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.
(Featured Image: My quick ‘n’ dirty d / m / s / r logo, apologies to Warner Bros. and Andy Warhol.)
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole two years since I launched dance / music / sex / romance. I want to thank everyone who’s been following along thus far; many of you, I know, have been here pretty much from the beginning. If you need a refresher on (most of) what’s happened since the last year-end round-up, here you go:
So, what have we done in the last 12 months? A little less than I promised this time last year, but also a lot more. If you look purely at the number of songs covered on the blog, my progress has slowed significantly: a mere 20, versus last year’s 45. If I keep up this pace, the 2036 end point I semi-jokingly offered last year just might become a reality. But I’ve also been doing a lot more than I was doing in June 2017. The podcast has taken on a life of its own; I’ve become a regular guest on another podcast, Prince: Track by Track; I wrote an essay about Prince and New Wave for publication in an anthology on Prince and the Minneapolis Sound; I presented on two panels at the Prince from Minneapolis conference; I launched my own magazine, thanks in large part to the support and goodwill of a small but dedicated group of readers.
I’m not gonna lie, I have more plans for extracurricular activities in 2018-19. Some of them depend on external forces outside my control; some of them you’ll probably be hearing about in the near future. But I also think that the next 12 months of d / m / s / r will be a little bit of a “back to basics” move. I really want to get through more than two albums by next June; I really want to go back to my weekly post routine. I have some thoughts about how to make this possible with my other commitments, which I’ll be sharing in the near future. For now, if you’ve been reading this blog, thanks for hanging in there for the lean times and thanks for your support. And if you’ve just started reading, welcome! I hope you enjoy this labor of love as much as I continue to.
Last week, I made my long-awaited, surreal, exhausting pilgrimage to the Twin Cities to attend the Prince from Minneapolis conference and Paisley Park’s Celebration 2018. I have complicated feelings, which I’m still processing–and will continue to do so, with the help of some other people who were there, on the podcast in the coming weeks. For now, though, I have some basic reactions to Celebration, and to the newly-released Prince song that was debuted on the event’s first day.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Celebration coming in–reports of last year’s event suggested a combination music festival, fan convention, and cult indoctrination–but in my experience, it was basically a corporate retreat for hardcore Prince fans. There were hours of panel discussions with ex-band members Gayle Chapman, Dez Dickerson, Matt Fink, and Bobby Z; photographers Allen Beaulieu, Nancy Bundt, Terry Gydesen, and Nandy McLean; and dancers Tomasina Tate and, um, Wally Safford. There were screenings of Prince concerts from the Piano & A Microphone, HitnRun 2015, and–via the associated “Prince: Live on the Big Screen” event at the Target Center–Welcome 2 America tours. There were live performances by Sheila E, fDeluxe (née the Family), and a (fantastic) new supergroup of New Power Generation alumni dubbed the Funk Soldiers. And, of course, there was the debut of the music video for Prince’s previously-unreleased studio version of his pop standard “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
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!