Review: Words of Prince

Review: Words of Prince

(Featured Image: The mysterious Takuya Futaesaku with the second English edition of Words of Prince; photo from Futaesaku’s Instagram.)

I first saw Takuya Futaesaku’s Words of Prince before I knew what it was, cradled in the arms of a fan in the Paisley Park soundstage at Celebration 2018. What caught my eye was the cover art–drawn, I later discovered, by the delightfully-named Japanese pop artist Radical Suzuki–as well as the book’s impressive heft.  It was obviously a fan-created work of some kind, but I couldn’t imagine what it might be. A few weeks later, I was contacted by Leslie Swiantek, a writer who has been helping Futaesaku promote his book in the States, to get in touch with him and maybe record a podcast. I contacted the author for an electronic version of the book to read, and he kindly ordered me a physical copy–the same colorfully-illustrated, hefty tome I’d seen at Paisley back in April.

Incidentally, the Radical Suzuki illustration is no longer on the cover of Words of Prince; it was cut for the book’s second English edition, a victim of the Prince estate’s recent rash of copyright-based takedowns (I patiently await my own C&D letter). Futaesaku’s solution was funny and not a little ingenious: the book now comes with a blank purple cover, serving as both a reference to Prince’s similarly monochrome Black Album and a canvas for each buyer to draw their own cover, copyright restrictions be damned. This DIY touch is, I think, a big part of the book’s appeal. Words of Prince isn’t a conventional biography or critical work; indeed, it doesn’t really fit any of the genres or formats one might expect from a book about Prince. Its structure and approach is as idiosyncratic as its subject–or, more accurately, as any one of our relationships with Prince as fans.

What this means, of course, is that the book isn’t for everyone. Hardcore fans who know it all about Prince’s life and work won’t find much more to glean here; Futaesaku is passionate and knowledgeable, but he’s still (mostly) beholden to the same secondary sources as the rest of us. Sticklers for polish may also find themselves disappointed:  Words of Prince is translated from Futaesaku’s original Japanese, and it shows, with some typos and the occasional odd phrasing, e.g. “Self Produce” for a chapter on Prince’s singular artistic drive (note that, per Swiantek, the book will be retranslated for a forthcoming electronic edition).

Where Words of Prince shines, however, is as a testimonial to the dedication and creativity of Prince’s fan community–and, for American readers especially, a window into the Japanese fandom. Futaesaku makes a convincing case for Prince’s special relationship with Japan: one of the farthest-flung places where he consistently toured. In one of the most memorable chapters, the author interviews another Japanese fan, who recounts a story about Prince playing a surprise version of “Bambi” on request during a Nude tour stop at the Tokyo Dome; the so-called “Bambi Incident” is just one of several nuggets of minor, but compelling information that Western readers are unlikely to know. The book is also amply illustrated with original art from members of the Japanese fan community, including Radical Suzuki, Nobuaki Suzuki, Mizuno Hiroatsu, Satsuki Nakamura, Saiko Sugawara, Yukiko Yoshioka, Hiromi Greer, Yasuhiro Matsushita, Tetsuo Sugiyama, and Mikako Takahashi. These contributions–many of which are quite artistically impressive–have a charming, homemade feel that is perfectly suited to the book. Whatever else it might be, Words of Prince never feels like anything less than a genuine, heartfelt expression of love for Prince and his music.

As a bonus, Words of Prince features an appendix of interviews with former associates including Paul Peterson of the Time and the Family, New Power Generation rapper Tony M, photographer Steve Parke, and others. While hardcore fans are again unlikely to read anything here that they haven’t heard anywhere else, Futaesaku’s questions are thoughtful and empathetic. He also makes room for others from the fan community, interviewing third parties like author Duane Tudahl and Heidi Vader from the charitable organization Purple Playground.

As I noted before, Words of Prince isn’t for everyone; but for anyone with an interest in fan culture, and especially in fan communities beyond the United States and Europe, it’s an easy book to recommend. Its warmth and good nature may even remind you of why you became a Prince fan in the first place.

At the time of this writing, Words of Prince is on sale on Amazon–32% off! Feel free to use my affiliate link to purchase this (or anything else you like) and give d / m / s / r some modest support. Also, please look out for an interview with author Takuya Futaesaku on the podcast this Friday!

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Annie Christian

Annie Christian

(Featured Image: “The Number of the Beast is 666,” William Blake, 1805.)

As we noted last time, the late spring and summer of 1981 was an extraordinarily prolific time for Prince; it was also a notably experimental one. The artist’s home studio on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen allowed him to try out new musical styles and approaches, without having to beg W.B. for expensive L.A. studio time. It’s thus no coincidence that the resulting album, Controversy, would be his oddest and most indulgent to date. Standing head and shoulders above the rest in the “odd and indulgent” category was “Annie Christian”: a tuneless, four-and-a-half-minute slice of apocalyptic post-punk that isn’t quite like anything else in Prince’s catalogue.

“Annie Christian” begins with a manic-sounding drum machine pattern, quickly interrupted by an atonally pulsing synthesizer and a sound effect of a tolling bell. The closest thing the song has to a hook is the cascading synth line that follows, as shrill and piercing as an early cellular ringtone. Prince recites the lyrics–a fever dream of the End Times as mediated by CNN–in a nasally monotone. It’s the kind of thing Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army might have rejected for being too dour.

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Prince Track by Track: “Crystal Ball”

Prince Track by Track: “Crystal Ball”

(Featured Image: From Sign “O” The Times, Prince, 1987; © Showtime Films.)

My recent run of guest appearances on Prince: Track by Track has taken me out of my comfort zone, into some albums that I frankly don’t care much for. But now we’ve finally reached Crystal Ball, allowing me to return–however briefly–to the warm embrace of 1986. But first, Darren Husted and I had to address the elephant in the room that is Crystal Ball’s disastrous 1998 release. As I note, there may be a lesson to be learned in this for those who want Prince’s estate to be run “the way he would have done it.” Listen to both episodes below:

Prince Track by Track: Crystal Ball Album Introduction
Prince Track by Track: “Crystal Ball”

I’ll be back on Track by Track to discuss another epic from Crystal Ball later this month; before then, you can expect another track or two from Controversy. It’s taken some time, but I’m finally getting back to the grind!

Let’s Work

Let’s Work

(Featured Image: Cover art for the “Let’s Work” 12″, 1982; L to R: Dr. Fink, Brown Mark, Bobby Z, Prince, Dez Dickerson, Lisa Coleman. © Warner Bros.)

Mid-1981 was the first great period of prolificacy for Prince. In astonishingly little time, he completed work on his own fourth album, a full-length debut for protégés the Time, and several other assorted odds and ends, including a handful of songs for the Hookers and other tracks with tantalizing titles like “Delivery Boy,” “Friction,” “Gym Class,” “Heart Attack,” “Hump You,” “Poppa Grooves,” “The Rain and You,” “Rearrange,” and “See U Dead.” One of those odds and ends would even end up on the album: the taut, New Wave-inflected funk of “Let’s Work.”

According to legend, “Let’s Work” began life as “Let’s Rock”: Prince’s version of a ’60s-style dance craze song, like “The Twist” or “The Loco-Motion.” He recorded the song, inspired by a dance he’d seen in Minneapolis clubs called “the Rock,”  with the intention of rush-releasing it as a non-LP single in the summer of 1981. But Warner Bros.–mindful, perhaps, of the moribund U.K. performance of his previous loosie, “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)”–didn’t bite: a minor setback for Prince that, in retrospect, foreshadowed more serious conflicts with the label to come.

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She’s Just a Baby

She’s Just a Baby

(Featured Image: The Hookers, 1981; L to R: Jamie Shoop, Susan Moonsie, Loreen Moonsie. Photo stolen from Denise Vanity Matthews–the Tumblr, not the person.)

The Time’s first album was completed quickly, even by Prince’s ever-increasing standards: recorded in April 1981, mixed (at Hollywood Sound Recorders in Los Angeles) by the end of the month, and released another three months later. In the meantime, the man behind the curtain was already devising a second group of protégés: an all-female counterpart to his first group’s male pimp aesthetic, charmingly named the Hookers.

In order to recruit his stable of Hookers, Prince stayed even closer to home than he had for the Time. He drafted his personal assistant, Jamie Shoop, who then-engineer Don Batts described as “a good-looking blonde… kind of a ballsy woman in a man’s world” (Nilsen 1999 63). The other two spots were filled by his girlfriend at the time, Susan Moonsie, and her sister Loreen.

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