Full circle.

There is a sense of completeness, when you listen to ‘Hit’n’Run Phase Two’.  Here is a warm, earthy, funk fuelled, ballad laden album with a single rock track as a stand out.  It was the pattern of Prince’s first two albums – before he went on stage in his underwear, in fact.  There are also the same themes, love, loss, sex, salvation, with the oddment of ‘Baltimore’; a curious tune, a seemingly throwaway, seemingly authentic address to the subject of America and guns – the institutionalised racism appears to have dropped off the radar.  (Of course, this fascination with weaponry is all the more alarming with the current situation – perhaps The Revolution could rehash a tune from Controversy and release ‘Donnie, Talk to Kim-Jong’?  It may be a prudent move….goodness knows he’s spoken to Russia often enough for that version to be well obsolete!)

‘Baltimore’ is a light song and could easily be dismissed; musically, once past the verses, it is quite interesting but perhaps the song is more interesting for two succinct statements in the lyrics.  “Peace is more than the absence of war.”  Once again, Prince manages to convey a complex message in a simple way.  George Orwell would be beaming if he could have heard such a lyric: don’t use complicated words to obscure meaning.  Prince joins many social and political commentators of the past and present in recognising the duality of our times.  Many historians will point to the fact that we now live lives rarely touched by non-natural causes of death, they would argue we live in better health, better wealth and with better education than at any point in history.  And there is truth in what they say, of course there is.  There is, however, still no peace, as the lyric recognises.  From the big picture of the ongoing war on a verb to the small picture of America’s unwillingness to bring proper controls/limitations to their gun laws and the institutionalised racism mentioned above.  There is no peace.  It was Gore Vidal who wrote perpetual war for perpetual peace; Orwell had got there before, of course, with his “War is Peace” slogan from ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, and this is all there in the weary delivery of Prince’s song.  There is a melancholic acceptance in the tone of Prince’s voice, completely at odds with the other apocalyptic songs in Prince’s catalog.  ‘1999’, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, even ‘Dance On’ have an element of hope, an element of defiance in each of them; even ‘Sign O The Times’ ends with marriage and a baby.  This song has more in common with ‘Cinnamon Girl’, another endgame song devoid of true hope.  ‘Baltimore’ sees Prince take a differing view of the world.  This is an ongoing situation, one without an end in sight; and this is emphasised by the second of the two lyrical statements.  At the end of the song a newscaster’s voice comes on an announces a breaking news story of an ongoing situation in Los Angeles.  I’ve read otherwhere that some people consider this may be a throwback to the Rodney King incident from 1991.  It may well be, but it is also a throw-forward.  Listen to the delivery again.  There is a small pause between the words “in” and “Los Angeles”; the “in” is drawn out, there is a pause before naming the location and in that pause there is the realisation that the location about to be named could be any city in the United States and no one would flinch.  That’s clever on Prince’s part, and alarming for us.

Prince wrote amazing story songs; ‘When You Were Mine’, ‘Darling Nikki’, ‘I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man’.  ‘Rock and Rock Love Affair’, almost fits into this category – but there is cleverness in it nonetheless.  Like a lot of ‘Hit’n’Run Phase Two’, it nearly does it but just doesn’t quite cross the line (the addition of the horns is a treat).  There is the lovely, clever allusion to ‘Take Me With U’, a song about going along for the ride, and it fits beautifully with the thematic of ‘Rock and Rock Love Affair’.  It’s certainly cleverer than the clumsy use of ‘Kiss’ and ‘Sexy Dancer’ in ‘Stare’.  These references land leaden at the listeners’ feet.  Thankfully, the clever nods to other Prince tracks – even cuts like ‘The Return of the Bump Squad’ hidden inside ‘Big City’ permeate this album in much more subtle ways.  It’s this “almost there” aspect to ‘Hit’n’Run Phase Two’ that further reminds me of the first couple of Prince’s albums.  They were albums on which Prince started to try and find out who he was and how he wanted to present himself to the record buying public.  There were sonic clashes and curious choices of instrumentation, the boastful listing of the number of instruments played on ‘For You’ – including clapping hands and clicking fingers…hmmm? – and then there was the growing assuredness, one year later, with the maturing Prince’s studio sound.  This is replayed throughout this last album.  Ideas and sounds that start off, go one way, go another and stop.  ‘Look At Me, Look At You’ is a prime example.  It flows, it stops.  It has enough jazz-flute on it to make Ron Burgundy reconsider his position on Love Panda.  But it feels like an idea in search of fulfilment.  The same with songs like ‘Groovy Potential’; a genuflection toward the 94-East recordings, loads of mini-ideas that run together and go nowhere.

‘Screwdriver’ is yet another example.  Playing the part of ‘I’m Yours’ and ‘Bambi’, it is a song that fails to take off – and yet we know that it can.  We’ve seen the live evolutions of this song and, given that this was one the half a dozen songs released in the years before 2015 and the release of ‘Hit’n’Run Phase Two’, an evolved version of this track would have been welcome.  And then along comes ‘Black Muse’ and truly revolutionary song is revealed.  It’s here that you can see into the future.  A Wonder-esque reach back into the compositions that graced ‘The Rainbow Children’ (arguably one of the most underrated of all Prince’s albums).  This is what ‘Baltimore’ is trying to be; a politically nuanced song with a gloriously retro-forward-looking funk rhythm.  A truly remarkable song.  A complete idea.  ‘Revelation’ – again with the references to The Pharaoh – appears to have its feet in ‘The Rainbow Children’ era and sounds like its from that time, too…inasmuch as it fades away like a half-idea in search of a segue into something else.  Stevie is once again eulogised on ‘Big City’ too.  There are so many ideas on this album, so much creation but still a jigsaw piece or two missing.  This is the annoyance of the album.  And, of course, the annoyance of what happened next.

‘Art Official Age’, ‘Plectrum Electrum’, ‘Hit’n’Run Phase One’ and ‘Hit’n’Run Phase Two’ showed a musician evolving.  A musician, possibly, having gone full circle and about to start another revolution.  The Live Out Loud/Hit and Run and The Piano & A Microphone Tours further demonstrate the continuing development of Prince as a musician, a thinker and performer.  The promise of ‘Black is the New Black’ may never be realised but the tracks that exist again show a man building into a new phase of his career.  But, that was that.  ‘Hit’n’Run Phase Two’ is a pleasing album.  There is some glorious musicianship on the collection and Prince’s ever-evolving appreciation of horns as an augmentation to his Minneapolis sound was a delight to hear, it gives it life.  A full circle may have been turned but now we have no more revolutions to go.  In the words of the man himself, “That’s it.”

 

*

A final thought.  Prince’s legacy will, I suppose, be threefold: the music, the altruism and, lastly, the number of musicians who continue to ply their trade in the industry having worked with him.  On his last album over 31 musicians played on the 12 songs.  Throughout his career Prince worked with some of the finest musicians in the world, and, in fact, introduced the world to some its finest musicians.  One year on, his inspiration is timeless and significant.

“That’s it.”

Resurrection

Back to the beginning, again.

It seems appropriate to write about this on Good Friday.

In retrospect, Lovesexy’s theme is quite a clichéd one – salvation through sex.  The album itself is an unbridled, joyful marriage of adoration and erotica.  The live show was a bible-thumping, sledgehammer, tour-de-force of proselytising and playfulness.  We were all invited to join the cult of Prince.  The ecstasy on the faces of the Dortmund crowd – an awe-struck look I know I mirrored, sat in the my parents’ front-room watching the show on TV, admits as much.  The whole triple hit of Sign O The Times, The Black Album and Lovesexy allowed converts to look through paisley coloured spectacles and fall under the spell of our wonderful leader.  Dark tales, dark nights of the souls, looking good if he’d smile a little more, SpookyElectric, “Don’t buy the Black Album, I’m sorry”, Hundalasiliah!  It’s a fucking good story.  At its heart is a seemingly Damascus-like epiphany, one played out each night in concert.  Anna Stesia.  “Save me, Jesus, I’ve been a fool.  How could I forget that you are the rule?”  Anna Stesia, a play on ‘anastasis’, the Greek word for resurrection.  Prince was reborn.  God was Love.  The girls and boys in the moment, in the ecstatic moment, believed in the God above.  And I fell for it.

The Catholic church  is a funny organisation.  I’m sure I’ve written all this before – excuse me.  I find it hard to marry the message of the Jesus of the New Testament with the power hungry, money hungry, insatiable lust of the church.  The truism of Catholic Guilt has a strong core cause.  When Lovesexy came out, I was struggling with my faith.  At the time, to me, it boiled down to trying to justify the image of a Jesus being basically a “god” who asked us to nice to one another and a church created in his name that prosecuted and vilified aspects of life, that grabbed gold and mismanaged.  It felt out of touch with me.  It didn’t have the answers to the questions I was asking of it.  So I left it.

I was caught in a cycle of doubt and, I now understand, beginning to evolve the atheistic belief structure that I hold today.  It was in its infancy when I heard Eye No and the other eight songs on Prince’s 10th studio album.  I was caught by the journey Prince appeared to be on.  I was quite taken in by this, “He’s inside all of us, he just want’s to come out a play” philosophy.  It seemed to make sense.  In retrospect, of course, it does makes sense.  Lovesexy is an album that preaches the idea of humanitarianism at the expense of religion – from a certain point of view.  Prince would probably argue that he’s speaking about the influence of God.  On listening to the album now, the belief appears to stem from internal belief of self, not of divine providence.  Again, from a certain point of view.  A sense of hwyl or mana, maybe.  Perhaps, 29 years later, it is where now Prince and I differ.  The most disappointing aspect of all this, I suppose, is the fact the we both found different answers.  The hedonistic, epicurean, cynical world-weariness of Prince’s work led me to believe that, ultimately, atheism would be his conclusion too.  Prince’s answer was the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  (CONJECTURE ALERT – an answer that may have ultimately led to his early death.)

But.  The music.  Lovesexy is quite the outstanding album.  Much, quite rightly, is being made of Sign O The Times, in its 30th anniversary year, being Prince’s masterpiece.  I would add the words “one of” and put an “s” on the end of one of the words in that phrase.  I still consider Lovesexy a masterpiece.  It may, of course, be all to do with timing – the when and the why I heard the album.  There was a piece in Slate, recently, about how we are nostalgic for the music of our teens.  I will admit that there is a certain truth in this with regards Lovesexy.  Sign O The Times is a eclectic amalgam of a period of Prince’s recording history.  Lovesexy is a focused demonstration of a musician’s creative ability.

The album was recorded over the Christmas/New year period of ’87 to ’88, excepting When 2 R In Love.  And you can hear the intensity in the density of the music.  Eye No is ten songs all being played at once.  The whole album carries an off-key, “harmonised” dischordance that plays beautifully on the ear.  Eye No, in particular, is a glorious example of this.  At the culmination of the song, for instance, as the “yes!” calls come to their climax, the music builds to a crescendo and then a climbing scale of trumpet and saxophone carries the song to it’s end.  Atlanta Bliss’ trumpet, at that point is off the scale.  And then the album jumps into the blues-coda, pop-bop of Alphabet St. and as the song gets to the climax, here come those horns again, slightly off-key and building in volume.  Why does Ingrid Chavez not say “g” in the alphabet?  G-spot?  God?

Glam Slam, another song seemingly built on conventional lines, holds so much noise in its mix.  If you go back to Annie Christian, on Controversy, you can hear Prince’s guitar throughout this song, deep in the mix, a blindingly brilliant punk-rock solo hiding in the depths.  Prince does this again on Glam Slam.  It is quite astonishing – especially as there are some wonderful histrionics up high in the mix to mask.  He does the same in  Anna Stesia, too…and Lovesexy.  And, of course, we have the melodramatic organ end to the tune.  Proper theatre.  Drawing us toward the centrepiece of the album.

Knowing how religion panned out for Prince, it’s quite difficult to listen to Anna Stesia now with the ears you heard it with the first time.  The sincerity of the quest and the questioning of self and creator is one of the things that took me by the collar and shook me up.  It’s such a shame.  It’s such a great song.  Again, the dischords keep coming.  They are a chorus in this album.  Highlighting the uncertainty of the man?  Maybe, perhaps illustrating his appreciation that his love and lust mix will not to be everyone’s taste.  Whatever caused Prince to do this, though, adds a qualitative difference to his music on Lovesexy.  Rhythm and melody are one thing.  Well constructed lyrics, etc.  But the recurring use of jarring noise is a fundamentally important aspect to this record.  Just as is the shifting patterns in the drumming.  This is a masterclass in programming.  The shift beats, half beats, missed beats on this album are beautifully wrought.  Listen to Dance On and tell me it isn’t.  The sound of Lovesexy is unique in Prince’s music.  Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss’s horns provide an organic, human counterpoint to the electronic rhythms and drum patterns.  The mix is layered, as mentioned, to the point that some of the best guitar of Prince’s life is buried and requires focus, and decent headphones, for you to hear.  It’s like a dismissal of the guitar as an instrument.  It’s bold and it works.  There is a drive and determination, an identity about the sound of this album, much like the way Dirty Mind change Prince’s sound, back in 1980.

There is a curious juxtaposition of this sacred and profane in the sequencing of Lovesexy, When 2 R In Love and I Wish U Heaven.  The shock, pacify punch and counter-punch is odd.  Lovesexy is a seeming paean to God.  It is a paean to fucking.  So is When 2 R In Love.  I Wish U Heaven has a bizarre naivety at the heart of its lyrics that are so at odds it the previous two songs, it can only be Prince fucking with us.  Except, of course, by the time this song makes an appearance in the live show, there is a genuine gospel-induced tinge to the delivery and intent of the song.  The simplicity of the message of the song is lovely, but the humour of its appearance after two songs so explicitly focused on the art of making one drip on the floor was lost.

And then we finish with Prince returning to type, the eschatological prophet splashing paint on an apocalyptic canvas, wending his way through man’s many follies.  And the programming and the dischordance and the guitar drive the song to its end.  And the album ends.  The waters wash over us.  Water – a baptism metaphor that runs heavy through the album…spoiled in the end that the sound effect of the rushing water that cleanses us and leaves us ready to carry Prince’s message to world was used on Dave Lee Roth’s Skyscraper album too.  You see?  Prince was of this world.

I loved Lovesexy, back in 1988.  I still do.  It is a testimony to how driven Prince could be.  It is a fine example of the musicianship of Prince and of those around him.  It is a showcase for his creativity.

It is the album that put me on the path I’m walking now.

I think I’m over with the beginning though.  It might just be time to move on.

Back to the Beginning

before anything – the pity of Prince’s death is enormous.  rattling around in the Paisley Park compound, alone, disorientated, clothes on back to front/inside out.  the delirium of the pain coursing through his body, seeking solace in capsules that had serve him well thus far.  punching a higher floor as the elevator brought him down.  it’s scary to think of a human so alone, so close to death and to have no one.  no one to hear his “rosebud”, no one to hear him claim to have had fun.  it’s so desperately sad that there sat an army of thousands and a company of the few who would have held his hand but none were permitted.  it’s an agony to see that his last public statement had been to save our prayers for a couple of days…it’s an agony to know that his last public appearance had been to hold up a guitar and say he couldn’t play it, he had other plans.  it is such a personal tragedy.  such a shame.  such a loss.

Back to the beginning.

It is difficult to write about this man without losing me to my teenage self.  As soon as I begin to try to engage with this subject my perspective becomes horribly skewed.  I seem to only be able to see through the eyes of a 16 year old Welsh teenage boy from a backwater of Welsh working class vapidity, labour and toil.  I’m robbed of vocabulary and distance.  There is nothing but bias.  Now we’ve got that out of the way…

Back to the beginning.

He had the answers.  It was as simple as that.  Going through the turmoil of adolescence and the mass of confusions, he appeared and was able to marry the sacred and the profane.  I was never a fast developer.  I was the baby of the family and the baby in so many ways.  I can remember visiting a “girlfriend” when I was fifteen years old.  I was only going up to see her at her house.  I turned out in my Sunday best, dressed in the most formal, smartest clothes I owned.  I was encouraged too.  I thought it was the right thing to do.  It was fucking stupid.  Charming in a cockless, insipid, “nice” way but wholly inappropriate and out of place.  An attitude from a different era.  I looked foolish.

A year or so later, I was dating in an accepted fashion and aspects of sex were beginning to raised their ugly head (did I do a pun there?).  It was a fumblingly, frustrating time.  Massively confusing.  Completely at odds with what I felt I should be feeling and doing.

And along he came.  1988.  Lovesexy.  There it was, in glorious flouro-colour, the combination of the sacred and the profane which had narrated Prince’s work right from the start.  I simply hadn’t been listening up until then.  In retrospect, it is easy to see that Lovesexy was a clichéd fight between the moral and immoral self that I had alighted on.  At the time, it felt vital, euphoric, real.  It was a drug that coursed through my veins.  It gave my heart permission to pump.  And it was an adventure, one carried out with 20/20 hindsight; look, Lovesexy was the climax…the rest of the 80s had been the journey, the struggle towards realisation.  It was all there on the 9th September 1988, when Channel Four carried the broadcast of the Livesexy show, from Dortmund.  The retrospective, the new album, the hits package.  In that one show Prince defined his career and appeared to be saying to the world that he had found an answer.  This Welsh boy agreed with him.  I thought he had too.

He hadn’t. And I haven’t.  I’m still the confused laborious vapid Welsh boy.  I suppose that’s what’s made this last year so difficult.  I always hoped that Prince would turn a corner.  He threatened to so so very often.  The massive irony is that it appears he was on the verge of something quite innovative.  The Piano and Microphone Tour and the new recordings hint at a revival of his creativity.  Not that that had gone too far away, whenever a new Prince album came out, there was always something… but then again, after him deciding that he’d found answers complacency was always going to kick in and consistency in his output suffered.  I meander away from the point.

21st April 2016 killed joy.  Brought to an abrupt end a pathway I was walking along.  I reacted so poorly.  It’s taken one year and the collapse of life to make me see.  Stop hanging on and waiting, start being.  Stop investing your emotional self vicariously in another, be a person.  Take responsibility.

I’ve had that thrust upon me and I’m trying to cope.  It’s not led to a Bob George moment yet.

Two Words Cwmbran 2

Well Done.

So, the rubbish isn’t completely gone and the over-riding sense of doom hasn’t entirely been cast-off BUT, since I last visited at the start of the year a shift has definitely occurred.

There was much less rubbish around – until you get across the chems, of course, and then there still is an inordinate amount of garbage (and random household garbage too) floating about by the fence between the old cricket field and the stadium.  Beyond that, there was just a regular amount of rubbish – still not brilliant but so much better than last January when it appeared that it was the desire of the council for Cwmbran to become newly twinned with “The Tip”.

A complaint – the Flower Gardens.  They aren’t anymore, are they.  Poorly mown and poorly sown.  Still, at least a bit of green in the burbs, isn’t it.  One wonders why the fish-pond can be maintained as a flowerbed but not the flowerbeds themselves…

Anyway – on to the real reason for this post:

The Boating Lake.

Four things:

The new housing estates are soulless and awful.

The bridge is still as magical as it was when I was a boy – my daughter called it “mysterious” because it disappears into the trees – still such an evocative sound.

The park – magnificent – I simply cannot praise the park enough – alright, I can praise it in two ways, actually: one it’s been superbly brought back to life and the actually play-items are awesome (brilliant that they kept the helicopter!) – secondly, the amount of people using it.  We were there on a Saturday afternoon, and you had to queue for the attractions.  We were there on a Sunday morning and we had the pleasure of watching the “boys” with their remote control boats and the dog walkers and, specifically, the families out using the park and bringing life to it.  – Full marks too to Cwmbran Council for the way in which the park is being maintained – the rubbish collectors out on Sunday morning were a pleasure to see.  Brilliant.

The park, the lake, the cafe, the atmosphere.  A pity – I’m given to understand – that it can be a magnet for thieves and vandals – perhaps use and reputation will keep the detritus away?

There’s still much to moan about re Cwmbran – town centre is a monstrosity, simply ridiculous and other words that mean the same things – but the change from then to now is noticeable and to be commended.

Da iawn.

There’s Others Here With Us

Dust gathers.

Eyes survey paint.  Circles on the wall.  An empty cage.  Echoes.

Mustiness pervades and lifelessness.

The golden ticket.

“Look at those smiling faces!  That’s what we want to see.”(1)  The queues, the purple. The starfish.  The coffee.  The group, right?

A faded white building stands empty.  An industrial park once the grants have run out.  A false-funded scheme that brought output to an area where output of its kind was out of the ordinary.  A cobweb gleams and dew-drops hang tears on strands of silk.

A sweaty urban establishment.  It hasn’t changed much in thirty-three years.  The stage is cramped and compulsive.  The lighting is purple but not as artfully arranged as it once was.  There is an element missing.

“Hurry!  Purchase your tickets now!”(2)  Exclamation points always indicate insincerity.  There is no hurry.  He’s dead now.  He’s gone.  There was hurry.  When he was alive, when he was here.  A hurry for the next song, a hurry for the next show, a hurry for the next idea.  There is no hurry now.

Melancholy spits and twists in the first of the songs.  There is a ghost here.  The notes sound right.  The notes sound the same but, there is something missing.  Once, before, the spark, the element that was missing was acknowledged by a prop.  The prop was there, tuned and ready for use, just in case the missing appeared.  He didn’t.  The prop is there again.  Now it can only be used by those who are there.  The missing is missed.  Is mist.

If you are in the desert around Vegas you can see the beam of light from miles out.  It points straight into the sky; straight into the heavens, if you are that way inclined.  The beam of light comes from the top of a pyramidal structure.  In Chanhassen there is another pyramidal structure, on top of an industrial looking white building, but it is lacking the light,  “as a special courtesy”(2).  I wonder for how long.

Eyes now look in.  The dust is causing them to blink.  The dust needs to go.  The surfaces need to be clean.  The paint on the walls needs touching up.  The circles need to gleam.  The cage needs to coo.  The queues will form soon, for the “initial 2016 dates”(2).  You can now buy the merchandise.  The starfish and the coffee merchandise is now joined by the colour it peach and black merchandise and the known for the face it attracts merchandise.  There are bills to be paid and a history to construct.

The snow that April can bring now renders those that see it to tears.  And there, in that moment, comes the honesty.  The chords form and the strings sing.  The eyes, the eyes that may have once worn a mote of dust now close.  They regress.  They see memories.  They see Steve.  They see happiness and anger and jealousy and creativity.  They see adventure and a cavalier; all ruffles and feathers, lace and sequins.  They see the time of their life and they cannot leave it alone.  They have to come back and look.  And live it again.  They derive sustenance from it.  A life source but from a source which is now absent.  They keep looking and pointing skywards hoping, perhaps, to see him again.  But they never do.  And those that weren’t there first come and gather and point and look too.  They feel they are part of it, even though they joined much later or were always on the outside.  The communiality is heartfelt and embraced.

And the eyes, dry as dust, push away tears and look firmly to the future.  There is a solvent green there…and for the first time, the mouth turns to a smile.

The slowness and the indecent haste appals and collides with the personal.  And one wonders where this is all going to end.  Is it ever going to end?  And the room, full of dust, lies still empty and the others here with us shriek and howl at the conflict of it all.

The prop is used.  Those that are there go beyond the reverence of a blue angel and pluck and play a different hue.  Is this the moment?  Is this the life, or will this become just another song about it?

The elevator brought us down.

and the album gathers dust on the shelf.

*

1 – Wendy Melvoin – 1st Sept 2016 – First Avenue

2 – officialpaisleypark.com email – launch of Paisley Park tours – 27th Aug 2016

 

This is fiction.

“If we pray 2gether we’ll stay 2gether!”

The juxtaposition of sex and religion permeated Prince’s work in the 80s.  It was amongst the reasons why I was so attracted to him as a musician.  The ecclesiastical harmonics of his opening serenade, less evangelist and more cathedral, indicated a religious bent that would stay with Prince through to the end of his life – “Save your prayers for a couple of days” (how strangely prophetic as it turned out).  This quest to find a spiritual answer embroiled him just as it embroiled me at the time.

Come 1987/88 I was beginning to ask questions of the Catholic religion I had been baptised in as a child.  I could not reconcile what I perceived as the avarice of the church with the message it purported to promote.  At the time, I saw an organisation less concerned with shaking the dust off their shoes as they moved from one town to the next but one focused on offertory plates and contributions from the congregation that were more financial than spiritual.  Obviously, that was a simplistic argument – one that can be counter-argued and debated but it was the frame of mind I found myself in at the time.  The church appeared to be more a fund rather than a place of worship or a place of sanctuary.  It didn’t help that Wales of the 1980s wasn’t a particularly affluent place and prospects were slim.  To have an organisation dripping in wealth asking for money appeared heartless.  So I started to cast about for answers.

Into this walked Prince; this musician who wrote paeans on love and lust, devotion and reverence.  A man with a penchant for the apocalypse who combined a fascination with religion with one for sex…what more could a teenage “Catholic” boy desire?  And he walked into this time in my life just as he himself appeared to be going through a similar sort of journey.  My journey took me through agnosticism to atheism, basically.  That’s the short version.  Prince’s journey took to him Jehovah.

One of the more fascinating aspects of Prince’s career was that period between 1987 and 1988, as he removed the Revolution from his side and struck back out on his own.  The experiment culminates in his “dark night of the soul” and an epiphany that halts the release of the Black Album and provokes Lovesexy instead.  On that album and tour prince wrestled with his spiritual self, culminating in the hauntingly beautiful ballad Anna Stesia – a corruption of the Greek for “resurrection” a clear indication of his mindset.  The tour held this song at its centre.  It was the moment the show would transform from the profane to the sacred (no coincidence that Ravel’s “danses sacrée et profane” would feature in the movie Graffiti Bridge – Prince wearing the struggle on his sleeve with that film).  For all the exploration and struggle Prince obviously found no answer.  Songs like Violet the Organ Grinder, Thunder, My Name is Prince, Strays of the World, Solo, The Same December and The Love We Make continued to narrate the continued questioning.  It was obvious he felt there was a guiding hand but wasn’t sure what that hand was.

Enter Larry Graham.  The rest is history.  Prince’s conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses gave rise to arguably that last important record of his career, “The Rainbow Children”.  An album that espouses his new faith and, in my opinion, tries to go some way to justify his decision to accept this answer as the right answer.  After that, Prince’s spiritual equilibrium affected the content of his music.  Gone was the anger, gone were the questions, gone was the desperation to find himself.  Prince was happy.  His music accordingly reflected this.  He had found solace in this organisation and it gave him peace.  And I cannot argue with that.  I may be of the Bosola school and believe us all to be but “a box of worm-seed” but Prince found his God and it brought him a sense of completeness and oneness it is not for me to dispute.  It is here that I find myself asking a question:  did this contribute to his death?

The focus since Prince’s death has been on his addiction to pain-killing drugs and, as we know, it was a fatal overdose of these pills that killed the man.  The debilitating pain Prince was in is becoming more apparent as each day goes by.  Associates commenting on their knowledge of his struggles with hip-joint problems – Jimmy Jam stating that Morris Day eulogised the affect of hip surgery to Prince and suggesting he do the same, etc.  At the heart of this issue is whether Prince’s refusal to have treatment stemmed from his religious beliefs.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses have very straight forward beliefs where it comes to medical treatment and a complex operation to replace a hip-joint or two will have countered these.  Prince may have believed that through pills and prayer the pain could be managed – possibly even cured.  That it couldn’t be managed nor cured possibly led to Prince breaking this tenet of his religion and receiving the treatment.  The autopsy report states there was a scar on Prince’s left hip (and one of his lower right leg too).  This could be an indication that Prince did indeed have surgery to try and relieve the pain – Sheila E states Prince had the surgery in 2010, although other reports question whether the surgery was completed or not.  The presence of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in this frustrates and angers me.

People carry out many acts in the name of religion; acts of kindness, act of vileness.  They state the action is seated in their beliefs, that it is what their God wants them to do.  I find it just as curious that a God would want you to kill and maim in their name as he would want you to refuse treatment for a medical complaint.  When I was a teenager and struggling with the concept of religion, I saw in Prince a person who may find some answers.  I saw Prince as a pioneer and a fierce sceptic; a leader.  It’s funny how “you say you want a leader, but you can’t seem to make up your mind” was actually written about himself.  Prince found his answers and it may have helped kill him.  At times like this, and with regards all the decisions being made in the name of religion, you must remember that behind each of these decisions lies the fragility of mankind.  The responsibility of whether or no to kill, to seek help, to behave kindly handed over to an imagined figurehead means those carrying out the actions are absolved.

I preferred the Prince who asked questions, not the one who found his answers.

*

(The quotation heading this article is from Morris Day’s Facebook account – it runs as a tagline for a photograph he has put on his timeline.)

Let them eat cake…

The answer to the question was: The Warsaw Pact.  The naming of this organisation of countries providing a buffer for the Soviet Union has recently struck me as being significant over the last few days.  Warsaw was the city that the Red Army let bleed to death in 1944.  As its soldiers were being sacrificed at Driel and Oosterbeek, near Arnhem, the people of Warsaw were involved in an uprising against their Nazi conquerers and needing assistance from their allies.  The Russians stopped their advance short of the city and let the uprising fail.

To subsequently use the name of the city in such a manner was to rub the noses of those involved in fighting for their freedom further into the dirt.  To add further insult to injury.

The question had come from a TV quiz.

It seems apposite that this week Boris Johnson was named Foreign Minister by the newly appointed British Prime Minister, Theresa May.

The man who led a campaign to have Britain remove itself from the European Union and who then, upon winning this victory, ran from the responsibility, has been welcomed back on to the front bench of the party he so incisively partitioned and washed his hands of.  It smarts.  To hear two of his colleagues laugh and joke about the implications of this appointment on BBC radio the evening of his appointment smarted too.  They referred to him as an intellectual.  They lauded his abilities.  They championed him as a political force.  Their laughter displayed all the compassion and understanding of a French Queen.  Unfortunately my ire at their words meant I forget to write down their names; not that their names would mean much to many anyway.  Needless to say, they were Conservative MPs with as much regard for the nation’s pulse as any Conservative MP.

I am furious that Britain has voted to leave the EU.  I am incandescent with rage at the manner in which those who won a victory have behaved.  It’s wonderful but it isn’t enough that Johnson’s neighbour has put a “sorry world” sign on their fence.  It isn’t enough that the comedians on their twitter feeds are pointing out just how quickly it took Prime Minister May to screw-up her premiership.  It’s isn’t enough that the governments and press of the world turn as one and laugh at the appointment of this man to this office.  It isn’t enough.

Seventeen million plus people voted for Boris Johnson’s promises in the recent referendum.  They believed him and his Gove and his Farago and his Leadsom and they voted to leave the EU.  They voted for these people to lead the way and fulfil the promises.  One by one they have slithered away.  Farago back to eating the hand that feeds him.  Leadsom to a ministerial position – please the Lord it isn’t Minister in Charge of Proofreading and Telling the Truth on CVs – (a cumbersome title for a cumbersome weight of emotion).  Gove mistakenly thinking.  That’s it, that’s all on Gove.  And Johnson.  Boris Johnson.  It should be that these seventeen million march on parliament and demand to be led by the man they had faith in, the man they believed.  The man who promised them they could have their country back.  Why haven’t they?  Has the curtain been pulled back?  Have they realised that the man was lying to them?  It makes you want to grab him by the scruff of the neck and drag him to the despatch box, thrust him down in front of the Speaker and say, “Now, get on with it.  Do what you said you were going to do.”  Emperor’s New Clothes.

And what of the Poles?  In 1939 we promised them we would help them.  In 1944 we betrayed them.  In 1955 their capital city’s name was desecrated in name.  In 2016 we tell them to leave, we call them vermin.  This is not a game show.  Boris Johnson is not a character.  Boris Johnson is a c-word but it isn’t character.  Boris Johnson is a conniver, a con-man, an equivocator (not quite a c-word but alliterative enough).

“Sorry World”  – it isn’t enough.  Many comparisons have been made between the leaders of the Leave Campaign and those who walk away from the messes they have been made.  The hit and runners of the political world, if you will.  Some have argued that by including Leadsom and Johnson in her cabinet May is handing responsibility back to them to fix up the mess they’ve made.  I don’t buy that argument.  They are all French Queens, and whilst those words may never have been uttered by Marie Antoinette, the contempt, disdain and disregard for the public of Britain has never been more explicit.  This unelected Prime Minister and her coterie of conspirators haven’t the mandate to oversee this next period of British history.  The one man who did ran away from his responsibility: David Cameron.

“Say hello to my little friend, the Blue Angel…”

“Tell me who in this house know about the ‘quake?”
“We do!”
“Bull

I wonder why she didn’t say “shit”?   Mint Condition said “whore”.

I’m so shallow.

I haven’t seen the rest of the BET tributes.  I have chosen not to.  The Sheila E tribute, however, was something special.  It was as cathartic as hell – for both audience and performers.  It’s authenticity was moving.

The choice of songs was clever.  A wonderful journey through Prince’s work and, and for some reason I found this satisfying, only one top ten hit.  There was nothing obvious and – and yes, you know what’s coming – they were obvious songs.  They spoke to the relationship Sheila E had with Prince.  Housequake – such a song of joy in the Sign O The Times and Lovesexy tours.  Naturally Erotic City, A Love Bizarre and The Glamorous Life, these are intimate moments this girl and this boy shared.  And what a glorious sight to see Jamie Foxx singing along – should an audience be able to sing along to a B-side?  That made me smile.  Hearing Sheila sing A Love Bizarre was beautiful.  Immediately an overcoated, sunglassed and pink adorned Prince leapt to mind.  Such playfulness and fun.  Such ease in creativity.  A man and his band so happy in their work.  Reading Sheila E’s comments it’s cool that she argued for America and Baby I’m A Star, and won.  Prince would have been proud.  He was always about fighting and winning.  Let’s Work took me by surprise; such a riff…many have turned to it.  Perfect.

Sheila wasn’t quite channelling Prince but there was essence of Paisley all over the stage.  One of the more enjoyable aspects of the spectacle was the sense of chaos about it.  The band, the backing singers, the dancers, Jerome and Sheila… There seemed to be four concerts going on at once.  It was a collision of history.  And yet there were gaps.  The Revolution were absent…The NPG were absent, Mr Hayes excepting of course…3rdEyeGirl were absent.  No Fink, no Z, no Eric, no Levi, no Ida, no John.  Of all the old timers though, for want of a better epithet, seeing Jerome Benton appear brought an immediate lump to the throat.  Man, he’s still so cool!  He is still so Jerome Benton.  His moves, his demeanour, his charisma.  Prince was a genius giving this man a job.  Entourage owes Prince a debt of gratitude. As do many.  To get back to Ms E, the run and slide in Baby I’m A Star was inspired.  If A Love Bizarre sent you into flashback mode, this simple act sent wave upon wave of purple memories washing all over you.

And then I cried.  Sobbed.  Shook.  I’d never seen Sheila E pick up a guitar before.  To see her play guitar during America took me by surprise.  It shouldn’t have of course, Prince surrounded himself with talent.  As Baby I’m A Star drew to a close I saw her pick up another guitar.  The clip was coming to a close, surely there wasn’t time for another song?  No.  There was time for a tribute.

This wasn’t closure.  This didn’t bring to an end the emotions I have been feeling since April 21st.  All this did was leave me with a sense of contentment; a sense that others cared just as much as I did.  To see Sheila E and Mayte walk the Blue Angel to the front of the stage and hold it aloft destroyed me.  That shouldn’t have been the guitar.  It should have been the telecaster or the white cloud or Habibi but it wasn’t the guitar they chose.  They chose the Blue Angel.  And they made the right choice.

It has produced the last iconic moment of Prince’s career.

Sheila looked spent.  She looked drawn and weighed down even in this moment of release.  To know now that Girl Meets Boy was in her heart imparts in us some of the feelings she must have been going through.  The pictures of her latest shows seem to show some of the weight has gone.  Mayte looked affirmed.  The memories she shared with Prince will have weighed as heavily as anyone’s.  For them to come together in this moment was inspiring.

 

And what of Prince?  To appear in your own obituary?  “Ladies and Gentlemen…Sheila E!”  That was such a lovely touch.  It’s been funny, watching on the .org, seeing the discussion.  I don’t know which concert it came from.  It doesn’t matter.  All I could hear was the Dortmund Lovesexy concert in my ears.  Everyone will have a place in time in which it sits.  It was an apposite moment in this ferocious celebration.

It hasn’t taken long.  It’s July.  The articles are there that suggest the vault may be full of duds.  The .org has returned to its former pin-pricking self.  The world has moved on and the tributes are now condensing to concerts in Minneapolis…bless Adele and her use of The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.  Hit’N’Run Phase Two still sits on the shelf.  I’ve not listened to a Prince song in weeks.  The world moves on.  Mostly.  A moment of it is still stuck; still snagged on something and won’t move forward.  Time is a trick.  Yes.  Yes it is.  I can’t believe it’s been over two months since Prince died.  Sometimes it feels like yesterday, sometimes it feels like it hasn’t happened, sometimes it feels like it happened years ago.  St Paul is out with Peter Frampton.  The Revolution’s fire has quelled.  The Weltons are enjoying disturbed sleep.  But Prince hasn’t been forgotten, of that I am sure.  The tributes keep appearing – hence my “whore” reference above.  And I know that this tribute will live long in the memory.

Thank you, Sheila E.  Thank you, Mayte.  Thank you the band and BET.  Thank you for this genuine appreciation of a writer, a musician, a force, a star.  There aren’t many who don’t know it now.

*

Spoke a little soon – The Revolution.  First Avenue.  September.  A further sigh of contentment.

I finally own HitNRun Phase 2

I never wanted to have to pay for Tidal.

I never wanted to have to pay for shipping.

I only one time wanted to walk into my record store…

I only wanted to own a Prince album again…

…and now I do.

and I haven’t played it.

I’ve unwrapped it.  I have flipped through the CD booklet and wondered at the odd layout of lyrics and the absence of lyrics for the last three songs.  I’ve gone through the songs on there I’ve heard or already paid for through the 3rdEyeGirl wedsite, etc… but I haven’t put the CD in a player and pressed play.

“Don’t you want to put your new CD on?”

“No.”

Because then it’s over.  After I’ve pressed play on this CD that’s it.  Everything else that’s new will be old.  There will never be a new release by Prince…and that’s not something I’m entirely coping with…not entirely at ease with…not entirely satisfied with, and I use the word satisfied purposefully.

On the day of Prince’s death, a mate of mine text me at a loss that he had died so young and so unexpectedly.  I had not worried about not going to the Auckland concerts because there was going to be plenty of time for me to catch up with Prince again, at other times in other places.  Not so.  And it’s a fuck of time trying to come to terms with this.  Joy has gone.

Joy in Repetition – certainly there was…what was the new album going to be like?  What was the new band going to be like?  What was the new direction going to be like?  Joy in Repetition.  Now the cycle of repetition has gone.  All we have left is old new music.  It’s over.

It’s helpful/not helpful to see the explosion of tributes – Always Purple Rain or Nothing Compares 2 U … makes you laugh – to see the sudden flood of bootlegs and youtube videos.  The life-full life he led…man alive…and, in many ways this is so tremendously sad, the humour, the vivacity, the spontaneity (rehearsed or not), the talent – fuck me, the talent…a mate of mine berated 90s into 00s Prince for the lack of “soul”, for the lack of feeling, of truth in his playing… I wouldn’t have minded but we were listening to The Rainbow Children at the time and, of all that era’s output that album was the most organic, most heartfelt, most…honest of Prince’s music.  The tour that accompanied this was awe-inspiring.  But…but…listen to the talent.  It flows too easy and perhaps that’s what disaffected my mate.  He was all into Jack White at the time and the crunch of a White Stripe – fair enough.

I haven’t played much released music since Prince died.  I’ve been lost in Junk Music, the Black Album (that was never properly released – no matter what discographies and 1994 may say), Small Club.  I’ve really gone back and gone over Madhouse…so I suppose I have listened to some released music…and The Family.  A magic period of time.  Listening to the final Atlanta show was heartbreaking.  Then that rehearsal video appeared.  The Nude Tour, Prince at the piano…”Summertime”.  Such ease, such fun.  Such talent.  (another sat staring at my hands moment…like, “what’s to come next?”…what’s the point feeling…)

And it’s over.

It’s so tremendously sad.

I’m not entirely sure when I’m going to listen to HitNRun Phase 2.  I will.  Of course, I will.  Not now, though.  Not at this moment in time.  I think I’m burying myself in Prince, smothering myself in Prince, shrouding myself in Prince before I have to listen to the end of Prince.  You know what was cute about it all though?  The cost.  hearing the girl behind the counter say, “That’s nineteen ninety-nine…”… it made me smile.

In 1978 Prince’s first words were “All of this and more is for you.”  There isn’t enough “and more”.  There is no more.  This isn’t a matter of savouring.  It’s a matter of prolonging, I guess.  Poor old mistaken me.  Prince is Dead.  Not 1958 to 1993, but 1958 to 2016.

It so tremendously sad it’s over.