Last Friday night, I broke my self-imposed hiatus to contribute to the latest #PrinceTwitterThread series on 1999. I used this opportunity to expand on one of my favorite posts I’ve written, “All the Critics Love U in New York,” zeroing in on the themes of Prince’s reciprocal relationship with Detroit DJ the Electrifying Mojo and, by extension, the early techno scene. I’ve been wanting to do a project around the Detroit-Prince connection for years, and to be honest, when I decided to do this thread, I didn’t think it would fill that gap for me; but I’m actually very happy with how it turned out, so if this ends up being my last word on Prince and Detroit, then I’m surprisingly okay with that.
In fact, I’m so happy with this thread that a part of me wishes I’d centered my paper at next (!) weekend’s #TripleThreat40 symposium around it, so I could already be mostly done with my personal projects this month instead of only half done. But that’s Burnout Zach talking; I have every confidence that by the time the symposium runs around, I’ll be glad I decided to pursue two cool ideas instead of just one. For now, please enjoy Cool Idea #1; hopefully I’ll see some of you when it’s time to unveil Cool Idea #2.
Hi, all: as those of you who have been watching my Patreon videos already know, the last few months have been an absolute nightmare at my day job, which, to put it mildly, has not been conducive to my creativity. I’m not gonna lie: I haven’t been this close to packing it in and retiring from amateur Prince scholarship since the Great “Cloreen Bacon Skin” drought of 2020. But I’m still here, and have some stuff to share with you all this month, even if the blog is likely to stay on pause until April.
Speaking of exciting fan projects, I have to give a belated shout-out to another friend, De Angela Duff, who since the beginning of 2023 has been co-hosting a weekly livestream with Michael Dean titled “What Did Prince Do This Week?” The series is a book club-style “slow read” of Duane Tudahl’s book on the Purple Rain studio sessions, and like everything De Angela does in the Prince world, it’s a wonderful source of both knowledge and community (even if, like me, you end up catching the replay instead of experiencing it live… I’ll make it one of these weeks!). You can catch up on the series to date, and tune in for future streams every Saturday at noon Eastern, on De Angela’s YouTube channel.
Last but not least, I have one more bit of self-promotion to leave you with: I’ll be presenting at De Angela’s #TripleThreat40 symposium at the end of this month as part of the Vanity 6 panel with Robin Shumays, Aisha K. Staggers, Elliott H. Powell, and moderator Miss TLC. My presentation will be kind of a sequel to the one I did at 2021’s #1plus1plus1is3 symposium, looking at the Vanity 6 album through the aesthetic lens of pornography and in the historical context of the academic and political “porn wars” of the 1980s. All I can say at this point is that it will be my most ambitious psuedo-academic project yet–whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, we’ll have to wait until March 31 to see! Even if I don’t stick the landing, I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of you in person–some for the first time, some for the first time in years–in Brooklyn that weekend. You can reserve a free spot at the symposium here.
Okay, unfortunately, it’s time for me to go back to the work that actually pays my bills. If any billionaire readers out there want to subsidize my Prince scholarship for a modest annual salary, my inbox is open; in the meantime, be good to yourselves!
The Purple Rain era marked a subtle, yet perceptible shift in Prince’s attitudes toward sex. On 1999 less than two years earlier, he’d reveled in his libertinish “Rude Boy” persona: promising to “fuck the taste out of your mouth” on “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” then actually demonstrating his technique on “Lady Cab Driver.” But by the follow-up album, his pendulum was beginning to swing away from the raw mechanics of lust, toward something approaching more conventional romance. “The Beautiful Ones” found him not just pretending he’s married, but considering it as a real possibility; “When Doves Cry” and the title track earnestly grappled with the dissolution of a relationship. Even “Darling Nikki”–the closest the album came to vintage, “dirty” Prince–treated its sexual encounter as a quasi-Satanic temptation, before ending with a palate-cleansing gospel coda.
It’s easy to assume that this shift was motivated by commercial calculus: Purple Rain was designed to be Prince’s entrée into the mainstream, and heteronormative monogamy plays better to “mainstream” tastes than unfettered promiscuity. There is doubtless some truth to that interpretation; but there’s also ample evidence to suggest that he felt a genuine conflict between his spiritual convictions and his carnal appetites. A song like “Possessed” (written during the 1999 sessions, and revisited in multiple iterations for Purple Rain) depicts the repentant “Rude Boy” as an unwilling vessel for “demonic lust.” “Love and Sex,” recorded at Sunset Sound on February 27-28, takes a different approach: envisioning an afterlife where the spirit and the flesh could exist in harmony.
“Another Lonely Christmas” appears to have come out of nowhere–and not just because it was a Christmas tune recorded less than a week after Valentine’s Day. While the track would eventually find its way onto the B-side of “I Would Die 4 U”–released on the seasonally appropriate date of November 28–it seems unlikely that Prince had that placement in mind nine months earlier. There’s no indication that he intended it for either the movie soundtrack or Sheila’s album; for that matter–aside from a penchant for decorating his studio with string lights, according to sessionographer Duane Tudahl–there’s little indication that he was especially observant of the holiday season. For whatever reason, “Another Lonely Christmas” was just something he had to get out of his system.
Here we are again, my first podcast in more than a year, and I couldn’t have asked for better guests than Harold Pride and De Angela Duff to discuss Prince’s fourth and quite possibly most underrated album, 1981’s Controversy. If you’ve been listening to these deep-dive album retrospectives, Harold needs no introduction; and, since the Prince scholarly community is a pretty small one, De Angela may not need one either. Suffice to say that she’s the biggest advocate of Controversy I know, and she makes a convincing case that it’s not only a great album in its own right, but also the linchpin of Prince’s entire career.
One quick note: you will likely notice that there was a significant drop in audio quality this episode; this was due to a perfect storm of technical issues that, unfortunately, left the low-quality Skype call recording as the only usable audio source from our conversation. I think you’ll get used to it, but I will assure you anyway that I’m taking steps to make sure we sound better next time. And yes, speaking of “next time,” I do have plans for more episodes in the coming months–probably not in October, but maybe one more before the end of the year, and then more to come in early 2023. If you want to hear the episodes as soon as they drop, remember to subscribe on your podcast service of choice using the links above!