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.
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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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).
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.
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.
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.
Are all of these thoughtful & insightful presentations forcing me to like the Graffiti Bridge movie? Feels like brainwashing tactics...but I’m fully on board regardless. 😂#DM40GB30
— Jason - Press Rewind Prince Lyrics Podcast (@pressrewind75) June 13, 2020
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.
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."