When Prince announced he was writing an autobiography in 2016, a certain amount of skepticism was natural. This was an artist with a noted distrust of narrative, for whom “intensely private” had become a journalistic cliché, and who had spent the better part of his public life disparaging the concept of “living in the past.” What would a memoir by such a person even look like? Would he pull a Bob Dylan, give us a handful of disconnected, possibly apocryphal vignettes from throughout his career, then never deliver the promised follow-up? Would he spend the whole book lecturing and chastising us for wanting to know more about him than the work he was creating right then? Would he make us read more of that godawful poetry from the 21 Nights book?
Prince’s Los Angeles sojourn in January 1982 concluded with–and was likely scheduled around–the ninth annual American Music Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 25. He attended as a guest, not a nominee: the “Soul/R&B” category, for which he would have been nominated, was led by old-guard artists like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson–as well as his rival of two years prior, Rick James.
Since the conclusion of the Fire It Up tour in May 1980, Prince’s and James’ career fortunes had diverged in unpredictable ways. Prince, as we’ve seen, had become a critics’ darling, trading the commercial success of his second album for the underground credibility of Dirty Mind and Controversy. James, meanwhile, had faltered with the flaccid Garden of Love–the album he’d allegedly recorded with a synthesizer stolen from Prince–but bounced back with the following year’s Street Songs: a masterpiece that finally made good on his “punk-funk” credo while leapfrogging his one-time usurper on the charts. Prince may have won 1980’s “Battle of the Funk,” but at the AMAs it was beginning to look like he’d lost the war, with James nominated for three awards–Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist, Favorite Soul/R&B Album (which he won), and Favorite Soul/R&B Single for “Give It To Me Baby”–plus a proxy Female Artist nomination for his protégée, Teena Marie.
It’s thus intriguing that only a few days before the awards, on January 21, Prince recorded a song that both satirized and propped up his critics’ darling status, while also lightly mocking the cultural rivalry between L.A.–home of Sunset Sound, Warner Bros., and the AMAs–and its older, snootier cousin to the East, New York City. The song, one of the highlights of his fifth album 1999, was called “All the Critics Love U in New York.”
One more bit of housekeeping before I get back to proper posts–here’s my latest appearance on Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast, where I got to talk about what has, in what feels like an escalating series of bets with myself, somehow become my favorite song on Planet Earth:
Also, given the obvious overlap between fans of Prince and Chaka Khan, I thought there might be some interest in my review of her very good latest album for Slant magazine:
This is actually my last Slant review for a while, as I’m trying to focus my extracurricular writing time on this blog. And on that note, the next time you hear from me, it’ll be with a new post on “All the Critics Love U in New York.”
It’s been a little bit of a crazy week, so I’m afraid we’re going to have to wait a while longer for my next real post on “All the Critics Love U in New York”; but I haven’t been completely lax in my Prince-writing duties. Over at Spectrum Culture, where I occasionally lend my pen, I reviewed the new batch of vinyl reissues from Prince’s mid-2000s “comeback” era:
These weren’t my favorite albums when they came out, and to be frank they still aren’t (though 3121 aged pretty damn well); but they cover a period of great historical interest, and I’m glad they’re being made available for a new audience.
On a somewhat Prince-related tip, I also wrote a piece for Spectrum this week about Beck’s Midnite Vultures, which is turning 20 this year in what I can only interpret as an act of personal aggression against me. You can read it here and find out why I think it actually owes less to Prince than to David Bowie, specifically 1975’s Young Americans:
Next week, I’ll finally have a little more time to do some writing for himself (a.k.a., this blog). I’m also recording another batch of Prince: Track by Track episodes tomorrow, the first of which you should be hearing very soon. Perhaps, at some point, I will also get some sleep.
As I divide my writing time this week between d / m / s / r and the various year-end list obligations from my other side hustle as a freelance music writer, here’s the latest of my guest appearances on Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast, talking about a nice-but-not-beloved song from a nice-but-not-beloved album:
Speaking of end-of-year stuff, I suppose now is as good a time as any to give some indication of how I see the rest of the month shaking out. I plan to get at least one or two songs into the Time’s second album–ideally starting this week, though the aforementioned freelancing obligations mean that next week is a safer bet. Before I shut down for the holidays, I also plan to post (by request!) a new installment in my series of alternate universe fan-fics masquerading as serious historical thought experiments. And I think I’m on the slate for at least two more episodes of Track by Track in 2018. My own podcast is currently dormant, but will return in the new year with, at the very least, another album review. And then we’ll be on to 1999 before we know it in 2019! As always, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who takes the time to read and/or listen to my thoughts–I know you have many choices when it comes to Prince-related commentary, etc., etc.