“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.

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(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.

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