Podcast: Dig If U Will – Part 2 of a Conversation with Jane Clare Jones

A week and a half ago, I recorded what was supposed to be a single, one-to-two-hour podcast with writer, philosopher, and fellow Prince obsessive Jane Clare Jones; needless to say, we ended up talking for almost six hours, which necessitated us splitting the conversation into parts. In this second installment, we begin with a discussion of Ben Greenman’s new book, Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God, & Genius in the Music of Prince; but that discussion quickly branches out into more interesting conversations about Prince’s supernatural ability to enter “flow,” his unparalleled understanding of women’s desire, and his complicated relationship with spirituality and religion.

Next week, we’ll dig into another recent book about Prince–the memoir of his ex-wife, Mayte Garcia–and begin to take full stock of our feelings in the wake of his passing last April. If you missed the first episode, you may want to check it out before listening.

00:00:00   “When Doves Cry” (from Purple Rain, 1984)

00:00:39   Zach’s Review of Dig If You Will the Picture

00:04:03   Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s Concept of “Flow

00:04:38   The Piece Jane Wrote

00:04:44   Purple Reign: An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Life and Legacy of Prince (University of Salford, May 24-26)

00:07:53   “Purple Rain” (Live at First Avenue, 1983)

00:18:30   “Purple Music” (1982 Recording)

00:20:49   If You Want Detailed Biographical Work, Read The Rise of Prince 1958-1988

00:25:02   Greenman’s New Yorker Piece

00:29:54   Brian Morton’s A Thief in the Temple

00:30:07   Touré’s I Would Die 4 U

00:32:49   “Shhh” (Live at the Palace of Auburn Hills, 2004)

00:42:31 “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (from Prince, 1979)

00:45:16   “Shockadelica” (1987 B-Side)

00:50:38   “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” (Live in Louisville, 2015)

00:53:00   “Joy in Repetition” (Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival, 2011)

00:56:50   “Erotic City” (Live at First Avenue, 1984)

01:00:34   “Computer Blue” (Live at First Avenue, 1983)

01:04:57   “The Beautiful Ones” (from Purple Rain)

01:10:15   2013 Panel Discussion with Touré, Questlove, Danyel Smith, and Alan Leeds

01:16:48   “God (Love Theme from Purple Rain)” (1984 B-Side)

01:27:00   “Electric Intercourse” (Live in Birmingham, 2014)

01:33:42   “Temptation” (from Around the World in a Day, 1985)

01:38:24   Prince’s Devout, Godly Performance at the 2007 Super Bowl

01:44:53   “I Would Die 4 U” (from Purple Rain)

56 replies on “Podcast: Dig If U Will – Part 2 of a Conversation with Jane Clare Jones”

Zach, this is an excellent podcast series. I love it. Can’t wait for the next one as soon as I’ve finished the last one. Keep ’em coming. Is J.C. Jones penning a Prince book? She should! I’d like mine autographed. Thanks!

Wow, Zach and Jane—where do I begin? Such a great discussion; I can’t wait for your take on Mayte’s book. I agree with both of you on limitations of Greenman’s book: underwhelming. Jane, your analysis of why women’s perceptions of Prince are so important (and so ignored) is spot on; I was listening to the podcast in my car and shouting YES! YES! as you covered this ground. I trust that your comments indicate that you are plotting out a book-length treatment of this subject—please do, as it is sorely needed! (P.S.: I loved your essay last year.)

I just wanted to mention a couple of things I would have brought up had I been a part of the conversation with you (mainly because I have no one else to share them with!) First off, obviously Prince had a level of comfort with his feminine side that is quite unusual for a heterosexual male. To understand why that was, I would bring up one fact that didn’t come up in your conversation: he was not only small for a man, he was small for a woman. As we all know, he was TINY. I can’t remember where I read this (maybe Liz Jones’ book?) but an early associate of his expressed the opinion that one reason why Prince frequently chose women as collaborators is that he was uncomfortable around other men due to his small stature. I really get this; as a woman who is the same height as he was (5’2” – 5’3”), I know from experience that it does not take a very tall person to physically dominate someone of our size, regardless of the taller person’s intent. Additionally, of course, the world is hard on short men and there is (unsurprising) evidence that he would have preferred to be taller. So, I would just add that I think the body he was born into played a large role in shaping his unique and unusual orientation to women, men and to his sexuality. I would also argue that one of his areas of genius is how he transformed an aspect of his physicality that is often regarded with derision into an exquisite wellspring of beauty and allure. (Finally, I also agree with Mayte Garcia that he was absolutely the perfect size to be himself.)

Secondly, on the topic of his relationship to religion, I agree that this topic needs much, much more unpacking. For so many of us (even folks like me who actively participate in liberal Christianity), the fact that he joined one of the most authoritarian, repressive and patriarchal forms of organized religion is confounding and disturbing. (Honestly, to try to understand it, I skimmed a book on the Jehovah’s Witnesses from the library a few months ago; imagining him as engaged in that belief system as described was absolutely horrifying.) Why would he do this? Since he strove for maximum control over all aspects of his life and work, and structured his life to emphasize his own flexibility and freedom (i.e. Paisley Park, “where there aren’t any rules”), I have to wonder whether his success in creating that environment for himself also created a craving for some sort of external spiritual structure to counterbalance it. As Dylan (another Minnesota boy) sang, “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”

There is a story out there (don’t know for sure if it’s true or not) that Prince, feeling that the religious music that he and other Jehovah’s Witnesses sang at the Kingdom Hall was rather underwhelming, created some new arrangements for his faith community. In order for them to be utilized, though, these musical arrangements had to be approved by the governing body that oversees all aspects of Jehovah’s Witness life. Apparently not appreciating the value of this gift, these anonymous leaders nixed the work and ordered all copies destroyed. If true, the question that comes to mind (knowing something about Prince’s temperament) is how did he react to their actions? How did he embrace a denomination that controls the not only the most intimate aspects of a member’s life (adieu, oral sex!) but in this case, his voice as an artist? Throughout his life, he was quite good (and often ruthless) at abandoning people and practices that he had outgrown, but he never left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, so something about it worked pretty well for him for 20+ years. I think we are missing something when we negate or minimize this part of his life. As much as I find it problematic, I still have to respect it as the form of spirituality that he chose for himself. Of course, I’m still mystified as to how it fits in with everything else I think and feel about Prince but what else is new? The journey is the destination….

Again, thank you both. Zach, your project is both ambitious and much appreciated, and bringing Jane into the discussion is an absolute treat. I look forward to the next installment.

Ah never mind! Looks like WordPress thought your comment was spam…weird.

You raise some really good points here. I have heard from a few sources (including Harold Bloom, I believe) that Prince was easily intimidated by other men, which definitely makes sense given his stature, as well as his experiences with his father/stepfather. Hell, I’m 6’3″ and I tend to find women easier to be around…men are kind of shitty in general.

The religious discussion is definitely something I’ll have to reckon with, fortunately not for a while. I thought the Mayte book did a great job of explaining why he would need such a rigid structure at that time in his life (after the deaths of his children), but as you note, by all accounts he never left the church (though he seemed to have drifted a bit from its dogma). I definitely want to do justice to his beliefs and not just dismiss them, which I think a lot of secular writers do, though I also can’t help but be critical of them on some level. I’m probably not the person who can write the deep analysis of Prince and religion/spirituality that I would really like to read, but I will give it my best shot!

Yeah, the religion thing is a true puzzlement. The JW’s are SO patriarchal. For example, as strongly as they believe that it’s terribly wrong to celebrate holidays and birthdays, in a situation where a JW woman is married to a non-JW man, his wishes trump her beliefs as the man in the marriage must be obeyed. So, if he wants a Christmas tree with all the trimmings, she has to provide it even though this is anathema to her own spirituality. Ough. Why, Prince, why? I hope/like to think that he was not 100% into all of this, but it is not a form of religion that they allow you to approach cafeteria style. And, clearly, he liked to call the shots in his intimate relationships with women (as Mayte wrote, that’s one reason why he chose increasingly younger ones), so I have to come to the conclusion that he was pretty OK with the “wives, subject yourself to your husbands” part of JW theology. The question of whether Prince was a feminist or not is actually quite complex, and I look forward to hearing more from Jane on this. My opinion: he was AND he wasn’t.

Yeah, I think “he was and he wasn’t” sums up Prince’s feminism (or whatever) pretty well. He was, I think, mostly a control freak, which to his credit (I guess) extended to men and women–though obviously these tendencies were more problematic in romantic relationships, which were all with women (that we know of). And I do think his support of women as collaborators, etc. is worth celebrating; but I think in the wake of his death, a lot of the “Prince was a feminist and supported women” thinkpieces were leaving out the asterisk “* conventionally beautiful.” Like, we can’t just ignore the fact that he dropped Rosie Gaines’ project to record a full-length rap album by Carmen Electra. I mean I genuinely wish I could ignore it, but I can’t.

I’m actually trying to remember (since I know you wanted Jane’s thoughts, not mine, lol) if she discussed feminist issues any more in our conversation–I think this was the most relevant part. Maybe I’ll coax her into coming back and recording a “Was Prince a Feminist?” episode.

You may find it doesn’t require much coaxing :). But yeah, basically, ‘yes, no, yes, yes, no, NO, OH GOD NO, yes, YES, FUCK YES, noooooooooo.’

There is, as you’ve said, the issues coming from the control stuff, which isn’t necessarily gendered, but when sat next to the intimacy stuff, definitely do become gendered…and then, and this is the place where it gets really sticky [And you’re spot on there…Carmen frickin’ Electra??!!!???…that line about him ‘doing A&R with his dick’ was just so well-placed. I always have wondered, given how that thing usually went down, why new protegees seemed apparently oblivious to the fact that, in this respect, the Prince seal of approval was effectively close to career suicide (then again, that’s probably explicable by the fact that clear-sightedness may well have been the first casualty of being sucked into a doe-eyed purple vortex)….Anyhoo]. But yeah, the main issue I think is the extent to which he was transparently and massively invested in using women as narcissistic supply…Being Prince, he both knew that he did this (or some part of him knew), and he also knew that it was incompatible with respect for women’s humanity in general, and led him to sometimes – indeed, at least in the early years, often – treat them like complete shit. I think that the substantial part of him that was not fundamentally a misogynist ass didn’t like that about himself at all, while, also being Prince, he wasn’t able to do the admittedly very difficult emotional work that would have been required to deal with the extent to which he used seduction as a narcissistic defense…

Back to my Computer Blue ‘Hallway Speech’ obsession:

Narrow-minded computer
(Somebody please, please tell me…)
It’s time someone programmed U
(Somebody please, please tell me what’s wrong with me)
It’s time U learned women are not butterflies
They’re computers 2
Just like U Computer Blue
(Where is my baby?)
Chauvinistic computer
It’s time someone programmed U (Na, na, na, na, na)

Well quite.

Oh P…..

Oh, Jane. Just know that if you ever want to have a long conversation with someone in which you agree about everything, I’m here for you in Portland, Oregon. Near many excellent restaurants.

Agreed on all points. I would just amend your “*conventionally beautiful” caveat to be “*exceptionally beautiful by conventional standards.” (Garden-variety female beauty wasn’t good enough for him; one of the things I dislike about a couple of his later songs is the characterization of himself and his love object as “dimes” vs ordinary “nickels.”) Interestingly, for an extremely imaginative, think-outside-the-box sort of person, it was an area in which he was spectacularly unimaginative and quite predictable (Wife #2, for example, closely resembles lead-singer-of-lingerie-group #1). And, Zach, just to be clear, I’m totally interested in your thoughts on anything Prince–even feminism! ; )

Wow, so much is resonating with me that I’d go on forever listing it all. Love Zach’s blog and latest entry with super review of the Revolution concert. So many great points, much enjoyed by a mom talking about Trump with her preteen while looking back on days as a Reagan-era teen. Loved Jane’s eulogy piece, the podcasts, Penny’s amazing thoughts, charismatron’s amazing thoughts, etc. Penny — your shout out to your hometown of Portland and its excellent restaurants made me smile. I’m here for all of you, too. I’m in the D.C. area. We’ve got some good restaurants, too, but I can’t say our town is free from political strife. ; ) Jane — definitely want to hear you on Prince and feminism. Agree that he both strongly was and strongly wasn’t.

I really appreciate the thoughts on spirituality and religion. That’sic not my area either. I’m one of those agnostics who has never heard anything explanation that even begins to work at squaring an all powerful, benevolent god with what happens in the world. I’ve heard a lot of explanations for it, including many hours of listening to a JW couple that I invited in for many weeks of tea. The suffering of children like Amiir, unfortunately, is nothing that an all powerful god should allow. Whatever the point of children suffering torturously may be (and the JWs had some explanations as to the point of it) could be accomplished another way by an all-powerful god. And to add the notion that child is suffering to punish the actions of an adult. Warped, and also sickly concerned with some adult world purpose vs. concerned with suffering of child, in my opinion.

Penny — Thank you for the notion shunning and loss of father figures. That really made me think.

Charismatron — “…it comes around for him to receive someone else’s palatable escapism, but in another spiritual form…” Thank you for this, and for all that you wrote. It really helped me think about the religion puzzle.

Zach — Nothing against Carmen, but tons of stuff against how (as you reference) Prince handled Carmen vs. Rosie. One of my least favorite parts of it all. That said, is it reasonable to say that he had some positive moments toward Rosie (e.g. recognizing her incredible gifts, and asking her to join the band vs. instead hiring some inferior yet still very talented other person. I know this is a strange question, but if he was but nothing but negative to all but certain types, would he have populated his bands differently?

Jane and all — re: romantic relationships do you think he ever could have resisted moving on, before too long, to the kind of infatuation only a new relationship can bring, or to another experience of seducing a new woman? New infatuation or new seduction — was the prospect of either or both of these things so irresistable as to make really long term monogamous relationships impossible? If he had any of these things (compulsion for infatuation, compulsion to seduce, compulsion to have women gaze adoringly at him), why was that? If, as some say, he had a remarkable tendency to seek lovers that mirrored himself, why didn’t that help him (at least a little) to have his lovers tend to be older as he grew older?

Zach — Could you remind me of which podcast sites you had mentioned re: reviews?

Thanks to all!

Also, sorry for all the typos in above post. I usually don’t make quite so many, but this particular keyboard has issues.

Some great points.

Re: the tiny issue – and yeah, despite the gratuitous overuse of the diminutive adjective, I still kind of always forget this, because y’know, the whole aura-the-size-of-a-planet thing gets somewhat in the way…Mayte is totally on point about that 🙂 – I do think it was definitely implicated in him not being comfortable around men, and was also one significant component in the compound narcissistic wound which was under the defense mechanisms, although no where near as critical as the abandonment issues I suspect…but I’m not sure about the identification with his own femininity…it’s definitely one possible factor…and if it was just the performative artifice of it, I think I’d be more inclined to agree fully, but to have that capacity for such deep somatic/energetic identification I think there also needs to be something more fundamental as well as strategic…there are at least a couple of sources, Susan Rogers, and an unnamed ex-girlfriend Toure quotes, who both note they had never met a man with such perfectly balanced masculine and feminine energy – and I think this also ties into the stuff Mayte notes about how attuned he was to the emotional/energetic properties of what was going on around him (all of which is also related to the foo foo, the need to make sure the level of stimulus in the environment was perfectly controlled, and the energy of spaces was perfectly modulated around him…(it’s kind of comical and ridiculous when he goes into the delivery room and asks if they can turn the lights down…but I also totally get that about him (I wear shades in winter, and in rooms with bright and fluorescent lights…and not just because I’m a dick)))…there is just this incredible arching fluid receptivity in him, and an embrace of that (while at the same time the sensitivity aspect also probably contributes to some of the control issues), which is very very unusual in men, and almost unique in men who also have such strong masculine energy…and I guess I do have a strong sense that it was just something in him…

Re the JW stuff. Yeah, it needs serious serious unpacking…and this is something I’d really like to work through more fully. Where I am with it atm is that as charismatron kind of suggests below, I think he had a very very strong natural spiritual inclination, and I think that inclination was much more in line with the kind of AOA Vedic/Buddhist pantheistic understanding of the divine as something which interpenetrates everything, and in which individuation is regarded as an artifact of limited human intellect…the basic ‘we are all one with the universe’ idea that is related to mystical states of non-dual perception/experience…and which ties in with his whole opposition to category/purity, his embrace of sexuality as an aspect of divinity, his capacity to enter into ecstatic states, and also, I think, his connection to his own femininity…as the mystical traditions, especially in Christianity, are often a place where women have thrived (the paper I am giving in Manchester ends with a compare and contrast of two images, Bernini’s ‘The Ecstasy of St Teresa’ and the photo of P taken during the Lovesexy tour which I discussed in my piece…the resemblance in the embodiment/expression is near perfect)..and there’s the whole extent to which also the Eastern traditions have traditionally seen the divine as a balancing of masculine and feminine principles…so yeah, there is great big fat streak of entirely non-patriarchal mysticism in him, and I’m all good with that. And then, and then… there is the whole other thing that needs to be explained…it certainly chimes in with some other aspects of his character, the control, the disciplinarian tendencies, his obvious inability to deal with conflict or negotiation or being questioned…and the extent to which there was, therefore, also, a pretty authoritarian streak in him…There’s the inheritance of his own religious upbringing, and the extent to which messianic eschatology was a thought that had always had him good and proper – and this may also be a symptom of the symptoms of the early trauma, he clearly always needed the idea of salvation…and this all fits of course with his resolute future orientation….just keep going, and you will get there in (at) the End…then there’s the extent to which the problems caused by being so fidelity-challenged refracted back on his attitudes to sex, and how that’s all linked somehow in his mind with his mother, and his belief that the wildness of his sexuality was inherited from her, which would then I suppose quite easily lead to the inference that what was required to deal with it was good old fashioned patriarchal repression…and then finally of course, Amiir’s death, and the fact that he interpreted it as punishment (which is horrifying, but also makes sense). I can understand it as a result of all those factors I guess, but I still find it very hard to fundamentally respect it – and I do recognize that in the short-term it did really really work for him…but I also think it was a) an occlusion/repression of some of the most amazing aspects of his being (both spiritually and sexually), as a person and artist and hence, b) just not right for who he was in really fundamental ways, and c) not a durable strategy, which while fixing the problem short-term and getting him back on his feet, also allowed him to carry on not looking at what was underneath some of the symptoms, and led him to not honestly deal with the grief over Amiir’s death and last but not least d) as you suggest, was a load of homophobic, authoritarian patriarchal bollocks…which I wouldn’t defend on anyone, and find really really hard to take from him of all people.

Also, if you’ll forgive a note of excessive gossipiness brought on by your comment about no oral sex – can u imagine…thinking you were going to get with Prince and ending up with an authoritarian patriarch who disapproves of giving head. Maaaaaaaaaaan, how crushing would that be?

Will respond to your longer post when I have more time, but can’t resist responding to your most recent comment. (First off, excessive gossipiness is entirely welcomed!) Yes, when I read that JWs prohibit oral sex, my first reaction was OH DEAR and my second reaction was DEAR GOD, TELL ME THIS ISN’T TRUE and my third reaction was KILL ME NOW. WIth respect to P, it’s like saying to Van Gogh: “OK, we just don’t need all those wonderful colors you create” and gouging out his eyes. Having said all that, it does suggest an irony (and perhaps, poetic justice?) to Manuela’s “triumph” in becoming wife #2 (and, presumably, joining the JW fold to help achieve that.) I can only hope that over time, P. reverted back to his God-given impulses and (we imagine) talents, but I’m guessing in his early years as a avid convert, Brother Nelson was not exactly the fun date one would expect. OK, that IS gossipy…but thank you for indulging me!

Is there any way to edit comments? I’m practicing not editing as a treatment for OCD, but I was so tired (practically dreaming when I wrote it, it just occurs as I’m writing this). When I read it through after sending (send first is the OCD treatment), it really wasn’t of respectful quality. Not that it matters or that the world will be affected one whit by how I write, but I don’t want to disrespect your column or suggest ANYTHING other than a child suffering and dying is an utter tragedy. What I saw as so unfortunate and sad about my JW acquaintances is that they had some simplistic (to my mind) idea of how it might serve some purpose. One mind blowing thing I’ve heard (from some other religious perspectives as well) is that a god who is all powerful and can therefore impart knowledge/learning/enlightenment/self-education in any circumstances (including if it had to be a paradox), needs to do this so we can truly know what the devil is about. To me, it’s utterly twisted and sick.

Please excuse my ignorance of religion, but does Christianity say that Jesus died for our sins? He died to save us in that way? Amiir’s death, described as a punishment, is (of course) a different and separate idea. It’s just that, as one little thing, even that portrayal of suffering doesn’t show a baby on the cross (or the JW vision, which I don’t think was a cross). If it’s true that there was an idea that Amiir suffered as punishment for P…that would include blame for him (and I do have to admit there’s plenty of examples through time and place where the story would have it be nothing but a woman’s fault), there’s massive ego, to me, in any idea that a baby is going to go through torture to address an adult’s issues.

On a different issue, there’s an irony that it seemed the larger philosophy was used to justify (as Mayte referenced in a way in a comment in her book) being able to leave your wife and get a new relationship.

And Jane, on the “gossip” part, I hear you loud and clear. ; ) My ignorance extends to not knowing anything about the Christian (JW-specific or otherwise) approach to such “variety” (within marriage, as otherwise obviously brings up additional issues) in sexuality.

EVERYONE: Would all of you in this comments section take pity on me and make a stop in the DC area? I’m loving every part of the discussion, and the gossip is delicious. We really do have some excellent restaurants ; ) , and we can just be all “la, la, la…can’t hear you” to the political powers that be. Plus, even that has some refuge…I walked by Prince signs at the women’s march. : ) And ZACH, please just delete this if not OK to mention, and to offer you up as the ultimate enticement. I think the DC area has Zach to offer, and he might not be too difficult to spot, even without flamboyant dress. I believe he’s over a foot taller than my 60 inches. : )

PENNY — Love your comments so much that won’t do it justice here. But…the van Gogh parallel is fantastic. I’m sitting under some (prints of) his sunflowers, haystacks and stars right now.

Also find that “nickels and dimes” part of him, as well as the treatment of some of his spectacularly talented female colleagues (Rosie is a genius), a bitter disappointment as far as how it brought pain, and how it limited some of his potential to be more revolutionary in a positive way. Same goes for some of the attitudes/actions involving money. For example, of course a person would want to escape poverty, but to get that all muddied with superficial aspects of dress, such that you are a not only great artist with your clothes, but you spend that many 24/7 days dressed to the nines and in heels (probably mostly other issues there but still), and you criticize others for not doing the same. Sometimes I wanted him to be tapped on the shoulder and reminded that what he truly loved and respected about the disadvantaged he did so much to help would still be there regardless of whether they were to “dress rich” given the opportunity. All that said, I realize his amazing aesthetic extended to his clothes, and I suspect some the 24/7 nature of it was connected to deep insecurity.

Do you know if there’s any room for couples to stray from the prohibition you described? I’m guessing maybe not, as you note that the group has a pretty absolute approach.

And I’m sorry to bring up religious questions that are doubtless so been there, done that for rest of you, vs. me who is super ignorant of religion. All benevolent and all powerful not possible, in my view, but I know that’s something that’s been discussed to death over endless years of humanity. It’s just that I can’t help but turn to it in cases of children and immense suffering like that of Amiir.

Hi, Louise Be! I’m going to take the liberty of responding to several of your posts in one comment, First off, I’d love to connect with you, Zach and others in DC when I’m there next. Same if anyone come to Portland.
I’ll keep it mind if my travels bring me East (and Zach, I guess you can see this as you becoming more Prince-like–hence the development of your very own harem, lol.)

Louise, you’ve brought up several sincere questions about Christianity, so since I’m (so far) the only admitted practicing Christian on these threads I thought a response might be helpful in light of what we are discussing. Obviously, “Christianity” encompasses a very broad range of belief systems; I can best speak to the (progressive) one I adhere to, which emphasizes listening to the Spirit, using the reason God gave us all, and pretty much a total lack of rules about what anyone can and can’t do beyond focusing on love, compassion and connection. Yes, there is the notion that “Jesus died for the sins of humanity,” but in my church the emphasis of that story is NOT on how bad we are, but how we are loved and we are all OK, even as messed up in our own unique ways as we all obviously are. (I’m feeling challenged to share this because I am SO not trying to witness/preach, which is the last thing Christians like me do…truly, just trying to answer your questions. I have NO agenda about what anyone else’s belief system or spiritual practice should be.)

As you’ve said, people have been struggling throughout the ages to reconcile the idea of an all powerful God with the God who obviously lets really, really bad things happen. I don’t have the answer to that any more than anyone else does, but I will say my faith community has many people who have had the kind of extremely challenging life experiences (losing a child, dealing with chronic pain and illness, etc.) that cause one to really wrestle with this question–and they have found a way through it and are still Christians. (Pretty sure, though, that that way did NOT include seeing their tragedies as punishment. That’s just awful, in my view. Anyone who says that to a person who has lost a child should be shot.) Despite the fact that the JW’s are “Christian” in some sense, there is very little similarity between how they practice their faith and how I practice mine. They focus on rules, on literal reading of the bible (their translation, which has been translated to reflect their theology) and they have a system for enforcing whether or not their members are adequately following the rules, and bringing them back into line. I’m far from being an expert in JW practice, but I think one of the comforts of their approach (as is true with any fundamentalist religion) is the notion that you just need to follow the rules, and you’re saved.

Reading a book on this denomination gave me some minor insights into the details of Prince’s post Mayte life–for example,JWs have a huge emphasis on avoiding contamination and defilement (particularly from nonbelievers–for them, you are either a JW or you are an infidel), which for me clarified why he would raze his houses to the ground and burn/dispose of evidence of discarded partners and lost loved ones. JW belief became the (limited and limiting) toolkit he used to process that grief. It is so interesting to watch the interview Mayte refers to in her book (the one with her, P., and the Grahams–with Sinbad), where you see P. attempt to explain a tenet of JW theology (stauros), stumble a bit (because he’s not fluent in it) and then turn it over to Teacher Larry, and how avidly he listens to every word Larry says, like a thirsty man desperate for water.

A large part of what interests me about Prince is that his life journey and body of work reflect the amazing twists and turns that we all experience as tender, fragile human beings on this planet– the spirit that rejoices, and the heart that suffers but that never stops beating until it’s time for us to go. Regardless of the many mistakes he made, he lived so deeply. I admire this more than I can possibly express.

Oops, forgot to comment in my previous post on your thoughts about P’s relationship to beauty. I’m with you: I totally love and appreciate how he understood that his personal beauty was one of his gifts to be cultivated, shared and (as Jane has said, so well) avidly enjoyed by the women it was directed to. (There are so many ways to answer the question, “Why was Prince put upon this earth?” but for me the answer is quite simple: to make women feel juicy and beautiful. And may I say: thank you, P.)

Having said that, I get irritated by the “dimes” stuff because it is so superficial and not the way I like to see him. (Sure, P., we get that you’re gorgeous, powerful and rich but it’s really boring to act like what makes you special is what gets you in a front-row seat at a fashion show.) I would also agree with you that there was a level of insecurity beneath all that; in Mayte’s book there are a couple of instances in the early days where he is under the weather and says, “I don’t look good, we shouldn’t get together.” I find his perpetual emphasis on visual amazingness to be fantastic, but I would hate to think he never was able to let it go. One of the (many) things Mayte wrote that turned me to mush was describing how he looked after Amiir was born; I don’t have the book in front of me to refer to but it’s along the lines of: despite the worry and the stress and the heartbreak that they had just experienced and which were in some way written all over his face, he had never been more beautiful to her. (OK, where are the tissues?)

Yes, I would totally agree that his psychological gender fluidity (or whatever we want to call it) goes much deeper than his stature–I was just making the point that his stature has to be a factor in all that. He was not only quite short, he was quite small–most men of his height have the bulk of a taller man, but P. (partially I think because he correctly recognized that being very svelte gave his body a long line and proportions he couldn’t otherwise achieve) was something like a petite American size 6 in women’s clothing. He regularly swapped clothing with his (equally svelte) female lovers and wore altered women’s clothing. Somehow, this has to be a factor in his consciousness.

Your comparison of P. and Theresa of Avila in ecstasy is spot on, as is your analysis of the mix of spirituality, religion, repression and expression that marked his life. This will be a great chapter/essay in the book you are about to start writing. ; )

Penny — I want to write more in a day or so, but must thank you for your enormously generous and kind-hearted response.

For now, re: your thoughts on “not alone”: Thank you for sharing them! I’m 50. I’m yet another person who saw a lot of P stuff, much of it for the very first time, when the videos were all over the internet. Last spring had me wandering around life in the usual way. I wandered right into the path of that purple-video-and-music fire hose. It knocked me off my feet, and I’ve been rolling around drunk in it ever since.

Oh, and I’d love to see Portland one day. I’ve never been, and I’ve heard it’s beautiful!

Hi all: I had it in my head that I needed to respond to this conversation, but reading through again, I feel like you’re all doing fine without me! I’m very pleased to be “hosting” such an interesting conversation.

Louise, I’m not sure if you can edit comments–I know I can, and will if you want me to, but I don’t think you’ve said anything out of turn. Also don’t mind anyone knowing I’m in the DC area (and if you guys do pass through, let me know!). How did you like the Revolution show, by the way? Did your daughter come with you?

Loved the podcast and am trying to post a message but it won’t post–is there a word count limit? If so, let me know how to get it to you both. Thanks!

Re: the religion thing.

Obviously, Prince intertwined god with sex. IIRC, he’s made comments along the lines of sex feeling so innately good it was an expression of the divine. While his was a radical departure from traditional Christian ideas, he framed it in the palatable, traditional relationship people had with their Christian god: god ruled, there was a heaven, its opposite (the de-elevator), love one another, and so on. Consequently, people easily related to his super-funky, super-sexy message of sexualized spirituality: the best of both worlds, combined into something better (quintessential Prince). For Prince, this was more than enough to get him through, but I’m convinced had things gone differently he would have developed the confidence to dispense with tradition, and built a spiritual philosophy entirely his own. I believe he was getting there towards the end.

Unfortunately, his desire to fit into a traditional lifestyle (i.e. marriage, reproduce) and the loss of Amiir struck deep. It’s said that many people in prison turn to religion (often, this is Islam) as a means of finding within themselves a clean slate and turning away from an ugly past that got them there in the first place. Facing the ugliness of his circumstances, Prince is escorted into the JW belief by people he admired and trusted. Not only was this a chance to escape the prison of his circumstances, but just as his own spiritual message was palatable escapism in the 80’s (people enjoyed it much more than they thought about it), it comes around for him to receive someone else’s palatable escapism, but in another spiritual form (Prince’s need for it [the clean slate] was stronger than having to think through JW authoritarianism: when there’s no way to breathe, you’ll take any kind of air).

Despite the JW faith contrasting with everything he’d communicated previously, he dove deep. Deep into The Something Else, and it was a soothing dive surrounded by comforting friends and familiar faces (which would cling to him in equal parts, revitalizing their own musical careers along the way). But inevitably, the confines of the faith would prove restrictive and Prince would slowly, surely, over many years, have to dispense with them. Time heals old wounds, and we see things more clearly in the absence of pain.

Fast forward to Art Official Age (AOA), and especially the track “Way Back Home” opens with the line, “Any person or object whatsoever that requires your attention is something that has veered from its path, and pre-ordained destiny, of total enlightenment”. This sounds less way less JW missive and far more Buddhist. The concept isn’t entirely his own, but communicates and orbiting away from the JW thinking we’d come to expect from Prince. Things had changed for Prince. A lot.

On the track “Affirmation 3” we are presented with more of the same: “You’ve probably felt for many years in your former life that you were separate not only from others, but even yourself. Now you can see that was never the case; you are actually everything and anything that you can think of: all of it is you.” This certainly isn’t JW thinking, and is much more along the lines of Alan Watts (who combined Buddhism and Hinduism), particularly with the following line (again, from Affirmation 3), “Remember, there is really only one destination, and that place is you. All of it, everything, is you. [Note: not everything is god/love]” Prince was definitely experimenting with new ideas, and communicating them broadly.

If this is the case, however, why didn’t he quit the JW scene altogether? Why not simply shake off old skin and move on to new and more promising grounds? Famously, Prince was an entirely private person and anyone that’s done it will tell you quitting a faith community is notoriously difficult as it attracts its combined ire against you. Deeply unsettling, it drives a wedge between you and your friends (the very ones that ‘saved’ you) and turns them against you. It’s tough to deal with, especially under the fragile circumstances of building a new foundation and creating new confidence in your own ideas: Prince could do it all, but create his own spiritual philosophy as well? I believe the correct answer is, “Yes”. So, avoiding the problems of quitting a faith publicly, he plotted his own course in private.

Although he vigorously embraced the JW faith, that was stacked upon an inextinguishable fire of spiritual thinking all his own. It’s one thing to define yourself as a uniquely talented musician, actor, creator, businessman, etc. and a wholly other thing to comfortably arrive at your own religious philosophy. On account of his history–and what’s on AOA–I happen to believe with more time he would have continued along this arc which may have very likely resulted in fully casting off the JW group-think, and cycling back around into a deeper, more confident investment into the very spiritual philosophy he started out with.

Really great analysis of the spiritual subtext on AOA–I also thought it seemed a lot less dogmatic than his earlier post-conversion material, I appreciate the deeper look at where he might have been going at that point.

Interesting analysis: clearly I need to return to AOA. I hope you are right that he was finding his own path in later years. I certainly agree with you that one of the things that kept him with the JWs was his love for Larry Graham, the older brother/father he never had. While there are many religious organizations you can leave without losing connection to the people within them that you still care about, the JW’s are not one of them. My understanding is that shunning is mandated in that situation. So, let’s hope that he found a compromise for himself.

Full disclosure – my perspective is colored by my entree into the purple universe after Prince’s death: a fact of which I am not proud but it is what it is and I find that, while I’m endlessly fascinated by and perpetually thirsty for any and all of his music . . . and reading & hearing thoughts, discussions, etc. by wonderful writers and thinkers like all of you (who are clearly more gifted than I am in analysis and articulation) several things have emerged (at least for me) as clear as a bell as far as the religion “thing” goes.

He was indescribably devastated by the death of Amiir. He wanted children – had immersed himself in fatherhood completely in anticipation (appearance on the Muppets, songs like She Gave Her Angels and Be My Mirror, the nursery, the playground, and his never finished album for kids) – coupled with his stunted, inadequate-all-his-life coping skills, he did not know what to do, where to turn or how to go on when they lost that child.

In anticipation of, and his vision for, what life (and art and expression and inspiration) might be like for him as a parent – he was ripe for conversion in the wake of that devastation. I think he was more vulnerable at that point than probably any other time of his life. He was ripe for Larry Graham and all that Larry had to “offer” in terms of friend, brother, father and religious guru. While I guess Larry’s faith is/was sincere and he was probably trying to help his “little brother”, I think Prince’s frantic search for meaning and structure led him straight into a cult. I agree with Jane that it provided structure for maybe five or six years that got him on his feet again artistically, but by 2006 he was moving away. It wasn’t his natural spiritual bent. He was clearly much closer to pre-JW views on religion by AOA and what came after. By the end, he had come full circle – back to the boy who promised “my life with you I share”. Piano and a Microphone, the mandalas, the plan to write a book, all of the intimate sharing of stories on the PM tour, the vulnerability he was willing to show in those final concerts. To me, he was both moving in a new direction and present to fact that he didn’t have much longer in this life as we know it. I’m still incredibly sad that he died the way he did. But simply put, I know he is still working his magic from beyond, however that notion is – or isn’t – perceived. He’s gotten to me.

Well, you are far from being alone as a person who only became attuned to Prince after he passed. There are a LOT of us (yes, I just outed myself). In my case, it all started when I began watching the videos that flooded my FB feed a year ago (you know, the performance videos he didn’t want any of us to see…)…at some point, all my chakras turned purple and I was a goner. That this happened to so many of us is attributable in part to the way the media handles the death of major celebrities (with endless coverage)–but the woo-woo side of me (which I most certainly have!) believes that there was an aspect of Prince consciousness that was sent out into the world when he left his physical body. It was, and continues to be, a mystical process.

As for me, I’m pretty close to Prince’s age, so I saw Purple Rain as a young adult. I found the musical performances in the movie to be amazing but overall, I was disturbed by the numerous instances of misogyny it contains. I still am. (People make the argument that the whole point of the movie is the Kid’s redemption from the many faults he displays, but I think that really, all that redeems him are his gifts as a performer and that he is cute as HELL) . As a proud 2nd wave feminist, I was not going to keep following this guy…so, I largely lost track of him until the purple chakra thing hit a year ago. I feel bad about being in the dark for so many years mainly because of the live performances I missed (especially when I listen to the songs on “One Nite Alone–Live! where he keeps shouting out: Portland! Portland!) –but I have stopped apologizing for it.

Those in the Prince community that were with him all along: I salute you, and I so thank you for supporting his work financially over the years so he could go out there and do whatever the hell he wanted. If you want to look down on people like me, I think it’s rather small minded of you, but go ahead, be my guest. Those of us that are newer to the journey: I think we bring a fresh perspective and from what I can see from the people I have met so far, we have been humbly and avidly working on schooling ourselves and catching up: AKA, drinking from the purple fire hose….oops, that sounded WAY dirtier than I intended… : )

There’s definitely no gatekeeping here–if there was I’d be in trouble, because I didn’t really get on board the Prince train until 2004 (and got off and on the train quite a few times between then and 2016). I think his death really did ignite a lot of interest in people, both those who hadn’t been fans before and those (like myself) who had kind of drifted away; that’s something to be celebrated, I think, as maybe the one silver lining to be found in his passing. It’s cool that some were on board the whole time, but if we’re going to limit the definition of “fan” to just those people, that’s really not sustainable in terms of building a lasting legacy.

Wow, there is definitely something going on. I’m another one who has ‘come to the party late’ but with bells on! I mean I was always a fan at a sort of general level – but now it is something else. Mostly I’m a lurker by disposition but I wanted to say hello since it is so great to stumble across kindred spirits. 🙂

Penny, wish I’d read your shout out to Portland – having read Zach’s review, I just purchased tickets to the Revolution’s Seattle show in July, but I would have done Portland just to connect with a like-minded soul! I’d say to you all: ‘come north to Edmonton’ for a big purple gossip session (with pancakes) but it is freezing cold here and I’m sure you are all too sensible!

It seems that Prince unflinchingly offers up so many fascinating issues that we all recognize and experience to a greater or lesser degree in our lives … though often, at least for me, in a kind of peripheral-vision, ‘hovering around the edges of thought’ sort of way. I’m thinking of things like connection to relationship, work, beauty, control, spirituality, gender, loss, pain – physical, emotional, psychological – and also joy. In him it all seems so explicit, so electrically intense … though while we might read it like that, I’m not sure how sustained his attention was to such things (apart from beauty). As Jane points out re: Computer Blue’s hallway speech – he could say it all and then turn around and not hear himself. Maybe he felt that if he stopped to pay attention he’d be overwhelmed. He’s like a conduit rather than a repository – all this stuff just passes through and out … for people like us to pick it up. 🙂

In any case, like you, I can’t get my head around the JW thing … but thank you (Penny, Zach, Louise Be, Charismatron, Vicky, Jane) for the points you make about religion/spirituality – definitely food for thought. I agree with Jane that in the last few years he was coming out of a strong orientation to the JW path – or at least playing increasingly fast-and-loose with it (he wore those third-eye glasses a lot!) To me it seems that he was starting to use the JW dogma as something to push against … as he had with gender norms, relationships, the music industry (even some fans/fams at times).

I believe he was in the wilderness for a long time after his children died. All the years of honing his desire, control, and power into incredible certainty and success – and yet he was helpless. Sure, he threw himself into work to cope (as always), but it seemed like he was doing so, not so much to lose and then find himself in ‘flow’, but more to obliterate the anguish in a torrent.
PTSD can last for a very long time, particularly when most of the people who surround you are not going to disrupt the status quo. Prince was both so excellent and so terrible at dealing with pain: like us all I guess. Sometimes thinking about him is like taking a deep breath, outside on a winter’s day: about equal parts sharp ache and exhilaration.

Anyway, Zach, thanks so much for your work on D/M/S/R and other venues and to you and Jane for the conversations (even if I did spend an hour trying to figure out what on earth Harold Bloom had to say about Prince) 😉 … looking forward to the chat about Mayte’s book. I was riveted by it.

So beautifully expressed, Bgrl! I will wave up at you in Seattle when the Revolution comes to town. If you still want to take a trip to Portland, Princess is coming in June! : )

And can I just say to you, Zach: Buckets of thanks for creating this blog! One of the fun things I’ve experienced since entering the purple vortex is exploring the world of Prince people. It’s like moving to a new town; you meet folks with which you have some things in common, and enjoy connecting with them on a certain level, and that’s great. And THEN you find your kindred spirits, and it’s a whole different ball game. THIS is how I feel about DMSR. So grateful for all of the thoughtfulness and compassion. Zach, for creating this forum and setting the tone in the wonderful way that you have: bless you.

Hi Penny 🙂
Hmm, Princess in June in Portland? I would certainly consider it but I’ll be out of Canada at the time.
I’m going to the UK in late May and am excited to say that I’ll be going to the Prince conference in Manchester (!scream emoji goes here!)
But I am occasionally in Portland – I was there at a conference 3 weeks ago and plan to return at some point, probably between now and December – so I will definitely let you know if I am coming to town.
I agree with you about DMSR – so glad to have found it 🙂

I’m glad you like it! I was hoping to build a small community and honestly this has exceeded my expectations…even if my audience stays with just the half dozen or so people in this comments thread, I’m satisfied!

Lol Jane mentioned the Harold/Howard Bloom thing while we were recording today…I regret to say that no, Harold “Shakespeare Invented the Human Condition” Bloom was not, to my knowledge, a Prince fan.

Oh Penny and Bgrl . . . Thank you GOD (and Prince)!

I was so hesitant to share my post yesterday. Always fighting the sense that I should feel embarrassment and even shame in the presence of long time Prince people (and I do, I admit it). Coupled with the fact that Prince in Montana, let alone Missoula, is hard to find. I knew there had to be many others like me but I have always sensed that the lurking and the hesitation holds us back somehow from finding each other. Thank you so much and I am grateful to connect.

Bgrl – I haven’t bought Seattle Revolution tickets yet, but have been really thinking about it; I was just there in March and I’m only 7+ hours away. I went to Minneapolis (twice) by myself last fall and was really wishing I had someone to connect with in Seattle if I go to the concert. I am crazy jealous that you are going to Manchester but thrilled for you. Penny you should consider coming to Seattle as well!

Jane’s eulogy piece on Prince is something I read early on. It struck such a chord with me last June when I was not even two months into my personal purple fog and trying to figure out what had taken possession of me. I’ve made some lovely connections with people, but that forlorn, deeply sorry hole in my core (that I came so close yet missed so much) that is the connection I’ve been looking for.

Missoula is a great spot to gather and eat pancakes as well – not exactly equidistant from Edmonton and Portland, but close . . . ???


Hey Vicky (and Penny) – you should come to Seattle! I actually bought two tickets but right now I have no one to go with so if either of you want, you could use the other ticket. I’ve also booked into the Moore Hotel for the night – good rates, and it looks as though it is within walking distance of the venue. I was thinking I might try to convince my niece to come with me – though I think she would think I am nuts since no one here has any idea of how far I’ve tumbled down the purple rabbit hole! 🙂

Sorry for the interruption–couldn’t resist. Sadly, my personal taste finds the photos on the lower right a little creepy. Can’t beat the smile on human one, though. Love the guitar photos!

Bgrl – I would love to buy your second Seattle ticket from you, if the offer is still open. I went to the Tribute concert and a VIP tour of Paisley last October by myself; I would have loved to have had the company of a fellow occupant of the purple rabbit hole! 🙂 I loved your analogy of the deep breath on a winter day. Perfect.

Penny – I would love to talk more about the “woo woo” stuff and your thoughts/experiences; I too believe that something happened when Prince left the world as we know it. I wish I could gather all of you in a big comfortable room to continue these conversations in person where I could cook, pour y’all wine or coffee and just listen to my hearts content. And I cannot tell you what it means to me to find others with a similar story. My reality for over a year is having been swept up in a purple tsunami . . . and swirling around in this vortex while living my regular life (where the mere mention of the name Prince produces either an eye roll or a brief indulgent tight lipped smile and the unspoken conviction that Vicky has lost her mind). So Prince music played all day every day in my office just loud enough for me to hear like an intravenous purple drip is the only thing that keeps me sane in a world that doesn’t know Prince. Seriously.

So great that you can use that extra ticket, VickyWaiting! If I decide to go, I’ll let you and Bgrl know (more likely I will go in Portland if I go, but I’m still on the fence about it, honestly. The idea of the Revolution without Prince makes me rather sad.)

About the woo-woo: For those of us who are latter-day Prince devotees, one of the gifts of that state is that we are somewhat spared from the wrenching grief still being processed by those who were paying attention to him all along. The irony is that had he not died, I (and others) would still be totally oblivious to what he was all about. I’m not suggesting that the price of his life was worth expanding the consciousness of new fams, but it IS a silver lining for those of us in that category. For the others, there is nothing but awful loss–they didn’t gain anything. From my philosophical/spiritual/religious viewpoint, I do believe that when people die, they go to a better place, are relieved from any suffering they experience here on earth and are reunited with the loved ones they have lost along the way (as I imagine Prince is reunited with Amiir.) And, they become members of the “communion of saints” who are never totally disconnected from the living. It is interesting to consider whether, as a deeply and innately spiritual being who nonetheless got tripped up by the same human foibles that plague the rest of us, Prince’s capacity to positively and profoundly influence humankind (which was important to him) has actually expanded now that he has died. I, for one, believe that it has. The fact that we are avidly engaged in this conversation is ample evidence of that!

Finally, about being hit by the purple tsunami…I feel you, sister! I kind of wonder what I spent my time and energy on BP (Before Prince). The exploration of what he’s all about has transformed EVERY aspect of my life.

You’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling
and I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet.

Oh Penny – when i first found Prince’s cover of this song I know I played it 700 times in a row. So perfectly describes the intoxication. Still one of my favorites and one of the 4-5 first items I share with people that ask me for where and what and why and how this exquisite madness has overcome me. If nothing else, I try to share some examples of sides of Prince they didn’t dream existed. I know, because like you . . . I started Thursday, April 21st 2016 and it didn’t take long for the avalanche to pick me up and throw me down the mountain. It seemed crazy to me at first, like I was possessed. Probably took several weeks before I fully surrendered – I don’t know – some things are fuzzy. 😉 V

Well, as a huge Joni Mitchell fan, learning that Prince was deeply influenced by her was one of the first things that made me realize there was a LOT more going on with him than I knew. And “A Case of You” is my favorite Joni song. So, when I discovered that he had covered it…..well. I drove around in my car listening to his version with tears streaming down my cheeks; which is the exact moment, I think, when I went over the edge. It was definitely the gateway drug.

And WOW is my Prince story:

Like a bee to some honey; a moth to a flame.
You got an addiction and you got me to blame.
You never saw it coming ’cause I made no claims – ’til now
You can call it the unexpected or you can call it… wow!

Hi Vicky – this is written in haste because I have a couple of massive deadlines at work .. but, yes, great – you can buy my second ticket and we can meet in Seattle! That would be great.

Like Penny I’m more than a bit apprehensive (i.e. sad) about seeing the Revolution without Prince (particularly because I never did see Prince live – one of my few major life regrets!) … but they’ve been getting good reviews, so I’ve decided to go – if only to be in a room with so many others who are probably feeling the same way.

So yes Vicky, let’s hang together in Seattle – yay! 🙂

I don’t think you guys will regret the show… with a few exceptions (“Sometimes It Snows in April,” parts of “Purple Rain”), it’s really a joyous occasion. I’m not sure when I’ve seen a concert audience as happy as the one I was in last week!

I too am apprehensive – a bit – but Zach’s review and the others I’ve read have convinced me that I need to do this. And I have already gotten through the initial intense emotional experiences when I went to Minnesota. I drove in September and stayed at the Chanhassen Inn. I made something to hang on the fence at Paisley Park, but I found when I got in the rental car that sunny, breezy Tuesday afternoon, I couldn’t even put the key in the ignition. Just sat there and cried my eyes out. I wasn’t sure I could bear to drive down the street. And the mere fact that it was sunny and normal and ordinary seemed all kinds of wrong to me. I posted on Facebook to one of the Prince pages I belong to and instantly got 45 supportive responses that urged me onward. My first time at Paisley was so private – I was completely by myself for 30 minutes before anyone else was there. It was a gift I shall always treasure.

So YES. Seattle. 🙂

Hey Vicky! I hope you are still up for the concert in Seattle!
I’ve been non-stop travelling since I posted way back in May but am back in Canada and wanted to connect. 🙂

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