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: Artwork for the University of Salford’s Purple Reign Conference.)
It’s been a long gestation period, but at last, the d / m / s / r podcast has returned with our “roving reporter,” philosopher and budding Princeologist Jane Clare Jones. She’s here to talk about the University of Salford’s interdisciplinary conference on Prince, which she attended back in May, but we also (of course) cover a lot of other territory: including the connections between Prince’s much-discussed messianism and his much-less-discussed radical political consciousness. If you’re interested in hearing what’s going on in the rapidly-growing field of Prince scholarship, this will be an interesting listen.
And, as the man himself was wont to say, it ain’t over: having missed the opportunity to attend the Salford Purple Reign conference, I’m now bringing the conference to me (and you!). For the next several weeks, I’ll be lining up more conversations with attendees of the conference, to discuss their work and their ideas about Prince. If you presented at Salford and are interested in recording a podcast, hit me up! I’d love to hear from as many of you as I can. The conference may have happened two months ago, but from the looks of things, scholarly interest in Prince has just begun. Let’s keep it going!
As always, you can subscribe to the d / m / s / r podcast using any of the major services: iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play (I’d recommend Stitcher over Google for Android users). You can also stream episodes on Mixcloud. If you like what you hear, leave a review on your service of choice–this will help to make us more visible! Thanks for listening, and see you again soon.