Categories
Ice Cream Castle, 1984

My Drawers

The widening gulf between Prince and Morris Day only continued to grow during shooting for Purple Rain–a kind of accidental method acting technique for two old friends cast as bitter rivals. “Prince and I didn’t have to re-create the competitive fire between us,” Day writes in his 2019 memoir. “It was boiling hot. Even when he saw that he needed my humor for the film to work, he stayed on my ass for being a minute late. In one instance when I came on set behind schedule he was beside himself. He actually shoved me. I was about to lay him out when [Time drummer] Jellybean [Johnson] grabbed me just as [bodyguard] Big Chick [Huntsberry] grabbed Prince. The last thing this picture needed was two stars with black eyes” (Day 88).

While it may sound grandiose for Day to describe himself and Prince as equal “stars” of the film, he kind of has a point. Upon Purple Rain’s release in mid-1984, the critical buzz was that Day had stolen the show: The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, for example, touted him as a “full-fledged young comedian” who “suggests a Richard Pryor without the genius and the complications” (Kael 1984). As a matter of fact, he did have at least some of the complications: In his memoir, Day credits a non-negligible part of his performance to his mounting cocaine addiction. “I’m not advocating drug use for singers or actors,” he writes. “That shit will kill you–and it damn near killed me. But I do have to report that in that dead of winter in 1983, I used my altered state to slip into a role that was both me and not me” (Day 88).

Categories
Controversy, 1981

Controversy, Part 3: Do I Believe in God? Do I Believe in Me?

Note: This is the third and last post on “Controversy”: a song that presents so much to unpack, I’ve opted to split my analysis into parts. Please read the first and second parts before proceeding.

Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me?

Of the famous questions Prince asks in the lyrics to “Controversy,” he only answers one–or two, depending on how you count them. The questions are, “Do I believe in God?” and, “Do I believe in me?” The answer–to both, presumably–is “yes.”

More even than the nuances of race and sexuality, this distinction between “God” and “me”–the sacred and the secular, the spirit and the flesh, etc.–was the prevailing theme of Prince’s career. This in itself hardly makes him unique: the “comingling of the profane and the spiritual is an age-old Black music trope,” writes cultural critic Touré. “Quite often in Black music history the erotic and the divine, or the concerns of Saturday night and Sunday morning, are close together in a song or a playing style or an album or a career”–including those of Prince progenitors like Little Richard, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and others (Touré 125). But while the majority of these artists vacillated between “God’s music” and “the Devil’s,” Prince’s innovation was in combining the two: making gospel-informed music that erased the fine line between matters of the body and the soul.