Prince and Being True to Himself, Part 2: Prince Music Sex Romance

Prince could obviously be playful and bold with his “dirty mind” front and center, but he transcended all labels and categories with sheer talent, a noble sense of aesthetics and style along with appreciation of the fine art of expressing the joy and wonder of being in love.

Prince’s Identity
Who was Prince to us? Do we really know? What did he want from his music? What did he want from his listeners? These questions are intriguing in the lack of a simple answer. Prince was prolific in his creation. He was just as varied in the images of himself that he presented as he was in the genres of music that he blended. He was defined by who he wasn’t–someone who acquiesced to being a “type”. Of course, his androgynous manner became universally recognized and eventually a literal trademark. Yet one could argue that it only served to raise more questions. Androgynous in dress does not always translate into lifestyle. Prince never explicitly expressed passion for the same sex although he may accept love “from anyone–girl or boy” (“Anna Stesia” from LoveSexy) when lonely. Gender bending and androgyny we can explore further but are not my focus here. I will, however, come back to my question of Prince and who he was. I think he once summed up his musical focus in a song title that does fit him up to a point*–DMSR (Dance Music Sex Romance). Dance and music sort of come with the territory if you’re to do much pop music especially in the “1999” era (original “1999” song and album). (“1999”, little doubt, remains one of his most energetic and danceable songs along with its cousin “Baby, I’m a Star”.) What we intend to explore here is his characteristic display of raw sex contrasted with his expression of deep love and affection–a heart-felt sense of romance.
*A key component is missing yes, but spirituality has been covered in separate post on this blog and will be touched upon later.
Prince sang boldly about his once favorite topic of sex on his hit singles like “Get Off”. Prince knew what he wanted, and he expressed it without hesitation. He flaunted sexuality and dared say exactly what he was thinking on records and even on the radio. His very first hit record was the R&B classic “Soft & Wet” whose subject matter was a little subtler than some records today. However, there’s very little room for confusion about what he’s referring to when he says “your love is soft and wet”. Quite remarkably, the rest of the album, containing songs not as favorable for radio play, was all about love and heartbreak. It sometimes seems, ironically, like the sexuality was or may have been a ploy to get you into his world. Prince knew what he had to offer, and once you were in his world you were hooked. Sexuality on other albums (such as Controversy or Purple Rain) was not always the greatest lure. Yet the deeper you went into his world the more you would discover a more hardcore and shocking expression of lust and carnal taboo (such as “Sister” or “Darling Nikki”). It wasn’t a ploy. He was committed to putting himself out there like few at the time would dare way before the boldness of the 2 Live Crew and explicit rap music of the late 80s and the 90s. What was it about Prince that made unbridled sexuality such an important aspect of his music? Did Prince, in his prime, feel that boundless free expression (“everybody just a freakin'”) was truly that important? If his early dress, trench coat, bare chest and bikini briefs, is any indication, I would be tempted to shout “yes”. It is exciting yet frightening at the same time akin to venturing alone into a raunchier part of a big city. For the young people desperate for a mode of expressing their desire to rebel against the current traditions, rules and taboos, it was like a repressed 21-year-old virgin venturing into the Red Light District. Prince didn’t necessarily give you permission to be your sexual self; he boldly embodied it and sent you an invitation to do the same.
Prince could obviously be playful and bold with his “dirty mind” front and center, but he transcended all labels and categories with sheer talent, a noble sense of aesthetics and style along with appreciation of the fine art of expressing the joy and wonder of being in love. Boundless romance was an undeniable Prince trademark, and his relationships were numerous yet many had great depth. Proteges were often romantically linked with Prince including the infamous Vanity, who we may infer through the timing of the affair and its ending along with the content and emotional potency of the lyrics to be the inspiration for many Purple Rain era tracks (e.g. “When Doves Cry”). I’m sure there is clearer evidence than this if you search carefully (through interviews with people who knew). The fact that Prince insisted on performing his own creations and giving us honest passion while doing it to the utmost degree is the prime exhibit of his enduring authenticity. He was indeed true to who he was at his core. He loved beautiful women and dared give his heart in the process. For those women who’d enter such a world, the result would be the expression of raw emotion and revelations that would be shared with the entire world. Who knows how prepared “the beautiful ones” were to have their pictures on display to an endless number of longing and envious fans who loved nothing more than to enter the world of this intriguing man who defied everything you knew about what you’d expect him to be. Upon introduction, what you found was a perfect stranger to whom anyone, “girl” or “boy”, could relate in such a real sense–a reclusive pop/rock “star” who displayed the depth of his mind, heart and soul center stage. The drama, adventure, passion, and pure emotion of his most serious romances as shared with Susanna Melvoin and Sheila E. were just as important to who Prince was as the flings, flames and short-lived courtships for which he is likely most famous. Songs like “Head”, “Erotic City” and “Get Off” of course belie the fact that he in fact is just as responsible for his image in the media as much any sort of rumors and fantastic stories may have been. Yet his vulnerability in romance, long before vulnerability became a buzzword, was a key signature of his in many respects. Much of this could be influenced by the desperate pleas for affection and forgiveness in many prominent R&B songs and classics such as “Please Please Please” by James Brown, a key influence. Still, Prince seems to go a bit further than this when he writes lyrics to songs like “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “When 2 R In Love” which are only enhanced by a taste of sensuous suggestion that seems to flow with thoughts of adoration when performed in a way that only Prince himself could have conceived.
My Experience of Prince–An Aside
All in all, Prince was an artist like no other. That is in part why one blog post could not do this topic justice. Even a 6 Part series will be unlikely to do so. There are many real examples that could amplify these words much more. Yet this is for the fans of the man who want to share in remembering him and honoring him. I only hope each person enjoys recalling Prince as much as I do. I experienced him, as if for the first time, in the most real sense when I personally explored the meanings of his music in high school after purchasing “The Love Symbol” album and marveling at how amazing Prince was at articulating the beats of another man’s heart when expressing his own (see “Love 2 the 9’s”). I remembered hits like “1999” and “Erotic City” playing on the radio. I remembered thinking how PRINCE was a strange name for a singer when I saw it printed on the sleeve of cassettes in the record store. I remembered hearing his name in the same sentence with Michael Jackson. And I even remembered having a copy of the 45 (vinyl) of “Purple Rain” with a B-side (“God”) my dad (a Methodist pastor, ironically) would not allow me to play.  But akin to the words of “God” (no pun intended), I’d never really listened. Yet as any Prince fan knows, once you truly listen, it’s a new world. You’re not the same and never will be. When you truly listen to Purple Rain, the album, your life changes (again). You listen to Parade. You listen to 1999, the album. Around the World in a Day. It keeps going. Once you really listen to the words, the instrumentation, the way the bands play under his direction… and the solos. Ah, the solos. If I were to mention much more such as getting into the performances, this article may never end. But I will get to much of that in the future. I would love for others, even, to share the love with me through this site. It’s not about me. It’s about all of us, and the soul who brought us together. If nothing else, these words serve to celebrate the man and artist who catalyzed a life that otherwise felt unlived and empty without him. And while I’m in a better spot now than I was then, I certainly feel his absence. I know we all do. Hopefully, for that reason, we can appreciate the years we did share with him even more. To help us along, he left us a little something to remember him by–his music.
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Notice: This post was not exactly as planned. However, I wanted to get it out to you by the date promised. Hope you found it worth your while. I also apologize if I didn’t cover more recent eras but hopefully everyone can relate to what was shared. Let me know what you think so I can improve my blog:

Prince Blog Series, Part 1: The Artist Known As Prince

If nothing else, Prince was always, from the day he arrived on the scene, true to himself. He wrote and composed his own work even playing almost all of the instruments on his first two albums. It was also apparent in his style of dress wearing skin tight gold pants in his first national television appearance, his message, his bold nonconformity, and his unrelenting trek into areas of controversy.

Part 1

Prince and Being True to Himself

If nothing else, Prince was always, from the day he arrived on the scene, true to himself.  He wrote and composed his own work even playing almost all of the instruments on his first two albums. It was also apparent in his style of dress wearing skin tight gold pants in his first national television appearance, his message, his bold nonconformity, and his unrelenting trek into areas of controversy. His vulnerability on the song “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” is hauntingly apparent. You can’t help but feel for him until you hear the boldness of “Bambi”, where he suggests to a lesbian prospect, “it’s better with a man”. Prince was famously prolific; however, that becomes more significant with his exploration various genre. He defied limitations. He did not allow himself to be defined by others. He was always about innovation and creating something new and original. His talent allowed him to transcend the rules of race, gender, culture, politics and much more. Prince was fun and funny, yet teasing and hypersexual. He was highly spiritual and inspirational. Beyond that he was androgynous, stylish, rude, irreverent, curious, self-effacing, creative, generous, proud, passionate, health-conscious, intelligent, and expressive. He was unparalleled in his accomplishments and popular both because of and in spite of his personality. He had known rejection, but ironically enough, those who wanted to meet him were faced with the prospect of just as likely being rejected. Just ask Matt Damon. And if rumors are to be believed, Slash and David Lee Roth.

Prince and Minneapolis

When Prince appeared on national television on American Bandstand, he appeared to respond quite oddly giving very brief answers and even holding up 4 fingers in response to a question. It has been suggested that he took it very personally when Dick Clark suggested that Minneapolis was not a place known for producing great music. But one must admit that he did seem nervous his first time on national television. Even so, Prince’s companionship with Minneapolis was like a marriage. It lasted until death. He built his famous Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, just southeast of Minneapolis, in 1988. He patronized local business and bought properties there. It would be very hard to imagine, at least for his most enduring and loyal fans, a world where you thought of one without the other. There are a few remarkable things that Minneapolis is known for, but among musicians and fans, none of those come near to eclipsing the name Prince or even Paisley Park. So add to my lengthy list of Princely traits the word “loyal”; at least, to his city and for quite some time (most significantly 1977-1996), his first record company–a topic for another time. Prince chose none other than his real hometown for the setting of the legendary Purple Rain. It very well could’ve been a fictionalized spot in New York City or L.A., but when you hear of Lake Minnetonka and First Avenue, you see Prince’s real roots in a place with 13 lakes and lots of snow. The name comes from a Sioux word (mni) for “water”. Oprah asked The Artist in her interview with him why he stayed in this place of few notable celebrity residents. His reply? “It’s so cold that it keeps the bad people out.” It was one of the few consistencies about him in his career with most in addition to his level of musical skills and showmanship. And with his passing, it was shown that Minneapolis loved him just as he had loved her. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges called him “a child of our city”. The Star Tribune quotes her as saying, “Prince never left us, and we never left him.”

The Minneapolis Sound

The Minneapolis Sound was considered a sub-genre of R&B/Funk whose origination can be credited back to one man, Prince. Prince was heavily influenced by funk bands, traditional R&B, rock, and even folk music (i.e. Joni Mitchell). His exposure and mastery of multiple instruments further pushed him further into making a more distinctive flavor of music that tapped into not only his influences but also his impressive skill set. When you add in the advent for synthesizers in the late 70s and much of the 80s, you add in a lot of possibilities. Someone as individualistic as the Prince of the Dirty Mind and Controversy eras was sure to find a lot of possibilities for more honestly expressing himself rather than just regurgitating the riffs and instrumentation of the past. Prince was looking to create something that didn’t yet exist; something that defied categorization. Was the Dirty Mind album a hybrid of funk, r&b, 80s pop, and rock? Or was it something of its own that defied description? Perhaps, that was what was so importance of the Minneapolis sound. The obscurity of Minneapolis in association with any kind of genre or distinctive art was the perfect setup to allow Prince’s infectious sound to be labeled. Minneapolis was not previously associated with music or much in the way of pop culture in any meaningful way before Prince. So it became the perfect signature to identify his product. Even the name Minneapolis just sounds has a different ring to it than say, Memphis or Chicago, whose constant mention may have reduced their distinctiveness. It is a city in one of the northernmost states in which you would be highly unlikely to think of as the source of funk at least until Mr. Nelson entered the national stage.

Prince’s Sound: The Proteges

Very soon after his entry into the world of musical celebrity, the sound extended well beyond Mr. Nelson and his bands, whose presence was initially only necessary for onstage performances where instruments would have to be played simultaneously unlike in the studio where he could write, arrange, sing, and play every single instrument laying one track at a time–an interesting scenario that would encourage much experimentation naturally for someone creative. For someone like Prince, that potential would be exploited exponentially. One is left to think that the mentoring of a band may have lead to what came next. Prince’s reach then began to extend to other talent. The most remarkable legacy of this is his introduction of dance/funk band The Time. Not only did Prince shape their sound, but he also introduced swagger to the band reportedly encouraging them to emulate the attitude of his hero, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali. What is well-known to many who discovered the man prior to or during the 1980s is the number of proteges he introduced to the world–mostly female to boot. The list included Vanity, Apollonia, and Sheila E initially. It would go on to include Sheena Easton, Jill Jones, The Family, Ingrid Chavez and many who during the period after the original Minneapolis Sound had been not so much abandoned as transcended by Prince and his musical repertoire that relied on constant evolution and exploration of many genres and versions of himself as chose to express it. The list could be much bigger until you realize just how difficult it is to say who was a true protege versus a collaborator like former band members Wendy and Lisa or Rosie Gaines who are immensely talented themselves and contributed much to his “sound” and possibly influenced his worldview even if in a subtle fashion. However, with proteges (whose music he wrote and produced), it was Prince who was infamously in total control. He had a message and a mission, and they were a part of that. You could hear not only his sound but also his worldview, boldness, and style in songs like “A Love Bizarre” and “Sex Shooter”.  In the case of proteges like Apollonia and Sheila E., you could see his influence in their onstage fashion and demeanor as if they were members of his own band. Oftentimes they were actually members of the band before or after their own musical releases. This was the case for Sheila E. on classic albums Sign O’ The Times and LoveSexy. He definitely shaped The Time although he insisted, particularly after the firing of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, that it was Morris Day’s band. But all in all, Prince was about influence. He did it not only by constantly reinventing himself but also by making an impact for and through other people.

Patrick Norris (Click to visit my Facebook Page)

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