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Oh, Hello

I’ve said before that De Angela Duff’s scholarly Prince events–aside from being a lot of fun in general–have been a spur to my creativity and motivation in times when one or both were in short supply. And, while I’ve always meant that, boy oh boy has it never been more obvious than it is today. My last post, from almost nine months ago, was me talking about my inactivity and looking forward to De Angela’s #TripleThreat40 symposium in March (spoiler alert, Past Zach: It was great). Now in this, my only finished creative product since then–not counting my Twitter X thread on “All the Critics Love U in New York” and the handful of Patreon-exclusive videos I deleted when I decided to bring the Patreon era of D / M / S / R to a close–I’ll pick up by… talking about my inactivity and looking forward to De Angela’s Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Virtual Celebration in December!

First, about that inactivity. I’ll keep it brief, as I realize “writer explaining why he hasn’t been writing” is literally no one’s favorite literary genre. I cringed just now when I re-read that aforementioned #TripleThreat40 post: There I was, in the virgin bloom of 2023, talking about how busy I’d been in “the last few months”–a situation that has, if anything, only worsened over the ensuing seven! Again, I won’t belabor the point, but the combined forces of a demanding job, a kid transitioning to middle school, and the general ambience of life, have been a real drain on the creative spirit.

Then, there’s the other part: 2023 has been, to put it mildly, a rough year for the extremely online Prince fan. I’ll leave it to other, more invested parties to deliver the play-by-play, but suffice to say that since the July 2021 release of Welcome 2 America–and, to an even greater degree, since the following summer, when management of Prince’s estate officially transferred from Comerica Bank & Trust to a seemingly uneasy partnership between the artist’s surviving siblings, his one-time lawyer and Source magazine publisher L. Londell McMillan, and music rights management enterprise Primary Wave–the discourse in the fan community has been dominated by a constant cycle of rumors, disappointment, and frustration over the status of the next major posthumous release.

This vibe shift may not have been the reason for my creative doldrums, but it made my decision to withdraw a hell of a lot easier: I deactivated my Patreon, and have abandoned Twitter (or whatever that squirrelly little ketamine gobbler is calling it these days), probably forever (I did, however, just dip my toe into Instagram–do with that news what you will). My dominant emotion through all this has been a sense of relief. I didn’t get into this absurd project out of a passion for analyzing the business spats of a bunch of octogenarians from Minnesota and their handlers, so it’s freeing to not feel the need to give even the most cursory lip service to the fandom’s controversy of the month; to just shut the fuck up and enjoy my life the best I can. I highly recommend it to everyone!

This is why I’m excited for the Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Virtual Celebration (or #DPSDVC, as I will one day remember to abbreviate it without the aid of De Angela’s promo kit email). For the first time since, well, #TripleThreat40, I feel like I finally have the opportunity to come together with my people and talk about, you know, music: Not merch, or the bitrate of the MP3s they gave out at Celebration 2023, or why they should have released Parade Super Deluxe first, or whatever else I imagine they’re still talking about over on that other site but I will, blessedly, never have to know for sure. My panel–which I’ll have the privilege of sharing with Monique Couvson, Kamilah Cummings, Scott Woods, and moderator C. Liegh McInnis–is billed as “The Writers,” which (at least for me) feels like the perfect lens through which to explore this new, expanded configuration of Diamonds and Pearls, and the ways it’s shaping the narrative of Prince’s life and work. I’m still nowhere near finished exploring the set, but I can already say with confidence that there’s a lot to talk about. I hope to see you there!

#DPSDVC will take place virtually over two days: December 9-10, 2023. Unlike some of the other events I’ve been a part of, it is not an academic symposium, but something more in “the tradition of Harlem Renaissance salons, where gifted & creative poets, writers, artists, musicians, activists & scholars came together 2 have conversations & debates in a supportive & welcoming space.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something I could use right about now! You can register for free using the link below:

#DPSDVC Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Virtual Celebration Registration

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#PrinceTwitterThread: “All the Critics Love U in New York”

Last Friday night, I broke my self-imposed hiatus to contribute to the latest #PrinceTwitterThread series on 1999. I used this opportunity to expand on one of my favorite posts I’ve written, “All the Critics Love U in New York,” zeroing in on the themes of Prince’s reciprocal relationship with Detroit DJ the Electrifying Mojo and, by extension, the early techno scene. I’ve been wanting to do a project around the Detroit-Prince connection for years, and to be honest, when I decided to do this thread, I didn’t think it would fill that gap for me; but I’m actually very happy with how it turned out, so if this ends up being my last word on Prince and Detroit, then I’m surprisingly okay with that.

In fact, I’m so happy with this thread that a part of me wishes I’d centered my paper at next (!) weekend’s #TripleThreat40 symposium around it, so I could already be mostly done with my personal projects this month instead of only half done. But that’s Burnout Zach talking; I have every confidence that by the time the symposium runs around, I’ll be glad I decided to pursue two cool ideas instead of just one. For now, please enjoy Cool Idea #1; hopefully I’ll see some of you when it’s time to unveil Cool Idea #2.

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Wellness Check and #1999THREAD / #TripleThreat40 Hype

Hi, all: as those of you who have been watching my Patreon videos already know, the last few months have been an absolute nightmare at my day job, which, to put it mildly, has not been conducive to my creativity. I’m not gonna lie: I haven’t been this close to packing it in and retiring from amateur Prince scholarship since the Great “Cloreen Bacon Skin” drought of 2020. But I’m still here, and have some stuff to share with you all this month, even if the blog is likely to stay on pause until April.

First, I’m proud to be a part of the latest installment of the excellent #PrinceTwitterThread series curated by DJ UMB and Edgar Kruize, celebrating the 40th-and-change anniversary of 1999. Edgar kicked it off yesterday with a characteristically mind-blowing thread on the album’s cover art, which I promise will make you feel like you’ve never properly looked at the record before. I’ll be popping in next Friday, March 17, for a thread on “All the Critics Love U in New York” (I guess “D.M.S.R.” felt too on the nose). I’ll be posting my thread on here as always, but I highly encourage you to tune in to the series every day; a preview of coming attractions (including friends of the blog Jason Breininger and Tonya Pendleton!) is below.

Speaking of exciting fan projects, I have to give a belated shout-out to another friend, De Angela Duff, who since the beginning of 2023 has been co-hosting a weekly livestream with Michael Dean titled “What Did Prince Do This Week?” The series is a book club-style “slow read” of Duane Tudahl’s book on the Purple Rain studio sessions, and like everything De Angela does in the Prince world, it’s a wonderful source of both knowledge and community (even if, like me, you end up catching the replay instead of experiencing it live… I’ll make it one of these weeks!). You can catch up on the series to date, and tune in for future streams every Saturday at noon Eastern, on De Angela’s YouTube channel.

Last but not least, I have one more bit of self-promotion to leave you with: I’ll be presenting at De Angela’s #TripleThreat40 symposium at the end of this month as part of the Vanity 6 panel with Robin Shumays, Aisha K. Staggers, Elliott H. Powell, and moderator Miss TLC. My presentation will be kind of a sequel to the one I did at 2021’s #1plus1plus1is3 symposium, looking at the Vanity 6 album through the aesthetic lens of pornography and in the historical context of the academic and political “porn wars” of the 1980s. All I can say at this point is that it will be my most ambitious psuedo-academic project yet–whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, we’ll have to wait until March 31 to see! Even if I don’t stick the landing, I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of you in person–some for the first time, some for the first time in years–in Brooklyn that weekend. You can reserve a free spot at the symposium here.

Okay, unfortunately, it’s time for me to go back to the work that actually pays my bills. If any billionaire readers out there want to subsidize my Prince scholarship for a modest annual salary, my inbox is open; in the meantime, be good to yourselves!

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Ephemera, 1984

Love and Sex (1984)

The Purple Rain era marked a subtle, yet perceptible shift in Prince’s attitudes toward sex. On 1999 less than two years earlier, he’d reveled in his libertinish “Rude Boy” persona: promising to “fuck the taste out of your mouth” on “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” then actually demonstrating his technique on “Lady Cab Driver.” But by the follow-up album, his pendulum was beginning to swing away from the raw mechanics of lust, toward something approaching more conventional romance. “The Beautiful Ones” found him not just pretending he was married, but considering it as a real possibility; “When Doves Cry” and the title track earnestly grappled with the dissolution of a relationship. Even “Darling Nikki”–the closest the album came to vintage, “dirty” Prince–treated its sexual encounter as a quasi-Satanic temptation, before ending with a palate-cleansing gospel coda.

It’s easy to assume that this shift was motivated by commercial calculus: Purple Rain was designed to be Prince’s entrée into the mainstream, and heteronormative monogamy plays better to “mainstream” tastes than unfettered promiscuity. There is doubtless some truth to that interpretation; but there’s also ample evidence to suggest that he felt a genuine conflict between his spiritual convictions and his carnal appetites. A song like “Possessed” (written during the 1999 sessions, and revisited in multiple iterations for Purple Rain) depicts the repentant “Rude Boy” as an unwilling vessel for “demonic lust.” “Love and Sex,” recorded at Sunset Sound on February 27-28, takes a different approach: envisioning an afterlife where the spirit and the flesh could exist in harmony.

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Ephemera, 1984

Another Lonely Christmas

After assembling the Apollonia 6 album on February 6, 1984, Prince stayed at Sunset Sound, working on incidental music for the Purple Rain film and a handful of songs that would end up on Sheila E’s The Glamorous Life. On February 18, he shifted gears yet again: recording what would become his first–and last–holiday-themed song.

Another Lonely Christmas” appears to have come out of nowhere–and not just because it was a Christmas tune recorded less than a week after Valentine’s Day. While the track would eventually find its way onto the B-side of “I Would Die 4 U”–released on the seasonally appropriate date of November 28–it seems unlikely that Prince had that placement in mind nine months earlier. There’s no indication that he intended it for either the movie soundtrack or Sheila’s album; for that matter–aside from a penchant for decorating his studio with string lights, according to sessionographer Duane Tudahl–there’s little indication that he was especially observant of the holiday season. For whatever reason, “Another Lonely Christmas” was just something he had to get out of his system.