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Podcast

Podcast: The Crazy Things You Do – A Conversation with Kimberly C. Ransom

(Featured Image: Prince by Robert Whitman, 1977.)

For the first d / m / s / r podcast of 2018 (!), it was my pleasure to speak with budding educational historian and Prince scholar Kimberly C. Ransom. Kimberly presented at the University of Salford’s interdisciplinary Prince conference last May–those of you who listened to my series of podcasts on that event probably heard her name come up once or twice–and her essay, “A Conceptual Falsetto: Re-Imagining Black Childhood Via One Girl’s Exploration of Prince,” was published last fall in the Journal of African American Studies’ special Prince issue. If any of my listeners haven’t checked out that issue yet, I’m hoping this interview will offer some incentive: Kimberly’s essay in particular brilliantly interweaves her lifelong love for Prince with an incisive critique our often-pathologized discourses of Black childhood. She also has a surprisingly lovely singing voice.

As we embark on a brand new year of dance / music / sex / romance, allow me to direct your attention to our iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play feeds; if you feel compelled to subscribe, rate, or review us on your service of choice, it will be much appreciated. And of course, if you enjoy the podcast (or blog!), don’t be afraid to spread the word. Lots more exciting things to come!

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Alternate Timelines

André Cymone, Godfather of the Minneapolis Sound: A Retrospective from an Alternate Timeline

Note: Following last month’s post on “Do Me, Baby,” I knew I wanted to give André Cymone another, proper sendoff before he disappears from our pages until 1984. So, here’s the latest in my series of thought experiments, imagining an alternate reality in which André, not Prince, was the Grand Central member who went on to greater solo success. For anyone just dropping in, the idea here is to bring attention to the web of contingencies that shaped Prince’s career; to shake up our sense of inevitability and offer a glimpse at one of the many possible alternatives had things gone even slightly differently. It’s also, in this case, an opportunity to reevaluate Cymone’s legacy beyond his friend’s deceptively long shadow. As always, have fun and don’t take this too seriously. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week!

For a brief but significant period in the 1980s, the cutting edge of R&B and pop could be found in the unlikely locale of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Known as the “Minneapolis Sound,” this unique hybrid of funk, rock, and nascent electronic and New Wave styles emerged almost organically from the Twin Cities’ small but vibrant Black communities in the late 1970s. It thus wouldn’t be fair to give a single artist credit for “inventing” the genre; but the fact remains that when most music fans think of Minneapolis, one man in particular comes to mind. I’m talking, of course, about André Cymone.

Categories
Ephemera, 1975-1976

Don’t You Wanna Ride?

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the “deep symbolic significance” of André Anderson’s basement in what we might describe as Prince’s origin myth. At the time, I was referring to its importance as a stable home for Prince in his late teens–the first he’d had since his early childhood–as well as its function as an early incubator of his musicianship and songwriting talent. But the Andersons’ house on Russell Avenue was also important for more prurient reasons: it was there, so the stories go, that Prince began to put into practice the theories of sexual liberation he’d spend the next decade-plus codifying into something between an artistic canon and a secular religion.

The roots of this part of the “origin myth” seem to lie in a 1981 interview with journalist Barbara Graustark that ran in Musician magazine two years later, in September of 1983, after his crossover hit “Little Red Corvette” had introduced him to a larger audience eager to find out what made the little purple-clad libertine from MTV tick. Speaking about his foster mother Bernadette Anderson, Prince claimed that she “would let me do anything I wanted to” as long as he finished school. Graustark gamely asked how much one can do in a basement; “Well, it depends on how many people are there,” came the deliberately eyebrow-raising reply. He then went on to vaguely describe a scenario where Bernadette “came down and saw a lot of us down there, and we weren’t all dressed, and stuff like that. It kind of tripped her out, and we got into a semi-argument, and whatever, but it was… you know…” (Graustark 117). In her introduction to the interview, Graustark added fuel to the fire, referring to Prince’s “sexual excesses in a dank, dark Minneapolis basement with his confidant and companion André Cymone and a host of neighborhood girls” (110).

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Ephemera, 1975-1976

I Spend My Time Loving You

First, let me just take a moment to say: holy crap, this blog got a lot of views on Wednesday and Thursday. Call it the “Chaka Bump.” So, if you’re new–and you almost certainly are, because up until now the only people reading were a few friends and apparently Chaka Khan–the basic idea here is that I’m going through Prince’s entire recorded oeuvre (what we know of it, anyway) and writing about each track in depth. I’ll be doing this until I reach the end or until it literally kills me, whichever comes first. Obviously this is an idea I ripped off wholesale from Chris O’Leary’s long-running chronological David Bowie blog, Pushing Ahead of the Dame; in my defense, though, I’m pretty sure I’ve given myself more to write about than he did, so my tolerance for self-abuse should make up karmically for whatever I lack in originality and/or writing chops.

Anyway, it’s an auspicious time to increase my readership, because today’s post is our first on a bona fide Prince composition: another home recording from 1976 called “I Spend My Time Loving You.” But first, let’s talk a little bit about Prince’s high school years.

Categories
Ephemera, 1975-1976

Home Recordings, 1976

“Guess how many times I’ve changed addresses,” Prince asked at one point in a 1979 interview with Cynthia Horner of the African American teen magazine Right On! “Twenty-two times!” (Horner 1979) His typically charming, almost childlike delivery made it seem like an amusing anecdote; for what it’s worth, it was also probably an exaggeration. But beneath the wide-eyed ingénue act, he was revealing something profoundly sad about himself. For about six years during his childhood, Prince’s living situation was unstable at best; at worst, he was functionally homeless.

The period of instability ended around the same time that Prince formed his first band, thanks to the same catalyst: André Anderson, whose mother Bernadette took him in around 1974, and with whom he lived until after he signed with his first manager in late 1976. It was at the Anderson household where Prince made his earliest home recordings, at the ages of 17 and 18. But it was during his proverbial “wilderness period” when he established the fierce independence and drive–as well as the distance from others–that would define his professional life for decades to come.