Follow author Erica Thompson as she completes her book on Prince's spiritual journey on "a purple day in December." She provides updates on her writing and research, interviewing, networking and progress on securing a book publisher. And there are extra interviews, essays and pieces just for the fun of it! Cheer Erica on as she follows her dreams and the life of an extraordinary musician.
I love this exchange between Prince and journalist Adrian Deevoy during a 1994 interview for Q magazine.
"Your new song 'Come' is unarguably about orgasm," Deevoy said.
"Is it?" Prince replied. "That's your interpretation? Come where? Come to whom? Come for what?"
"Oh, come on!"
I don't know why any journalist would use the word "unarguably" with Prince, but such boldness among critics back then (and today) was par for the course. At the same time, I believe Prince was a master at titillating first and playing coy later.
Still, a lot of his music is layered with meaning. "Come," the title track of his 1994 album, is no different. I listened to the song on repeat all week and decided to unpack three possible interpretations.
1. "Come" as reaching orgasm
Deevoy is not off-base. Prince is pretty direct and explicit with his language ("Can I suck you, baby? Can I fuck you, baby?") and ... sound effects, which make me wince. I didn't grow up with Prince in real time, and have always viewed him as an elder and not a sex symbol, so some songs are awkward for me, even in the privacy of my car.
What I appreciate about a lot of Prince's sex-centered songs is the creativity involved. He consistently presents himself as a "foreplay-starts-in-the-mind" lover, reveling in painting scenarios for the object of his affection before--or even in place of--the physical act. And "Come" is a heck of a mind trip; who else would conjure up a "strawberry-chocolate-Fender-jazz-mashed potato-fuzz tone" on his partner's thighs?
And this is not just sex for the sake of sex; much of Prince's music explores the benefits of a physical bond between two people in love--often conveying it as a spiritual experience. This viewpoint is explored throughout the album; Prince arguably references passages from the Biblical book "Song of Solomon," which depicts love and sexual intimacy, at the beginning of "Pheromone" ("Lie down beneath my shadow with great delight..."). In his memoir, The Beautiful Ones, he also cites "Song of Solomon" as an effective tool for teaching young people about sex.
Finally, it should be noted that, at the end of Come's closing track, the aptly titled "Orgasm," Prince says, "I love you."
2. "Come" as attaining spiritual transcendence
Sometimes, communing with God can be as transcendent as sexual satisfaction. Prince was constantly talking about this, from Lovesexy to "Graffiti Bridge" ("Still forever searching for the spiritual substitute for sex," Aura says in the film) to this 1996 interview with The Globe and Mail.
"You don’t think God is sexy?” he asked. “When you have faith, serotonin starts pumping in your brain. It’s the same as when you have an orgasm.”
Prince expresses this idea quite beautifully on "Come" with the lyric, "Long as you wash between your soul and through your hair." It's an image he kept returning to; "Your soul a bath, what if I gave it?" he asks on "Love 2 the 9's" from Love Symbol two years earlier. And on "Sexy M.F.," a song many assume to be solely about sex, Prince is preparing his partner for their journey both down the aisle and into the afterlife: "Why all the cosmic talk?" he asks. "I just want you smarter than I'll ever be when we take that walk."
On "Come," Prince also mentions "Spirit calling." At the time, Prince was telling journalists he'd changed his name to the Love Symbol after following the "advice of his spirit." He'd later describe that inner voice as God. And that decision from his Creator led him to freedom, which brings us to ...
3. "Come" as becoming free
Prince's name change put him on a path to artistic freedom (recording independently of Warner Bros., which had trademarked "Prince"), but it also freed him from his ego. "I really searched deep within to find out the answer to whether fame was most important to me or my spiritual well-being, and I chose the latter," he later told Larry King.
But as Prince advocated for control of his master recordings, he envisioned a world where all artists--especially black artists--could own their work. He heralded this reality by writing "This is the Dawning of a Spiritual Revolution" in the liner notes for Come. And shortly afterward, he began proclaiming "Welcome to the Dawn," and launched thedawn.com, which included the following statement: "The Dawn is where [Prince] believes the record industry is headed."
In his 1994 interview with Vibe's Alan Light, for whom he played both Come and The Gold Experience, he said he was "writing more about freedom and the lack thereof."
"If you had a chance to see the future, would you try?" Prince sings on "Come."
My personal relationship with the album Come is still evolving. In the past, I've skipped everything but the haunting "Papa" and funky "Letitgo." I have to be in the right mood to listen to "Solo" because it's almost too beautiful, intimate and sorrowful. I'm also beginning to really get into the lyrics of "Space," which touches on the themes outlined above.
I often forget how strong "Dark" is as a composition; the horns really shine on that, as well as "Come," for which I've developed a newfound appreciation. The clarinet solo on the latter, which dips into an Arabic melody, is such a gem. (Side note: I love when he says, "Aw, shut up!") And Prince's vocal arrangements here, and on the entire album, and through his entire career, are greatly underappreciated!
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I am thrilled to be one of the contributing authors of Theology and Prince! The academic collection will be released via Lexington Books in December. My chapter is called "'Graffiti Bridge:' Prince’s Sacred Triumph over the Profane." I analyze the message of the film in the context of Prince's real-life spiritual journey.
Other essays explore everything from Prince’s ideas of the afterlife to his spiritual alter egos. Click here to pre-order (use code LEX30AUTH20 for a 30-percent discount through Nov. 30).
Click here for our Spotify playlist, in chapter order, of the songs selected by each author.
Subscribe to my e-mail list for updates on my book on Prince's spiritual journey. Click here.
Many of us are still digesting Prince's memoir, The Beautiful Ones, which was released last month. In a post about the book, Prince Vault asked fans to compile a list of the artists's most autobiographical songs.
My attempt is below, with a couple limitations. I stuck to official releases that could be found on streaming services.
1. "When Doves Cry"
Prince wanted to utilize his memoir to address the impact of his parents' relationship on his life and work. Though his book was unfinished, we can refer to this song for emotional insight.
2. "The Sacrifice of Victor"
Desegregation busing, epilepsy and a neighborhood matriarch are just a few subjects in this extremely personal song.
If you want to know what happened the night of the "We Are the World" recording, listen to this song.
4. "Paisley Park"
"Paisley Park is the place one should find in oneself, where one can go when one is alone. ... I think when one discovers himself, he discovers God. Or maybe it's the other way around. ... It's a feeling." - Prince, Rolling Stone, 1985
5. "Anna Stesia"
Prince spoke to the media about the spiritual awakening that prompted the Lovesexy album, and much of that experience is detailed on this song.
Prince claimed to have written this No. 1 song while looking in the mirror, and I believe him. It came out at a time when he seemed intent on scoring a hit after the disappointing performance of the Lovesexy and Graffiti Bridge albums.
A beautiful song that showcases both his spiritual interests at the time, as well as his contentious relationship with Warner Bros.
8. "In This Bed Eye Scream"
Written for Wendy and Lisa and Susannah.
9. "The Holy River"
A revealing song about personal redemption.
10. "Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife"
The soundtrack for his first dance as a married man.
11. "Let's Have a Baby"
The soundtrack for the wedding night.
A heartbreaking love letter, likely written with his son, Amiir, in mind.
Prince told Rolling Stone that the song comes from a "sensitive ... nude" place.
14. "Don't Play Me"
Prince is coming to terms with his place in the industry, artistic independence and spirituality.
15. "The Everlasting Now" Now turn the page, at an early age This brother on stage, he was all the rage He taught an integrated world to sing The color you are don't mean a thing Everybody's a star all the everyday people sang He changed the funk, put it in a bag Then he changed the colors of the flag But you can't teach a dog new tricks if his tail don't wag Don't no matter how much money u made All the cars you got and all the women you laid Mess with the flag and to them you are still a spade
16. "Beautiful, Loved and Blessed"
"It was so heavy spiritually for us, he was like, 'You know we can never perform this song again.'" - Ashley Támar Davis
Now, when we hear Prince sing, "I was just thinking about my mother," we have pictures in his memoir to bring life to his memories.
"Shoulda been born on the Woodstock stage..."
19. "Way Back Home"
This just feels personal, and I'd like to think Prince has found his way back to The One.
I love scrolling through Jason Breininger's Instagram account, @pressrewind75. His pictures are full of brightly colored, neatly organized Prince music and memorabilia. It's a vision of what could be possible for me if I spent time collecting and curating my home.
Breininger doesn't necessarily specialize in extremely rare items; he just chooses what he likes. And the joy comes through his photos!
I spoke with Breininger about his projects and love for Prince's music. He also shared pictures of some items from his collection. Check it all out below! What's your earliest memory of Prince?
I turned 8 in '83 about the time that Prince really became big. I've always been obsessed with music. I lived on a farm in rural Wisconsin. There were no children my age anywhere near me, so I couldn't just jump on my bike and go play at Billy's house or whatever. So it was me, myself, my siblings and my parents.
I distinctly remember [my sister] coming home with "Little Red Corvette" and "1999" [on vinyl]. I really can't explain why, but I was attracted to them completely, from the way they sounded to the way Prince sang the songs. I was very confused; was "Prince" a band? Was it a person? None of that information was readily available. I didn't have MTV. I didn't really know who Little Richard was, but, to this day, I always think Prince never looked more like Little Richard than he did on the cover of the "1999" 7" single.
Breininger now owns every 7" single released by Prince (this is just a portion)
How did you respond to the Purple Rain mania?
We left the farm, and now I'm living in a town with kids all around me. And so I took my love of Prince and I helped my friends experience his music. We all really got into Purple Rain, like really, really. We would listen to the album daily. We would pretend to be members of the band. At that point, we did have MTV.
Breininger's repurposed Purple Rain VHS box,
which is lacquered over a hand-stained wooden box
Following Purple Rain, did you always keep up with Prince's music in real time?
I really loved pop music for a while. Then, I moved on to hair metal. So I was really getting into bands like Poison and Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe. And then, by 1988 or 1989, I was really heavy into hip-hop. So I was listening to a Public Enemy and LL Cool J and NWA. ... I would check [Prince's] stuff out and I loved what I heard, but I wasn't always on board, day one, with his new album.
Then, shortly after the Love Symbol album, I kind of lost Prince. His music was seemingly more insular. I knew his stuff existed. I knew he was releasing music at the same pace he had always been. I'd go to Best Buy and there'd be a display of his triple album, Emancipation. I was like, "Holy shit, that's just so much music!" And then, years later, you've got this four-disc album, Crystal Ball. I personally couldn't keep up, and it wasn't what I was looking for anyway. So the '90s I completely missed out on. I've had to revisit the '90s.
The Prince cassette tapes from Breininger's youth
How did you get back to him?
It took the Musicology album for me to revisit Prince's music. I was out of school and I was married, and now I was living in northwestern Wisconsin--about an hour and a half away from the Twin Cities [where Prince lived]. And they would play Prince's music on The Current [radio station]. The Current really reintroduced me to Prince.
How did you react when he passed away?
We take our artists for granted. Once he passed, I realized, "Holy shit, he's never going to release another album." You just always could count on a new record from Prince every other year. Even toward the end of his career, he had some breaks that were uncommon for him at the time, but he always came back and he was always out there recording and touring. Why did you create pressrewind.net?
I've always had an interest in artistic endeavors like writing and music and film. But it was never a path for me to take as a career because of self-doubt. About three or four years ago, I [thought], "There's so many avenues where people can express themselves creatively these days. What's wrong with just taking up a hobby just to write your thoughts down?" I utilized the blog as an avenue of creative expression. The idea was to attach memories and attach experiences to music. I have so many things to say about what [Prince] meant to me. So I want to capture some of that, but then also shine a light on some of the other musicians and artists that I really loved and still love.
Breininger purchased this alphabet/musician art by Monsters of Rock at the Strange Folk Festival in St. Louis
I'm not a musician, so I'm not somebody who is going to be able to intelligently and eloquently break down how Prince created some of the songs that people love so much. Like, what are the things that make this song unique? How did he create studio tricks? That's not something that I feel comfortable enough talking about.
I talk solely about the lyrical content behind Prince's music. ... I decided to go from the beginning all the way to the end [in chronological order] to see his growth as a songwriter through his lyrics, and make connections between songs.
Why is Prince important to you?
I own more Prince music than any other artist, and not just because he made more music than any other artist, but because I've sought it out. Prince has always been there for me. When I was a kid, he was an integral part of my upbringing and an integral part of who I was. I have so many memories with my family and with my friends where Prince's music is interwoven.
This poster of Prince with lyrics from "Let's Go Crazy" was given to Breininger as a gift
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Amy Kesting, co-owner of Spoonful Records in Downtown Columbus.
Photo courtesy of Kesting.
It's no secret that Prince loved Joni Mitchell's music. He covered her song, "A Case of You," and integrated her lyrics into other compositions. Two recent books, Morris Day's memoir and Prince's own autobiography, provide even more insight into Prince's fascination with the folk singer.
Mitchell remembered seeing a teenage Prince at one of her shows and, several years later, they became friends. Learn more about Prince's connection to Mitchell here.
So, why is Joni Mitchell so special? I decided to ask a record store owner for an education. Below is my Q&A with Amy Kesting, who runs Spoonful Records with husband, Brett Ruland, in Downtown Columbus. If you live in the area, check out their "Joni Mitchell Fan Meet Up" at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7. Why is Joni Mitchell important to you personally?
Joni has always been an alternate female voice/role model saying, "It’s OK if you don’t want to have kids, don’t want what other women want." She represents, to me, all things a woman can be, and none of it is stereotypical. She’s the counterpoint to so many ideas of "woman" I grew up with as a child of the '80s--everything from Barbie dolls to TV moms to Madonna.
And here’s Joni singing about people at the bar, parties, travels, her mean old daddy, the complicated side of romantic relationships, what her analyst told her, ice skating, small towns and suburban ennui. You can tell through her lyrics she’s just living some other kind of life.
Art keeps coming up all over her lyrics. One of my favorite songs is “The Jungle Line” about Henri Rousseau, laden with a Burundi beat she sampled before that kind of thing was a thing. She’s also a painter and that meant a lot to me in college as I was discovering her and trying to make paintings of my own. More than anything, Joni proves that it is possible to stick to your ideals and live the life of an artist.
What is Joni Mitchell’s significance in the history of folk/popular music?
Well, her reach is way beyond folk and pop. I love that photo of her, David Crosby and Eric Clapton sitting on the grass and Clapton’s expression is, "What just happened?!” She devised more than 50 different [guitar] tunings, which really allowed her to break free of the standard approach to harmony and structure.
In the course of her music career, she was a fearless innovator, composer, poet and lyricist, who shaped and stretched and experimented with all her music could be. She is so sophisticated, in a completely unforced and organic way. It’s beautiful. She is an artist, revealing her whole inner self along her journey.
"The last album I loved all the way through was [Joni Mitchell’s] 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns.'" - Prince, 1985
Rank your three favorite Joni Mitchell albums.
#1 – The Hissing of Summer Lawns
[It] retrained how I listen to music. It taught me to appreciate the way songs could blend into each other, how a whole album could convey a story, a mood, a zeitgeist. It has instruments and sounds in it I’d never heard used like that before. There are creative interludes, spoken parts ("When are you going to be home, Harry?"), lyrics not arranged in catchy, pop-music phrasing--all with masterful jazz-fusion artists (Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, Bud Shank, Wilton Felder) backing her up. I had never heard anything like it.
The album title refers to the sound the sprinklers make in the mornings in suburbia, and the album makes you feel holed up, stuck, bearing the ennui of a planned middle-class life. In some kind of existentialist way, the knowledge and awareness of these things is also the breaking out, [the] escape. Like if you can see it and sing about it, you’re going to be OK; you can still be free.
Also, I think Joni’s singing is really great on this record. There’s a ton of variation, confidence and power to her vocals. Sometimes, her early stuff comes across as girly, or overly innocent, but on this album, her singing is so clear and intentional and smart.
“The band sounds like typewriters”
“Winds of change patriarchs/Snug in your bible belt dreams”
“Like a priest with a pornographic watch”
“All these vain promises on beauty jars”
“The perils of benefactors, the blessings of parasites”
"Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes." - Joni Mitchell, 2005
#2 – Ladies of the Canyon
There’s so much happening in this album. The title track is a tribute to the ladies of Laurel Canyon, where Joni bought a house and made her home, where Graham Nash wrote “Our House.” She paints portraits of the women around her and you want to know them all. “Big Yellow Taxi” and “The Circle Game” became very well-known songs off this album, with cyclical/cynical viewpoints of life.
Her original version of “Woodstock” appears; it’s a haunted sort of melancholic cry for the festival she had to miss. But Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young took it and made it a brilliant anthem for a generation.“Morning Morgantown” is a favorite of mine, so simple and pretty. I sing it out loud when I’m getting my record store open. But my absolute favorite from this album is “For Free,” a song about a talented musician standing on the street corner of some anonymous place. As she listens, she ponders why she plays music and what it means to play for no one, to no audience. In a sophisticated, generous ending, a window opens, and you hear the street musician (Paul Horn) playing the refrain on clarinet, and it just breaks your heart and lifts your spirits at the same time. I absolutely love this song!
#3 – Blue/Miles of Aisles
Blue truly contains my most favorite Joni songs, except that I like the songs on Blue better on Miles of Aisles (her live compilation with Tom Scott and the L.A. Express backing band), where you find jazzier, upbeat versions of “All I Want,” “Carey,” “Blue,” “A Case of You” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard.”
Also, it’s really hard to pick this record and not get wrapped up talking about Joni’s personal life. It’s so autobiographical. Every song is about a time in her life. It spans four romantic relationships, and sends a prayer out to the baby she had to give up for adoption before she left Canada (“Little Green.”)
Blue ends with “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” I don’t want to go on a rant here, but I can’t tell you how often I’ve contemplated this song. I believe it is a cautionary tale of when a poet/artist/thinker gives in to societal pressures and consumerism. We become boring adults holed up with our things, and we sort of give up the fight. It is so hard to maintain passion and it’s so easy to romanticize a time of our lives, maybe the college years or the travel years, and settle for memories. The line, “All good dreamers pass this way someday” scares the living hell out of me, especially now, in my 40s. If you’re really listening to Joni, she’s capable of putting a great fire under your ass.
Best line: “Acid, booze, and ass/Needles guns, and grass/Lots of laughs, lots of laughs”
#4 - For the Roses
Well, you asked for three, but I can’t not mention this record. This is where I relate to Joni the most and appreciate her viewpoints on exes, parents, love, criticism and lots more. I would say this is a record for women, but then a bunch of guys are going to tell me it’s their favorite.
"He sent me a song once, 'You are my emotional pump, you make my body jump.' And I called him up and I said, 'I can't sing this, I'd have to jump around in a black teddy.' ... He said, 'Oh, Joni, we don't do that anymore.' ... He's a strange little duck, but I like him."
- Joni Mitchell
As you know, Prince covered “A Case of You.” In your opinion, why is that song (Mitchell’s version) so compelling?
"A Case of You" is a surprising song. It doesn’t have the repetition you find in other pop songs. The music notes for each verse are totally different, so it’s just a piece of poetry put to song. The rhyming couplets (if you can call them that) are barely noticeable and really long.
I’m not a musician, but I love good lyrics and I believe it’s a great song from that perspective. And of course many glasses of wine have been consumed discussing the meaning of, “I could drink a case of you, and I would still be on my feet.” To me, these lines say, I can handle everything. I’ll take you at your worst, ugliest, grieving, sad, depressed ... and all the good parts, too, and still I’d stand beside you, be proud to be with you, stand up for you. So, yeah, it’s a perfect love song in that it never comes out and says, “I love you.” But that first line throws a wrench in it, doesn’t it?
“Just before our love got lost.” Damn. That’s life, isn’t it?
What do you think Prince and Joni Mitchell have in common as singers or songwriters (if anything)?
I’d definitely put them both in the Tireless Artist and Fearless Innovator category, always reshaping the medium, experimenting.