Note: This is the second of three posts on “Controversy”: a song that presents so much to unpack, I’ve opted to split my analysis into parts. You can–and should–read the first part here.
Am I straight or gay?
In the same 1981Rolling 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” (Hillburn 1982). Of course, as we now know, Prince in fact was Jamie Starr, the fictitious recluse credited with engineering Dirty Mindand, 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 notably less coy about his sexual orientation 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.
As of this writing, there is no public record of the order in which the songs on the Time’s first album were recorded (fingers crossed that Duane Tudahl can scare up some details when he gets around to writing his book on the 1981-82 studio sessions). It’s generally agreed, however, that the song Prince used to get Warner Bros. interested in the project was the one that became its lead single and opening track: “Get It Up.”
As a proof of concept for the Time project, “Get It Up” makes a lot of sense. It is, first of all, familiar territory. According to Bobby Z, the song came out of Prince’s jams with his touring band, and it shows: more than any other song on The Time, “Get It Up” sounds like the missing link between Dirty Mindand Controversy(Nilsen 1999 86). The brittle New Wave funk arrangement and wheedling Oberheim synthesizer, played once again by guest soloist Matt Fink, bear Prince’s immediately identifiable fingerprints–that, and the fact that his backing vocals are clearly audible throughout the track.
Over the weekend, I not only recorded an episode of my own podcast, but also a couple of guest appearances on someone else’s: Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track. If you haven’t listened to Track by Track, it’s another effort in song-by-song Prince chronology, albeit with much better time management than my own humble project: Darren is already done with Purple Rainand starting on Around the World in a Day this week. For my inaugural appearance on the show, we talked about a song that is obviously very near and dear to my heart: “D.M.S.R.” Check it out, and the rest of Track by Track, right here:
I believe I’ll actually be making another appearance on Track by Track before the week is out; I’ll also be posting my own podcast on Friday. And yes, at some point, I will write another proper post; Darren’s progress has filled me with the appropriate amount of shame to get my ass back into gear.
Hi everyone! While I drag my feet on actually updating this goddamn blog, here’s some Prince-related writing of mine from elsewhere on the Internet: a piece I wrote for the online magazine published by record-of-the-month club Vinyl Me, Please. Thanks very much to VMP for making this happen!
(Featured Image: Artwork for the University of Salford’s Purple Reign Conference.)
It’s been a long gestation period, but at last, the d / m / s / r podcast has returned with our “roving reporter,” philosopher and budding Princeologist Jane Clare Jones. She’s here to talk about the University of Salford’s interdisciplinary conference on Prince, which she attended back in May, but we also (of course) cover a lot of other territory: including the connections between Prince’s much-discussed messianism and his much-less-discussed radical political consciousness. If you’re interested in hearing what’s going on in the rapidly-growing field of Prince scholarship, this will be an interesting listen.
And, as the man himself was wont to say, it ain’t over: having missed the opportunity to attend the Salford Purple Reign conference, I’m now bringing the conference to me (and you!). For the next several weeks, I’ll be lining up more conversations with attendees of the conference, to discuss their work and their ideas about Prince. If you presented at Salford and are interested in recording a podcast, hit me up! I’d love to hear from as many of you as I can. The conference may have happened two months ago, but from the looks of things, scholarly interest in Prince has just begun. Let’s keep it going!
As always, you can subscribe to the d / m / s / r podcast using any of the major services: iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play (I’d recommend Stitcher over Google for Android users). You can also stream episodes on Mixcloud. If you like what you hear, leave a review on your service of choice–this will help to make us more visible! Thanks for listening, and see you again soon.