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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.

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Apollonia 6, 1984

Ooo She She Wa Wa

Just two weeks after beginning “Take Me with U”–and a little less than three months after finishing “Sex Shooter”–Prince had nearly enough material for a full album by Apollonia 6; the only thing missing was a feature for the group’s third member, Susan Moonsie. According to Brenda Bennett, the oversight may have been deliberate: “Susan and Prince were fighting,” she told sessionographer Duane Tudahl (Tudahl 2018 255). So, never one to shy away from a passive-aggressive slight, on February 5, 1984, His Royal Badness dashed off “Ooo She She Wa Wa” with zero input from his protégée and on-and-off paramour.

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Ephemera, 1984

Manic Monday

Sometimes, the uncanny ease of Prince’s creative process can make it tempting to presume that his songs simply sprang forth from him, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. This is doubly true when one considers that, in at least a few cases, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Engineer Peggy McCreary likes to tell the story of when Prince called her back into Sunset Sound on the morning of February 4, 1984, after a typical marathon session the previous night: “I remember going to bed at six in the morning and he called and said, ‘Can you be at the studio at noon?’ because he had dreamed a song,” she told sessionographer Duane Tudahl. “He said if he dreamed a chorus he’d call me, and he did, and it was ‘Manic Monday’” (Tudahl 2018 253).