Controversy, Part 1: Am I Black or White?

Controversy, Part 1: Am I Black or White?

(Featured Image: Prince embodies his contradictions in the poster from Controversy, 1981; photo by Allen Beaulieu, © Warner Bros.)

By the time Prince began work on his fourth album in mid-1981, he already had a few classics under his belt. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was a perfect first hit and calling card: a concise, albeit airbrushed introduction to the artist’s multi-instrumental chops, knack for catchy pop hooks, and flirtatious sex appeal. “Uptown,” though less commercially successful, demonstrated his burgeoning ambition and the sociopolitical undercurrents of his multi-racial, gender-fluid funk. But it was the aforementioned fourth album’s title track that would truly capture the essence of Prince. “Controversy” was his artistic DNA, pressed onto wax and played back at 331revolutions per minute.

To summarize any artist with a single song is no small feat. To do so for an artist like Prince, who reveled in his ambiguities and contradictions, is even more impressive. The brilliance of “Controversy” is the way it places these ambiguities and contradictions at the center of Prince’s artistic persona: his indeterminacy becomes his defining characteristic. Philosopher Nancy J. Holland writes that Prince’s destabilized persona makes him “perhaps the best example in contemporary popular culture of how the postmodern moves beyond the mere reversal of hierarchical oppositions (God/man, good/evil, male/female, man/nature, mind/body, etc.) that have governed the dominant discourse in the European tradition for at least two millennia… By deconstructing, undermining, and redefining these binaries, Prince opened the possibility of a new culture” (Holland 2018 322).

In many ways, “Controversy” is ground zero for this postmodern Prince and the “new culture” he promised. It thus feels appropriate to take an in-depth look at the song through three of the particular binaries he would spend the next 35 years “deconstructing, undermining, and redefining”: racial, sexual, and spiritual. And yes, I do mean “in-depth”; I’m giving each of these three binaries its own, full-length post. So let’s get to it.

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Prince Track by Track: “Cloreen Bacon Skin”

Prince Track by Track: “Cloreen Bacon Skin”

(Featured Image: Our co-conspirators, circa 1982.)

Over the weekend, I made another appearance on Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast, discussing a song that Darren hates and I honestly kinda love: “Cloreen Bacon Skin,” the longest and quite possibly least consequential single track in Prince’s entire officially-released oeuvre. Listen to my spirited, albeit slightly sheepish defense, which goes on for just over the length of the song itself, at the link below:

Prince Track by Track: “Cloreen Bacon Skin”

I’m still hoping to get another proper post out by the end of the week, but it’s gonna be a long one, so apologies in advance if it doesn’t make it until next week. I’ll do my best to make it worth the wait!

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.

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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!

Let’s Work

Let’s Work

(Featured Image: Cover art for the “Let’s Work” 12″, 1982; L to R: Dr. Fink, Brown Mark, Bobby Z, Prince, Dez Dickerson, Lisa Coleman. © Warner Bros.)

Mid-1981 was the first great period of prolificacy for Prince. In astonishingly little time, he completed work on his own fourth album, a full-length debut for protégés the Time, and several other assorted odds and ends, including a handful of songs for the Hookers and other tracks with tantalizing titles like “Delivery Boy,” “Friction,” “Gym Class,” “Heart Attack,” “Hump You,” “Poppa Grooves,” “The Rain and You,” “Rearrange,” and “See U Dead.” One of those odds and ends would even end up on the album: the taut, New Wave-inflected funk of “Let’s Work.”

According to legend, “Let’s Work” began life as “Let’s Rock”: Prince’s version of a ’60s-style dance craze song, like “The Twist” or “The Loco-Motion.” He recorded the song, inspired by a dance he’d seen in Minneapolis clubs called “the Rock,”  with the intention of rush-releasing it as a non-LP single in the summer of 1981. But Warner Bros.–mindful, perhaps, of the moribund U.K. performance of his previous loosie, “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)”–didn’t bite: a minor setback for Prince that, in retrospect, foreshadowed more serious conflicts with the label to come.

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