(Featured Image: The infamous “Prince’s Women” cover, RollingStone, April 1986; photo by Jeff Katz.)
For the third installment of my miniseries on the University of Salford’s interdisciplinary Prince conference, I’m talking to Leah McDaniel (née Stone), a businesswoman, world traveler, and lifelong Prince fan. Her paper was on the eternally unsettled question of whether or not Prince was a feminist; we reflect on that question, as well as the contrast between his artistic warmth and his sometimes-chilling approach to interpersonal relationships, and why even Prince at his worst was still better than R. Kelly at his best.
If you’re frustrated that we don’t issue a final verdict, come back in a few months, when I plan to host a round table discussion on the “was Prince a feminist” debate (and almost certainly still won’t offer a definitive answer). In the meantime, you can check us and our way-improved new logo out on all the major podcast services (iTunes/Stitcher/Google Play). Your reviews and subscriptions on your service of choice would be a big help in getting us more visibility. As always, thanks for listening–we’ll be back with another episode by the end of next week!
I have to begin with another apology: I had hoped to get this last installment of the podcast up early in the week, but I’ve been busy with job interviews, house hunting, and most recently, an illness that is definitely audible on the outro I recorded last night. But here, at last, is the final full installment of my now month-old conversation with writer, philosopher, and fellow Prince obsessive Jane Clare Jones. This is the one we’ve been building up to for the last month: a reckoning with the psychological factors that led to last year’s deeply tragic, avoidable death. But in case you’re concerned this will be prurient muckraking in the Prince: The End/When Doves Crytradition, please know that it’s coming from a place of genuine love, and is grounded in research rather than wild speculation. And if you’re also (justifiably) concerned that it’s going to be a depressing slog, I promise it’s not all as grim as it might sound.
And with that, the first wave of the d / m / s / r podcast is over! Jane will be back, probably sometime next month, to talk about the Purple Reign interdisciplinary conference at the University of Salford; I also still have a short, lighthearted chunk of our original conversation that didn’t quite fit this episode that I’d like to post at some point. But other than that, the future is a blank slate. I’d love to hear your thoughts on where to go with the podcast–topics to discuss, suggested guests, etc.–because it seems a shame to go to the trouble of making a feed, etc. just for one month of episodes. In the meantime, as always, you can find me on any of the major podcast services–iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play–where you’re invited to leave a rating or review; you can also listen to the podcast on Mixcloud. I hope you’ve enjoyed these as much as I have. Thanks!
(Featured Image: Playboy, November 1976; photo stolen from the Huffington Post.)
In our last post, I invoked that reliable old standby of pornographic schlock, the Penthouse Forum letter, as a point of comparison for Prince’s early 1976 song “Don’t You Wanna Ride?” Since we’re treading in similar thematic waters today, I guess now is as good a time as any to talk about the roots of the porn aesthetic in Prince’s musical persona.
Cultural critic Touré has written convincingly about how Prince’s rise to infamy coincided with the mainstreaming of pornographic imagery in American society in the 1970s and 1980s (Touré 72). As we’ll see in the weeks and months to come, porn aesthetics figured heavily in Prince’s developing persona, from the Dirty Mindalbum to Vanity 6 to the Purple Rainfilm. But its influence also (allegedly) went back much earlier, to his childhood–the proverbial “origin myth.” There’s a recurring story of a nine- or ten-year-old Prince coming across his mother‘s collection of pornographic literature; in some versions, she left it out deliberately, in a kind of passive-aggressive effort to teach him about the “birds and the bees.” “I think there was some kind of plan to initiate me heavy and quick,” Prince recalled in a 1997 television interview with comedian Chris Rock, “so I was given Playboy magazines, and there was erotic literature laying around that was very easily picked up… it was pretty heavy at the time. I think it really affected my sexuality a great deal” (VH1 1997).
(Featured Image: Prince at the piano, circa 1976; photo stolen from prince.org.)
“Guess how many times I’ve changed addresses,” Prince asked at one point in a 1979 interview with Cynthia Horner of the African American teen magazine Right On! “Twenty-two times!” (Horner 1979) His typically charming, almost childlike delivery made it seem like an amusing anecdote; for what it’s worth, it was also probably an exaggeration. But beneath the wide-eyed ingénue act, he was revealing something profoundly sad about himself. For about six years during his childhood, Prince’s living situation was unstable at best; at worst, he was functionally homeless.
The period of instability ended around the same time that Prince formed his first band, thanks to the same catalyst: André Anderson, whose mother Bernadette took him in around 1974, and with whom he lived until after he signed with his first manager in late 1976. It was at the Anderson household where Prince made his earliest home recordings, at the ages of 17 and 18. But it was in his proverbial “wilderness period” when he established the fierce independence and drive–as well as the distrust of and distance from others–that would define his art, for better and worse, in the decades to come.
(Featured Image: Prince Rogers Nelson, circa 1972; photo stolen from the Daily Mail.)
The earliest known Prince song has no title…or lyrics, or a melody. It was just a rhythm, supposedly banged out on a pair of rocks by five-year-old Prince Rogers Nelson–or “Skipper,” as he was more commonly known–soon after he saw his father’s band perform in 1963. Just as few details are remembered about the second earliest known Prince song–except for the fact that it involved larger rocks (Ro 4). Even the third earliest knownPrince song has been lost to memory. All we know is that Prince was seven when he wrote it on the family piano, and that it was called “Funk Machine”–though even that much is questionable, as the likely earliest musical reference to “funk,” Wilson Pickett’s “Funky Broadway,” was released in 1967, two years after “Funk Machine” was supposedly written.
All of these stories may well be apocryphal; knowing Prince, who often played fast and loose with the facts of his life in recounting them to the media, they probably are. At the very least, it’s likely that these earliest compositions stretched the definition of what one might reasonably consider a “song” (though, who knows–maybe “Rock Jam #2” would later be resurrected as the drum machine pattern from “1999”). The point of such tales, however, is to establish a more fundamental fact: that Prince, more or less from his first memories, was saturated in the act of music-making. “Music is made out of necessity,” he wrote in 1992. “It’s a fact of life. Just like breathing” (Prince 1992).