Patreon Exclusive: Review – The Beautiful Ones

Patreon Exclusive: Review – The Beautiful Ones

(Featured Image: Cover art for The Beautiful Ones by Prince, from Amazon.)

As promised, I’ve sorted through my thoughts on The Beautiful Ones, the new part-memoir, part-scrapbook from the Prince estate, and have made them available for patrons here:

Patreon Exclusive: Review – The Beautiful Ones

TL;DR version for non-patrons: it is what it is, I’m glad it exists, but it’s inescapably dwarfed by the possibilities of what a completed memoir might have been. On the other hand, this is Prince we’re talking about, so who’s to say that the book would have ever come out even if he’d lived to finish it?

I’m sure a lot of readers have also been digging into The Beautiful Ones this last week, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment and let me know how you’re processing the book, what you think of it, what’s most (or least) compelling to you, etc.! And of course, if you haven’t bought the book yet, feel free to do so using my Amazon affiliate link.

A few housekeeping-type notes before I go: first, now that I’m pretty sure I have my shit together again, the blog is moving back to a Patreon-first schedule: I’m hoping to have the next post (on “Horny Toad”) up for patrons tomorrow, to appear on the regular blog next week. After that, I’m once again leaving the next post up to patrons: the choice is between “Lust U Always” and “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya,” and as of this writing the former is winning. If you have a dog in this particular fight and want your voice to be heard, you can become a patron at the $5 level or above and vote–preferably by the end of the weekend, as I’ll need to start writing soon!

Finally, you might have noticed that the blog is now ad-free; this is an intentional choice, both because I’m shilling the Patreon enough without involving other revenue streams and because frankly today’s Internet ad rates are too low to justify the ugliness of advertisements all over the website. Thanks for tolerating them while they were here.

I think that’s it for now. Looking ahead, if I can keep to my current schedule, we’ll be closing out 2019 with a real big one. I can’t wait!

All the Critics Love U in New York

All the Critics Love U in New York

(Featured Image: With an old friend at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles, January 25, 1982; that’s Steve Fargnoli in the background. Photo stolen from Consequence of Sound.)

Prince’s Los Angeles sojourn in mid-January 1982 concluded with–and was most likely scheduled around–the ninth annual American Music Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 25. He attended as a guest, not a nominee: the “Soul/R&B” category, for which he would have been nominated, was led by old-guard artists like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson–as well as his rival of two years prior, Rick James.

Since the conclusion of the Fire It Up tour in May 1980, Prince’s and James’ career fortunes had diverged in unpredictable ways. Prince, as we’ve seen, had become a critics’ darling, trading the commercial success of his second album for the underground credibility of Dirty Mind and Controversy. James, meanwhile, had faltered with 1980’s flaccid Garden of Love–the album he’d allegedly recorded with a synthesizer stolen from Prince–but bounced back with the following year’s Street Songs: a masterpiece that finally made good on his “punk-funk” credo while leapfrogging his one-time usurper on the charts. Prince may have won 1980’s “Battle of the Funk,” but at the AMAs it was beginning to look like he’d lost the war, with James nominated for three awards–Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist, Favorite Soul/R&B Album (which he won), and Favorite Soul/R&B Single for “Give It To Me Baby”–plus a proxy Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist nomination for his protégée, Teena Marie.

It’s thus intriguing that only a few days before the awards, on January 21, Prince recorded a song that both satirized and propped up his critics’ darling status, while also lightly mocking the cultural rivalry between L.A.–home of Sunset Sound, Warner Bros. Records, and the AMAs–and its older, snootier cousin to the East, New York City. The song, one of the highlights of his fifth album 1999, was called “All the Critics Love U in New York.”

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Prince Track by Track New Year’s Roundup

Prince Track by Track New Year’s Roundup

(Featured Image: European 12″ cover for “A Love Bizarre,” 1985; photo by Rebecca Blake, © Warner Bros.)

As usual, I took the last couple weeks of December off for the holidays, which meant I didn’t post the links to my last two appearances on Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast. So here they are now: one of my favorite tracks from Prince’s extended universe, as well as one of the most forgettable. I’ll let you guess which one is which:

Prince Track by Track: “Hynoparadise”
Prince Track by Track: “A Love Bizarre”

With this bit of business out of the way, I’m now officially on track to kick off the blog for 2019. We’ll start tomorrow with a belated post from one of our alternate timelines, then it’s back to the Time’s second album next week. Happy New Year!

Controversy, Part 1: Am I Black or White?

Controversy, Part 1: Am I Black or White?

(Featured Image: Prince embodies his contradictions in the poster from Controversy, 1981; photo by Allen Beaulieu, © Warner Bros.)

By the time Prince began work on his fourth album in mid-1981, he already had a few classics under his belt. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was a perfect first hit and calling card: a concise, albeit airbrushed introduction to the artist’s multi-instrumental chops, knack for catchy pop hooks, and flirtatious sex appeal. “Uptown,” though less commercially successful, demonstrated his burgeoning ambition and the sociopolitical undercurrents of his multi-racial, gender-fluid funk. But it was the aforementioned fourth album’s title track that would truly capture the essence of Prince. “Controversy” was his artistic DNA, pressed onto wax and played back at 331revolutions per minute.

To summarize any artist with a single song is no small feat. To do so for an artist like Prince, who reveled in his ambiguities and contradictions, is even more impressive. The brilliance of “Controversy” is the way it places these ambiguities and contradictions at the center of Prince’s artistic persona: his indeterminacy becomes his defining characteristic. Philosopher Nancy J. Holland writes that Prince’s destabilized persona makes him “perhaps the best example in contemporary popular culture of how the postmodern moves beyond the mere reversal of hierarchical oppositions (God/man, good/evil, male/female, man/nature, mind/body, etc.) that have governed the dominant discourse in the European tradition for at least two millennia… By deconstructing, undermining, and redefining these binaries, Prince opened the possibility of a new culture” (Holland 2018 322).

In many ways, “Controversy” is ground zero for this postmodern Prince and the “new culture” he promised. It thus feels appropriate to take an in-depth look at the song through three of the particular binaries he would spend the next 35 years “deconstructing, undermining, and redefining”: racial, sexual, and spiritual. And yes, I do mean “in-depth”; I’m giving each of these three binaries its own, full-length post. So let’s get to it.

Continue reading “Controversy, Part 1: Am I Black or White?”