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."

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