaye told TV One after Prince passed away. "I miss him, and I will miss him for the rest of my life."

The video also features esteemed educator Marva Collins, who started the West Side Preparatory School in Chicago for low-income black children. In 1985, Prince donated $500,000 to help Collins start the West Side Preparatory School Teacher Training Institute.

Marva N. Collins receives a golden plate from Ernest W. Hahn for "Teacher Extraordinaire" during the 1982 
Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Awards.

"He was really excited and thrilled by the way she was teaching these little kids," Prince's protege Jill Jones said in our interview. "He sat and watched this class. ... He thought hard and long about the causes he did get involved with."

Jet magazine, Nov. 4, 1985

Syracuse actress Rita Worlock plays a comedian in the video.

"He had a vision; he knew what he wanted and he got it, but in a way where he wasn't a jerk," Worlock told "He was very into everyone's well-being. ... What saddens me is not a lot of people got to meet him like I did. He was cool, laid-back and all about the music, never about himself."

Marianne Cotrin, a Brazilian former model and competitive skydiver, portrays a bride in the video. 

"[It was] a very big loss for me--because I was a friend--and for the whole world," she said in an interview after Prince died.

Prince's longtime friend Leisl AuVante appears in the video as a woman reliving the birth of her child. 

"Spiritually, he was always fundamentally connected in a higher way, but it took him some time to find his true path," AuVante said in an interview with author Laura Tiebert. "The forces of good and evil pulled and tugged at him. The forces of the record industry can be very dirty. He had to navigate through the egos of musicians, and the drawbacks and benefits of fame."

The video also features a curvy woman viewing her fantasy of having a singing career. Prince didn't mention her name, but he became emotional talking about her in an interview with Q magazine.

"[She] wrote to him afterward saying that although she was overweight, he had made her feel beautiful," the journalist, Adrian Deevoy, relayed, "and she would lose weight with the intention of modeling one day."

When Deevoy asked Prince if physical beauty was overrated, the superstar replied, "Yes. See, you understand."

Photo by Phil Simms

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Friday, May 3, 2019

"Black Muse" - Prince Decor

This is a poster I purchased during my first trip to Paisley Park in 2018. For a long time, I thought I'd write about my visit, but it's too personal. Back in 2016, I made plans to display all of my Prince decorations, but I'm just now starting to follow through. And I've added more things since then.

This tambourine is also from Paisley Park. It cost ... a pretty penny, but it was worth it. The framed post card is a picture taken by Herb Ritts. I scored that on a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

This is a painting of Canal Street in Manchester by S L Scott Art. I got it in the city in 2017, which was one of the best trips of my life, despite the tragedy that happened at the Manchester Arena a day before I arrived. I gave my first Prince presentation at the Purple Reign Conference at the University of Salford. I really need to get back to England.

This painting by Hemalatha Venkataraman was done on a tea bag! It's in my bathroom, which didn't do much to convince my sister that my apartment is not, in fact, a shrine to Prince.

I received this beauty by Kent Grosswiler as a gift. I will never stop singing, "Pimp rag, Tootsie Pop and a cane" randomly in my head.

Another gift, this portrait was done by Kristi Abbott. My leasing office is ... less than efficient, so I received this package several months after it was sent.

I tried to put a Love Symbol decal on my car today, but it fell apart. I snagged one of the last of the bunch from Electric Fetus, Prince's go-to record store in Minneapolis. The employees saw him all the time, and as one unenthusiastic clerk told me, his life remains unchanged. Sure, buddy.

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Friday, April 26, 2019

"Mamma-jammas and Sidewinders" - "Prince: The Last Interview" Review

Who is Prince the person? What are his values and beliefs? What are the reasons behind his artistic and business decisions? What is his conversation style?

Those are the questions I pondered as a new fan over 15 years ago, and I sought answers in the Prince books available. First, I read Purple Reign by Liz Jones during breaks at my summer retail job. Then, I progressed to Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince by Alex Hahn, Dance Music Sex Romance by Per Nilsen and many more.

Some of the books weren't comprehensive. Some drew questionable conclusions. Others could have been written better. But they provided a peek into the life of an enigmatic superstar and a springboard for my own research. Because of that, I can't discount them.

It is with that spirit that I approached and enjoyed Prince: The Last Interview and Other Conversations. Released in March 2019, it is a collection of interviews Prince did with journalists over the span of his nearly 40-year career. It's also part of a series featuring the likes of James Baldwin and Julia Child.

I picture another teenager coming across this book in a library, knowing nothing about Prince save that he sang "Purple Rain" and was a little eccentric. And I think they will find a trace of him here, both in poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib's intro, which beautifully emphasizes Prince's humanity, and in the subsequent interviews.

I don't mind that there are only 10 articles from publications including Minnesota Daily, Vegetarian Times and Q magazine. It's a more digestible length for new fans than some of the newer biographies, which they will likely be inspired to seek. They can complete this book in an afternoon. By comparison, I think back to reading Matthew Carcieri's Prince: A Life in Music, which outlined the icon's life through a playlist of 50 songs. Though not a definitive work, it succeeded as a snapshot of Prince's career.

While I was limited to the interpretations of others during my new fandom, today's new fans have a compilation of Prince's own words in black and white at their fingertips. The Last Interview starts off well with Prince's first-ever interview, which was published in his high school paper, the Central High Pioneer.

Readers might argue about the rest of the book. I don't mind that Prince's classic, extensive interviews with Rolling Stone (in 1985 and 1990, both titled "Prince Talks") are not included. It's nice to mix it up. I don't even mind that the book includes nearly 10-year gaps between some interviews. Most phases of Prince's career ("Purple Rain" superstardom, name change, Warner Bros. exodus, online forays and retreats, and Jehovah's Witness conversion, etc.) are referenced in some capacity. And the goal is to keep the book concise.

My main complaint is the absence of at least one interview by a black journalist. Prince's initial success came from a black fan base, and he was invested in black culture and issues despite reports to the contrary. And as readers of this book will notice, some deep cultural context is missing from some of the interviews included.

Granted, Prince did not do a ton of interviews. He often criticized reporters, famously calling them "mamma-jammas and sidewinders," and sharing that, as non-musicians, many of them were not qualified to judge his work. And there were certainly limitations the editors of The Last Interview faced in gaining permission to reprint interviews.

With that said, there are still a lot of interviews by black journalists that could have been sourced. Former Right On! reporter Cynthia Horner spoke to Prince at the start of his career. Ebony's longtime writer and editor Lynn Norment interviewed Prince multiple times throughout his career. When he finally decided to open up to the press briefly in the mid-1980s, she was granted a thorough one-on-one. Over 10 years later in 1997, she sat down with him to talk about his new family and professional independence.

Ebony magazine, July 1986

Including a transcript of Prince's legendary BET interview with Tavis Smiley in 1998 would have provided a more robust understanding of Prince's fallout with Warner Bros. and decision to write "slave" on his face.

Speaking of Ebony, writer Miles Marshall Lewis conducted one of the final interviews with Prince for the magazine. It was published online briefly on Dec. 22, 2015 before Prince requested it be taken down. "I guess he realized that he was too frank," Lewis said in an interview on Podcast Juice's Podcast on Prince. Editors of The Last Interview may or may not have been allowed to include the piece in the book, but you can find it here for now. It is one of the most honest and compelling interviews of Prince's career.

Despite my complaint, I found some gems in the book. I have limited research parameters for my own book on Prince (for sanity reasons), so I haven't read every single thing, nor am I aware of every single piece of trivia. I never knew the celebrity Prince was referencing in his song "Animal Kingdom," or that he was in solidarity with singer George Michael, who had a similar battle with Sony. Those are a couple things I learned from this collection.

It was also great to see little nods to things revealed in the wake of Prince's passing. For example, during one old interview, Prince briefly mentions Puerto Rico in reference to his name change. I now know he had a deep discussion with ex-wife Mayte Garcia about the decision in that country. When Prince mentions guiding his musical associates by saying, "You know what would be cool," I now know that was a phrase he regularly used to influence people. Both of those details are in Garcia's book, The Most Beautiful.

It was also really refreshing to sit down with this book and revisit and interpret Prince's words away from the noise on social media. Because there are so many perceptions of Prince in the world, it's easy for people to lose sight of what his words mean to them individually, personally.

So, at the very least, I have to say thank you to the editors of Prince: The Last Interview for the reminder.

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Friday, April 12, 2019

"Try to Clock 'Em" - Love Symbol by the Numbers

Prince had a thing for numbers. Most people know he utilized them as shorthand for words (2 in place of two, 4 in place of for, etc.), but he also integrated them into his lyrics. And he returned to certain numbers time and time again. For example, "7" is not only the title of one of his 1992 singles, but the number can be found in songs like "Nothing Compares to U," "I Love U in Me" and "My Name is Prince."

His 2006 album, 3121, adds up to seven; he famously played three Minneapolis gigs on July 7, 2007; he charged fees of $7.77 and $77; and so on. (He was also born on June 7.)

As a tribute to this obsession, I thought I'd recap one of my favorite Prince albums, 1992's Love Symbol, by pointing out just a handful of special numbers in the lyrics.

"In the beginning, God made the sea," Prince raps on the opening track, "My Name is Prince." Perhaps one of the most recognizable Biblical phrases, "In the beginning" is written in Genesis 1:1. However, according to the text, God didn't make the sea until the third day, outlined specifically in Genesis 1:10. In his next line, Prince raps, "On the seventh day, he made me." The Bible states that God made man on the sixth day and took a break the next day. Prince pokes fun at the change; "He was trying to rest, y'all" when He heard a guitar, Prince says of God with a wink.

Prince frequently altered scripture in his lyrics. It's fascinating to consider the myriad reasons for this practice. Did he do it to inject humor, as in the example above? Did he do it to adhere to a rhyme scheme? Did he do it to convey a new message that didn't fit within the confines of Christianity? Did he even do it consciously? These are the things I think about as a nerd.

Love Symbol listeners can also learn what it takes to love Prince. On the song "Love 2 the 9's," Prince orders rapper Tony M. to give a woman a 37- part "questionnaire." While there are only 18 questions in the song (yes, I counted), there's some helpful information for the ladies out there. Among other things, you must be prepared to stay awake for 14 hours, and lie down on a bed of thorns to be with Prince. What a cake walk.

Love Symbol on CD

One of my favorite tracks on the album is "Blue Light," which finds the singer looking for common ground with his less adventurous lover. "I'll be 117, you'll be still sayin', 'Baby, not tonight,'" Prince sings. The song is one of his multiple forays into reggae-lite; others include "Ripopgodazippa," "The Sun, The Moon And The Stars," a remix of "Pink Cashmere" and, arguably, the keyboard solo on "When U Were Mine," especially the version from One Nite Alone... Live! I think that, because I like Prince so much, I'm more open to his experiments (I know he disliked that word, sorry) with other genres. In my opinion, he always found a way to make it interesting.

I think Love Symbol has a lot of songs that shouldn't work, but do. For example, "The Continental" is an amalgamation of hip-hop, honey-dipped falsetto vocals, rock guitar licks and a jazzy B section, which I love. I can tolerate the "rap" by Carmen Electra, although Prince's lyrics point more toward his future wife, Mayte Garcia. He references a woman flipping .75, or three quarters on her stomach, which is a belly dancing trick for which Garcia was known.

When it comes to his lyrics, Prince is as bold as he is quirky. It wasn't until recently that I realized he described himself as a "50-50 girl" in the song "Arrogance." Of course, people always speculated about myriad aspects of his identity, and were aware that his symbol was a combination of the male and female signs, but I can't think of another black male recording artist who made a similar public statement during the 1990s. I think it was quite revolutionary given the limited way we discussed identity 30 years ago.

In his 1996 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince said he created "another person" inside as a coping mechanism during his childhood. "We haven’t determined which sex the person is yet,” he said.

"Arrogance" also includes one of my favorite Prince lyrics: "Pimp rag, Tootsie Pop and a cane." It's a description of Prince's look at the time.

The album's highest-charting single is "7." Take a guess where it landed on the Hot 100 (you're right). In the liner notes, Prince includes the words "Revelation The Book," written backwards, beside the song, giving listeners a heads up that his source material is the Bible's Book of Revelation, which is rife with references to the number.

While Prince's dedication to Christianity is apparent, he also incorporates references to reincarnation, specifically with his lyric about being present "12 souls from now." And Garcia, who co-stars in the video, has a perspective that leans more toward Indian spirituality. In her book, The Most Beautiful, she writes about Prince slaying seven versions of himself.

Prince circles back to Genesis on "And God Created Woman," a re-telling of God's creation of Eve from Adam's rib. "Bone of my bones ... flesh of my flesh," Prince sings, echoing Genesis 2:23. At the Prince from Minneapolis SymposiumDr. Patricia McKee broke down the ways in which Prince alters the Biblical account in his lyrics. I'm hoping to include more from her paper, "'Lie down beneath my shadow with great delight': Prince interpreting biblical text through song," in my book.

A multi-genre project like Love Symbol would not be complete without an operatic near-finish; "3 Chains O' Gold" is the penultimate track that shares its name with a film starring Garcia as an Egyptian Princess. Again, it's a song that shouldn't work, but I enjoy it, especially given its squealing guitar solo.

The concluding track, "The Sacrifice of Victor," is one of Prince's most personal to date. Reflecting on his childhood, he reveals everything from his struggle with epilepsy to his experience with the Civil Rights Movement. For example, Prince sings, "In 1967 in a bus marked public schools/Rode me and a group of unsuspecting political tools."

As recently as last year, it was assumed Prince was incorrect about the year, because widespread school desegregation efforts did not begin in Minneapolis until the 1970s. However, according to research by historian Kristen Zschomler, Prince may have participated in a “voluntary urban transfer program” with approximately 79 other African-American students.

Though less operatic than "3 Chains O' Gold," the gospel-influenced "Victor" closes the album with an uplifting message: "I know joy lives 'round the corner," Prince sings. "Amen."

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