Review: Prince – Before the Rain

Review: Prince – Before the Rain

(Featured Image: Cover art for Prince: Before the Rain by Allen Beaulieu, from Amazon.)

I have, I’ll admit, been lax in covering the Prince photo books released since I launched this blog in mid-2016. This is no reflection on their quality: I’ve heard nothing but good things about Steve Parke’s Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait, and I was lucky enough to receive Afshin Shahidi’s (very good) Prince: A Private View for Christmas last year. But while I am no more immune to Prince’s visual appeal than the next heterosexual man, up until now I’ve put my focus on covering new music and books that are directly related to my research. I’m making an exception, however, for Allen Beaulieu’s Prince: Before the Rain.

If you’ve been reading this blog, it should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of Allen Beaulieu’s work. Beaulieu’s iconic photographs for Dirty MindControversy, and (especially) 1999 were almost as important as the music in shaping my relationship with Prince as an artist, and they remain among the images I associate with him most. So, when Parke’s book came out in 2017, I’ll admit that my first thought was, “When is Beaulieu’s coming out?” And when Before the Rain was finally announced early this year, I preordered it on sight.

Given my predilection for Beaulieu’s photos, it should come as no surprise that I found his book to be entirely worth the wait. Before the Rain includes a wealth of shots from the photographer’s most stunning sessions with Prince: including the album cover photos mentioned above, as well as images originally printed on tour merchandise or in magazines. If there’s a picture of Prince that you love dating from between 1980 and 1983, the chances are very good that it’s in here. But there are also plenty of shots you probably haven’t seen, most of which are equally incredible–and many of which capture a more intimate side of the artist that the previously-released photos only hinted at.

Among the less familiar shots are dozens from the Dirty MindControversy, and 1999 tours, capturing Prince, the band, and opening acts the Time and Vanity 6 both onstage and off. Beaulieu was less confident and skilled as a candid photographer than he was in a more controlled environment, and the comparative quality of the tour photos bears out his self-assessment as a “studio cat.” But what these images lack in polish, they make up for with sheer magnetism; it’s a thrill to see Prince in these formative years, relaxed and often in a playful mood with people like his bandmates, Vanity, and the Time’s Morris Day.

Also worth the price of admission are the book’s surprisingly meaty written sections, which include historical passages by Minneapolis-based journalist Jim Walsh, as well as album reviews by Eloy Lasanta, a.k.a. YouTube personality Prince’s Friend. These sections aren’t completely without flaw: there are a few niggling factual errors–most notably a couple of shots from Prince’s October 5, 1981 date at Sam’s, which are mislabeled as coming from his March 9 date; and one perplexing case where a 1986 photo of the Revolution credits his early ’90s band, the New Power Generation. But the stories in Before the Rain transcend these relatively minor faults, shedding valuable light on the creation of many of Beaulieu’s most enduring images and sharing personal stories about a formative period in Prince’s career.

Again, it should come as no surprise that I loved Before the Rain: more than any other photo book to date, it sits directly in my wheelhouse. But I also can’t imagine it failing to impress anyone currently reading this blog. For fans of Prince, particularly his pre-Purple Rain work, this is as essential a purchase as any of the other books I’ve recommended to date. And if Beaulieu happens to have any material left for a sequel, I’ll be the first in line to buy a copy.

You can provide some modest support to dance / music / sex / romance by using my Amazon affiliate link to purchase Prince: Before the Rain (or anything else in the encroaching holiday season).

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Podcast: New Power – A Conversation with Takuya Futaesaku, Author of Words of Prince

Podcast: New Power – A Conversation with Takuya Futaesaku, Author of Words of Prince

(Featured Image: Japanese newspaper coverage of Prince’s arrival in the country, September 1986.)

I gave myself a little hiatus from the dance / music / sex / romance podcast after Celebration 2018, but now we’re back in business with guest Takuya Futaesaku, author of the book Words of Prince. Takki and I talk about his book and his experiences as a Prince fan in Japan; it was a pleasure to speak with him, so hopefully it will be a pleasure to listen, too!

You can check out my review of Words of Prince here on the d / m / s / r blog. You can also subscribe to the podcast on your aggregator of choice (iTunesStitcher, Google Play), and consider leaving a review to help spread the word. Special thanks this episode go to Crystal for helping me track down the Japanese shows you’ll hear during the podcast! I’ll be back soon, hopefully next week, with another blog post.

Continue reading “Podcast: New Power – A Conversation with Takuya Futaesaku, Author of Words of Prince”

Review: Words of Prince

Review: Words of Prince

(Featured Image: The mysterious Takuya Futaesaku with the second English edition of Words of Prince; photo from Futaesaku’s Instagram.)

I first saw Takuya Futaesaku’s Words of Prince before I knew what it was, cradled in the arms of a fan in the Paisley Park soundstage at Celebration 2018. What caught my eye was the cover art–drawn, I later discovered, by the delightfully-named Japanese pop artist Radical Suzuki–as well as the book’s impressive heft.  It was obviously a fan-created work of some kind, but I couldn’t imagine what it might be. A few weeks later, I was contacted by Leslie Swiantek, a writer who has been helping Futaesaku promote his book in the States, to get in touch with him and maybe record a podcast. I contacted the author for an electronic version of the book to read, and he kindly ordered me a physical copy–the same colorfully-illustrated, hefty tome I’d seen at Paisley back in April.

Incidentally, the Radical Suzuki illustration is no longer on the cover of Words of Prince; it was cut for the book’s second English edition, a victim of the Prince estate’s recent rash of copyright-based takedowns (I patiently await my own C&D letter). Futaesaku’s solution was funny and not a little ingenious: the book now comes with a blank purple cover, serving as both a reference to Prince’s similarly monochrome Black Album and a canvas for each buyer to draw their own cover, copyright restrictions be damned. This DIY touch is, I think, a big part of the book’s appeal. Words of Prince isn’t a conventional biography or critical work; indeed, it doesn’t really fit any of the genres or formats one might expect from a book about Prince. Its structure and approach is as idiosyncratic as its subject–or, more accurately, as any one of our relationships with Prince as fans.

What this means, of course, is that the book isn’t for everyone. Hardcore fans who know it all about Prince’s life and work won’t find much more to glean here; Futaesaku is passionate and knowledgeable, but he’s still (mostly) beholden to the same secondary sources as the rest of us. Sticklers for polish may also find themselves disappointed:  Words of Prince is translated from Futaesaku’s original Japanese, and it shows, with some typos and the occasional odd phrasing, e.g. “Self Produce” for a chapter on Prince’s singular artistic drive (note that, per Swiantek, the book will be retranslated for a forthcoming electronic edition).

Where Words of Prince shines, however, is as a testimonial to the dedication and creativity of Prince’s fan community–and, for American readers especially, a window into the Japanese fandom. Futaesaku makes a convincing case for Prince’s special relationship with Japan: one of the farthest-flung places where he consistently toured. In one of the most memorable chapters, the author interviews another Japanese fan, who recounts a story about Prince playing a surprise version of “Bambi” on request during a Nude tour stop at the Tokyo Dome; the so-called “Bambi Incident” is just one of several nuggets of minor, but compelling information that Western readers are unlikely to know. The book is also amply illustrated with original art from members of the Japanese fan community, including Radical Suzuki, Nobuaki Suzuki, Mizuno Hiroatsu, Satsuki Nakamura, Saiko Sugawara, Yukiko Yoshioka, Hiromi Greer, Yasuhiro Matsushita, Tetsuo Sugiyama, and Mikako Takahashi. These contributions–many of which are quite artistically impressive–have a charming, homemade feel that is perfectly suited to the book. Whatever else it might be, Words of Prince never feels like anything less than a genuine, heartfelt expression of love for Prince and his music.

As a bonus, Words of Prince features an appendix of interviews with former associates including Paul Peterson of the Time and the Family, New Power Generation rapper Tony M, photographer Steve Parke, and others. While hardcore fans are again unlikely to read anything here that they haven’t heard anywhere else, Futaesaku’s questions are thoughtful and empathetic. He also makes room for others from the fan community, interviewing third parties like author Duane Tudahl and Heidi Vader from the charitable organization Purple Playground.

As I noted before, Words of Prince isn’t for everyone; but for anyone with an interest in fan culture, and especially in fan communities beyond the United States and Europe, it’s an easy book to recommend. Its warmth and good nature may even remind you of why you became a Prince fan in the first place.

At the time of this writing, Words of Prince is on sale on Amazon–32% off! Feel free to use my affiliate link to purchase this (or anything else you like) and give d / m / s / r some modest support. Also, please look out for an interview with author Takuya Futaesaku on the podcast this Friday!

Prince Track by Track: “Dinner with Delores”

Prince Track by Track: “Dinner with Delores”

(Featured Image: Cover art for the “Dinner with Delores” CD single, 1996; photo by Steve Parke, © Warner Bros.)

Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast has reached the end of the Warner Bros. era, and I was lucky enough to discuss SymbolSmallerBlue.png’s final single for the label, the elegaic-but-also-kinda-sexist “Dinner with Delores.” Check it out here:

Prince Track by Track: “Dinner with Delores”

While I’m in podcast-plugging mode, allow me to shout out the first episode of Muse 2 the Pharaoh, the latest addition to Michael Dean’s purple podcast empire hosted by friend of the blog Darling Nisi. I had the opportunity to hang with KaNisa and three of her guests (Stephanie, Crystal, and Erika) at Celebration last month and they are warm, funny people; so it comes as no surprise that their conversation for the podcast is heartwarming and positive, a perfect balance of intelligence and totally relatable fangirlishness. I can’t wait to hear the second episode:

Muse 2 the Pharaoh #1

And if you enjoy that, then keep an eye out for when Erika shows up on my other podcast, Dystopian Dance Party, on Friday! We’ll be talking about our Paisley Park experiences, and she’ll quiz my sister and I on some Prince songs we love to hate.

Finally, I’m hoping to get back in the weekly-post groove and knock out another song from The Time by the end of the week. Wish me luck!

Review: Moments… Remembering Prince

Review: Moments… Remembering Prince

(Featured Image: Cover art for Moments… Remembering Prince by Marylou Badeaux.)

One of the best things about the ongoing renaissance in Prince literature is that there’s a little something for everyone. For those who want to be the proverbial fly on the studio wall, there’s Duane Tudahl’s exhaustive chronicle of the sessions that produced Purple RainAround the World in a Day, and a handful of other classic albums. For those with a desire to unshroud some (but not all) of his mystery, there’s the moving and surprisingly tasteful memoir by his first ex-wife, Mayte Garcia. For those more interested in parsing Prince’s cultural significance, there’s the book-length study by author Ben Greenman, as well as the upcoming volumes from the editors of the Journal of African American Studies and the convenors of this year’s interdisciplinary Prince conference at the University of Salford. And that’s not even to mention the (reportedly excellent) photo books by Steve Parke and Afshin Shahidi, for the more visually-inclined.

Moments… Remembering Prince doesn’t fit neatly into any of the above categories, but it is sure to appeal to a substantial audience all the same. Author Marylou Badeaux, former V.P. of Special Projects at Warner Bros. Records, was never anything more than professionally involved with Prince, but was present in his life for longer than most: almost two decades, from his signing in 1978 to his acrimonious departure from the label in 1995. And, while Badeaux wasn’t privy to the actual creation of Prince’s music, she was very much a part of the crucial, underexplored side of selling and promoting it, during a period that saw both his unquestioned commercial peak and a handful of troughs. As the first person from the Warner/Paisley Park camp to chronicle this side of the story in print, Badeaux has a unique and valuable perspective to share.

It’s important, however, to keep in mind what this book is and what it isn’t. In short,  Moments… is just what the title suggests: a series of short, vignette-like memories from Badeaux’s and Prince’s shared careers, tending more toward the prosaic than the earth-shattering. Readers well-versed in Prince lit may even find one or two of Badeaux’s better-known anecdotes absent from this telling: chiefly, the artist’s notorious 1980 appearance at Warner H.Q. in full (/scant) Dirty Mind regalia. But what the book lacks in comprehensiveness, it makes up for in personality. Fans hungry for a glimpse at the “real Prince” will find plenty to savor in Badeaux’s recollections, including some genuinely charming interactions: my favorite involved an attempt to show Marylou some freshly-shot Graffiti Bridge footage on a video playback machine, with the parts he deemed “not ready” covered up by his motorcycle-gloved hand.

As a storyteller, Badeaux is engaging and personable, lending the book a pleasant, conversational tone. At times, I did wish for the presence of a stronger editorial hand; the chapters were a bit too bite-sized for me, with background details on certain places and events relegated to external article links. But I also have to appreciate–as I’m sure Prince would have–the fact that Marylou told her story the way she wanted it told, right down to the cover design. The result has some of the same quirky, homemade charm as the NPG Records releases of the late ’90s and early 2000s. At its best, Moments… is as much a scrapbook as it is a memoir; among the most engaging chapters is one composed entirely of photos of Paisley Park in the 1980s–a precious commodity now that photography has been banned within its hallowed halls.

There’s also a larger reason why Moments… is worth Prince fans’ attention; quite simply, Marylou puts a human face on a business relationship that still gets short shrift in certain parts of the community. In a time when conspiracy theories about W.B. knocking off Prince for his masters remain depressingly common, Badeaux’s clear affection and appreciation for the man and his art should remind us that there were people on both sides of the Warner conflict: people who may or may not have had Prince’s best interests at heart, but people nevertheless. And Marylou, to her credit, does seem to have had Prince’s best interests at heart–even if, like many of her peers, she found those interests increasingly difficult to comprehend. In the end, Badeaux experienced Prince’s death in much the same way as we did; and if Moments… is what it took for her to reckon with that loss, then we’re all lucky to be able to share in her journey.

(Update: The hardcover version of Moments… Remembering Prince is now available on Amazon! You can support d / m / s / r by purchasing it–or anything else–using my affiliate link!)