Podcast: Empty Room – Part 4 of a Conversation with Jane Clare Jones

I have to begin with another apology: I had hoped to get this last installment of the podcast up early in the week, but I’ve been busy with job interviews, house hunting, and most recently, an illness that is definitely audible on the outro I recorded last night. But here, at last, is the final full installment of my now month-old conversation with writer, philosopher, and fellow Prince obsessive Jane Clare Jones. This is the one we’ve been building up to for the last month: a reckoning with the psychological factors that led to last year’s deeply tragic, avoidable death. But in case you’re concerned this will be prurient muckraking in the Prince: The End/When Doves Cry tradition, please know that it’s coming from a place of genuine love, and is grounded in research rather than wild speculation. And if you’re also (justifiably) concerned that it’s going to be a depressing slog, I promise it’s not all as grim as it might sound.

And with that, the first wave of the d / m / s / r podcast is over! Jane will be back, probably sometime next month, to talk about the Purple Reign interdisciplinary conference at the University of Salford; I also still have a short, lighthearted chunk of our original conversation that didn’t quite fit this episode that I’d like to post at some point. But other than that, the future is a blank slate. I’d love to hear your thoughts on where to go with the podcast–topics to discuss, suggested guests, etc.–because it seems a shame to go to the trouble of making a feed, etc. just for one month of episodes. I hope you’ve enjoyed these as much as I have. Thanks!

00:00:00   “Empty Room” (Live in Copenhagen, 2002; from C-NOTE)

00:01:52   Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the Podcast (Listen to These First)

00:05:38   Prince Talks about His Father on Larry King Live

00:06:36   Prince Talks about His Father on Tavis Smiley

00:07:43   “Papa” (Live at the DNA Lounge, San Francisco, 1993)

00:12:09   “Motherless Child” (Live on Septimo de Caballería, 1999)

00:14:01   “Mama” (1983 Recording)

00:15:33   The Horrible Docudrama Jane Watched

00:16:03   Zach’s Post on Prince’s (Figurative) Primal Scene

00:20:58   “Computer Blue (Extended Version)” (1983 Recording)

00:26:40   “Comeback” (from The Truth1998)

00:32:52   The Oprah Interview, 1996

00:35:38   “Sex in the Summer” (from Emancipation, 1996)

00:45:10   “The Love We Make” (Live at North Sea Jazz, 2011)

00:49:36   “Shockadelica” (1987 B-Side)

00:50:38   “Do Me, Baby” (from Controversy, 1981)

00:55:45   “Condition of the Heart” (Live at the Sydney Opera House, 2016)

01:02:11   A Proper Dudely Dude Expresses His Appreciation in Sydney, 2016

01:05:50   “Forever in My Life” (Live at First Avenue, 1987)

01:10:28   “Empty Room” (Live at Montreux Jazz Festival, 2009)

01:16:31   “The Breakdown” (Live at Paisley Park, 2016)

01:23:15   “I Wish U Heaven” (from Lovesexy, 1988)

01:29:27   “Mountains (Extended Version)” (1986 Single)

01:33:00   U.K. Listeners, See Jane at the Purple Reign Conference in Salford Next Weekend!

45 replies on “Podcast: Empty Room – Part 4 of a Conversation with Jane Clare Jones”

Zach… I really enjoy what you’ve created here. You asked for suggestions for future Podcasts. Here’s something to consider… I would enjoy hearing you interact with various “people who were there.” Would be especially interesting to hear you test the ideas that you and Jane discussed “tested” with those individuals.

Again, man, great job.

That would definitely be great, and is something I’ll keep in mind for the future as this project grows (and if anyone “who was there” happens to be reading this, feel free to drop me a line)!

hello Zach and Jane
What a great piece of work ,thank you .Its processing grief …thats how I became interested in him as I was grieving for my mum and although he didn’t process in his life I feel he used his music to process and his confusion and seeking and ecstasy and just doing it not explaining it was his way given the damage in his childhood. He helped me to process through that ,its so honest and vulnerable as well as sassy …I get your point about processing but I think he may never have healed that hole and thats a testament to him that he could channel that stuff into music and make it positive.

I agree the idea of him not being able to move fast and keep working , getting old would be tricky… no slippers ,well only shiny ones with heels…
Im not sure about crying being the only processing technique….I have found exercise a good way of changing body chemistry as well as meditation which I think he did….I do wonder if the music really would exist without the situation being as it was …
I think prince seemed a highly sensitive person who needed space and was so f’ing creative …..he lived 7 lives in one , managing the business , the complex/studio, making all that music/ working out original business ideas ….emotional stuff can’t get in the way of paying the staff and keeping the show on the road…it was a lot to hold and everyone wants a piece of the purple pie….he was a great business man too …respect to him he must have been tired…….

I ‘d read the book Jane , it seems like its itching to be written.
Many thanks for all your time and effort guys .great to have the music included too …

Really interesting point about Prince’s music helping to process grief (and feelings in general), when he himself was so bad at processing it. That definitely speaks to me.

You both touched my heart with your comments and music selections. Childhood neglect and emotional absence of parenting create an insular wall and sense of rejection very very difficult to overcome. Unfortunately for Prince, we probably would not have the soul searching music he left behind without the internal loss he never resolved. Hold your children close. If the soul lives on, brother Prince I hope all the mysteries of this world are revealed to you in the next.. Peace and love.

I enjoyed the podcast. However, I am disappointed you and Jane ended with the Breakdown, yet gave little discussion to it. My take on it, is that Prince finally left someone in. He trusted himself to feel the pain and let someone in to witness it. We humans fear that when we finally allow ourselves to cry, we are actually having a breakdown. However, Gestalt therapist, reframe it as “breaking out” of our isolation and disconnection from each other. I believe in the latter. “Where there was a wall now there is a door…I would love to hear your take on this song as well as Jane’s thoughts. Until next time…..

Rose, I think you’re absolutely right, not discussing The Breakdown is a major omission, and I’m a little bit annoyed with myself for forgetting it. In the unpublished piece I wrote which was kind of the genesis of my asking Zach to do this – because I wanted to talk about this stuff, but the power of Prince mind control was such that I found myself really anxious about the idea of just putting it there in black and white – I do discuss it, so I’ll copy what I wrote there:

“From yet another perspective the last years of Prince’s life look like a race against himself, and against time. In 2013 he started playing a song called ‘The Breakdown,’ a song which really mattered to him, as he told both Arsenio Hall and a journalist from Rolling Stone in 2014. It came, he said, from a “sensitive…nude” place, which, if “you could touch it…would just hurt instantly.” After he performed it at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2013 it looks very much like he is crying – in a suitably stoic, Princely manner – and when he played it to Rolling Stone, he momentarily excused himself from the room. It’s one of his last, great songs – a ballad, the chorus a spare, staccato declension, all minors and rending wails. It’s a song of reminiscence and regret, “the saddest story ever been told,” in which he looks at the past, at the things that he has done, and feels foolish, asking to have the time back, but stripped of memory.

He turns to the woman he is singing to – it is, above all, a love song – and tells her, “Every book I’ve read / Said that I would meet / Somebody like you / Whenever I was sorry / So sorry for the things I used to do / A journal full of numbers that I used to go through / 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 all behind me now / All because of you.” She is the new hope, but not just another of the 1-2-3-4-5-6-who-knows-how-many new hopes. This one will be different, but – for the first time – not just because he wills it so, or because of some superlative romanticization, but because he will let her break him down. The final metaphor – an avowal of his abandoned defences – is clunkily unsubtle, but that doesn’t matter, in the slightest, when you hear him sing it, especially live, because his voice has never sounded truer or more beautiful. He means this, and, if you know him at all, you know what it means that he means it. “There’s a door that you can walk through,” he sings, “Where there used to be a wall,” and he’s okay with it, “as long as” – and, given what happened, this bit now kills me – “you catch me baby / If ever there’s a fall.”

Because, when it came to it – that night inside his giant echoing castle with the high white walls – no one was there to catch him. Not because they didn’t want to be, but because he didn’t let them know how much he needed help. After he nearly died on the plane back from his last show in Atlanta, he was flooded with messages from concerned friends, and he curved each and every one of them. Everything was perfect. There was no need to worry. Save your prayers. What strength he had left went into controlling the story, concerned only, it seems, that someone might have seen a crack. He went record shopping. He threw a goddamn party. Under pressure we revert to our scripts. Maybe ‘The Breakdown’ is only, finally, another instance of the song knowing more than him, but in the months before his death, playing one man shows with only his piano, he had been more unguarded than anyone had ever seen – far more naked than that cocky, electrifying rude-boy dressed in nearly nothing. He did, I think, finally get it, or was getting it, and I think that he was trying. But while Prince possessed an unparalleled gift for escaping into the moment, and suspending himself there, inside the shining present, for him too, time would prove intractable. The book snapped shut. History, it turned out, would record that it was already too late to begin such a hard task.”

I’m not sure. As we’ve discussed, one of the effects of the strange relation between P’s artistic expressiveness and emotional repressive is this weird sense that sometimes the songs seem to know more than he did. And there is also the fact that sometimes he used them as wish-fulfillment, almost as spells…he sang things he wanted to be true, almost as if that would make them true…one of best examples of which is ‘Forever in my Life,’ written around the time he moves in with Susannah, declaring he is done with ‘juggling hearts’ and the ‘three-ring circus’….and yet. On some level he knew, he had worked it out, and yet, maybe he hadn’t worked out that to take the wall down he had to do the work, it couldn’t be made so by song. That is, I’m not sure he got to understanding he had to feel the pain in order for it to come down, and I also think by that time he probably wasn’t strong enough for it. And after he sang those words, probably for Andy, she also left, quite how we don’t know (but can probably hazard some reasonable guesses)…and the 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 wasn’t behind him at all.

Which is all to say, yes and no, and maybe if he had had longer, he could have got there, and I only wish he could have…..

Thank you both for this excellent series. I have listened to each podcast twice and I am full of admiration for your contributions.
Your comments on Prince’s coping mechanisms (or more correctly lack thereof) resonate particularly. I have also read Alex Hahn’s and Mayte’s books and agree with the points you make. Certainly his retreat to music – almost a fugue state – in moments of emotional distress was a constant through his life.
I also think that Wendy’s comment that Prince felt threatened by intimacy and never allowed anybody to really get close to him for any length of time was partly informed by his fear of abandonment but also was due to the fact that he never had any role models for forming lasting relationships. His parents’ own and other marriages were train wrecks and the woman who effectively brought him up after he was left “a functional orphan” as Touré says – Bernadette Anderson- was also a divorcée.
Another question that I feel would be worthy of greater scrutiny is the effect on him of his exposure to strict religion. Brought up a Seventh Day Adventist and latterly seeking refuge with the JWs, my own feeling is that the intense sense of guilt and punishment these and other religions bring with them also had consequences on his behaviour. I also have a personal theory that a severe religious upbringing also influences potentially addictive personalities. He said he only took away his memory of the choir music from his childhood church going but I think there was more. However these are only my own musings.
Thank you once again for all your work.

I think you’re right, Annie–I’m obviously biased as a non-believer, but the 7th Day Adventist church, like JW, is big on doomsday stuff, which definitely became a preoccupation in Prince’s music (though his take on it was wonderfully idiosyncratic). I don’t really buy Touré’s theory that Prince was stealth-preaching in his early music, but I do think his family’s religious convictions were at the root of a lot of his later struggles with guilt; he managed to resist it in the Dirty Mind/Controversy era, but it caught up with him by Purple Rain.

I agree with you not agreeing with Toure on that. I think Howard Bloom’s take on it is much closer, early Prince thought sex was salvation…and then sex started to make emotional mess – and/or he realized he wasn’t in control of it, which must have been hard in itself for a control freak – and that’s when the two started to pull against each other, and the guilt made an entrance…

Thanks Rose, I’ll take responsibility for that omission–I added “The Breakdown” to the podcast because our conversation evoked it, even though we didn’t directly reference it (more circumlocution, hahaha). I definitely think it’s something we should have mentioned, as it does (heartbreakingly) give the sense that he was trying to let down his defenses toward the end of his life. Thanks for bringing that into the conversation.

Thanks, guys….I really can’t add anything to your astute exploration of Prince’s emotional world; I think you covered all the essential points. I particularly appreciated the musical excerpts, which were perfectly tuned to what was being discussed. (It was excruciating for me to hear “Papa,” which I usually avoid, but necessary in this context.)

He lived a splendid, painful, blessed and cursed life–as do most of us, and I SO agree that perpetuating silence about the shadow sides of his personality doesn’t truly honor him. Yes, tears DO go here and they are necessary for a lot of reasons. I was just reading something entirely un-Prince related today, which illuminated the fact that the “Minne” in Minnesota and Minneapolis is derived from the Dakota word for WATER. As Jane points out in her essay, water plays such a critical role in Prince’s work, embodying redemption, connection and joy–all healing energies that his deep emotional wounds did not allow him to fully experience. Now that he is freed from this mortal coil, I very much like to think that he is deliciously awash with them all.

Thank you for the intellectual rigor, emotional intelligence, compassion and love that you both have offered in service to this series. I have really enjoyed it.

Wow. So many thoughts, observations, questions, emotions, questions, hell yeses, and wrenching overwhelming waves of grief swirling around this morning after listening to you and this final episode. Without the academic, intellectual or analytical chops to put these to paper – i am compelled to share the one thing of which I am absolutely certain of given my experiences of the past year. It is the one surety I have in Prince’s death that keeps me sane and hopeful even while causing me – many times – to question my sanity.

There is an afterlife. Those who “go on”, “pass away”, or “transition”, “leave the mortal coil” and/or sail out of their earthly bodies in whatever form or fashion are still here – wherever here is – and are absolutely, unequivocally with us. Some spirits are stronger than others (or perhaps they choose not to engage) but I first experienced this after my mother died in 1979. She was with us “there” – several times – right after she passed and then again a year later . . . but then she was gone. I’m not so sure if that was more about me and the places I went emotionally and mentally in the years to follow, but I haven’t felt her or sensed her much past 1980. My father died in 1988 and I have never felt his spirit or essence or presence at all, even though I loved him dearly. Fast forward to losing a 22 year old young man in 2010 who was like my son – who has definitely been present to me several significant times in the past 7 years. I don’t typically share those experiences about my loved ones with anyone, yet can and do when the conversation goes there. That seems like a reasonable foo-foo or woo-woo possibility to many people – certainly a reality in my experience – since I knew and loved these people here on earth.

But when signs began soon after the purple tsunami hit in my life in April of 2016, I truly doubted my ability to separate fact from fantasy or wishful thinking. I do not share any of the stuff that has happened to me with anyone but my therapist. And that is only because I pay her to listen, right?? She has to sit there and not roll her eyes or glance at her phone thinking “911. Should I call 911?” I know this will sound wacky to some (most?) and I’m not going to share any of it here except to say that I know his spirit, his essence, his energy, his purpose is still very much with us. And so here I am sticking my little purple neck out because I also know others of you have had, and continue to have, similar experiences. A strong spirit transcends rules.

Thank you again Jane and Zack for these conversations: insight, love, sorrow and celebration. I want more. And more. Please write the book, Jane, and Zach . . . more podcasts, please. I’ll just fade out now in a cloud of purple sparkles and a haze of jasmine & lavender as I continue doing my laundry and mopping my floors on a Sunday morning in Montana.

Thanks Vicky, my mom has had some really similar experiences–similar enough to make even me as a skeptic think there’s something to them. And whether the source is literally metaphysical or something else, I think you’re right; in a weird way he feels more “present” now than he sometimes did when he was alive. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been so immersed, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it.

Vicky, I’m totally with you on the belief that he is here, there and everywhere now. He can do more, he’s told me (yes, I hear dead people and he’s a damn chatty cathy to me) from where he is now than he could in physical form. “A strong spirit transcends rules” indeed.

My purple neck has been out there since he visited me the day he died. Despite never connecting with him energetically while alive, there was *no doubt* that it was him. He’s been my friend, mentor and through our work, supported others to open up more into their bigness. I wouldn’t trade that relationship for anything. My skeptic husband has been all but won over watching how things magically (!!) seem to line up around our work.

Thanks Zach and Jane for these podcasts. You’re helping many make sense of patterns that tell us so much about what shaped this man. Great listening. Much appreciated.

Oh Jean. I don’t know what it is about these Podcasts – this funny, poignant, insightful. loving, sweetly irreverent and passionate conversation – but he’s certainly had a hand in connecting some like-minded people here in the comments. I am so relieved I can’t tell you.

How does it happen that there are so many of us – for a variety of circumstances and not necessarily choice were not fans before he passed – who are now obsessed, confused, ecstatic, deeply grieved, filled with wonder at the bottomless endless discovery, soaked in sorrow AND bliss . . . and so purple thirsty it defies logic and order and reason? I am a healthy skeptic and stunned to have found myself the position of knowing absolutely and without question that he is present. And, boy, if you doubt, if you dismiss, if you yell, if you try and explain away the chatting in your head and the signs all around – he will just work it until you get it. I’ve thrown up my hands and stopped asking why.

Jane’s lovely eulogy for Prince had me both weeping and screaming YES. Hers was the first writing that validated what I was feeling and kept me searching for other similarly affected people for reassurance, for connection and for relief.

There are hundreds of Prince related pages, but Is there a private Facebook page for US? I think we need one. 🙂

Again thank you so much to Zach and Jane for sharing.

Yes, it’s a wonderful tribe that has recently emerged! Thank you, Zach, for providing the forum. I too am grateful for the opportunity to connect with like-minded people on a topic that none of us can seem to turn our eyes away from. I know that there is still an enormous amount of grief out there, and I very much respect that. At this point, though, I personally feel like I can settle into the joy of what IS: Prince’s art, his remarkable life from beginning to end (which has so much to teach us)–and his amazing spirit. Which I very much agree is still with us, but operating at a higher level than before. It’s all a blessing–thank you all.

Hmm, I wouldn’t be averse to making a private FB group if that’s something people are interested in. I kind of want to do a purge of a few of the groups I’m already in anyway, especially since I’m not promoting the blog as heavily (happy to say it now does a decent job promoting itself)!

Would love a group to talk about this more. There are many, many groups out there and some deify him, some are into the conspiracy stuff (I just cannot with that) and others are focused on his work. You and Jane have really brought up a lot here and I’d love to discuss it in more detail. Keep us posted, please.

Love the podcasts and hearing different views on things and the heartfelt caring of and love for Prince. I have always felt confusion about the song Papa. I keep hearing this is a reference to his stepfather, although Prince sings of a 4-year old baby and he was older than 4 when his parents divorced and his mother remarried. Could he be talking about someone else’s punishment he witnessed that had a profound effect on him, or did this happen when he was 4 and living with his father, or is it about something all together different than it appears? I used to believe his songs were literal, but since reading Mayte’s book and her talking about I Love You But I Don’t Trust You, and how he twisted the song to make it appear that she was being unfaithful, I think it just proves that anything he sings could be anything. Once again … Him leaving a trail of mystique. As far as The Breakdown, I always saw that as him coming to grips with the things of life and how, as much as our tragedies and adversities are painful, that we learn from them and become better people, in spite of the pain they cause.

Thanks Kim, you’re right–we do need to be careful about assigning absolute, literal meaning to song lyrics. I think the age of the boy in “Papa” could be artistic license, or it could be deliberate obfuscation, or like you suggest it could be that the “Papa” is a conflation of his biological father and his stepfather. I think there’s a lot of emotional truth in Prince’s music, but he wasn’t as concerned with literal truth (sort of like our discussion of the possibly-apocryphal phone booth incident). And in that sense “I Love You” may have been a projection of his own guilt over the dissolution of their marriage–or, even shittier, a deliberate deflection to shift the public sympathy in his favor. I like to think he wasn’t enough of an asshole for the latter, but who knows…

Thank you, thank you, thank you for these podcasts. I’ve listened to Parts 1 and 4 (found Part 4 first), and this is the conversation I’ve been dying to have these many months since Prince died. I’ve wanted to dissect what it all means–the music, the man, the sex/God thing, my new obsession with him, you-name-it… I’m one of those middle-aged women Jane speaks of that was sucker-punched by Prince’s death. I had no idea what he meant to me until he died, and since then, I have consumed every article, blog post, video, etc. that I can get my hands on. It truly has been an addiction–with all of the negatives that come with addiction–interference with daily activities, obsessive need for the next video/story/article, trying to get myself to wean off of looking for stories, but always giving in. It’s embarrassing, weird and unsettling. And, up until now, kind of lonely. I’ve known there is something deeply profound about all of this, but most people give me that “She’s kind of pathetic, isn’t she?” look if I broach the subject. Thank you for having the conversation I’ve been dying to have…

Awesome–I’m so glad to be a part of this. Thanks for your comment. Looking forward to sharing a lot more conversations (with Jane and others) in the coming months.

Once again, Zach, Jane and the commenters of this blog have given so many gifts that I’d write a novel describing them all. I am grateful!
Penny — Thank you again for your answers to some of my questions about religion. I wrote a longer thank you in the comments section for part 3 of the podcast, but want to make sure I express my appreciation for your generous answers.
And thank you for introducing me to Brene Brown! She works in an area right at the heart of the thing called life, and her way of writing/speaking is so smart and so funny.
Zach — The subject of this last-in-a-set podcast makes me think of something that you wrote. It touches on depth of feeling and related gifts to the larger world. Zach wrote:
“What Prince did at his best was to take that passion and contain it, turn it into talisman-like music so we could handle it without fear of being devoured. Everybody’s had sex to a Prince album, or fallen in love to one. He was the shaman that channeled those delirious feelings, let us borrow them without having to actually live inside them. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be Prince, to actually feel those feelings firsthand. I also can’t imagine what my life would be like without the second- or third-hand feelings he shared with us.”
Wow, Zach. This is so good that it didn’t feel right to excerpt it from the rest of your writing. That writing is here:
Most all of you have probably already read it, but as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s like a song you love to play on repeat.
All this also calls to mind how difficult it must have been to add the typical pressures on celebrities, put as they are on pedestals by some of their fans, to the particular pressures of being Prince. I’m the sort of person who typically has close to zero knowledge or care of the character traits of celebrities, but the depth of feeling Prince was able to convey, and some of the things that he could seem to represent, made him one of the few that were different for me. I tell my child not to look for a hero in people like rock stars, but sometimes I have trouble taking my own advice, at least to the extent that it’s hard to hear certain things. Those “certain things” will overlap some amongst fans, but each has a particular set of pet peeves, so it all could add up to a long list of fan expectations.
For me, addiction to a substance is in no way a character flaw. It’s an illness.
Being even a little bit of a bully, however…
Prince’s music was a joy to me as a teen, and the fact that I spent some time in a school community that tended to ostracize those who didn’t fit into a particular mold, a mold that included race and religion among its many specifications, made that music all the more precious.
In addition to the prejudice, which obviously was the really despicable part, there were characteristics like social and/or physical awkwardness that would make kids targets for bullying.
For the outcasts who couldn’t or wouldn’t fit the mold, some of Prince’s music struck a real chord.
At the same time, there are many stories that mention bullying. Lisa Coleman mentions it in response to the Purple Rain scene where a woman is thrown in a dumpster. The quote is on page 126 of Alan Light’s book, and it follows a quote from Jill Jones regarding some of the movie’s attempts at humor. Coleman says:
“This was a film written by a boy, and they were bully boys. They had, like, a bad sense of humor, laughing at people falling down on the street, that kind of stuff. So throwing the girl in the trash can, that’s just really funny to them. I just thought that was immature and stupid. I wasn’t insulted by it as a feminist, because I didn’t really relate to that culturally, anyway. It was just dumb, it was ignorant. If anything, Prince hired women all the time and worked, obviously, really closely with women.”
From that description, it sounds like there was a time when the creator of the music that I love so much would have been one of those kids who howled at the poor kid who spilled the contents of a lunch tray on a school cafeteria floor.
The fact that such a detail could bug me so much says a lot about me…especially when considering how the topic of Prince and bullying may be almost as complicated as the topic of Prince and feminism.
Still, if only a small percentage of a fan base is bugged so much about actions at whatever stage of life/maturity, it might not be too much fun being under that microscope.
This is a link to the quote, in case anyone is interested:'s%20go%20crazy%20bully&f=false
Much more important, the Prince conference just happened. I would love to have been there to hear Jane’s presentation! I’m so glad she’s coming back to talk about it!

Hey, Louise! Thanks for your kind words about my inexpert attempt to provide a primer on Christianity and I’m so glad you are enjoying Brene Brown’s work! She is a treasure (and, as it turns out, a fellow Episcopalian…)

RE: your comments about bullying: like you, like others I’m sure, I struggle with the ample evidence indicating that a man who had such exquisite sensitivity and could express such beautiful tenderness could, at times, be as mean as a snake. That may sound harsh, but he actually acknowledged his mean streak in one of the Tavis Smiley interviews (I don’t know the date but it’s the one where he’s looking ridiculously elegant in a suit and with those unforgettable black and white spectator shoes!). In the Prince community, there is a lot of generalizing about the dualism of him being a Gemini blah blah blah, but from what little I know about astrology, I understand that it is the ascendant (rising) sign that is a more telling indicator of personality, and his ascendant is Scorpio, the scorpion. One way that he expressed this was through his love of practical jokes–which under the veneer of “fun” are often designed to humiliate the victim. Apart from the fact that I think that Under the Cherry Moon is a disaster from beginning to finish, I absolutely CAN’T STAND the “Wrecka Stow” scene so beloved by so many Prince fams–to me, it’s both unfunny and rather vicious. (From what I have read, Prince himself found great delight and hilarity in that film moment. Whatever, you little purple bully….)

Threads of anger, resentment, hostility and the joy of revenge run through his work. I find that the Prince music that is focused on these emotional impulses is often hard to take, so if I pay attention to it, it’s often more about pursuing my informal degree in Princeology than personal enjoyment. (This is why I have only listened to “Face Down” once. Ough.) But here’s the thing: to me, what makes Prince so remarkable is that his art and his life express so beautifully the glorious and messy truths of this thing called life–the full circle of life’s experiences. So, in that sense, I am grateful that he was as transparent about his meaner impulses as he was about everything else; in that respect, his work is extremely honest and reflective of ALL our experiences.

I was having a conversation yesterday with a friend about our lives and about Prince and all of that, and she shared a phrase that really resonated with me: “The most unique notes make the most universal chords.” While I find it much less admirable than I do some of the other ways he went about his life, I have to conclude that the bullying and meanness that he sometimes engaged in were some of his “unique notes.” He was a very complicated person, that is for certain!

I do not disagree with Prince being somewhat of a bully. Bullying, like every other abusive move is a fight for dignity in the wrong way; putting others down or shaming them so you look or feel better about yourself and yes the dumpster scene was crazy and there’s no way that anyone her size could have come popping out of the top of that dumpster without some kind of injury. But I see the “Wrecka Stow” scene very differently. UTCM is a film about classism because there are other black people in the film who are of the same class as the white folks. Mary Sharon calls Christopher a peasant as she is Monday morning quarterbacking what she should have said to Christopher the night before. She basically says that she can’t stand to be in his presence. She says he has no manners (and Christopher has the same opinion of her.) She insults Christopher the whole time they are dancing together. (This is my favorite scene. Does anyone else notice that Mary dips him twice! ) She dogs Christopher into going to Mrs. Wellington’s while Mary knows that her father will be in a compromised position. And all of this is because she is looking down her nose at him and this, because she is living in “her own sheltered world.” In the ‘wrecka stow scene” Christopher is simply bringing her into their world as he said he wanted to. Oh yes, they laugh their heads off, which is part of the reason we think the scene is so funny because their laughter is so infectious, so much so that it looks like Tricky falls backward in his chair. Mary does feel humiliated and the joke has it’s desired effect. She realizes that she feels just as humiliated in their world as she has caused them to feel in hers and that maybe her opinion about Miamians is wrong. She moves a little deeper into the world of Christopher and Tricky and they move to the dance floor in the next scene. Christopher may be a bully here? but he is putting another bully in her place. Remember who her father is. A Big Bully.

This is a great point–also worth noting is every time I’ve read/seen Paul Peterson relate his real-life “wrecka stow” experience, he’s presented it as good-natured ribbing and not cruel hazing or mockery.

Thanks for your response, Nancy P! The funny thing is I just rewatched UTCM a couple of weeks ago and had a different take on this scene than what I wrote months ago. While I still don’t think it gives evidence of kindheartedness on the part of the characters, I definitely softened my opinion about it, and would not at this point utilize it as an example of Prince being a bully. Really, the interactions between Mary and Tricky/Christopher are so slapstick that it’s hard to read them on a realistic level.

Yes, I read that particular incident as well. Prince was using it then, to break the ice in the newly forming relationship.

Oops! I meant to say that I do agree that Prince could be somewhat of a bully. Shrug . . . .

Re: Prince as bully, yes, there’s definitely pretty ample evidence of that, as well as a generally dark/cruel sense of humor; there’s the story from around 1979-1980 about him pretending to be an invalid in the airport or whatever. Reminds me a bit of similar stories from when John Lennon was young (though Lennon was pretty consistently more of a bastard than Prince). I think part of it is the insensitivity of youth: Prince was sort of in a bubble from his late teens, and there wasn’t as much of a dialogue about political correctness at the time, so he was still pretty immature when Purple Rain was made.

That dumpster scene really does stick out like a sore thumb, though: it’s clumsily telegraphing that Morris and Jerome are supposed to be bad guys, but also clearly played for laughs. And things hadn’t much improved by Graffiti Bridge–lot of bizarre gendered stuff going on there, like Jill Jones dropping her panties apropos of nothing and (especially) the light-hearted treatment of Morris and Jerome trying to date rape Ingrid Chavez. I think Purple Rain is partially redeemed by being about Prince’s character struggling with (and ultimately overcoming) toxic masculinity and a legacy of abuse, but the mean streak in it and his other films is definitely weird.

VickyWaiting — I loved your description of the podcasts: “I don’t know what it is about these Podcasts – this funny, poignant, insightful. loving, sweetly irreverent and passionate conversation – but [Zach has] certainly had a hand in connecting some like-minded people here in the comments.”

Very serious topics have been discussed with care. The discussion that Emer, Jane and others had about the word suicide was thoughtful and sensitive.

Zach and Jane — I much appreciate the bits of reference to some challenging parts of your own experience brought out by these discussions. It makes the conversation even more rich and vibrant. And I love your humor.

Jane — You made me smile with your beautiful photo of a cat statue and your explanation of some of why it “just looks like Prince” to you:

“…the eyes (the shape, and intensity, and the whole Egyptian kohl thing as well), and the angularity, and the sinewyness, and the poise, and the watchfulness, and the fact that he looks like he’s just going to start licking things at any moment… 🙂”

So funny. And you inspired me to realize that cats are also great acrobats, and great at appearing out of nowhere. : )

Loved Jane’s response here, too:

“How did I not know there was a fabled song called ‘Neurotic Lover’s Baby’s Bedroom’??? *falls all over self at thought of gift of such Freudian proportions* 😉”

Thank you so much for creating and sharing these podcasts Zach and Jane. It’s hard to put into words how much I enjoyed them and how comforting I found them.

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