Music postsTuesday April 26, 2016
Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016)
The extent to which Prince and I grew up in the same city (Minneapolis), but didn’t (north/south, black/white), is reflected in how I first came across him: on the cover of a national music magazine touting “The Minneapolis Sound” while visiting family and friends on the east coast in, I believe, the summer of 1981. I was vaguely insulted by the headline. I was dismissive. “I’m from Minneapolis. How do I not know the Minneapolis sound?” But I didn’t. Or I didn’t know that Minneapolis sound. It’s this kind of dichotomy—north/side, black/white—that Prince spent his life bridging.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, another fellow Minnesotan, once wrote the following:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
Prince held two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retained the ability to funk. He was black/white, male/female, gay/straight, lustful/spiritual. He sang of dichotomies: “Girls & Boys,” “Elephants & Flowers.” He played with the opposites. He named a bouncy ditty “Jack U Off,” and a pair of beautiful love ballads “Do Me, Baby” and “Damn U.” He kept imagining places where we could be whole. Just take Alphabet St. across Graffiti Bridge and wind up at Paisley Park.
First Avenue is the downtown Minneapolis venue where much of “Purple Rain” was filmed, and in the movie Prince imagined it a lot more integrated, and a lot more stylish, than it actually was. I know because I used to go there all the time. Flash? Glam? Sexy? I didn’t even have a raspberry beret.
To be honest, I thought he was a weirdo. That pullout poster from “Controversy”? Showering, with the water dripping off his thong? What was he doing? The inside art for “1999” in his small neon bedroom, playing with watercolors, with the sheet pulled back enough to reveal his naked ass? But he became a soundtrack of my life. I wore out the first disc to “1999” and only ventured to the second when a friend told me she’d dealt with the suicide of her friend by listening to “Free” over and over again. I was at a pool party when one of our sexiest friends came up to me in the shallow end, flirting, and lip-syncing to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” I actually picked up a girl—or she picked up me—after we danced to “Erotic City” on the First Avenue dance floor.
In truth I needed more of what he was preaching. I was too uptight, too worried about what other people thought. I played the safe, dishonest middle. He went long on honesty, sexuality, spirituality. He loved God, wished u heaven, but girl you got an ass like he’d never seen. The opening of “D.M.S.R.” should be tattooed on all of us:
Get on the floor
What the hell’d you come here for?
In the winter of ’83/’84, I remember standing on the second level at First Ave, watching people on the first level dance, and someone walked up next to me and did the same. I looked over and froze. Prince. Six months later, with “Purple Rain,” he was everywhere.
For some reason, when I first heard “When Doves Cry,” I thought it was older Prince. The same with “Kiss” two years later. Both seemed familiar and a jolt at the same time. “Purple Rain,” the movie, astonished me by ousting “Ghostbusters’ for the No. 1 slot at the box office; it wound up grossing the equivalent of $174 million today. It was the 11th biggest hit of the year and it made Roger Ebert’s top 10 movies of 1984, but it’s got its faults. The glaring one is the notion that the Kid is too selfish, that “the only one who digs your music is yourself,” and that he’s only able to become successful when he collaborates with Wendy and Lisa on “Purple Rain.” Pardon me, but what song does he open with? Right, “Let’s Go Crazy.” That’s the music no one digs but himself? One of the greatest, balls out, rock ‘n’ roll songs ever written? Not to mention a beautiful opening sermon. In the ‘90s, I got a rejection notice from a small journal about some crap story I’d written so I sent it to someone bigger, I believe The New Yorker, and in the cover letter quoted Prince:
If the elevator tries to bring you down
Punch a higher floor
Another sentiment to tattoo on all of us.
If I was surprised by the success of “Purple Rain” I was more surprised by the relative quiet that greeted “Around the World in a Day.” I remember hearing “Raspberry Beret” blaring from a convertible in Dinkytown on a warm spring ’85 day, and I thought, “This will be huge.” It wasn’t, quite. He kept disappearing. Didn’t he announce he was retiring or something to look for the ladder? Instead, he directed and starred in “Under the Cherry Moon.” Oops. I loved “Sign O’ the Times” and “LoveSexy” (“Alphabet St.” is another song that hit me immediately), ignored the “Batman” stuff, stayed with him through “Graffiti Bridge,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” and the “Love Symbol” album. I kept expecting another resurgence, a popular breakthrough. Instead, the glyph jokes, and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince jokes. But whenever the discussion came up, I laid down my three musical geniuses in the rock era: Beatles, Dylan, Prince.
I first saw Prince in concert during the “Purple Rain” tour in '84 and the last during “Musicology” in '04. I went with Patricia and about half a dozen of her co-workers—all women, of course. This is a bit late, guys, but a Prince concert was the best pick-up joint in the world. The ratio was something like 12-1, and the 12 were going crazy. It was Erotic City.
Last week, when I heard the news, I was on vacation in Utah, of all places, and was surprised by how much it hurt, and was surprised again by how much it hurt everyone. The world turned purple in mourning and celebration. It cried and partied like it was 1999. I so wanted to be in Minneapolis that day, and the days that followed, but social media helped me for once. My friend Adam in particular kept posting and posting and posting. All of us shared stories, memories, links, and songs. We tried to talk ourselves through it. We tried to put the right letters together and make a better day.
Rest in peace, you sexy motherfucker.
Hamilton: 'A Gateway to Obsession'
Mea kinda culpa.
Today's New York Times Magazine has a piece on “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going,” which, yeah, sounds a little pretentious, maybe a little desperate, and it doesn't help that they begin with Justin Bieber. The Times telling you where music is going is like your dad telling you. But I'll probably check out some of the songs since I'm nearly granddad's age these days.
But I do know No. 2 on the list, “Say No to This,” from the Hamilton cast album, since I've been listening to that regularly since January 20. Patricia, in fact, laughed out loud when I read her the following this morning since it's so exactly me:
Back on Earth, there's the cast album: a 46-number souvenir for an experience most of us won't be experiencing. At less than $20 on iTunes, however, where it has been in and out of the Top 10 for months, this is a more-than-adequate substitute for the budget-conscious. It's a gateway to obsession. To know someone who has this album is to know someone who needs a restraining order.
I spread my arms wide. “I am legion,” I told her.
The writer for No. 2, Wesley Morris, adds that the album has so many great songs, never a great song, but he chose this one because it's the one he's listening to now. “Not only is this song funny,” he writes, “it's also kind of hot.” Yeah, I would lose that “kind of.” It's actually swirling-down sexy. The first time I listened to it I had to fan myself. It's a song that lets you know why Alexander Hamilton succumbs, and it does that. At the same time, I don't listen to it much, since, you know, it presages Alexander's political downfall. So I keep saying no to it.
I probably would've gone with the first song, “Alexander Hamilton,” or the showstopper, “The Room Where It Happens” (already a metaphor for the disenfranchised, which is most of us), or the one Lin-Manuel Miranda worked a year on, “My Shot,” which melds Hamilton and the colonies: “I'm just like my country/ I'm young scrappy and hungry/ And I'm not throwing away my shot.” It's tough to go wrong, really. The album is the best deal in town.
“You laugh! But it's true.” The beginning of “Hamilton,” back in 2009.
I Belieeeeeeeve! That One Day I'll See 'The Book of Mormon'
I'm obviously late to this party but I finally saw Andrew Rannells doing “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon” on the Tony Awards in 2011. And wow:
- The lookaway he gives at “What's so scary bout that?”
- The little nudge he gives the warlord on “...Jesus has his own planet as well.”
- The testify dance at the end, where he's the only one testifying.
- “And I belieeeve ... that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!”
- “And I belieeeve ... that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri!”
I also like that the clunkier beliefs are embedded in clunkier lines. And how joyous it still is.
P and I have tried to see “Mormon” a bunch of times but it's always sold out. But I believe that someday we'll have our own planet. Um, tickets.
15 Songs for the Super Blood Moon
In honor of tonight's super blood moon (three, three, three lunar events in one), a sampling of moon songs from my iTunes roster.
|1962||Moon River||Audrey Hepburn|
|1972||Pink Moon||Nick Drake|
|1973||Grapefruit Moon||Tom Waits|
|1989||Full Moon Full of Love||k.d. lang|
|1991||Blue Moon Waltz||Jimmie Day Gilmore|
|1992||Man on the Moon||R.E.M.|
|1993||Crescent Moon||Cowboy Junkies|
|1993||Why Look at the Moon||The Waterboys|
|1995||Smog Moon||Matthew Sweet|
|2002||I Wish I Was the Moon||Neko Case|
It's not a bad list but I thought there would be, I don't know, more songs, I guess. It is the moon, after all. It's the ultimate romantic heavenly body. In China, they even have a holiday for it.
The Shivaree song is really about wishing for the morning and fearing the night, but it's such a good song I had to include it.
Will I Wait a Lonely Lifetime? Um...
On the way home from a hike today (Snow Lake/Cascades), Patricia and I were listening to shuffle on the iPhone, and for some reason it was giving us a Beatles-heavy rotation, particularly The White Album, and including, eventually, Paul McCartney's lovely song “I Will”:
But these words stuck out for me in a way they hadn't before:
Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
If you want me to, I will
That's a bit much, isn't it? Or mooch? A lonely lifetime? Why would anyone want anyone who wants them to wait a lonely lifetime? Or even half a lonely lifetime? Or a couple of crappy months? That's like agreeing to wait for a sadist.
It's lines like these that make the opening of the Rutles' “With a Girl Like You” so perfect:
Shoot me down in flames if I should tell a lie
Cross my heart I promise that it's true...
Paul had a tendency to overdo it.