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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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Podcast

Podcast: All the Critics Love U – A Conversation with Jack Riedy, Author of Electric Word Life

As promised/threatened, we’re back to a monthly schedule on the D / M / S / R podcast! For this month’s episode, it was my pleasure to speak to music writer Jack Riedy (Pitchfork, GQ, VIBE) about his new book Electric Word Life: Writing on Prince 2016-2021. It was a really fun conversation, running through each of the pieces collected in his book and covering everything from Prince’s influence on Chicago house to the degree to which the Batman album goes (spoiler: it’s hard). Check it out, and if you’re so inclined, get yourself a copy of Jack’s book! It’s a great read and highly recommended.

By the way, I caught this too late to mention it “on air,” but thanks so much to cittalente for their review on Apple Podcasts! If you’re interested in reviewing D / M / S / R on your podcast service of choice, please do, and I will read it on the next episode–which, if all goes to plan, should be dropping next month.

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1999, 1982 Roundup Posts

Roundup: 1999, 1982

In case you missed it, yesterday I finally closed the book on the 1999 era for dance / music / sex / romance (well, almost… I still plan to write “bonus tracks” posts on “Vagina,” “Colleen,” “You’re All I Want,” and “Money Don’t Grow on Trees” for Patreon readers in the near future). This was the blog’s biggest undertaking to date: comprising 33 track posts and three albums, and taking almost 16 months from the first post (“International Lover,” way back in November of 2018!) and the last. As you know, I can be pretty tough on myself; but right now, I’m letting myself take some pride in what I’ve accomplished.

1999, as I’ve mentioned a few times before, is one of my favorite Prince albums; on a good day, it may even be number one, and it’s certainly near the top of my favorites by any artist. I won’t be so arrogant as to claim that I’ve done this masterpiece justice with 11 blog posts, but I sure as hell tried my best; so here they are now, in ascending order of my favorite tracks:

11. “Free” No surprises here, I’m guessing; I was pretty rough on “Free” in my original post, and it’s still the song I’m likeliest to skip when I’m listening to 1999 on a skip-friendly format. It ain’t so bad, really–any song as weird as this one is hard for me to outright hate–but it’s the weak point on an otherwise near-perfect album.

10. “International Lover This ranking I feel a bit guiltier about, because “International Lover” really is a lot of fun: a chance for Prince to be sexy and silly in more or less equal measure, all while showing off his increasingly virtuosic vocals. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the live-in-the-studio first take on 1999 Super Deluxe, complete with barely-suppressed giggles by Prince and little-known session drummer Morris Day.

9. “Lady Cab Driver” This isn’t going to get easier, is it? Before you send me hate mail, know that I adore “Lady Cab Driver”–it’s just the textbook definition of an album track, there to add mood and menace (and, yes, funk) to the back half of 1999. If you’re wondering what I thought about “Rearrange,” one of the highlights of 1999 Super Deluxe, this post answers that question, too.

8. Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” Another of those moody disc two tracks: indispensable to 1999’s dystopian atmosphere, but not the first thing that comes to mind when I’m looking for a single track to play. I gave this the edge over “Lady Cab Driver” for the new life it took on in concert; see the long list of live reinterpretations at the end of the post.

7. “D.M.S.R. It should tell you just how high in my esteem 1999 is as an album when the song I named my blog after doesn’t even make the top 50%. A great dance track, and an even better repository of weird little details: from “Jamie Starr’s a thief!” to Lisa’s blood-curdling scream for help.

6. “All the Critics Love U in New York” I know I might get some flack for ranking this above “D.M.S.R.” (and “Something in the Water,” and…), but “All the Critics” needs the boost. It’s an underrated snapshot of Prince at the cutting edge; a pitch-perfect homage to Detroit techno while the genre was still in its infancy.

5. Delirious” As an avowed fan of Rockabilly Prince, who am I to deny the subgenre’s peak? “Delirious” may be 1999 at its most ’80s-dated, but I defy anyone to listen and not walk away with those damn keyboards stuck in your head.

4. “Automatic” My favorite of 1999’s darker, weirder second half, and maybe even the peak of New Wave Prince (another of my personal favorites, as readers are no doubt aware). If I had to pick a single track to explain why 1999 speaks to me personally–not the best or the most important song, but the one that scratches my own particular, deeply subjective itch–“Automatic” might be it.

3. Let’s Pretend We’re Married …Or, it might be this one. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is the album’s strongest showing for Dirty Prince, with his late-song monologue containing the most explicit language on the record; but for my money, the dirtiest thing about the track is the chugging, pumping bass-synth line, a retro-futuristic approximation of the world’s creakiest bedsprings.

2. “1999” Honestly, just call it a tie for first place. I’ve already expended a little over 4,700 words on “1999”–my longest single post to date!–so today, I’ll just say that the album version is a totally different beast from the radio edit: freakier, funkier, and still totally vital, even with the year 1999 (never mind the song) over 20 years in the rear-view mirror. Accept no substitutes.

1. Little Red Corvette” Look, I’ve said before, my tastes as a Prince fan are pretty basic; and why not, since his biggest mainstream hits were as inventive as most artists’ avant-garde? “Little Red Corvette” may be the normie’s choice for best track on 1999, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that it’s a fucking masterwork: as much a work of literature as it is an exemplar of pop songcraft. To paraphrase my appearance on Jason Breininger’s Press Rewind podcast, if “Little Red Corvette” doesn’t outlast us all on this planet, then the planet was overrated anyway.

To no one’s surprise, my 1999 posts had the highest average word count of any album to date: 1,964, versus 1,758 for Controversy, 1,653 for Dirty Mind, 1,383 for Prince, and 1,379 for For You.

So, what’s next? In terms of the main blog, it’s on to Purple Rain; I’ll be starting that chapter with “Baby I’m a Star.” As noted above, I’m also tying up some loose ends from the 1999 era with Patreon-exclusive posts in the near future; and, speaking of Patreon, it’s past time that I wrote my first patron-requested post: an alternate-timeline scenario requested by Darling Nisi, which will handily help set up the Purple Rain era. Finally, speaking of Nisi, I’ve already recorded a long-belated Dirty Mind podcast with her and Harold Pride, which I’ll be putting up (first for patrons, and then for everyone) once I’ve finished editing it.

All of which is to say, there’s a lot in the pipeline; I just ask for your continued patience as I work on it. The international COVID-19 pandemic has injected a lot of instability into my day-to-day routine: I didn’t even have the chance to write on the blog that I would be presenting at the DM40GB30 symposium, originally scheduled for next month, before it was postponed until an undetermined later date. And while you might expect a self-imposed quarantine to be a boon for my productivity, the fact that I’ll also be juggling remote work with entertaining and educating a seven-year-old whose school has been shut down means that I’ll probably be spread thinner than usual. These are strange times, and I don’t know what is going to happen next. All I can promise is that I will keep writing, and I hope that you’ll keep reading, too.

In the meantime, here are those growing playlists.