Friday, July 10, 2020

"Deliverance" - Donna Summer + Prince (Part Two)

Both complex and creative superstars, Donna Summer and Prince were marginalized as sex symbols, despite their profound spiritual journeys. Many of their similarities were explored in part one, which covered their childhoods and early success. Much of the research was based on Summer's 2003 memoir, Ordinary Girl: The Journey. 

The remainder of their lives and careers is explored below.

Racism & Music Industry Struggles

Sadly, the oppression faced by Black artists in the music industry, especially in the '70s and '80s, is common. Prince and Donna Summer did not escape that reality. From an early age, Prince sought to circumvent as much of it as he could; he crafted his image, sound and interviews so he could avoid being limited to the "Black" chart (as it was called back then), Black radio and underfunded marketing departments.

Building her career overseas, Donna did not immediately feel the baggage of being Black in the mainstream music world. But that all changed when she moved back home and had her first hit, "Love to Love You Baby," in the mid-70s.

"Although I grew up on and loved R&B music, I was much more of a pop-rock, folk-oriented artist," Summer wrote in her memoir. "But my skin was brown, so I was automatically packaged as an R&B act." Of course, the eternal "Queen of Disco" label didn't make life easier for the songstress.

"No one in America had any real clue that I had an extensive and quite successful European background in live and musical theater, or that I could actually sing other types of music," she continued.

Just as Prince had other talents (fashion, dance, producing/engineering), Summer was also a painter; her work can actually be found on eBay--which is a bit shocking.

As a woman, Summer had it harder than Prince; she said Casablanca Records President Neil Bogart was a "Svengali" figure in her life, controlling what she wore, where she socialized, what staff she hired, how often she toured (relentlessly) and what she sang. He even tried to give away her 1979 No. 1 hit, "Bad Girls"--which she co-wrote--to Cher! She composed both the lyrics and music for "Dim All the Lights," which reached No. 2 that year. But Bogart went behind her back and released "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," her duet with Barbara Streisand, which prevented "Dim All the Lights" from going to No. 1.

"I'm not overlooking the fact that I now had three songs in the top five," Summer wrote. "My personal goal of achieving a number one song as a singer-songwriter had been short-circuited."

Summer eventually parted ways with Casablanca Records after a legal battle.

Though Prince wrote all of his songs and was able to branch out into different genres, he was still limited by Warner Bros. in many ways. His battle over creative control and ownership of his work was well-documented in the media.

Spiritual Awakenings & Career Changes

In 1979, Summer was at the height of her career, but felt something was missing from her life. She'd struggled with depression in the past, and was taking medication, but she couldn't shake the emptiness until she rededicated her life to God.

"I was finally filled by God's Holy Spirit and gloriously born again," she wrote. "I lived with this impending fear of doom, a fatalism that controlled my life until the day I accepted Jesus into it."

Summer said she was carrying insecurities from her childhood and shame from decisions she made as an adult. While she didn't elaborate on changing her music in her book, she spoke about the influence of her religion in a 1981 interview with the Washington Post.

"I basically do all my songs, but I do them differently," she said. "I don't do them the way I used to do them and eventually I will cast them out. ... I have a commitment to fill and it would be unfair to people who are waiting to see a certain thing; that's what I did and unfortunately I'm stuck with doing it -- until I can get it to the point where it's changed, writing material that I don't mind doing, that's not an infringement on my new beliefs."

Summer's next album, The Wanderer, included the song, "I Believe in Jesus." She also began adding a gospel segment to her tours. She told the Washington Post she had plans to break with longtime producers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte because she was looking for someone "born again." She did end up working with other people, but the decision appeared to be more about record label politics than spiritual beliefs.

Summer also cut back on performing to focus on her spiritual development and motherhood.

Prince had his own spiritual awakening in 1987, famously replacing The Black Album with the more uplifting Lovesexy, on which he proclaimed his belief in Jesus. He had a couple "born again" phases, though. After a period of additional spiritual searching in the '90s, he converted to the Jehovah's Witness faith in the early 2000s. He began echoing Summer's sentiments about changing his music, eliminating profane lyrics and retiring some songs altogether. He also encouraged his band and staff to attend Kingdom Hall services.

Passionate about fatherhood, Prince may have also taken a break from performing and recording; he said as much in interviews when his first wife, Mayte Garcia, was pregnant, but their son passed away after he was born.

Final Years & Legacy

It's common for artists to get reflective with age, and both Summer and Prince wrote memoirs, though Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2016 before completing his story. Both artists were recording less, though Prince was more prolific overall. They embraced TV appearances, Summer working as a judge on talent shows, and Prince surprisingly guest-starring on "New Girl." They were also working with younger, popular artists.

Summer was passionate about developing her own biographical musical, Ordinary Girl, but it never came to fruition. After she died of lung cancer in 2012, "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical" opened on Broadway. Prince had an interest in theater decades before his death, but towards the end, he was gravitating toward other activities, like writing, more than playing guitar.

Summer did not have the same challenges with drugs, but reflected on the issue in her book.

"I honestly believe that if you are going to be a great singer, songwriter or musician, you must at least be acquainted with pain," she wrote. "There's always a danger on the part of the performer that the pain will be unbearable, which is why, I think, so many performers have substance-abuse problems. They don't really understand or know how to control the emptiness or the pain, and finally it overtakes them."

Both Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are remembered as legends who broke down barriers; for example, they were both among the first Black artists to receive airplay on MTV (Prince with "Little Red Corvette" and Summer with "She Works Hard for the Money"). With her 1977 hit, "I Feel Love," she, Moroder and Bellotte are credited as electronic dance pioneers. And Prince's genius in the studio and onstage will never be seen again.

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Friday, July 3, 2020

"Unwind Your Mind" - Self-Care Break

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Friday, June 26, 2020

"I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" - Song of the Month

Each month I will share some brief, personal thoughts on one of my favorite Prince songs.

When I watched Prince perform an acoustic version of "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" on MTV in 2004, I wasn't as familiar with the song as I am now. (The audience wasn't singing along with much confidence, either.) When he finished playing, he asked, "Remember that from high school?" I'm a little jealous of fans who can say they do; I was just a toddler when the Sign O' the Times album dropped in 1987. His '80s period was not the soundtrack of my childhood. I developed a deeper relationship with his music as an adult. So, for me, "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" brings up memories of riding two buses to my grant-writing job at the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. For some reason, of all the tracks on the album, I added that one to my commuting playlist. I remember being especially impressed by the last two and a half minutes. Prince always gets me when he goes beyond the perfect, three-minute pop ditty and taps further into the emotion of the song with his guitar. I listened closely to each lick and the silence, which reminds me of what he said during the Piano & a Microphone show on January 21, 2016: “The space between the notes, that’s the good part. How long the space is … that’s how funky it is or how funky it ain’t." Sheesh. That last section of "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" is truly funky and it is why I even listen to the song. I'm still hearing new things! And just think: He wrote this song in 1979--eight years before its official release. I can't wait to hear the early version on the forthcoming remastered edition of Sign O' the Times.

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Friday, June 19, 2020

"The Joint Was Hoppin'" - Three Takeaways from the #DM40GB30 Symposium

     Chris Rob and his band perform a virtual set at the #DM40GB30 symposium.

Last weekend, New York University Associate Vice Provost and professor De Angela L. Duff organized a virtual symposium, "Prince: Dirty Mind 40, Graffiti Bridge 30." Originally scheduled to be onsite at NYU, the event celebrated the anniversaries of the two albums referenced in the title.

It was an honor to be invited to participate this year; I did a presentation on the spiritual themes in the Graffiti Bridge film and on the soundtrack.

Instead of rescheduling the symposium for 2021, Duff boldly moved forward with a virtual event on a new platform called Hopin. I am in awe of her work ethic and dedication to promoting Prince's musical and cultural significance. This was not her first symposium, but it was arguably the best. Because it was online, it reached more people and I would guess it allowed her to secure so many amazing guests, including Jill Jones, Andre Cymone, Jerome Benton, Vernon Reid, Nicolay and PRN Alumni members (though I know she worked hard on the lineup well before the coronavirus hit).

Here were three high points:

1) An incredible feeling of community

I have been so blessed to be a part of five(!) Prince conferences/symposia, including three by Duff. Through those experiences, I've met so many scholars who have become friends. But I've also made friends among other Prince-related content creators online. Both of those crowds intersected at #DM40GB30. It was such a joy to enter the (chat) room and be greeted by so many familiar faces.

But even more beautiful was the level of support on display. We were all rooting for each other and tweeting about each other. When I went live on camera in my virtual booth, I was so grateful folks came "inside" to support me. I mentioned my newsletter, and @darlingnisi immediately dropped a link in the chat. I'll never forget that moment. C. Liegh McInnis, who was an absolute rock star presenter and moderator, took time to email me after my presentation. Jonathan Harwell, co-editor of Theology and Prince, was an amazing supporter throughout the entire event.

The fact that singer Jill Jones stayed throughout the entire event, watched the presentations and shared encouraging words with presenters is more proof that Duff has built something truly remarkable.

2) A centering of Black voices--especially Black women

If you wonder why Black people are constantly repeating that Prince was Black, visit a Prince fan group sometime. You'll still find people who either erase Prince's race or project an anti-Black Lives Matter perspective on him when he said differently on video and in his own memoir.

For so long, only non-Black voices were permitted to contribute to the Prince canon. That is one of the reasons why everyone was so excited to see Right On! magazine's Cynthia Horner on a panel. Her perspective is valuable and deserves more attention. Some of us were also introduced to Black women journalists we weren't familiar with, like Carol Cooper (Google her). There were also presentations that spoke about Prince's music and Black women's sexuality in important ways that need more discussion.

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It's important to note that non-Black participants were welcomed with open arms, and they added extremely valuable input. But scholars who share Prince's cultural heritage will be able to contextualize Prince's art in ways that are not apparent to others. The many Black women in Prince's life were also lifted up--something that rarely happens in white-controlled media.

3) A re-examination of Graffiti Bridge

Prince once said it would take people 30 years to get Graffiti Bridge and he was right. I loved that so many scholars took time to seriously analyze the film using myriad lenses (Christianity, African spirituality, postmodernism, fashion). Some people were converted, too! You don't have to like Graffiti Bridge, but if you are a fan of Prince's brilliance, you'll at least try to understand what he was aiming for--even if you felt he didn't succeed.

For me, Graffiti Bridge carries amazing childhood memories. I will always remember that I had the opportunity to watch with Prince's co-stars, Jill Jones and Jerome Benton, and hear their commentary.

Check out Zachary Hoskin's overview, "Postscript: Dirty Mind 40 Graffiti Bridge 30 Virtual Symposium"

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Friday, June 5, 2020

"Jana Jade's Army" - Interview with Jana Anderson

    Photo courtesy of Jana Anderson

For iconic R&B singer Jody Watley, the 1989 hit "Real Love" was a boost to her already red-hot solo career. For then-unknown Minneapolis singer Jana Anderson, the song was an entrée into the world of Prince.

Anderson covered "Real Love" that year on the local talk show "Twin Cities Live." She had no idea the Purple One was watching.

"I, by chance, was wearing a very 'Prince' outfit," recalled Anderson, who was 21 at the time. "I was wearing 'Prince' boots with the gold buttons on the side and the little heel. [I wore] a crop top. ... I just bought it because I liked it."

He also noticed her singing at the annual Minnesota Music Awards, and then began showing up at Rupert's, a local nightclub where Anderson regularly performed.

"I'd always dreamed of being one of Rupert's singers because they were always the best in town," said Anderson, who was also the runner-up in a Miss Minnesota competition and a contestant on "Star Search" during the late '80s.

Prince's bodyguard informed Anderson that the superstar wanted her to record at Paisley Park. She agreed, and spent the next five years doing session work.

She quickly learned the rigors of working with Prince--on top of her other activities: doing commercials and singing at Rupert's well after midnight, five nights a week.

"I would be asked by Prince to come out after five hours of the 'Running Man' and the 'Cabbage Patch' (onstage)," Anderson said. "And I'm a high-energy girl. I always leave it on the stage."

But she was honored when Prince put her on retainer.

"[I thought], 'If he wants me that badly, I'm just going to have to figure it out and just be tired,'" she said.

    Photo courtesy of Jana Anderson

During those early days, Anderson remembers that Prince's studio was dressed up with Batman decorations, including a glass cutout of the bat symbol. (Prince wrote and produced the soundtrack for the 1989 film). And actress Kim Basinger, whom Prince was dating, would be there at times.

Much of Anderson's work for Prince is uncredited or little-known. She can be heard saying "partyman" at the beginning of Prince's 1989 video of the same name. She sang backup on "Miss Thang," a song by T.C. Ellis, a rapper in Prince's camp. She also sang backup on both "Shake!" and "My Summertime Thang" by the The Time.

"I was like the mystery girl," said Anderson, who was sometimes referred to as "blondie" on recordings. "I had no expectations. ... [For] everything he kept handing to me, one thing after another, it was gratitude, like, 'I can't believe I'm doing this,' and, 'I wouldn't have dreamed this.'"

Prince nicknamed her Jana Jade, and even wrote a mid-tempo pop song for her called "Jana Jade's Army," which is in his vault. Anderson also recorded an unreleased cover of The Esquires' 1967 song, "Get on Up." (Prince also recorded a version and later sampled the tune for Carmen Electra's song, "Everybody Get on Up.")

Anderson saved a recording of Prince singing the track to her, along with a voicemail. "He called me and all he said was, 'Let me know where you are,'" she said, doing the requisite "Prince voice" impression.

According to Anderson, Prince also wanted to record a house album with her. She said he would compliment her on the soulfulness of her voice, and he gave her space to interpret the music in the studio.

"He was gracious and sweet," she said. "I've heard people say he was insanely controlling. He was the 180-degree difference with me."

Anderson was also sought after by other musicians in Prince's circle, participating in recording sessions for St. Paul Peterson, Matt Fink and Brownmark.

"I love Jana’s voice," said engineer Chuck Zwicky, who worked with Prince in the late '80s. "She’s got such a wide range but she is really the princess of that 'sexy voice inside your head' thing."

Anderson is featured prominently on the song "MPLS," which was released on Prince's 1994 compilation album, 1-800-New-Funk. It is credited to the band Minneapolis, which included a shifting lineup of musicians: Morris Hayes, the Steeles, Kirk Johnson, Michael Bland, Billy Franze and Kathleen Johnson.

Anderson was no longer working with Prince when the song was released, and had no idea she would be on the final version.

"I thought my voice was going to be replaced by a famous person," she said.

Prince also created an unreleased, animated video for "MPLS," which featured Anderson's likeness. She remembers thinking it was ahead of its time.

"His assistant showed me in the office at Paisley Park," she said. "And I just thought, 'What a drag. I never got any success from this. I never got to promote it.'"

Anderson said she was working with a well-known songwriter who attempted to block Prince from releasing "MPLS." Prior to that, she left Prince's camp to pursue a record deal with Sony Music and work with Oliver Leiber, hitmaker for Paula Abdul and the son of legendary songwriter Jerry Leiber. But, according to Anderson, Leiber was unable to finish her solo album.

Anderson said she has no regrets.

"There were rumors that Prince would sign people and not do anything with them," she said. "And I was a little scared of that. ... I made the best decisions I could at the time with business and doing the kind of music I wanted to do. And Oliver had the kind of music that was really fun."

Anderson went on to work with Fleetwood Mac, Don Henley and Sheena Easton. Around 2008, she spotted Prince on a flight to Minneapolis, and they spent time catching up. He surprised her by suggesting she record a country album, which she was in the middle of doing at the time.

"He just knew stuff," she said. "It was like he was clairvoyant."

She said Prince also offered an apology.

"He said, 'I'm really sorry about what happened when we were working together,'" she recalled. "'I don't know if you heard, but I was having a lot of trouble with my record company at that time.' ... Maybe he felt bad I didn't get credit for 'MPLS.' I'm not sure what [it was]."

Anderson also gathered the courage to ask why he chose her among other singers to record for him.

"It flustered him [at first]," she said. "He goes, 'Well, you sing in tune and you have great time.' ... [It was] the best compliment of my life. ... There's no one who will ever have better time than Prince."

For Anderson, that final memory of Prince is one of many, including the way he smelled ("like essential oils mixed with perfume"), the time he playfully lectured her about eating gummy bears, and the opportunity to watch his impressive work in the studio.

"It was his technical ability, combined with his creativity, combined with [hard work]," she said. "He danced great. He sang great. He played all the instruments. He was a great engineer. Most people get two or three of those."

Today, Anderson is still making music in Minneapolis, and she teaches lessons and performs with a tribute band.

She looks back on her career with gratitude.

"I didn't even know how people got a job singing at a bar when I was in high school," she said. "And then I ended up doing all this. Prince was the blessing of a lifetime."

Keep up with Jana Anderson

Twitter: @janaanderson1
Instagram: @janajadesarmy

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Friday, May 29, 2020

"The Rainbow Children" - Three Bible Verses to Know

In honor of the legacy reissue of The Rainbow Children, Prince's 2001 spiritual masterpiece, I've highlighted some Bible verses that are referenced on the album. I used the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which is the Jehovah's Witness text Prince studied during this time.

1) “Look! The days are coming,” declares Jehovah, “when I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant." - Jeremiah 31:31

On Prince's 1988 spiritual concept album, Lovesexy, he stated, "Save me, Jesus. ... You are my God." On The Rainbow Children, which is more rigid in its presentation of Biblical doctrine, he is careful not to equate Jesus with Jehovah. Still, the latter record is, in many ways, a love letter to Christ.

When Prince sings, "The covenant will be kept this time," on the title track, he is referring to an agreement between God and humanity that yields forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. Many Christians believe that this covenant was foretold in the Old Testament.

2) "Who can find a capable wife? Her value is far more than that of corals." - Proverbs 31:10

When Prince mentions a scripture directly, it makes interpretation of his lyrics a little easier. On "Muse 2 the Pharaoh," he speaks about the qualities of the ideal wife--according to Biblical wisdom. The section of Proverbs describes this woman as resourceful, business-minded, hardworking, wise, kind and pious.

Because this is Prince, there's a lot more to consider, including subtext about his real-life marriages and a perception of women that some may find problematic. There are also references to race that have been debated ad nauseam in the fan community.

3) "We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the holy ones because of the hope that is being reserved for you in the heavens. You previously heard about this hope through the message of truth of the good news." - Colossians 1:4-5

Evangelism is a major part of the Jehovah's Witness faith. Followers seek to spread their beliefs, which they refer to as "the truth," to as many people as possible, and continuously practice strategies for effective communication. In their literature, they cite the scripture above to emphasize the importance of their mission.

Prince echoes this sentiment in the song, "The Everlasting Now."

"Don't let nobody bring you down
Accurate knowledge of Christ and the Father
Will bring the everlasting now
Join the party, make a sound
Share the truth, preach the good news
Don't let nobody bring you down
The everlasting now"

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Friday, May 22, 2020

"Computer Blue" - Song of the Month

Each month I will share some brief, personal thoughts on one of my favorite Prince songs.

"Computer Blue" was the subject of the first music theory assignment I did during my senior year of high school. I can't remember what I was trying to demonstrate; perhaps it was the musical change near the middle of the song. After all, it was that section that took my breath away when I watched the movie for the first time a year earlier. I grew up knowing about legendary black guitar players, but I didn't engage with them regularly. Watching the "Computer Blue" performance changed that; the melody of the second section is simple, but it was so beautiful to me, and I had to know everything about this clearly amazing guitarist, who was so connected to every note he was playing. I was a disciplined musician at the time, preparing to go off to college to study flute performance, which I would do for two years before starting a long journey to becoming a journalist. Prince inspired me as an instrumentalist and as a writer. In college, I did more assignments on him and began the work that would eventually become my book. I spend a lot of time promoting this post-'80s work, but "Computer Blue" will always be important to me. It still takes my breath away.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

"Eye Hate U" - Flutestrumental #1

My rendition of "Eye Hate U - Quite Night Mix."

Drop flute requests in the comments!

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Friday, May 8, 2020

"Spirit's Calling" - Donna Summer + Prince (Part One)

As unique as he was, Prince's music, ideas, career and life experiences did not exist in a vacuum. Many before him navigated the same hurdles.

As an artist, Prince was able to make interesting and often profound statements about sexuality and spirituality. But, at times, he struggled with the limitations of his image as a sex symbol, especially as his spiritual beliefs shifted over time. The same challenge was faced by his predecessors Little Richard, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. I've explored their stories in my book.

Donna Summer had a similar tale. A versatile singer and complex woman, she was pigeonholed by her "Queen of Disco" moniker and "sex goddess" persona. A highly religious woman, she had a spiritual awakening in the late '70s, and became more intentional about using her talent for a righteous purpose. But she grappled with how to serve God and her fans at the same time.

I recently read her 2003 memoir, Ordinary Girl: The Journey. Here are some things she has in common with Prince, spiritual and otherwise.

Church Roots & Angels

It's not uncommon for black singers to get their start in church. Born Donna Gaines in 1948 in Boston, the future superstar made her debut at her African Methodist Episcopal church. "I could hear God's voice clearly and distinctly inside my head, saying, 'You're going to be famous,'" she wrote. "That's power, and you are never to misuse it.'"

Summer had multiple, spiritual experiences growing up. She recalled becoming aware of God's presence in nature at 5 years old. A short time later, she said she became aware of God's protection when she nearly drowned. And at 19, she was convinced she'd met an angel, when an old, white-haired man stopped her on the street and predicted that she would have an opportunity to move overseas and become famous. Then, he disappeared.

"I started to weep right there in the street--not tears of sadness or fear, but an outpouring of all my emotions that had been stirred by the angel's vision and prophetic words," she said.

Prince had his own encounter with an angel, though he didn't retain the memory. It was an experience his mother recounted to him. Apparently, after suffering from epileptic seizures during his childhood, he informed his mother that an angel told him he wouldn't be sick anymore. Sure enough, he got better.

But Prince didn't share any other reports of God or angels speaking to him during his youth. He acknowledged God as the source of his musical inspiration, but that seemed to be a realization he came to gradually as he progressed in his career and his faith.

However, religious themes permeated his music from the beginning. He'd been exposed to Christian beliefs as a child in both Seventh-day Adventist and Methodist churches. A youth leader remembers Prince participating in choir, but not often; he didn't develop his singing chops there.

Work Ethic & Early Success

Prince honed his skills playing in bands and doing session work in Minneapolis. At 19 years old, he signed a three-album deal with Warner Bros., becoming the youngest person in the label's history to produce an album.

Summer was also 19 when she was offered her first recording contract by RCA in 1968. Prior to the opportunity, she'd spent years performing at church and in singing groups before joining a rock band, the Crow, and moving to New York City. However, instead of going forward with RCA, she auditioned for a European production of the musical Hair, and moved to Germany, where she lived and made a name for herself for the next seven years.

Summer was drawn to the 1960s counterculture both on- and offstage. "I could feel there was something more than just music in the fresh air of the sixties, and I was breathing deep, taking it all in," she said. "It was the beginning of a great liberation."

Prince was also drawn to the culture. Though his career took off in the '80s, he explored the theme of liberation through sexual freedom in his early songs like "Uptown," "Partyup" and "Sexuality." And, of course, he built his Paisley Park paradise in Minneapolis.

Superstardom & Controversy

Both future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers were catapulted to superstardom around the same age; Prince at 26 in 1984 and Summer at 27 in 1975. Prince became an icon with his Purple Rain movie and album, while Summer broke through in the U.S. with her No. 2 hit, "Love to Love You Baby."

Prince had long been viewed as a rebel with his sexually explicit lyrics, revealing costumes and gender-bending image. His 1984 song "Darling Nikki" prompted Tipper Gore to form the Parents’ Music Resource Center, which eventually developed the "Parental Advisory" labels on albums.

While Prince's risqué  image was more strategic on his part, Summer didn't necessarily set out to be a sex symbol. "Love to Love You Baby" was controversial due to her erotic moans, which were improvised. Casablanca Records--financed by Warner Bros.--requested a 17-minute version of the song.

"I'd never intended to sing the song that way," Summer wrote. "[It] happened simply because we had run out of words, and I had to do something to fill the time."

Summer was immediately bothered by the content and her portrayal in the media. "Even a Time magazine article described me as the Queen of Sex-Rock, which I found appalling," she wrote. "As far as I was concerned, singing 'Love to Love You Baby' was just an acting exercise."

After years of playing up his sexual side, Prince began to feel the tension between the sacred and profane in his music as early as the Purple Rain tour. His onstage monologues about love versus lust and his belief God seemed to hint at an internal struggle.

"I know I said I'd be good," he said to God in front of the audience, "but they dig it when I'm bad."

Summer also wondered if she was pleasing God.

"Because of my strong religious faith, I felt very guilty about allowing myself to publicly be made into a false and prurient sex goddess," she wrote. "Don't get me wrong, sex is a beautiful thing in the right context, and I'm not a prude. But flaunting myself in this manner went totally against my moral grain."

Before long, both she and Prince would take steps to reconnect with their faith.

Stay tuned for part two!

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Friday, May 1, 2020

"Daddy Pop" - Favorite Prince Quotes (1990s)

*Featuring art from the 9T99 Coloring Book

"There’s nothing a critic can tell me that I can learn from. ... If they were musicians, maybe. But I hate reading about what some guy sitting at a desk thinks about me. You know, ‘He’s back, and he’s black,’ or ‘He’s back, and he’s bad.'"

- Rolling Stone, 1990

"If I was somebody else, writers and critics would be all up in the way the chords work and the keyboard lines. They just write off my slow jams."

- Spin, 1991

"I said to him, ‘Do you believe in God?’ And he says, ‘No.’ And I say, ‘Do you believe in faith? In hope?’ By the end of it, blood was down on his knees, looking for a church to go pray.”

- The Globe and Mail, 1996

"I really don't like categories (for my music), but the only thing I could think of is inspirational. And I think music that is from the heart falls right into that category, people who really feel what it is that they're doing. And ultimately all music is or can be inspirational. And that's why it's so important to let your gift be guided by something more clear."

- Larry King Live, 1999

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Friday, April 24, 2020

"Let's Go Crazy" - Some Thoughts on the "Grammy Salute to Prince"

Embed from Getty Images
               Gary Clark Jr.

I don't think I've watched a Prince tribute in real time since the 2010 BET Awards. Those were happier times, of course. Prince was in the audience. He nervously watched a pregnant Alicia Keys climb on top of the piano. He proudly caught Patti LaBelle's shoe. He told young artists they didn't have to be as wild as he once was to be successful.

Ten years later, he's gone and tributes remind me what a unique talent we've lost. His music is difficult to cover. And we've seen a lot of the same types of performances over the years. I'm really thrilled that people are still honoring him--in prime time, no less. But I know I'm not the target audience.

With that said, I don't have anything especially negative to say about "Let's Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince," which aired Tuesday on CBS. With everyone staying at home due to the pandemic, the celebration had a captive audience. And from what I saw on social media, a lot of people enjoyed the performances. I hope casual fans were inspired to listen to more of Prince's music.

I do think some artists were under-utilized. For example, I really wanted St. Vincent to be able to shred on guitar, but I think she was limited by the song, "Controversy." I think it would have been neat to see artists incorporate small sections of Prince's lesser-known rock or jazz-influenced songs (e.g. material after 1989) that would prompt some viewers to think, "Wow, what was that? Let me look that up!"

I'm glad the show incorporated snippets of Prince's life story and performances, but they just me excited about the possibility of network TV broadcasting a Prince tour like "Sign O' the Times," "Lovesexy" or "Musicology" so casual fans can witness what he could really do. In 2012, the "Bad 25" documentary on Michael Jackson's 1987 album premiered on ABC. What if something like that was created for one of Prince's albums?

Overall, I'm glad I tuned into "The Grammy Salute to Prince." A few performances--and broader ideas--stood out to me:

1) Gary Clark Jr. and the importance of black guitar players honoring Prince

I was so happy to see blues/rock artist Gary Clark Jr. participate in the tribute, and I'm glad he played "The Cross." Black guitarists are often overlooked in the rock genre, and Prince is still underrated as a guitar player. And we do not talk enough about the presence of the blues in his music. Of course Prince influenced Gary Clark Jr. and a host of other black guitarists who are an important part of the rock genre. Hopefully this performance stirred up some of those truths.

2) Usher and the thrill of true showmanship

I am an Usher fan for many reasons, one being that he is a true entertainer. He is detailed-oriented about his vocals, choreography, swagger and fashion (he nailed the outfit, and I loved the quick little turn to show off the 1999-inspired artwork on the back of his jacket). He brought that element of showmanship that we used to see from Prince, Michael Jackson and James Brown. And friends--that element is fading in popular music.

3) Misty Copeland, Mavis Staples and the reality of loss

When I saw Misty Copeland dancing the same routine to "The Beautiful Ones" that I saw her do at Madison Square Garden with Prince 10 years ago, I immediately wanted to weep for her. I can't imagine how difficult that must have been to relive such a special moment with a friend, and I was not surprised when she was overcome with emotion speaking later in the show. And as I heard the legendary Mavis Staples sing "Purple Rain," I couldn't help but think, "Wow, losing Prince was probably like losing a son in her eyes." I don't think we as fans can understand how much some of these performers are still mourning--but they get on the stage to do their part to honor Prince.

4) Foo Fighters and the need for rockers to acknowledge Prince

I mentioned this earlier, but because Prince is underrated in the rock world, it was nice to see Foo Fighters participate in the tribute. While he was alive, rockers couldn't always get away with covering his songs. (I'm glad Dave Grohl mentioned that.) But now I'd like to see other folks in that community be even more vocal about Prince's influence as a rock guitarist during the "Purple Rain" era and beyond.

P.S. Someone on Twitter said D'Angelo should do an entire album of Prince covers and that's one tribute I would love to see.

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Friday, April 17, 2020

"Same Page Different Book" - Song of the Month

Each month I will share some brief, personal thoughts on one of my favorite Prince songs.

One of the greatest things about being a Prince fan was that you never knew what to expect from him. Whether or not you dug what he was doing, he was always interesting and mysterious. If Prince never did another thing after 2002, he would still be a legend. But it's amazing that I became a serious fan that year and still had almost 15 years of watching him break records and stir up worldwide excitement. "Same Page Different Book" came out during a time when Prince was slowly unveiling his new band, 3rdEyeGirl. The song appeared out of nowhere on the 3rdEyeGirl YouTube channel in early 2013. Ironically, it was a track that predated the new band members and didn't feature them. But it was still thrilling to get a new song for a brief period; it was shortly taken down. Fans are drawn to different elements of Prince's artistry--beyond the music. Obviously, I have always been interested in what he has to say about spirituality. So, "Same Page Different Book"--which touches on monotheism, the Biblical Book of Galatians and more--drew me in immediately. It was like, "He's still speaking about subjects I care about!" (I'll have a proper analysis in my book.) Luckily, the song is funky and soulful. I always pay attention to the vocal ad-libs he does, no matter how small. I even like Shelby J.'s rap. I just remember dancing in my bedroom and wondering what he was going to do next.

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Friday, April 10, 2020

"This is a Groove" - Favorite Prince Songs (Part 3)

This is the conclusion of a three-part series. Previously, I listed my favorite song from each of Prince's studio albums during the 1980s and the 1990s. This was the hardest yet because I have extremely personal memories tied to his music during the 2000s. I finally understand why fans hate doing these lists!

1. The Rainbow Children (2001): "She Loves Me 4 Me." This entire album is extraordinary given the level of musicianship alone. There are more advanced tracks than "She Loves Me 4 Me," but I can't think of a lovelier song in his discography. The sweet lyrics and gorgeous guitar licks get me every time. Read more about my relationship with the song here.

2. One Nite Alone (2002): "Avalanche." It's always interesting when Prince decides to get very specific with his subject matter. And it's important to listen to songs like this to gain a better understanding of his perspective on race relations.

3. Xpectation (2003): "Xosphere." I need to spend more time with this album, but I think I enjoy this melody the most right now.

4. N.E.W.S. (2003): "North." This is the only Prince album I can listen to as background music while writing. There's great guitar work in here, but it's part of the piano solo (10:10) that always gets to me.

5. Musicology (2004): "If Eye Was the Man in Ur Life." I almost chose "Call My Name," one of his best ballads, but I had to go with the song that I immediately hit rewind on when I played the album for the first time. The music is extremely funky and I actually like his pick-up lines--which is not often the case.

6. The Chocolate Invasion (2004): "When Eye Lay My Hands on U." Great melody, amazing guitar solo.

7. The Slaughterhouse (2004): "Y Should Eye Do That When Eye Can Do This?" One of his most compelling raps.

8. 3121 (2006): "3121." This is my favorite album of the decade, so I almost cried picking just one track. I love the nasty groove, scene-setting and guitar solo.

9. Planet Earth (2007): "Future Baby Mama." I don't care what anyone thinks. You have to be in the mood to listen to most of this album, especially the title track, which is another one of my other favorites. But "Future Baby Mama" is easy listening and I like the vocal decisions he makes.

10. Lotusflow3r (2009): "Wall of Berlin." Prince, Sonny T. and Michael Bland create magic whenever they get in the studio. I love how they switch up the rhythm. Also, Prince's guitar is on fire.

11. MPLSound (2009): "Valentina." Surprisingly, I adore three songs on this otherwise lackluster album and had trouble selecting one. "Valentina" has a nice beat, decent rapping, an infectious chant ("Hey, Valentina!") and a fun backstory.

12. Elixir (2009): "Home." This is technically Bria Valente's album, but Prince wrote everything and bundled it with his other projects. It's an underrated album and Bria's voice works well. His vocal production for her on this song is stellar. The guitar is subtle but dope (listen closely to the the second verse).

13. 20Ten (2010): "Sticky Like Glue." This is the song to play for fans who don't enjoy his work during this period. He was a master of funk-pop until the very end.

14. Plectrumelectrum (2014): "Plectrumelectrum." This is ... not my favorite album. I think a project full of instrumentals like this would bump it up higher on my list even though this is a bit paint-by-numbers rock for me.

15. Art Official Age (2014): "Way Back Home." This might change because I need to spend more time with this album. This song feels very personal--but that can be said of the entire project.

16. HitnRun Phase One (2015): "1000 X's and O's." Though this was originally written in the '90s, he did a fantastic job with the updates. I was in Atlanta recently and they were playing it on the R&B station. It fit right in!

17. HitnRun Phase Two (2015): "Look at Me, Look at U." He went out on a high note with this entire album. "Black Muse" and "When She Comes" are gems, of course. But I have an emotional connection to this one. It took me a while--today, actually--to be able to play it without getting upset.

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Friday, April 3, 2020

“Welcome 2 the Million $ Show” - Redeeming Qualities of “HitnRun: Phase One”

This post is brought to you by Prince’s Friend, who is taking over A Purple Day in December this week. - Erica

HitnRun: Phase One was released in September 2015 as a fusion of electronic, pop, funk and everything in between that Prince could muster. Since its launch, the Prince community has been largely split into two camps of listeners: those who heard it, loved it and couldn’t wait for more, and those who came away from the album thinking it was utter trash. I’ve heard very little in the way of nuance when it comes to the album’s reception, and I thought, “What better place to have it out than here on Erica’s blog?”

First, there are three main arguments cast at the album to “prove” it’s terrible, and I’d like to address them.

“The production quality isn’t up to his usual standards.”

I have to agree that the production on HitnRun: Phase One is quite different from what you’ll hear on other Prince albums. This was the product of introducing Joshua Welton into the mix. Prior to this album, the majority of Prince’s music was self-produced (I mean, we all remember his initial fight with Warner Bros. to give an unknown talent the right to produce his debut album), but this was one of the few occasions where Prince brought in someone else to carry that weight. In fact, even though Welton was given co-producer credits, he actually handled the lion’s share of the process (more responsibility than he had when working on Art Official Age with Prince).

This created a strange mix of Prince’s older production stylings with Welton’s more modern techniques. HitnRun: Phase One featured a bit of Auto-Tuning on Prince’s vocals, a dubstep-inspired breakdown and updated electronic sounds to some previously released songs.

Was the production bad? Certainly not! Expectations can shift the way we receive any medium. When I saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I came out of the movie feeling ambivalent. It was good, but it wasn’t the monumental step in animation and storytelling everyone hyped it up to be. In my eyes, because HitnRun: Phase One followed Art Official Age, widely considered one of Prince’s best albums, fans’ perceptions of its quality were heavily skewed. And the fact that Prince took the production reins again for HitnRun: Phase Two feeds into the argument that he didn’t like the quality of Phase One, which he never said publicly. But people love their stories, don’t they?

“Too many guest vocalists.”

This album certainly did have its fair share of guest stars who gave the project some extra flavor and momentum (Judith Hill on “Million $ Show,” Rita Ora on “Ain’t About to Stop,” Curly Fryz on “Like a Mack” and Josh Welton on “X’s Face”).

But, as I see it, this isn’t exactly uncommon in today’s music business, where the number of collaborations can feel ridiculous at times. Prince’s small selection of guests was not out of place or overbearing. It showed that Prince was looking to the future in terms of marketability. Younger fans might say, “Oh, Rita Ora’s on this one, let me check it out!” or “I didn’t know Judith Hill was working with Prince. She was my favorite on ‘The Voice.’”

Beyond the album, Prince also leaned on his appearance on “New Girl” to debut “Fallinlove2nite” as a promotional single with the help of Zooey Deschanel’s quirky sense of humor. (The album includes a Prince-only version, which adds a bit more keyboard work.) He also took the opportunity to partner with Tidal to push the album even further. All of this shows Prince was trying to step away from his solitude and his reputation for being a one-man army. He was already successful, so trying new things, like working with up-and-comers and teaming up with a new digital platform, amounted to Prince changing with the times, just like he always did.

“It just doesn’t sound like Prince.”

This is the most common argument I hear. Even without bringing the production style into the conversation, most people say it “just doesn’t sound like Prince.” I don’t hear any difference in songwriting or execution. Sure, there weren’t a lot of horns, the levels were different and the electronic tinge to it rings deep, but it still features songs with epic bass (“Shut This Down”) and funk (“Like A Mack,” “1000 X’s & O’s”). And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the guitar work on songs like “Hardrocklover” and keyboards on “Fallinlove2nite.”

Some people dislike the inclusion of the remixed “This Could Be Us,” originally released on Art Official Age. I personally liked Welton’s reworking of the song. Others criticize “Mr. Nelson” because it’s largely an instrumental. But it’s highly enjoyable in its juxtaposition; it’s both high-energy and laid back. It’s danceable, but also meditative.

HitnRun: Phase One represents Prince looking to the future. For someone to say, “It doesn’t sound like Prince,” is to admit he did exactly what he set out to do with this album. And, sure, maybe he stepped further away from his usual sound in a way that made his fandom uncomfortable, but he was known for taking big swings. Why take half-measures?

Album Highlights 

Prince wanted to stake new ground on HitnRun: Phase One, and came out of the gate with strong songs like “Shut This Down” and “Ain’t About to Stop.” These two songs alone are worth the price of admission. They erupt into explosions of funk, techno and flavor, showing Prince knows how to get a party started and keep it going. They rise and fall and keep the listener guessing the whole time, making for a great starter for the album.

Like “Fallinlove2nite” and “This Could Be Us,” “1000 X’s & O’s” was released previously. It was originally written in the ‘90s and recorded by both Rosie Gaines and Nona Gaye, but never truly found a home until it appeared on HitnRun: Phase One. The version concocted by Prince and Welton, with its simple beat and Prince’s romantic vocals, breathes new life into the old song.

From beginning to end, HitnRun: Phase One is epic, but the first and last tracks make statements of their own. “Million $ Show” was a message to record companies who try to trick performers into playing free shows for “promotion.” Prince was making sure they knew how much it would cost to book him. He wasn’t getting out of bed for less than $1 million in his bank account!

The final track, “June,” seems to weave a semi-autobiographical tale that is both nonsensical and seemingly dripping with meaning, innuendo and metaphor. I’ve heard more interpretations of this song than almost any other in his catalog.

In the end, it’s up to you to say whether you dig HitnRun: Phase One or not. I’ve always believed that you can like what you like and not like what you don’t like. However, I’d also encourage everyone to shed their preconceived notions about this album and give it another try. If you accept it for its differences instead of rejecting it because it’s not necessarily “on brand” for Prince, then you’ll be opening yourself up to a new experience from an old friend.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

"We Need a Purple High" - Lesser-Known Prince Podcast Episodes

      Photo by Jason Breininger

Whether it's books, blogs or video broadcasts, I spend a lot of time engaging content created by other superfans. While I love participating in such a fun, knowledgeable community, sometimes it's refreshing to step outside of the purple bubble to hear how casual fans feel about Prince.

Recently, I stumbled upon a few mainstream podcasts and I was delighted to find some Prince-related episodes among them. See below and please enjoy.

"Hit Parade": "Le Petty Prince Edition"

Slate's "Hit Parade" podcast is critic Chris Molanphy's well-researched show about popular music history with emphasis on chart analysis. His recent episode on Whitney Houston's career and what it means to have "crossover" success was amazing. So, I was really excited to check out his episode about Tom Petty and Prince from 2017.

Molanphy lays out the many parallels between Petty and Prince, including their chart dominance, success writing for other artists and record label battles. It gave me a new appreciation for Petty, whose career I didn't follow previously. And it was nice to hear how much Petty admired Prince, despite the Purple One's playful teasing during the greatest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction performance of all time.

"Rolling Stone Music Now": "The Power and Glory of Prince"

This episode of the music magazine's podcast came out just days after Prince passed away. The best part is hearing writer Brian Hiatt talk about his experience interviewing Prince for a 2014 cover story that was shelved until 2016. There are wonderful, behind-the-scenes tidbits, like the fact that Hiatt was quizzed on black artists before the interview began. I'm also glad Hiatt shared more information about their discussions on music. "He was as passionate and convincing a music fan as anyone I've ever spoken to in my life," Hiatt said. "He made me want to listen to whatever he was talking about, even if it was stuff I already loved."

"Switched on Pop": "Why U Love 2 Listen 2 Prince" 

Because this podcast is co-hosted by a musicologist, Nate Sloan, I find it more compelling than your average pop podcast. And this episode features guest Anil Dash, a technologist and entrepreneur who is well-known in the Prince fan community. But this was my first experience hearing Dash's take on the impact of technology on the sound of Prince's music. And I enjoyed hearing Dash's perspective on Prince's early adoption of the internet because Dash was there online in real time consuming the music. (Go even deeper on Dash's own podcast, "Function.") You can hear Sloan's mind being blown by Dash's analysis, which is evidence that even music aficionados haven't even scratched the surface on Prince. Come on, people!

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Friday, March 20, 2020

"She Loves Me 4 Me" - Song of the Month

Each month I will share some brief, personal thoughts on one of my favorite Prince songs.

On April 17, I'll have my hands on the vinyl reissue of Prince's 2001 album, The Rainbow Children. I'm hoping the world will be in a better state, but, come what may, the music will provide the necessary joy and comfort. When I hear "She Loves Me 4 Me," I think back to the summer before I started college. I was living in a cramped room in my mother's house and I think I was working a retail job I hated, but I had a copy of The Rainbow Children on CD to lift my spirits. This is one of the most beautiful songs Prince has ever written, and I hope more people in the general public hear it so they can appreciate the breadth of his talent. I remember listening to the lyrics and feeling so happy for him. "I don't have to live up to no one's fantasy/I can write another 300 melodies, but to her it's just three, 'cause this one, she loves me for me," he sings. So many of us love Prince for his music, but it was great to think of him finding someone--or yearning for someone--who could appreciate him for who he was behind the image he worked so hard to maintain. I drank in every phrase and guitar lick. Even though he was very Christian at that point, he still slid a naughty line in there: "She got the ride that I like to ride" (listen to that sexy guitar part underneath). I loved thinking about the possibility of settling down with someone who could meet all of your needs. I remember playing this song for my mom (she probably didn't like it as much as I thought she did) and gushing about this album. It's truly the project that made me a devoted fan. Thanks, Prince.

What's your favorite song on the album? 

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Friday, March 13, 2020

"The New Power Generation" - My Niece's Thoughts on Prince

This is the final installment of my "Prince + Family Series," which has featured my dad and my mom. I wanted to get the opinion of someone younger. My niece is 13 years old and an artist herself, so I thought she'd be the perfect subject.

Our interview reinforced a few things: The young people in your life are always paying attention to your interests; Prince still inspires discussions about gender and sexuality; and his talent is undeniable.

As part of our chat, I showed my niece three Prince videos. I wanted to capture different periods of his career and pick clips that would keep her attention. And I chose a personal favorite of mine from the '90s era. I recorded her immediate reactions.

At the end of the post, you'll see a quick discussion with my sister—the only person on the planet who likes the movie Graffiti Bridge as much as I do.

Interview with My Niece

What do you know about Prince?

His song "Purple Rain" was a big hit in America and he would always wear high-heeled boots, eyeliner, mascara and always have a dot on his face, right on his cheekbone—I think it was a mole or maybe he placed it there. And he would always wear nice suits. And I didn’t understand why he would wear (what he wore). At first I thought he was gay. ... He played a lot of instruments. I heard that he was a very good musician. I heard he was really talented.

What do you remember about the day he died?

I was in my living room. We were watching the news; I think it was the "Today" show. We [eventually] heard he died from an overdose. We were so surprised. ... I was like, “Oh my gosh, all the legends are dying.” It was kinda sad. I didn’t really listen to his music, but I know he was a legend.

You know more than I thought you did.

I always do my research. I knew that you, Auntie, loved him and I was just like, "Why does she love him so much?" So I looked on YouTube, saw some of his shows. Me and my stepdad were watching a documentary on TV and I saw the high-heeled boots. They talked about the makeup and the magazines. They talked about him and his wife. I looked at how he was dancing in those high-heeled boots and I was just like, "My back would be hurting if I was dancing in some heels, too."

I don’t really think about him that much anymore now that he’s deceased. I wasn’t really into his music. Michael Jackson was the go-to. But some people are real Prince fans so I think they might know more than I do.

My Niece's Reactions to Prince's Videos

“Kiss” (1986)

Back then (those midriff shirts) didn’t mean you were gay or bi. Men would wear that. This is jammin’. He always had that little booty. I guess I would be attracted to him in some way. He’s goofy.

Ayee, get it! Ayee, get it!

Why is (the woman) wearing that on her head?

“Willing and Able” (1991)

He’s wearing a scarf that you wear to bed! Oh my gosh, those heels …

It was kinda weird that he was wearing that [outfit]—the clothes and the heels. I’m still confused about why he’s wearing that stuff. It’s nice but if I was to date him, and we’re getting ready, we both have to do our makeup, we both have to put on our heels. But that’s him.

I think the video overall was pretty nice. I like how they arranged it with the cameras and I like the singers. They were really good. I wonder who that one singer was [Rosie Gaines]. It wasn’t as interesting as “Kiss,” [though]. That had a little bit more funk to it. This one is like a jazz-pop song.

“Black Sweat” (2006)

I was born in 2006!

His hairstyle has changed. He looks older. I think he looks a little bit more masculine as he got older. It’s funny because you don’t see him moving around as much.

Um … why do they have that lady screaming like that?

That was really, really cool. [But] I didn’t understand the purpose of “Black Sweat.” She’s black and she’s sweating? Is she mad because there’s sweat on her?

No song I’ve heard of his is boring. Usually, people make albums and then it’ll be like one good song and then the rest will sound like they’re practicing. But he sounds like he knows what he’s doing. He looks handsome.

Of the three videos, which is your favorite?

“Black Sweat.” It was chill and it was up-to-date. 

Does this make you want to listen to more of his music?

Yeah, I want to know more about him but I feel like it would make me sad because I would wish I would have met him. So I think I’ll stay where I’m at. 

Q&A with My Sister

Why do you like Graffiti Bridge?

I think it’s just what we were exposed to [when we were younger]. I thought he was weird, of course, but I enjoyed the songs and the rivalry between him and Morris Day in the movie. I thought that was funny and I felt sorry for [Prince] because they made fun of him, but it was entertaining. I like Tevin Campbell’s song, too. The music is the best part of the movie. 

How does your relationship with Michael Jackson compare?

I was more of a Michael Jackson fan, so I paid more attention to him than anybody. I couldn’t believe that you got into Prince so heavily because we grew up with Michael. You can’t really compare the two artists. They’re worlds apart. The only difference between he and Michael that puts Prince just a notch above is that he is a musician who played all those instruments. [But] I remember as a young kid feeling like I was going to pass out when I saw other people pass out from seeing Michael, and how big he was and almost not even human. 

I just feel like Prince was more controversial, not only his music, but how he lived his life before the whole Jehovah’s Witness thing. It’s what people are accepting and doing now and he was doing that 20 years ago. He didn’t have a gender [expression]. He wasn’t male or female, really. He was just queer [aesthetically]. He set a precedent for what we see now. He was called weird then, but it’s accepted now, so he was ahead of his time. 

Would you call yourself a Prince fan?

I don’t know enough. I can’t even really remember the song titles. I remember the music. I never thought to go to a concert. I’m saddened that I wasn’t able to go to a Michael Jackson concert and I grew up watching Michael Jackson’s videos over and over again, listening to his music over and over again, practicing his moves over and over again and idolizing all of his choreography and trying to learn every bit of it. I didn’t do that with Prince.

Do you think Prince is a good dancer?

I thought he was cool and he’s talented, but I never thought of him as a dancer. I think it’s neat acrobatics. 

Final thoughts? 

I respect him. I respect his talent. He gave other artists a position to be who they are and opened doors for other artists.

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Friday, March 6, 2020

"Just Like My Mother" - Mom's Thoughts on Prince

From left: Me, Mom and my sister

Last week, I interviewed my dad about Prince. This week, the focus is on my mom, another person who influenced my musical tastes. However, I think when you're growing up, you sometimes assume things about your family members' perspectives instead of asking them directly. Doing this interview with my mom gave me a better understanding of her relationship with Prince's music.

(And yes, just as I've neglected my dad, I need to do a better job of buying Prince music for my mom -- though only a little bit at a time.)

As I mentioned last week, she was born the same year as Prince and experienced his talent in real time. Here's her take on Prince in her customarily funny and blunt manner.

What was your impression of Prince's early career?

I was shocked to see his picture on his album cover [Prince, 1979]. He was naked and I guess back at that time, you're not used to seeing that. It was like, "Ooh, who is this guy?" He was new and it made you actually listen to his music.

And you said your older brother (Uncle Jr.) used to talk about Prince, right?

Well, by Jr. being a musician himself and playing the guitar himself, he was listening to the guitar when he was listening to his music. He used to always say, "That guy is gifted and he's getting ready to go big." He said, "He's a genius." All he ever talked about was Prince.

I thought Prince was ahead of his time as far as his type of music. I really liked him, everything about him. He was more rock 'n' roll because of the way he played his guitar, the heels he wore and the clothes he wore. Some of his music I couldn't get into.

Like what?

"Little Red Corvette" (1982). ... We were more into funk.

And you didn't like Dirty Mind (1980), right?

I could not get into that. That's what I mean; Prince was way out there. [Some of] Prince's music only meant something to him.

Dad said you didn't like that Prince put "The Lord's Prayer" in "Controversy" (1981). Why not?

Because of the type of person he was and everything he sung about and the way he acted, and then you're going to throw "The Lord's Prayer" in there? No.

I never bought his albums. I bought certain songs that I like. I think what really put me over on some of his songs was when he did the movie Purple Rain (1984).

What did you like about the movie?

It was silly. It was more of a comedy, but the music I really enjoyed and The Revolution [band]. That band is bad. And you've got two women? And they were bad. I loved his group. ... When he did that "Darling Nikki" on the stage, that was cold-blooded.

[But] Prince can't act. ... A lot of people watched Purple Rain because it was Prince and then once they watched it, they enjoyed it. If it hadn't been for Morris Day and having a little comedy in there, it might not have been all that good.

Did you like Under the Cherry Moon (1986)? 

That movie sucked. It wasn't about anything and he can't act.

Most fans like Under the Cherry Moon and hate Graffiti Bridge (1990). Why do you think our family liked Graffiti Bridge so much?

I didn't.




What did you think of Prince doing the entire Batman (1989) soundtrack?

That was a very big deal. That introduced [more] people to Prince. I was wowed by that because you've got Batman, Jack Nicholson and then you've got Prince doing the music. That was big.

Even if I don't own the music, I can sing to all of it. That Batman movie was good. And then all the rest of them got darker and darker.

Do you remember telling me you felt some of Prince's music was dark?

It might not have been so much dark; it might have been weird because he was ahead of his time and we weren't used to that.

With Prince, you started off nice with "Soft and Wet," and then you showed everybody you can play a guitar, and it just seemed like he just went over the edge. He got more--not wild--but it was weird. He just got more and more weird. His music got weird. No one could understand his music.

What did you think of his name change during the '90s?

I didn't understand the symbol. [I thought], "What is he smoking?"

What did you think of his conversion to the Jehovah's Witness faith?

I think he lost a bunch of his fans, which is sad. I thought it was a good thing.

Did you pay attention to him in the 2000s? 

I don't think I bought any of his later songs. I didn't like any of it. I guess maybe I didn't pay attention.

What Prince songs are on your iPod right now?

"Scandalous," "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad," "Anotherloverholenyohead," "Diamonds and Pearls," "Adore" and "Darling Nikki." I like "Soft and Wet," I just haven't bought it yet.

Aw man, you need to have at least 30 Prince songs on there.

I mean, he can be a genius and he can be great, but I'm only going to buy what I like.

What is your all-time favorite Prince song?

"Adore." And then "Anotherloverholeinyohead." I love that!

Why didn't you see him live? 

I stopped going to any concerts when I had you and [your sister]. It was just too expensive. I just figured it's cheaper for me to buy the music.

Let's go back to that old 1980s debate: Prince or Michael Jackson?

I remember that crap. You can't compare that. Michael Jackson was a singer and performer. Prince was a musician. That's the difference. They're not in the same class. If I had to pick one I'm going to pick Prince. Not everybody can play a guitar and write music.

Overall, what did you like most about Prince?

I admired the way he performed. He's very gifted. He played the piano and he played that guitar like you wouldn't believe. I give him his props for that--with his little short self.

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