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#1plus1plus1is3: Controversy Presentation and Panel

Late last month, De Angela Duff uploaded the presentation I delivered at her #1plus1plus1is3 virtual symposium back in March. I had the privilege of sharing the Controversy panel with Christopher A. Daniel, Steven G Fullwood, Edgar Kruize, and moderator C. Liegh McInnis. My paper, “I Wish We All Were Nude: Allen Beaulieu’s Infamous ‘Shower Poster’ as Aesthetic Linchpin and Artifact,” was definitely the silliest of the four, so my thanks once again to De Angela for her indulgence.

One quick correction, which came up in the chat at the symposium: While Allen Beaulieu was involved in the Controversy poster shoot, the actual image that made it onto the poster was taken by none other than Lisa Coleman! So, Lisa, if you ever want to come on my podcast and spend an entire hour talking about nothing but this photo, consider this your open invitation.

If you can’t get enough of me and my pandemic hair, below is the Q&A I did with Christopher, Steven, Edgar, and C. Liegh:

Finally, I’d like to share a few of my favorite presentations from the symposium. It isn’t an exhaustive list–my real recommendation is that you watch every video on De Angela’s channel!–but if you’re looking for a good place to start, you can’t go wrong with these.

Erica Thompson on the influence of Christian values (and Prince’s dad) on The Rainbow Children:

Robert Loss on work and racial capitalism in The Rainbow Children (and also the infamous “Avalanche”):

KaNisa Williams’ audiovisually stimulating exegesis of The Rainbow Children/One Nite Alone era:

My favorite “discovery” of the symposium, Melay Araya, on the Diamonds and Pearls videos’ place in Prince’s canon as a filmmaker:

Kamilah Cummings on Diamonds and Pearls and the “myth of colorblindness” in Prince’s work:

Harold Pride on “Gett Off” as Prince’s “quintessential maxi single”:

And, last but not least, the aforementioned C. Liegh McInnis on the lyrics of Diamonds and Pearls, which had us reconsidering, of all things, the poetic merits of “Jughead”:

In short, the symposium was an absolute joy, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. I’m already counting the days until next year’s “Triple Threat” symposium on 1999, What Time is It?, and Vanity 6!

(Edit: I posted too soon and didn’t include this great recap video De Angela posted on Monday! It captures so much of the fun we all had that weekend. See you again at #TripleThreat40!)

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Purple Rain, 1984

Darling Nikki

With Albert Magnoli on board as director, preparations for Prince’s film debut finally began in earnest. The artist’s new rehearsal space on Highway 7 in St. Louis Park, Minnesota became the epicenter for a “flurry of activity from morning ’til night,” recalled Brenda Bennett of side project Vanity 6 (Bellaire 2015). Along with a stage setup and recording console, “the Warehouse” also included a small wardrobe department for Vaughn Terry and Louis Wells: costume designers, best known for their work with Earth, Wind & Fire, who had joined the Prince camp during the 1999 tour and would be instrumental in crafting his iconic Purple Rain-era look.

Soon, Terry and Wells would be joined by another familiar face: tour manager Alan Leeds, whose capable handling of the inter- and intra-band tensions during the latter months of the 1999 tour led to his being rehired to help coordinate the film’s production. “I got a call from [manager Steve] Fargnoli sometime in July, offering me the gig to come to Minneapolis,” Leeds told journalist Alan Light. “And I said, ‘Well, what’s the gig? Are you going back on the road?’ ‘Not right away. We’re going to make a movie first.’ I go, ‘Okay, you need me to come there because you’re making a movie? First of all, I don’t believe you’re making a movie. Second, why do you need me to make a movie? I don’t make movies.’ He said, ‘We got three bands: we got Prince and his guys that you tour managed, we got Morris [Day] and the Time, we got Vanity 6. They’re all in the movie. Everybody’s taking acting lessons, everybody’s taking dance lessons, and everybody’s rehearsing new music. We need an off-road road manager to coordinate all this stuff.’ ‘Okay, Steven–you’re really making a movie? Get the fuck outta here!’” (Light 82-83).

Leeds wasn’t the only one surprised by the sudden increase in scale. As keyboardist Lisa Coleman recalled, “For the longest time, we would talk about [the film] like, ‘We’re gonna make the best cult movie, it’s gonna be cool, we’re just gonna put it out there and see who responds to it.’ Then Al Magnoli came and actually kind of connected with Prince, and Al was the one who was like, ‘If we’re gonna make a movie, why don’t we make it a hit movie? It seems like we’ve got all the parts here. Let’s not just make some artsy movie, just for fun. What do we have to lose?’” (Light 91).

In aiming for a “hit,” however, Prince faced the inevitable temptation to sand away some of his rougher edges. Guitarist Wendy Melvoin, who had been a fan before she joined Prince’s band, recalled being disappointed by the new material at rehearsal: “The songs weren’t as funky to me,” she told Light. “They were pop songs; they were definitely watered down.” Coleman remembered Prince himself poking fun at his newfound populist tendencies: “He would imitate an old granny, like, ‘You could make Granny dance to this one,’ but then I think he was just like, ‘We’re leaning it too far to the granny; we still need danger’” (Light 77).

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See You at #1plus1plus1is3 This Weekend!

When I shared the 1983 Piano Rehearsal post on social media a few weeks ago, I mentioned that March is going to be a “quality-over-quantity month” on the blog. Well, here’s why: This Sunday, March 28, I will be presenting at the latest in De Angela Duff’s series of academic symposia commemorating Prince album anniversaries. This year’s symposium, the aptly-named #1plus1plus1is3, is a three-for-one: celebrating 20 years of 2001’s The Rainbow Children, 30 years of 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls, and 40 years of 1981’s Controversy.

My presentation–on Allen Beaulieu’s infamous Controversy “shower poster”–will be part of a panel featuring Christopher A. Daniel, Steven G Fullwood, and Edgar Kruize, moderated by C. Liegh McInnis. Presenting on other panels and roundtables are longtime friends of the blog Darling Nisi, Harold Pride, Erica Thompson, Laura Tiebert, Karen Turman, and others; there will also be special guest appearances by Rainbow Children cover artist Cbabi Bayoc, Revolution keyboardist Dr. Fink, longtime NPG Records webmaster/art director Sam Jennings, music video director Scott McCullough, recording artist Nicolay, and photographer Afshin Shahidi. I can’t wait to hear from each and every one.

Like last year’s #DM40GB30 symposium, #1plus1plus1is3 is a virtual symposium–so, no masks/vaccines required–and also 100% free (though the organizers do suggest a small donation to the PRN Alumni Foundation). You can register to attend at the link below:

Free Registration: #1plus1plus1is3

I will, of course, be live-tweeting the event as it happens, and will post a summary of my thoughts early next week. Then, it’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming with what is shaping up to be a very hefty post on “Let’s Go Crazy.” Thank you all for your patience during this quiet month; I hope that the deluge of Prince content coming this weekend, from myself and so many others, will help make up for my radio silence otherwise! Last but not least, thank you to Joseph Swafford for (re-)joining the Patreon last week! There will be plenty more quality and quantity in April.

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#PrinceTwitterThread: “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”

As I’ve mentioned on this blog at least once before, this month DJ UMB and Edgar Kruize are curating the latest and largest of their excellent series of “Prince Twitter Threads” on–what else–Sign “O” the Times. As of today, we’re officially three-quarters of the way through, and we’ve seen threads by luminaries including Prince biographer Matt Thorne; friends of D / M / S / R Arthur Turnbull, Erica Thompson, and Jason Breininger; and, this past Tuesday, moi.

As you may imagine, the best way to experience a Prince Twitter Thread is on Twitter, using the #PrinceTwitterThread hashtag; half of the fun of these things is the conversations that come out of them (which remind me more than a bit of Q&A sessions after panels at academic conferences, right down to the occasional question-that-is-actually-more-of-a-comment and the brief, exhilirating moment of panic when you realize you now have to defend a perceived hole in your argument). But I realize that not everyone has room in their life for the uniquely 21st-century purgatory that is the bird site, and of those people I am envious; so I’m embedding my thread below for posterity.

If you are a Twitter person (my condolences), there’s still time to jump on board; Side 4 kicks off tomorrow, after what I am confident will be an enlightening thread by Edgar on the Sign “O” the Times tour today. In the meantime, I hope to be right back here by the end of next week with a post on “Cloreen Bacon Skin.”

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Reviews

Review: My Life in the Purple Kingdom

If you’ve spent any time on the Prince-obsessed corners of the Internet lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Super Deluxe Edition of Sign “O” the Times was the only recent release of note. But just three days before that mammoth box set landed with a thud on our doorsteps, the University of Minnesota Press also published a new memoir by Revolution bassist Mark Brown, better known as BrownMark; and, while it understandably hasn’t generated the same level of interest as the late-1986 Vault laid bare, My Life in the Purple Kingdom is still worth a look.

Brown’s book is noteworthy in large part because, even amidst the boom of posthumous Prince publications–with memoirs by early associate Pepé Willie and longtime journalist/confidant Neal Karlen hitting shelves in just the past few weeks–firsthand accounts by former band members are still comparatively rare. Pre-Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson’s My Time with Prince: Confessions of a Former Revolutionary was self-published in 2003, and is long out of print; Sign “O” the Times/Lovesexy-era drummer Sheila E’s The Beat of My Own Drum came out in 2015, and was marketed more as a Sheila E book than a Prince one. This makes Brown only the third ex-bandmate to share his story in book form–and the first to do so since Prince’s passing almost five years ago.

And, make no mistake, My Life is very much Brown’s own story. Arguably its best chapters come before Prince even shows up, detailing Brown’s South Minneapolis upbringing and his entry into the city’s segregated music scene. Brown’s recounting of the shutdown of downtown R&B club King Solomon’s Mines after months of police harassment will be familiar to readers of Andrea Swensson’s excellent Got to Be Something Here; while his vivid descriptions of encounters with neo-Nazi skinheads and racist cops will be familiar to anyone who’s been following the news in 2020. Full disclosure: I read an early version of this book about a year ago while it was still in the editing process; reading it again now, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, feels markedly different. A passage about the insidiously “subtle” nature of racism in the Midwest–where “White people would smile in your face but call you a [racial slur] behind your back”–felt especially (and unfortunately) relevant.

Ironically, it’s when the ruler (or despot) of the titular “Purple Kingdom” shows up that My Life loses some of its vitality. Readers of other Prince biographies won’t find much here to surprise them: His Royal Badness is seldom warm, often funny, sometimes vindictive, and, as his fame grows, increasingly distant from his bandmates. When Brown’s portrait of his erstwhile colleague is revealing, it’s mostly him and not Prince who is being revealed; his creative conflicts with his first band Phantasy, for example, parallel Prince’s own struggles to “cross over,” and suggest why Prince may have been drawn to recruit the younger musician as a sideman.

Mostly, though, Prince is here to serve as an inciting incident for Brown’s own personal growth. When Prince demands that his new recruit “start playing the bass, or I’ll find somebody who will,” it’s up to Brown to build up his chops. When Prince has a stylist straighten out Brown’s Jheri curl and leaves him with a “dry and bushy” shag, it’s up to Brown to “find [his] mojo” with a new hairstyle. One of the book’s most compelling conflicts barely even involves the frontman, as Brown finds himself confronted with resentful female fans–and his own low self-esteem–after “replacing” the group’s heartthrob original bassist André Cymone.

Indeed, my biggest complaint about My Life is that it doesn’t leave enough space for Brown’s post-Prince experiences; instead, the book comes to a happy, but abrupt ending after he leaves the Revolution and secures a recording contract with Motown. While I understand that the public hasn’t exactly been clamoring for a blow-by-blow account of BrownMark’s solo career, I think most readers would have been interested to hear how he ended up recording Prince’s “Bang Bang” and “Shall We Dance” in 1989. Likewise, I would have expected a new book by a member of the Revolution to include some kind of perspective on the group’s 2016 reunion, let alone Prince’s death that same year. In a recent interview with friend of the blog Erica Thompson, Brown revealed that he wrote My Life about 15 years ago “to vent and let out a lot of frustration”; this certainly squares with the bittersweet note on which he leaves his relationship with Prince, but in the current context there’s a surprising lack of closure.

Whatever its flaws, however, My Life is still recommended reading for fans of the Minneapolis Sound. Brown and co-writer Cynthia M. Uhrich have crafted a narrative that is breezy and consistently entertaining: much like Morris Day’s in his own memoir last year, Brown’s voice comes through loud and clear, from the hilarious passages about his youthful experimentation with a Jheri curl to his idiosyncratic (but consistent!) spelling of the word “cool.” If nothing else, and for reasons I won’t spoil here, I’ll never think about the passage where Brown drives out to Chanhassen for the first time to audition for Prince without laughing out loud.

BrownMark may have been the first ex-band member out the gate with a book after 2016, but I, for one, hope he isn’t the last; my personal position–which may come as heresy to some corners of the Prince fandom–is the more books, the better. Prince, as this blog itself can attest, had as many facets as there were people to observe him; books like this ensure that those many facets, and the people who were there to see them, remain in the public record.

If you’d like to read My Life in the Purple Kingdom, and support D / M / S / R in the process, I earn a small commission from any purchase made using a Bookshop.org affiliate link.

(Thank you, everyone, for your patience as I work on the next proper post; “Katrina’s Paper Dolls” is coming soon. Thanks, also, to Joseph Swafford and Tonya Pendleton, who both joined the Patreon in the past two weeks! I really appreciate your support. While I continue to work on my own stuff, I highly recommend the following Prince-related projects: De Angela Duff’s #SOTTSDC virtual roundtable series, which takes place this Saturday afternoon/evening; and the latest #PrinceTwitterThread series curated by Edgar Kruize and UMB, which will be ongoing through the rest of the month. See you soon!)