Prince Rogers Nelson (born June 7, 1958), known from 1993 to 2000 as an unpronounceable symbol (or informally, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, Tafkap, or simply The Artist), is a popular American musician. He had 1984's biggest hit song in the US with "When Doves Cry" and is best known for his album and movie "Purple Rain". During the 1980s Prince was comparable with the "mega-superstars" of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston & Madonna in terms of star power and sales. However, his popularity has waned since the mid 90s.
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Prince - Art Official Age - Exclaim! (Reviews)
The trouble with being a musical genius — which Prince truly is — is that in order to avoid becoming bored repeating yourself, you end up putting out music that goes over the head of audiences expecting endless Purple Rain permutations. With that said, Art Official Age is Prince's most consistent effort since his "return to commercial relevancy" circa 2004-2006 period with albums Musicology and 3121. (Subsequent projects were politely defined as "okay.") It's not that previous Prince albums were ever purely dreadful, but accessibility has been the...Read More
Prince: The Best of the Patchy Years Mojo, Jan 1996
IN MANY WAYS the ultimate 80s self-made man, Prince spent the decade inventing and reinventing himself. The scope of the mans ambition was mindboggling; the result some of the most innovative music around.
But, having surged through so many uncharted seas, by decades end he was starting to tread water. During 89 and 95 the so-called Patchy Period Prince released six albums (not counting the bootlegged Black Album) and reduced his already-truncated name to an unpronouncable symbol. If the 80-odd tracks arent as risky as his earlier output, theres still more dangerously good songs to be found than most of his contemporaries could manage over a half-dozen years. A cassette-stuffing selection for your delectation.
Film director Tim Burton was a major Prince fan; Prince was a major Batman fan (the TV theme was the first thing he learned to play on the piano) so an alliance was really inevitable. When he finally agreed to write something for the movie, Prince typically tossed off a whole album. Played entirely single-handedly, its a dark, claustrophobic collection that feeds right into the films gothic urban fantasy. Theres something of the Low-period Bowie in the best tracks obsessive, grungey, dangerous undercurrents set to a menacingly regular dance beat. 'Electric Chair' is particularly dense and predatory. 'Vicki Waiting' the first song Prince wrote for the film has an intense, grooving riff and churning bass. (The soul-searching lyrics "Talk of children still frightens me/Is my character enought 2 be/One that deserves a copy made" recently took on new significance; Prince resurrected the song at concerts earlier this year.)
Prince followed up Batman with the soundtrack to his own third film. Patchier than its predecessors, but there are still gems (not least the bizarre but effective Tex Mex shuffle-funk 'Shake!' performed by The Time). 'Thieves In The Temple' is a grossly overlooked track. Released in two 12" mixes by then relatively-unknown Junior Vasquez, it was Princes first real incursion into house. But the sheer, all-round, bloody-good-song award goes to 'The Question Of U' an excellent pop melody overlaid by a one-man-band of backing vocals, clapping and strange synthesised instruments. For some reason, Prince dropped it from the actual film.
Diamonds And Pearls
With his recently assembled band New Power Generation, Prince seemed newly energised and focused. Still, one of the best tracks is a one-man effort 'Thunder'. Uplifting, infectuous party gospel with sex and soul as themes: "Twas like thunder all thru the night/And a promise 2 see Jesus in the morning light". Prince, incidentally, later extended the song to 18 minutes for a performance by the US Joffrey Ballet troupe. 'Cream' allegedly written by Prince while looking in the mirror is a narcissistic, GangsterGlam classic. Lyrics like "Cream get on top/cream sh-boogie bop", are worthy of Marc Bolan. A third selection just because its such a move away from his by now all-too-common big production numbers is 'Willing And Able'. Raw and vocally restrained, Prince recorded this backstage in his dressing room in Japan on a borrowed multi-track machine. At the other extreme we are talking Prince he premiered it before a cast of millions in video form at the American Superbowl.
The first appearance of the squiggle though Prince was not to officially change his name until his 35th birthday the following year. The album was allegedly inspired by the now Mrs Symbol, Mayte. Story has it that Prince was in Germany and, Elvis-style, spots a young teenage girl he declares he will make his wife. Back home, Symbol writes a bunch sexy songs and sends them to her, Pen-pal Mayte responds with videos of herself, belly-dancing. Prince falls in love, declares to his fans that shes an Egyptian princess, and Bobs your uncle Symbol, with its themes of sex, spirtuality, Egyptology, redemption and more sex. Some of Princes steamiest stuff is on this album. But the winner for outright James Brownian, jailbait-luring preening and peacockery is 'My Name Is Prince'. "My name is Prince and (eyeball) am funky/My name is Prince the one and only... / In the beginning God made the sea/But on the 7th day He made me" is a classic in self-referential funk arrogance. And the groove is irresistible. '7's not lacking in the groove department either, and its weird melody and Egyptian musical references make it a stand-out. If youve got room on the tape, slap on the more straightforward James Brown nod, 'Sexy Motherfucker' as well. Good lyrics, great party track.
Warners were by now getting quite pissed off with Princes prodigious and not altogether commerical output, and intially drew the line at Come. So Prince staged it in 93 at his new Grand Slam club in Los Angeles as a piece of musical theatre, based around the story of Ulysses. It starred 12 dancers and 12 new songs. The LA Times called it "silly". But some of its quite wonderful. The title track had been featured live by TAFKAP in many different versions including a darker, electronic one that appeared on a TV special but the final album Come cut was more conservative musically, in contrast with its over-the-top lyrics about oral sex complete with slurping sound effects. The horns are particularly horny. 'Pheromone' is another good one. Cloyingly perverse the whispering seduction intro giving way to percolating funk with half-spoken vocals its the perfect track for claustrophobic voyeurs. And, for sheer vocal virtuosity, you might want to chuck in 'Solo', a simple, spare piece co-writen with David Henry Hwang of M.Butterfly fame.
The Gold Experience
By now TAFKAPs eccentricities were getting positively Michael Jacksonian. Wanting out of his contract with Warners, he appeared at the BRIT awards with SLAVE written in pen across his face, and took The Gold Experience on the road with a $250,000 Endorphin Machine. Dont ask. (Oh, all right then. It was three gold-painted structures that represented the penis a half-cucumber shaped birdcage, incorporating an elevator the clitoris a coiled, pretzely contraption and the womb a two-storey red-curtained temple like something off the cover of a sci-fi paperback, incorporating a mixing board and dressing room.). 'Pussy (or actually 'P') Control' is fine greasy funk with a dirty, rumbling bass. Lyrics were left off the album so as not to attract parental warning stickers apparently they upset female record company employees to the point where TAFKAP made a rare personal comment on one of his songs. "Listen to the words carefully", he said at the VH1 Fashion awards. "They are meant to uplight and enlighten all the members of the female persuasion so that no woman ever becomes a slave." There you go, then. And 'The Most Beautiful Girl In The World' proves that he could still knock out a sugar-sweet ballad like nobodys business though, like nobody else, he tacked a soppy movies worth of sound effects onto it, from angels harps to bird song to plopping "tears of joy" . Warners, incidentally, passed on the single, so TAFKAP put it out on an indie label. He got the last laugh. It went to number one.
Batman (1989 )
Graffiti Bridge (1990)
The Question Of U
Thieves In The Temple
Diamonds And Pearls (1991)
Willing And Able
My Name Is Prince
Runner up: Sexy MF
Runner up: Solo
The Gold Experience (1995)
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
The Wit & Wisdom Of Prince Rogers Nelson Creem, Jul 1985
HE'S DEFINITELY AN American superstar one of the most important of the '80s and his ascent still appears to be just above ground level. He's praised and adulated by peers, critics, music biz insiders and the public alike.
Not just a music star, mind you; the guy actually went and won himself an Oscar for his songs in Purple Rain (viz: "the best rock film ever made"; "the Citizen Kane of rock"; comparable to Capra and Hitchcock or a great MTV video featuring a lame story, abysmal acting, hackneyed psychology and a main character who came off as a bit of an emotionally immature jerk).
Never mind that he looked awfully silly showing up for the awards in his pajamas like that (Gregory Hines's dangling earring and Stevie Wonder's political reference struck me as much cooler and/or irreverent). Or that he put on an often rude display (ignoring his fans, leaving the show with his entire entourage immediately after receiving his award). Just the fact that he won (Lennon & McCartney were never even nominated in the same category for A Hard Day's Night, while the closest historical antecedent would probably be Isaac Hayes's Shaft) goes to reveal how much rock has been absorbed into mainstream show biz and one big Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous scenario. "Prince is bringing back the old days of Hollywood," says Revolution drummer Bobby Z, and since Mr. Z is referring to one of today's biggest rock stars, the idea is very depressing indeed.
Nonetheless, CREEM has his picture on the cover again. You'll undoubtedly be seeing his face in a lot of places during the next several weeks. Around The World In A Day his eagerly-awaited new LP will probably be in stores by the time you read this, while his new $15 million film, Prince Of Darkness & The Morning Star (with Prince reportedly directing) should already be in production. It's doubtful you'll be reading any new interviews with him this time around, since it's long been understood that he no longer has to speak to peers, critics, music biz insiders and the public alike, let alone some rock magazine that just might stick a photo of Motley Crue next to his on the cover to sell a few extra issues.
"My music and image speak for themselves" has always been the message here, and since he's not talking, it might be worthwhile to ponder one view of what his music and (especially) his image appear to be saying. What is it about this man that merits such high adulation? An even better question might be: why do all the Prince fans I know seem to be constantly apologizing for him? And finally, when it comes to Prince, why does this writer (and rock fan) often
feel like maybe he's missing something?
SOMETHING ON THE STAGE (DOES NOT COMPUTE)
It's November 4,1984 the opening show of The Star's Purple Rain tour (and the first of seven sold-out nights at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena) and I'm definitely missing something. Which isn't to say I'm not having a great time. The show's publicists gave us an opportunity to get pretty drunk at a pre-concert press reception, and I'm very grateful since it gives me a chance to watch my companion J. Kordosh be the wild & crazy guy he can be with a few beers under his belt. ("Hey, are you guys in the Time?" he asks several members of that very group seated behind us. They shake their heads "no." "What a coincidence," says J. "Neither am I!") J. even manages to talk his way through a security brigade (there are 150 security guards and Detroit police troops on hand for this show) which separates a VIP section, including Apollonia, Jerome Benton and record executives, from the rest of the crowd. "I'm supposed to give Apollonia this (Boy Howdy) pin," says J. in his most official voice, and the bewildered Detroit police let him through.
Yep, it's that kind of scene one of those superstar "rock" events America is currently so fond of. Over 300 journalists and photographers are present, including delegations from Europe, Japan and Australia. The other 19,000 paying customers seem simply ecstatic to be in the same building as The Star, whose LP is still number one after 17 weeks. Like Michael before him, it appears that The Star will only have to show up to be adored.
It takes The Star over 55 minutes to make his grand entrance following Sheila E.'s rhythmically exciting but otherwise lightweight opening set, the most memorable "highlight" of which is when she strips down to an almost G-stringed bikini, and teases the audience with "Do you want to play my timbales? Your stick isn't big enough!" ("Hubba, hubba!" I would have said to J., except he was in the lobby getting more beer.) In future shows that week, Sheila would bring a male onstage, seat him with his hands secured behind his back by a bodyguard, and simulate fellatio on him. I once saw the same act performed cheaper and probably a lot less self-consciously at a sleazy striptease joint following a drunken bachelor party for a former college roommate.
Following the long intermission, the lights dim, a synthesizer chord rings, and a familiar voice whispers: "Detroit my name is Prince, and I've come to play with you!" Thousands of purple flower petals fall from the ceiling, as the curtain rises to reveal The Star & the Revolution performing a rather tepid version of Let's Go Crazy. Others later note that The Star appears a bit nervous and jittery, and despite the publicized "largest sound system ever used for an arena concert," the sound is horrible and remains so for the rest of the show.
He follows with three songs from 1999, including the title track, which some people tell me is very political, but as Ken Barnes recently remarked, has lyrics about as uplifting as Kansas's Dust In The Wind. By the time he hits Delirious, J. exclaims "He has no melody in these songs!" and there is little there to argue. Little Red Corvette does have melody, of course, but he shortens the song by at least half its original length, concluding it with the split 'n' slides dance routine lifted directly from his MTV video. Suffice it to say that James Brown (or even Michael Jackson) it isn't.
The lights dim again, and a spot reveals a man and woman apparently watching television on top of a speaker column. Suddenly, the man rolls on top of the woman, and the stage goes dark just as the humping begins. The crowd goes wild.
"What was that?" asks J.
"I think the message is supposed to be that fucking is better than watching TV."
"How profound," says J. and we decide there's little in that premise to argue, unless maybe a new episode of Hill Street Blues happens to be showing on the tube.
Next comes The Star alone at the piano accompanying himself on three ballads, including God. One critic calls it "the Gospel segment," but suffice it to say that Ray Charles or Little Richard it isn't. And while it is the most tedious part of the show, The Star would lengthen it in future performances that week.
Nearly the rest of the show is comprised of material from Purple Rain. Nothing from Dirty Mind or Controversy. Even the choreography is straight out of the film. The light show is spectacular, adding to the hypnotic effect of the production. There are at least half a dozen costume changes, which leaves The Star actually onstage for approximately one hour. Gimmickry abounds, including a guitar-as-phallus which shoots liquid at the crowd, and The Star, naked from the waist up, bathing in a purple bathtub. (It should be noted that the bath follows an audience singalong on God. The Star then asks "God" if he wants to take a bath with him, jumps into the tub, sinks into the stage with the aid of an hydraulic lift, and reappears in S&M garb, not exactly the best attire for your typical religious experience.)
There is some mean guitar playing, but despite the physical and posing similarities Jimi Hendrix it isn't. Ironically, it's the Revolution's Wendy Melvoin who takes the best guitar solo of the night on When Doves Cry. (It should also be noted that The Star had Wendy's head between his legs during one of her solos later that week. I mean, what a guy!)
"Basically, he was all hype and no show" is J.'s conclusion when the concert's finally over, and I have to agree that it's left me pretty unimpressed. To be fair, a Warner Bros. employee later told me: "That first Detroit show was a technological nightmare. He was much better later in the tour." But in the end, it doesn't matter that Prince represents a vile misogyny (imagine the public outcry if, say, David Lee Roth pushed a woman's head between his legs onstage). It doesn't matter that he strikes me as incredibly overrated. It doesn't even matter that his show wasn't very good. For now, Prince is a major media Star, and the glamour's enough for most of his fans. He's a master manipulator, actor, illusionist and image maker (it's little wonder that one of his favorite films is The Idolmaker). His most influential historical predecessor would probably be, not David Bowie, but Ziggy Stardust.
And, of course, America absolutely thrives on illusion and image. Two days later, it would re-elect another Star to its Presidency by the largest landslide in U.S. history.
"I don't like to speak about influences because...I just play. I don't mean to imply any disrespect. I don't really relate to what came before. That's history, and I'm making music for now."
Which is, of course, pure bullshit. Prince's image (and music) is built so much around great black performers of the past, it's virtually impossible to miss it. Little Richard's definitely there in the look. James Brown's definitely lurking in some of those dance steps and "soul revue" routines. Sly Stone? Sure. Jimi Hendrix? Not only in the guitar pyrotechnics and stances, but in the clothing and purple ("haze") obsession as well. There's a little Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder in the voice. Aspects of the best disco (and electronic) music can be heard in the sound, not to mention elements of whiter pop and rock 'n' roll. And Prince deserves to be commended for bringing these various influences together. People say he's a musical genius, and who am I to argue with that? After all, the man plays 27 instruments. Then again, one of my all-time favorite records is California Sun by the Rivieras, and those guys could hardly play one instrument, let alone 27. So what do I know?
With that established, I've gotta say that I don't think Prince is as good in his entirety as any of the artists mentioned above were in their prime. If you happened to catch the MW live video of I Would Die 4 U/Baby, I'm A Star from the last tour, you probably saw the James Brown poses (right down to the grunts, struts, count-offs and calls for individual instruments), culminating with a screeching Jimi Hendrix finale. But what I mainly saw here were second-rate impersonations of Brown and Hendrix. I dare anyone to tell me this footage could compare with clips of Brown in The TAMI Show, Sly Stone in Woodstock or Jimi Hendrix anywhere. Did you see the Grammy Awards performance? I'll tell you one thing: James Brown has never stumbled and hit himself in the mouth with a microphone stand onstage, let alone on national television.
Prince has written some fine music (Little Red Corvette never fails to excite me), and he's been incredibly innovative at times (When Doves Cry was brilliant). Yet, for all of that, most of his music fails to move me. Nothing gets me the way James Brown's Papa's Got A Brand New Bag still does when I hear it blaring from a radio that marvelous feeling like you could live forever (Billie Jean gives me the same feeling, even if Michael did turn it into a commercial for Pepsi-Cola). Ascribing "soulless" and "heartless" to music is all relative and a matter of opinion, I realize. Still, that is the sense I get from most of Prince's compositions. For some reason, they leave me at least semi-cold. In other words, I hear the contrived funk and hard rock influences the only thing missing is the "soul." In its place, I see the image.
Not wanting to paint myself into a corner, I may end up loving Around The World In A Day. Early reports indicate that at least half the LP's nine compositions are reminiscent of "psychedelic" Beatles filtered through Prince, and the LP's said to be his Sgt. Pepper. Even the titles Paisley Park and Raspberry Beret sound almost interchangable with Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. Yet they also strike me as contrived "psychedelic bubblegum" titles (i.e., Green Tambourine or Judy In Disguise With Glasses). That is to say it's hard to believe Around The World will be the landmark LP Sgt. Pepper was. After all, it was nearly 18 years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught that band to play, and we'd never heard anything like it at the time. The fact that Prince has announced he'll no longer tour just as the Beatles did after Sgt. Pepper reveals that he must identify strongly with the Fab Four. Once again, he seems to be taking the past and manipulating it into his own image, but we'll just have to wait and see.
Of course, Around The World might be a "landmark" in its own way. During the '60s, LPs like Sgt. Pepper were labeled "landmarks" because they presented rock as an art form. In the '80s, "landmark" status seems to be more dependent on number of units sold (rock as business). It was a similar thing in the '70s when Peter Frampton beat out Led Zeppelin who beat out Jethro Tull who beat out the Beatles' sell-out record at Shea Stadium. That's why when people call Prince "the biggest crossover act in pop history" (Chuck Berry? Sam Cooke? Ray Charles? Stevie Wonder?), they're obviously referring to numbers rather than artistry. The Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ, but Prince may prove to be bigger than Howard Hughes. On the other hand, some people close to Prince claim he thinks he's somehow "related to God." I suppose that might be considered a "landmark" in itself.
BABY, I'M A STAR
"If I lived in California and rode around in limos all the time with people waiting on me hand and foot, then maybe that could make you change. But I'm not into all of that."
I've always been partial to "nice people," which in my book is the greatest compliment you can give somebody. Not people who let others take advantage of them, but it just seems there's enough pain and suffering in this world already without people making it harder for each other by being cruel. That being said, I'd like to mention that Prince doesn't appear to be a very nice person.
Members of the Revolution have called him the Ayatollah, Napoleon, a dictator and a tyrant. Chris Moon, the former Minneapolis studio owner who virtually discovered Prince (and whose name Prince dropped off one of the songs Moon co-wrote on For You), has said: "He's left a long trail of broken hearts and broken egos behind him." Andre Cymone, whose family "adopted" the teenaged Prince, and in whose basement the Kid learned his chops, left the band in 1981, claiming that Prince took credit for one of his songs and then taunted him with it afterwards. Cymone was also angry because he didn't receive credit for playing and singing on the first three LPs, for initially getting the Time together (before Prince muscled in), and (sin of sins!) for first introducing bikini briefs onstage. Says Cymone: "I never wanted to be a solo act. I would have stayed in that group, but I enjoy playing in a happy environment with musicians who enjoy playing with each other. And that wasn't the case in Prince's band." And this guy was supposed to be like a brother.
A former member of Flyte Tyme (which became the Time) says, "You can't work with Prince unless he controls you absolutely." Of course it's no secret that Prince bumped the Time from his 1999 tour when the group began getting better reviews than him in some cities. By the time the tour reached New York, the group had been demoted to backing up Vanity 6 behind a screen.
Prince has always been obsessed with stardom. During his formative years, he was known to sit in Moon's studio practicing his autograph, and he originally allowed his manager to drop two years from his age to make him appear more the wunderkind. Prince is entitled to his fair share of ego now that he is a star, but nowhere in his ego persona do I find the mirthful humor of a Little Richard or the charitable humanity of a James Brown. What I see instead is a man who views stardom as a power trip, and this is evident from the time he called the president of Warner Bros., demanding a Warners vice president be fired. Not exactly what you'd expect from the shy, reclusive image he often strives to portray.
In fact, I'd argue that this "shy" image may be a big sham. Journalists who interviewed Prince earlier in his career have described him as "calculating" and "putting it on." Manager Steve Fargnoli has said, "He's just as outspoken and outrageous offstage (as he is on) in his business dealings." And The Star, himself, has often said "I'm not mysterious" and "I don't feel shy, but I guess I sometimes come off that way."
Prince puts on a show of being a recluse, of being mysterious, and of being weird as an end in itself. As I get older, I realize that Jim Morrison was probably a bit of an asshole but at least the guy was genuinely weird and trying to make a point. When Dylan created an aura of mystique in the '60s, he did it by disappearing. Prince, on the other hand, once showed up at a New York disco, was surrounded by a circle of bodyguards when he took the floor, and then danced with himself. Which makes you wonder what the point is supposed to be.
Prince uses these burly bodyguards as an intimidating symbol of power. From a recent Rock & Roll Confidential article: "The garish spectacle of Prince being accompanied by bodyguards on his trips to the podium at the American Music Awards spoke volumes about the way he regards his audience." Sylvie Simmons reports that Prince recently took a trip to the U.K. for an awards ceremony during which time his bodyguards were "making plans to beat up the entire population of Britain." Dave DiMartino saw the awards on TV while in England, and says it was weird seeing Prince receiving not adulation, but the polite applause accorded other awardees. Prince's response to the situation? "Tell everyone in Britain, I will never be back!" Which sounds like a spoiled little kid, and that's what Prince reminds me of in the end.
The Star demands worship from his fans, yet he gives little of himself back in return. He has been "booed" for totally ignoring his fans (no smiles, no waves, no acknowledgement) outside both the Purple Rain premiere and the Oscars. And it's not just his public he's offending, but rock peers as well, including Keith Richards (who says "He's got a problem with his attitude...He's a prince who thinks he's a king already"), Daryl Hall ("He ain't exactly what you'd call a nice guy"), Stevie Ray Vaughan (who was seated next to and ignored by The Star when he tried to introduce himself at a July '84 Bruce Springsteen concert in St. Paul), and Night Ranger (who, Rock & Roll Confidential reports, sat in front of Prince at the American Music Awards, and were "told in no uncertain terms not to talk to him or even acknowledge his presence").
That same night following the awards, numerous other stars (many on a level with Prince, many who'd traveled all day to get there) gathered to record We Are The World to benefit the starving masses in Ethiopia. Prince chose not to attend, went partying instead, and watched as his bodyguards beat up some photographers who had the audacity to take a picture of The Star.
So is it shyness? In 1979, Jon Bream suggested to Prince that perhaps he'd spent so much time getting into his music that he didn't have the time or energy to relate to others. His reply? "Yeah, that's it, you're right...When I talk to people, it's almost like a routine. They'll tell you what they want you to know and you have to (know) it's really dumb, and you're supposed to accept that and give your response. I don't like to talk too much. I like to act."
This sounds like a person who isn't terribly fond of other human beings. Like I said earlier, what is it about this man that merits such high adulation?
RONNIE, TALK TO RUSSIA
Since this shouldn't be a total hatchet job, I wanted to deal with some of Prince's more positive qualities, aside from his music and production work. He appears to be anti-drug and alcohol. (Good for him, I say. Give him 10 points.) He's performed benefit concerts for disadvantaged youths. (Give him 10 more.) He's furthered the idea of integration, both through his music and the structure of his band (10 more). He did donate a song to the We Are The World LP. And he's said to be extremely generous to his friends and employees.
Many people will tell you that Prince's most endearing trait is his political outlook, and, at first glance, this appears to be the case. A lot of his music seems to oppose nuclear war, and while there aren't many songs in favor of nuclear war, I'll still tip my hat to the guy. He's also spoken out against the draft in song and interviews, and while no one's actually been drafted in this country since the Vietnam War ended, it's still nice to hear someone speaking out against conscription.
On the other hand, a song like Ronnie, Talk To Russia, with its embarrassing nursery rhyme lyrics, can suggest two interpretations. It does seem to be an anti-war statement, but it could also be interpreted as the red, white & blue commie-baiting type of rock Sammy Hagar is currently so notorious for. I was prepared to give Prince the benefit of the doubt until I came across an interview The Star gave to New Musical Express's Chris Salewicz in 1981. After discussing the draft and "politicians who are all going to die soon, and I guess they want to go out heavy because they're prepared to make a few mistakes and end up starting a war they don't have to go out and fight," he follows it with this revealing statement: "Thank God we got a better President now with bigger balls (right on, Prince!) than Carter. I think Reagan's a lot better. Just for the power he represents if nothing else. Because that also means as far as other countries are concerned. He also has a big mouth, which is probably a good thing. His mouth is his one big asset." It's a shame we can't say the same thing about Prince.
So there you have it balls" equal "power" which equals Ronald Reagan. I'm almost prepared to rest my case.
"Behind the frequently shocking lyrics is a deep belief that by removing the taboos and allowing youth to express its sexuality in all its forms, we will achieve a more wholesome society."
from a Warner Bros. Prince biography
No analysis of Prince is complete without a look at his "sexual politics." After all, this represents more than 50 percent of the total image. Let me be the first to state that when it comes to sex, I'm all in favor of it. An orgasm with someone you love or like a lot can be one of life's finest moments the only time that everything seems to momentarily make absolute sense. (Or to paraphrase Woody Allen, even sex with someone you don't especially like rates pretty high up there as far as meaningless experiences are concerned.)
Still, Prince's "sex as salvation" theorem (which kinda resembles Stephen Stills's "Love The One You're With" idea) has always struck me as incredibly naive. He once suggested a daily 2 p.m. sex break "Traffic would stop and no matter where you were, you'd do it." Which sounds interesting, but I imagine you'd probably hear frightful screams coming from prisons and nursery schools throughout the world every day at 2 p.m. if this ever came to pass.
Actually, Prince's belief in sexual freedom seems harmless enough, even if he is a bit of a pornographer. "For awhile, that's what I thought I wanted to do with my life (write pornography)," he has said. "But I realized as I got older I wasn't going to make any money writing those novels." Prince has never addressed some of the darker aspects of random sexual encounters i.e., herpes, unwed teenage mothers, the psychological damage caused by incest but everyone is entitled to their own ideas of sexual freedom.
What I do find offensive about his stance is the underlying misogyny that often shows its ugly head. Now, emotional music has often had sexist elements in it, from the blues and Hank Williams to punk rock, but Prince's lyrics go much further than an expression of anger towards women who have broken his heart. He's often said that "it's all about being free," but this is contradictory since a lot of his music (and stance) depicts women as sexual slaves. It runs throughout Purple Rain (i.e., he slaps Apollonia when she mentions she's getting her own musical career in motion). Or consider that Vanity has revealed that Prince originally "wanted to name me Vagina. I thought Vagina would be a little more appropriate for a hooker." (One can only wonder why he didn't name himself "Prick.") Like everything else, Prince seems to view sex as just another element in his obsessive power game.
"My songs are about love more than sex," he has said, but for Prince, sex seems to equal "love" ("Your love is soft and wet," he sang on his first LP). Horny Toad, the B-side to his Delirious single, features the charming line: "All I want is to whip your body until it bleeds" which seems to have more in common with the worst aspects of a pornographic film than it does with love. Or consider Lady Cab Driver, in which our hero "punishes" the female cabbie with (apparently) S&M sex for wrongs no one has control over, including wars and making his brother "so handsome and so tall."
Don't wanna sound like a member of the moral majority or anything 'cause I think sexual freedom is just great. But Prince doesn't illustrate sexual freedom so much as he illustrates sexual fascism. Perhaps he'll eventually grow up (reports indicate that some of the lyrics on Around The World In A Day reveal a new emotional maturity). But in Prince's world thus far, women are "bitches" to be conquered and controlled. "Balls" equal "power" and if that means sticking your female guitarist's head between your legs when she performs a better solo than you so be it.
"...is a concept by which we measure our pain."
And since it's an open-ended one, it can be used in any manner that benefits (or hurts) the person addressing the concept. God knows enough wars have been started in the name of that very concept. 'Nuff said.
I'm sure the "hate mail" will be forthcoming, and I'm certain that some of it will be reminiscent of the "racist" and "homophobic" accusations I used to get following negative reviews of bad disco in a college newspaper. To which the only reply was: "No, not at all. It's just that I don't like a lot of the music (if you flaunt your influences, be prepared for comparisons), while I think that certain aspects of the lifestyle stink."
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Inspired by Prince's Ballad of Dorothy Parker.
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