(Featured Image: Prince and Dez Dickerson face an unruly crowd opening for the Rolling Stones, October 1981; photo by Allen Beaulieu, from his forthcoming book Prince: Before the Rain.)
In January 1981, after the first leg of the Dirty Mind tour, Prince’s publicist Howard Bloom sent an exuberant memo to his manager, Steve Fargnoli: “The verdict from the press is clear,” Bloom wrote. “Prince is a rock and roll artist! In fact, the press is saying clearly that Prince is the first black artist with the potential to become a major white audience superstar since Jimi Hendrix” (Hill 82). Nine months later, with his fourth album, Controversy, days away from release, Prince faced the biggest test of his crossover potential to date: two shows opening for the Rolling Stones at the massive, 94,000-capacity Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The booking was a major coup for Prince, who had made it his mission to break rock music’s de facto color line and even, according to guitarist Dez Dickerson, described his early vision for his band as a kind of “multiracial Rolling Stones” (Dickerson 95). “The one thing he talked to me about a number of times in the early going was he wanted he and I to be the Black version of the Glimmer Twins,” Dez elaborated to cultural critic Touré. “To have that Keith and Mick thing and have a rock ‘n’ roll vibe fronting this new kind of band. That’s what he wanted” (Touré 15). As keyboardist Lisa Coleman recalled to biographer Matt Thorne, “We were so excited, we’d rehearsed our little booties off, our funky black asses. This is it, we’re gonna make the big time” (Thorne 2016). But like so many of Prince’s earlier potential big breaks, things did not go according to plan.
As listeners are no doubt aware, next week will be a big one for Prince fans in Minneapolis: Monday through Wednesday is Prince from Minneapolis, the second-ever (and first in the States) academic symposium devoted to papers about Prince; then, from Thursday to Sunday, Paisley Park will open its doors for its second annual posthumous Celebration event. I will be there for both, so I thought now was the perfect opportunity to talk to Stuart Willoughby, whose book Minneapolis Reign: A Guide to Prince’s Hometowndocumented his own trip to last year’s Celebration 2017. Stuart and I had a really fun conversation, which will hopefully give everyone else out there planning their own pilgrimages some pointers about where to go and what to do in Prince’s hometown.
As always, remember to subscribe to the d / m / s / r podcast on your service of choice (iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play), and to leave us a review if the spirit moves you. I look forward to meeting some of you in Minneapolis next week!
Happy New Year, everyone! I’m starting 2018 more excited about this project than ever, and I think you’ll enjoy what I have planned. But first, here’s something I did for another chronological Prince project: Darren Husted’s excellent podcast Prince: Track by Track. Our topic this time around is a bit of a guilty pleasure: the Diamonds and Pearlsalbum cut “Daddy Pop.” But you should still listen, if only to hear my surprisingly spirited defense of Tony M:
While I’ve got you here, I guess I might as well talk about a few of those things I have planned for the months to come. First up will be another, imaginative look at what might have been for Prince’s relationship with André Cymone; then, starting next week, I’ll be jumping into the songs that became the debut album by Prince’s first official protégé group, the Time. On the podcast, you can also look forward to an interview with Kimberly Ransom, whose work appeared both at last spring’s University of Salford Prince conference and in last fall’s special Prince issue of the Journal of African American Studies. I’m also in the very, very early brainstorming period for a series of podcasts on each of Prince’s albums I’ve covered in writing so far, beginning with the 40th anniversary of For Youin April. If you have any ideas for that–including suggestions for possible guests–you know where to find me.
(Featured Image: London punks, circa 1977. Photo by Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon; stolen from BBC News.)
Prince’s adoption of a punk aesthetic in late 1980 and early 1981 was, as we’ve seen, an act of calculation; it would be a mistake, however, to assume that it was only that. For one thing, Prince’s New Wave songs were simply too good to have been born of strategic considerations alone. For another, as his cousin Charles Smith recalled, the artist was a known fan of “the whole English scene… He’d always been into David Bowie and that kind of stuff” (Nilsen 1999 72).
It thus stands to reason that when Prince finally made his way to punk’s epicenter, London, in June of 1981, his P.R. approach combined thinly-veiled opportunism with genuine homage. He promoted his one-off date at the West End’s Lyceum Ballroom with a pair of high-profile magazine interviews: one with Steve Sutherland of Melody Maker, and the other with Chris Salewicz, whose tenure at NMEalongside writers Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill had helped frame the discourse around British punk. Warner Bros. even took the opportunity to release a U.K.-exclusive single in advance of his visit: a distinctly New Wave-flavored outtake from the Dirty Mindsessions called “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About).”
(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.