Yesterday, I once again had the pleasure of participating in the excellent #PrinceTwitterThread series organized by DJ UMB and Edgar Kruize. The current series is on 2014’s ART OFFICIAL AGE, and my thread was about my favorite track on the album, “U KNOW.” You can read my thread embedded below–but make sure you also check out the official @PrinceThread account on Twitter to read the threads still in progress! Everything so far in this series has been top-notch. Thanks to UMB and Edgar for the invite, and I’ll be back with a new post on “My Drawers” soon!
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.
Am I straight or gay?
In the same 1981 Rolling Stone interview where Prince intentionally muddied the waters of his racial background, he made another thing uncharacteristically clear. “Appearances to the contrary,” reported journalist Bill Adler, “he says he’s not gay, and he has a standard rebuff for overenthusiastic male fans: ‘I’m not about that; we can be friends, but that’s as far as it goes. My sexual preferences really aren’t any of their business.’ A Penthouse ‘Pet of the Month’ centerfold laid out on a nearby table silently underscores his point” (Adler 1981).
The artist was similarly adamant in a Los Angeles Times interview the following year, when he took the opportunity to address three rumors that were apparently needling him: “One, my real name is Prince. It’s not something I made up. My dad’s stage name was Prince Rogers and he gave that to me: Prince Rogers Nelson… Two, I’m not gay. And three, I’m not Jamie Starr” (Hilburn 1982). Of course, as we now know, Prince was Jamie Starr, the fictitious recluse credited with engineering Dirty Mind and, later, with producing the early albums by protégé acts the Time and Vanity 6. But he appeared to have been telling the truth about his sexuality: despite his surface ambiguities, by all credible accounts Prince was unequivocally and enthusiastically straight.
These surface ambiguities, however, are worth examining; because, while Prince was less coy about his sexuality than he was about his ethnicity, he was in many ways equally strategic. We’ve already mentioned the famous story told by guitarist Dez Dickerson in which Prince announced to his band that he would use his onstage persona to “portray pure sex” (Dickerson 62). What he understood better than most heterosexual performers was that in order to create this kind of fantasy, he would need to court the attentions of not only straight women, but also gay men and others.
Note: In the last several weeks of writing about the songs on Prince’s debut album, I’ve been struck by the many contingencies that exist around For You, and Prince’s early career in general. If things had gone even slightly differently; if his label–or, for that matter, Prince himself–had shown even a little less confidence in his artistic development; then we would be looking at a very different musical landscape in 2016. There’s also the fact that, as I’ve noted several times in my track-by-track posts, it’s difficult to look at For You in retrospect without seeing it as just the first, not-entirely-successful glimpse at a talent and vision that would find its full expression in years to come. But what if that perspective wasn’t the default? What if For You wasn’t the first step in a long career by Prince, but in fact his first and last album? This post is my attempt to think my way through this situation: think of it as a look back at For You from a possible alternate timeline. I don’t know if I will do this for other albums in the future–or, like, ever again–but I thought it was an interesting exercise to examine Prince’s earliest days as a recording artist through a completely different lens. I hope you find it interesting, too.