Hey, everyone! I’m still toiling away at my next post on the Time’s “Ice Cream Castles”; it’s almost ready, just needs some finishing touches. Meanwhile, a little bird told me that my presentation from last month’s #SexyMF30 virtual symposium is now up on YouTube, so I thought I’d share that just to make sure you all know I’m not dead. As always, I had a blast at the symposium; shoutout to my co-panelists, Steven G. Fullwood, Robert Loss, and Edgar Kruize, as well as moderator Monroe France, all of whose work pushed me to continue raising the bar in my annual cosplay as a pop culture scholar. You can see all of us in action in the panel discussion below:
As usual, I’d also like to share a few of my favorite presentations from throughout the symposium. It should be noted that this is by no means an exhaustive list; each and every presentation I was able to see was well worth my time, and I recommend every reader peruse De Angela Duff’s YouTube channel and see what catches your eye. Just take the recommendations below as a few good places to start.
First up, Casci Ritchie’s presentation on the “My Name is Prince” chain hat, per usual, hit it out of the park. She and I really must get together and record a podcast one of these days (hint, hint):
Also on the fashion tip (and someone with whom I already have recorded a podcast!) was Karen Turman, who did a fabulous presentation on the aesthetics of the “Sexy MF” song and music video. Of particular note for me: she cited Rena Clamen’s fantastic article on Prince and consent, which to my knowledge was only ever published in the now-out-of-print magazine my sister and I released back in 2018. If you’re interested, I posted a Twitter thread about this blast from the past and how much it meant to me.
Last but not least, I have to shout out my fellow #PrinceTwitterThread alum Robin Shumays for her presentation on “Love Symbol” and Orientalism–probably the single paper I learned the most from:
All in all, it was another great weekend, and just what the doctor ordered during a time when it can be difficult to stay motivated due to [gestures at the entire world]. Thanks as always to De Angela for putting together such an incredible event and an even better community. Count me in for the Triple Threat symposium later this year–and every other one, for that matter!
If you’ve noticed things have been a little quiet lately, here’s at least one reason why: I’ve been preparing my presentation for De Angela Duff’s #SexyMF30 virtual symposium next week, celebrating 30 years of Prince and the New Power Generation’s “Love Symbol Album.” Last year’s #1plus1plus1is3 event was an absolute blast, and I feel confident in predicting the same this time around. I’ll be presenting on “Love Symbol” and the 3 Chains O’ Gold movie and comic in the context of transmedia storytelling on Saturday evening, alongside papers by Steven G. Fullwood, Robert Loss, and Edgar Kruize. It is, as always, an honor to be sharing a (digital) space with these brilliant folks. You can check out my abstract here, and remember to register for the event using the link below:
One quick correction, which came up in the chat at the symposium: While Allen Beaulieu was involved in the Controversy poster shoot, the actual image that made it onto the poster was taken by none other than Lisa Coleman! So, Lisa, if you ever want to come on my podcast and spend an entire hour talking about nothing but this photo, consider this your open invitation.
If you can’t get enough of me and my pandemic hair, below is the Q&A I did with Christopher, Steven, Edgar, and C. Liegh:
Finally, I’d like to share a few of my favorite presentations from the symposium. It isn’t an exhaustive list–my real recommendation is that you watch every video on De Angela’s channel!–but if you’re looking for a good place to start, you can’t go wrong with these.
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.
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!)