Oh, Hello

I’ve said before that De Angela Duff’s scholarly Prince events–aside from being a lot of fun in general–have been a spur to my creativity and motivation in times when one or both were in short supply. And, while I’ve always meant that, boy oh boy has it never been more obvious than it is today. My last post, from almost nine months ago, was me talking about my inactivity and looking forward to De Angela’s #TripleThreat40 symposium in March (spoiler alert, Past Zach: It was great). Now in this, my only finished creative product since then–not counting my Twitter X thread on “All the Critics Love U in New York” and the handful of Patreon-exclusive videos I deleted when I decided to bring the Patreon era of D / M / S / R to a close–I’ll pick up by… talking about my inactivity and looking forward to De Angela’s Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Virtual Celebration in December!

First, about that inactivity. I’ll keep it brief, as I realize “writer explaining why he hasn’t been writing” is literally no one’s favorite literary genre. I cringed just now when I re-read that aforementioned #TripleThreat40 post: There I was, in the virgin bloom of 2023, talking about how busy I’d been in “the last few months”–a situation that has, if anything, only worsened over the ensuing seven! Again, I won’t belabor the point, but the combined forces of a demanding job, a kid transitioning to middle school, and the general ambience of life, have been a real drain on the creative spirit.

Then, there’s the other part: 2023 has been, to put it mildly, a rough year for the extremely online Prince fan. I’ll leave it to other, more invested parties to deliver the play-by-play, but suffice to say that since the July 2021 release of Welcome 2 America–and, to an even greater degree, since the following summer, when management of Prince’s estate officially transferred from Comerica Bank & Trust to a seemingly uneasy partnership between the artist’s surviving siblings, his one-time lawyer and Source magazine publisher L. Londell McMillan, and music rights management enterprise Primary Wave–the discourse in the fan community has been dominated by a constant cycle of rumors, disappointment, and frustration over the status of the next major posthumous release.

This vibe shift may not have been the reason for my creative doldrums, but it made my decision to withdraw a hell of a lot easier: I deactivated my Patreon, and have abandoned Twitter (or whatever that squirrelly little ketamine gobbler is calling it these days), probably forever (I did, however, just dip my toe into Instagram–do with that news what you will). My dominant emotion through all this has been a sense of relief. I didn’t get into this absurd project out of a passion for analyzing the business spats of a bunch of octogenarians from Minnesota and their handlers, so it’s freeing to not feel the need to give even the most cursory lip service to the fandom’s controversy of the month; to just shut the fuck up and enjoy my life the best I can. I highly recommend it to everyone!

This is why I’m excited for the Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Virtual Celebration (or #DPSDVC, as I will one day remember to abbreviate it without the aid of De Angela’s promo kit email). For the first time since, well, #TripleThreat40, I feel like I finally have the opportunity to come together with my people and talk about, you know, music: Not merch, or the bitrate of the MP3s they gave out at Celebration 2023, or why they should have released Parade Super Deluxe first, or whatever else I imagine they’re still talking about over on that other site but I will, blessedly, never have to know for sure. My panel–which I’ll have the privilege of sharing with Monique Couvson, Kamilah Cummings, Scott Woods, and moderator C. Liegh McInnis–is billed as “The Writers,” which (at least for me) feels like the perfect lens through which to explore this new, expanded configuration of Diamonds and Pearls, and the ways it’s shaping the narrative of Prince’s life and work. I’m still nowhere near finished exploring the set, but I can already say with confidence that there’s a lot to talk about. I hope to see you there!

#DPSDVC will take place virtually over two days: December 9-10, 2023. Unlike some of the other events I’ve been a part of, it is not an academic symposium, but something more in “the tradition of Harlem Renaissance salons, where gifted & creative poets, writers, artists, musicians, activists & scholars came together 2 have conversations & debates in a supportive & welcoming space.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something I could use right about now! You can register for free using the link below:

#DPSDVC Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Virtual Celebration Registration


Postscript: Dirty Mind 40 Graffiti Bridge 30 Virtual Symposium

DM40GB30 thank-you and recap video by De Angela Duff

I was looking forward to De Angela Duff’s virtual symposium celebrating 40 years of Dirty Mind and 30 years of Graffiti Bridge. But I didn’t know I needed it until I was there. It’s been, I think, a rough year for everyone. Those of us who listen to epidemiologists are about to enter our fourth month of staying home and staying isolated to flatten the curve of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, police brutality is running rampant across the country, with yet another man in Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks, joining the depressingly long list of recent victims of state-sanctioned murder, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and David McAtee. Under conditions like these, it’s hard to feel much enthusiasm about anything. Speaking for myself, I’ve been at a low ebb in creativity and motivation for a while, even before everything went to shit.

It’s hard to overstate, then, how energized I felt from the first moments of the symposium last Friday. Seeing familiar “faces” in the chat (Darling Nisi, Harold Pride, Erica Thompson, Arlene Oak, Annie Ward, Chris Aguilar-Garcia, Zack Stiegler, and Jason Breininger, to name just a few), and hearing from others who know me from my work, was a timely reminder that I’m not out here alone; that there is a vibrant, welcoming community that shares my passion. The whole thing felt like a warm hug–something that, in these times of social distancing, is in desperately short supply.

I’d also forgotten how exciting it is to hear new research from others in a shared area of expertise. I’ve been out of the academic game for a while, and my last conference even as an independent scholar was Prince from Minneapolis back in 2018. I didn’t realize how much I missed the intellectual stimulation events like this provide. As this blog attests, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Dirty Mind, but last weekend’s presentations gave me new ways to think about it: from Christopher A. Daniel’s vital excavation of contemporary discourse by music critics of color; to Steven G. Fullwood’s acute analysis of the ways Prince synthesized punk and disco to carve out liberatory new territory in popular music; to C. Leigh McInnis’ rousing, almost Pentecostal oration on the “street philosophy” of Dirty Mind and the ways it reshaped Black masculinity in the early 1980s.

Even more impressive were the ways presenters found to cast Graffiti Bridge–a project that has never been among my favorites–in a new light. Both Monique W. Morris and Robert Loss applied a richness and rigor of analysis to the film that was, frankly, above and beyond what the script demanded; while Kirsty Fairclough (of Salford Purple Reign conference fame) and Casci Ritchie made solid arguments for the film on the basis of its aesthetics. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Graffiti Bridge convert, but I thought more about the movie last weekend than I’ve thought about it in the past 30 years, and that in itself is an achievement.

DM40GB30 keynote with André Cymone and Jill Jones

What made DM40GB30 especially timely, however, were the ways its hosts, guests, and presenters spoke directly to the current historical context. The keynote by André Cymone and Jill Jones (see above) included lengthy discussions of what it was like for a Black person to grow up (in André’s case), or move to (in Jill’s), Minneapolis: a city that, as we know all too well, has often failed to live up to the “Uptown” mythology Prince helped invent. Journalist Hasit Shah also spoke to this context in his presentation, making the argument that “Uptown” is not the uncritical celebration of multiculturalism which it has become in some sections of the fan community, but “a fucking protest song.” Even the weekend-closing musical set by musician Chris Rob incorporated numerous shout-outs to George Floyd, demonstrating that the music Prince recorded in 1980, 1990, and everywhere in-between has lasting social relevance beyond basic fan nostalgia.

If you were at the symposium and noticed I didn’t mention your favorite presentation, it’s probably because I didn’t catch it. I regrettably missed the majority of both the Dirty Mind roundtable, with BBC Manchester presenter Karen Gabay, musician Nicolay, journalist Keith Murphy, and former Right On! magazine editor Cynthia M. Horner (!); as well as its Graffiti Bridge equivalent, with the recurring panel of De Angela, Zaheer Ali, Anil Dash, Miles Marshall Lewis, and Elliott H. Powell. I plan to rectify this–and rewatch a lot of other presentations that I missed, in full or in part–once the video archive of the symposium is available in July.

Mostly, though, I intend to ride the creative and intellectual high I experienced last weekend for as long as humanly possible. I came out of DM40GB30 feeling renewed, inspired, and ready to throw myself into this and other projects–something I haven’t felt in a good, long while. I would, of course, jump at the chance to participate in next year’s symposium, which will celebrate 40 years of Controversy, 30 years of Diamonds and Pearls, and 20 years of The Rainbow Children. But even if I don’t get that chance, I will definitely be attending. Events like this are much too precious and rare to take for granted.

(Thank you so much to De Angela Duff, who clearly put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears–and a decent amount of her own money–into making this thing happen; and to Arthur Turnbull, who did a great job helping to steer the ship. Also, thanks to everyone who tuned in to my roundtable on the Time’s Pandemonium with KaNisa, Ricky Wyatt, and Ivan Orr on Sunday evening–I hope you had even a fraction of the amount of fun I did!)


Podcast: I am Something That You’ll Never Understand – Chris Aguilar-Garcia and Natalie Clifford on the Salford Purple Reign Conference

After much delay, here is my conversation with Chris Aguilar-Garcia and Natalie Clifford, two presenters from this May’s interdisciplinary Prince conference at the University of Salford. Both Chris and Nat identify as queer, and both have interesting things to say about Prince’s legacy of “revolutionary queerness” and the space he created for less conventional expressions of gender and sexuality in the mainstream. If you liked the last episode with Snax, chances are you’ll like this one.

This is the part where I would normally say we’re switching gears and moving away from the Salford conference, but as it happens, we already have another interview with a presenter in store. So basically, I’ll keep doing these as long as people want to talk to me. If you still want to listen to me–and, more importantly, my eloquent guests–feel free to subscribe on your podcast service of choice. And if you really like us, take that aforementioned podcast app and shoot us a rating or review; it will make us more “discoverable” and broaden the listening base. In the meantime, thanks as always for listening!


Podcast: The Evolution Will Be Colorized – Zack Stiegler on the Salford Purple Reign Conference

This episode, it’s 2 Zacks United 4 Prince Conference (sorry) as your usual host, Zach Hoskins, talks to Zack Stiegler, Associate Professor in Communications Media Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. As in my last episode with Jane Clare Jones, we’re here to talk about Zack’s time at the University of Salford’s interdisciplinary Prince conference back in May;  but we also touch upon a lot of other interesting subjects, including Prince’s ever-shifting attitudes toward the Internet, his racial consciousness, and the subtle (/sometimes not-so-subtle) current of Afrofuturism in his work.