Let’s Work

I was lucky enough to see Prince play in August 1998, at Wembley Arena.  It wasn’t the best concert of his I would see but it afforded me the chance to actually see Prince working.  The original ticket I had purchased was for one of the gods at the back of the arena and I wondered whether the box-office had anything better left on offer.  Remember, 1998 was the year of NewPowerSoul and GCS and Chaka…I knew it said the place was sold out, but…  There was a front row ticket to the stage right.  I took it.  As it turned out, it was a seat just to the rear of the stage, as you looked at it from the side, and it gave a view of backstage and, I quickly realised, the soundboard station – which was also to the back-stage-right.  I don’t know if any of you were at that show.  If you were, you’ll remember that Chaka Khan and Graham Central Station were the opening acts that night.  Prince guested on stage with Chaka, I think, for a little of I Feel For You and with GCS on Free.  For the remainder of the time, pretty much, he was working the soundboard about twenty feet in front of me…give or take.

I lost sight of the stage.  All I had eyes for was the sound-desk.  Prince and another engineer worked together through both support performances.  They spoke, they bobbed heads, they tweaked.  Their arms kept moving to faders and knobs.  All I could see was Prince from behind and his body language exuded control.  It was obviously a place where he felt comfortable.  But, there was no sense of the prima donna or hierarchy.  There was a relaxed sense of trust between the two of them at the board; the other engineer didn’t back off or kowtow throughout.  They worked together.  It was incredible to watch.

The shows I’d previously seen had been from front and centre, pretty much.  On those occasions Prince arrived on stage via hydraulics or escalator.  On this occasion he walked on stage up over a set of steps at the centre back.  Again, from where I was sitting, I could see this backstage walk towards these steps and up and over, on to perform.  There is currently a short clip on youtube of Prince getting ready to go on stage in Japan in 1990.  He struts along a corridor, all stretches and high kicks, hilariously missing his turn for the elevator.  That purpose, though, that tunnel-vision was there at Wembley just as it was in Japan…the only difference was the Prince wasn’t playing for a camera when I saw him walk toward stage.  There was a steely resolve in his gait.  Very upright and assured.  Ready to give good show.

This was Prince at work.

It’s been interesting, heartbreaking and reaffirming, listening to some of the stories that have surfaced about Prince and his work.  Perhaps what will have taken so many people by surprise is the fact that there were two sides to Prince working: the musician & performer and the altruist & innovator.  The innumerable tales of Prince’s work rate, as far as music is concerned, encapsulate just how drenched in music and creativity Prince was.  The generosity he showed through and in music is also quite startling; seeing the letter he wrote to Suzanne Vega is just beautiful.  Listening to the Van Jones stories, though, simply blows my mind with regards how active he was in the community, endeavouring to make the world a better place.

There have been some public charity concerts and donations he’s made in the past – the famous Marva Collins performance, the food drives at the concerts, the Love4OneAnother website, etc – but to hear Van Jones speak about Prince’s involvement in such a variety of organisations and programmes was astonishing and yet quite believable, and not unexpected.  I may never have completely agreed with Prince’s politics (I mean, Free?) but there was never any doubting the heart of the man.  The comment that’s been made about him not being red or blue but being purple is perhaps the most honest appreciation of his outlook on life.  What appeared naive on Ronnie Talk To Russia, the aforementioned Free, America or Dear Mr Man masked a willing and thoughtful approach to the times in which he lived, it would seem.  It is no wonder that this current president was moved so much as to make a formal comment on his death and the impact, the tangible impact, Prince had on so many lives.

That was also Prince at work.

In the Kevin Smith eulogy to Prince on his Fatman on Batman youtube series, there is a heartbreaking moment as he talks about the time Prince danced with his young daughter.  In the middle of D’Angelo’s performance on Fallon he is overwhelmed by the enormity of the emotions he is feeling as he sings.  The viral video of the teacher breaking down upon playing Purple Rain for his students on hearing the news of Prince’s death is so sad to see.  The moment at the end of the Van Jones interview where he is asked what he’s feeling and he says he feels guilty – that is harrowing.  Reading reactions on The Org, hearing the impact of this man on people I know and don’t know, is devastating.  A friend of mine just called and asked if I was over grieving yet – he laughed.  I’m not.  I never met Prince.  I never spoke with Prince.  I exchanged a couple of tweets with him and that was that.  I helped out in a minor and modest way during the release of Emancipation.  Those are my sole dealings with this man.  But oh my did he affect my life.  Prince made days brighter.  The words, the humour, the imagination, the assurance, the vitality, the confidence, the fear, the love, the notes, the chords, the rhythm, the melody, the magic.  His songs inform my days.  His attitude informs my ways.

That is Prince at work.

The Revolution

What a welcome diversion.

 

Prince and the Revolution…what will they play?

Is this going to be a classic album for album concert or something more creative?  How cool would it be to hear Purple Rain through Parade?  Song by song, moment by moment.  It would be a wonderful tribute to Prince.  But what about a greatest hits of Prince and the Revolution?  Which would you like to see?

How about a narrated concert?  Alan Leeds to one side talking you through the sequencing of the songs, background stories and indulgences around B-sides and extended versions.  The possibilities are endless.  What about including The Family and some of The Time and Sheila E’s music into the show?

It is terrific that these five have decided to come together to perform and celebrate their creative life with Prince.  Bearing in mind who they are and the strength of their personalities, this announcement was pretty inevitable given the news of Prince’s death.  For all the differences, they’re a pretty tight unit and, I believe, appreciate their place in the pantheon of pop.

I’m sat now picturing what the show will look like… Initially I see a purple hue and a tight five piece ripping through the majority of Purple Rain.  Then I see a more psychedelic palette taking over.  A few strings to see out Purple Rain and then a horn or two ushering us across Paisley Park’s threshold.  Then a blow out… another guitarist and a few dancers, maybe a percussionist, to herald the Parade; primary colours, bold and daring.  When Wendy and Lisa sang of balloons I know they weren’t referring the Cobo Arena, June 7th 1986 performance…they may as well have been… what a celebration.

And the next question; where do they draw the line?  Lisa, Fink, Bobby performed on the earlier albums…1999 was credited to Prince AND the Revolution…do we get songs from these albums too?  Do we hear 1999, Head, Dirty Mind, Little Red Corvette, Possessed, Irresistible Bitch, Sexuality…do we hear the B-sides…17 Days, Erotic City, Another Lonely Christmas?  Do we hear It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night?  How far forward do they go?  Do we hear the Dream Factory music they worked on?  Do we hear All My Dreams?  Oh my…to hear that?  To hear The Revolution’s take on Alphabet Street, 7, Black Sweat, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, The Work, The Morning Papers, Gett Off, Cream, Partyman, Thieves In The Temple…Strange Relationship, Sign O The Times, If I Was Your Girlfriend…In This Bed I Scream… in all my dreams.

These concerts are going to be immense.  Incredible.  The last concert they did was a beautiful mixture of music and mirth.  These amazing people are performers fully aware of the weight they’re now carrying and they will deliver the most fitting tribute to their erstwhile band-leader.  I’m in awe of their ability and wait in wonder to see what form the tribute takes.

“Let’s go…”

“Yeah.  Let’s get ’em…”

Prince Rogers Nelson

I was often reminded by a friend of mine how much I’d hated 1999 the first time I’d heard it.  He would repeat the story of him and another friend singing the chorus at me, whilst I bayed at them to stop – or, as Prince would have had it, cease and desist.  I have no doubt this is true but I can’t remember doing this.  (They were also constantly singing The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, I seem to remember…I didn’t much like that at the time either…at the time, if the popstar didn’t have a white stripe across the bridge of his nose, they weren’t worth listening to – the folly of youth.)

There was a compilation album released in late 1986/early 1987 simply called Hits 6.  On it were Hollywood Beyond (I still adore that single!), Nick Kamen, The Pretenders, The Bangles were walking like an Egyptian and Paul Young wanted to take you to Wonderland.  One side of the cassette was particularly cool – along with The Pretenders and Paul Young it had The Eurythmics and, I seem to remember, The The.  It also had Prince and The Revolution. (There were a lot of “The”s around back then.)  The song was Anotherloverholenyohead.  It was the first time I realised Prince was a genius.  The swirl of the guitar, the percussion intro and the detail – the syncopated Linn before the first “whoo!” – drag you into the song.  The paean to a spurning lover is pure perfection.  The lyrics, like the music, underplay the desperation in the message being conveyed.  The chord change before the lyrics heighten the dramatic impact of first line – such a line these days – and, well, just go and listen to it.  That it came with a live performance video of such humour, style, charm and fierceness gilded it beautifully.  I kept rewinding and listening, rewinding and listening.

Sitting on a bus winding its way up out of Agios Nikolaos, Crete, in April 1988 was the next time I realised Prince was a genius.  I was flirting with a girl, she was flirting with me.  She was listening to a walkman.  She let me listen to what she was playing.  It was the Sign O The Times album and the song was It.  I picked it up partway through.  What I remember from that first encounter with this song was the sparseness, the rhythm, the driving force.  And the guitar solo.  She grabbed the earphones back from my before the song finished.  There is a coldness about the instrumentation in that song that oxymoronically blends with the heat of the lyrics.  There is a pain in the delivery that seemingly contradicts the passion, the honesty, the divinity of the pleasure and desire Prince is singing about.  It is a startling song.  A compelling song.  It is genius.

The girl from the bus had a birthday.  She mentioned that Prince had a new album out.  I played it through once to make sure it wasn’t scratched.  Of course, Lovesexy is genius from start to finish.  The song Lovesexy, however, is massively underrated.  The layering, the discordant chords, building and struggling against each other – all so high in the mix.  Frustratingly but brilliantly conceived – as it for much of the time on this album – the guitar is low in the mix, so hidden, you really have to listen…of course until you don’t and he brings it to the front, then sends it back again.  Prince’s guitar work on this song is sensational; fruity, fluid, fantastic.  The combative to and fro of the lyrics, the androgyny, the scintillating playfulness of sexuality and sexual fulfilment and the conjoining of faith/belief and sex and the importance of spreading the word, of proselytising helpless in the face of this music and this message.  The album left me gobsmacked.  It is genius.

These were the moments that hooked me.

In 1988, arguably, I’d missed the boat.  Immediately after buying Lovesexy I experienced the live shows, the 1985 Syracuse concert and the Dortmund Lovesexy show, through the TV.  I knew the hits but there were masses of songs that I’d never heard of.  The hunt for the back catalog was intense and, as you’d imagine, found me slack-jawed and wide-eyed on many occasions.  Peculiarly, it was the side projects that thrilled me the most.  The Family, the Madhouse albums, The Glamorous Life, What Time Is It? remain amongst my favourite Prince albums.  They provide a scope to his canon in the way that Bowie’s characters provide scope to his.

I don’t think I did miss the boat.  It was very interesting to be around during the name change – even if that was all for nothing in the end – and it was interesting to be around during his re-evaluation of his career.  The fact that he had agreed to write his memoirs is extremely intriguing and now ultimately maddening – perhaps, although he wouldn’t have liked to admit this at the time, his mortality was beginning to become apparent.  The challenge he had given himself with the piano shows (oh, how I now wish I had managed to find the means and manner to attend the Auckland shows) hinted at so many possibilities at how he was reengaging with music and reenergising his performance.  Following the guitar heavy 3rdEyeGirl work, the piano shows displayed the still constant evolution of Prince as a musician and idealist.

I’m angry his last two albums are what they are.  I’m angry the direction he was now taking himself never manifest itself in the form of a studio album.  I’m angry that at 57 he was still putting songs out about how great he was and how much people were going to be blown away by his next performance.  We knew how great he was.  Prince was a genius.  This new direction may have allowed for the genius to evolve and bloom anew.  Instead, it won’t.  I’m in danger of slipping into the Alan Leeds’ Grieving Paradigm.  I’ll stop.

It’s hard to write that I’m going to miss Prince.  I won’t, of course, because his music and his performance will be with me, with us, for our lifetimes’.  There will, I’m certain, be new/old music released over the coming years.  The new music will thrill and, in his manner – incomparable at juxtaposing emotions and sounds – will make us sad simultaneously.  His name will live on and on and outlive us all.  There’s a little bit of me, though, that wishes life was never-ending.  And whilst many may say good things never last; this good thing will.  Forever.

I Wonder U

Parade is genius.  In the genius of this album is arguably the finest one minute and forty seconds Prince and the Revolution ever produced.

There are two simple elements to this song – which as you read this is now going to appear as if I am stating the obvious – and they are the lyrics and the music.  Ok; I see the sea of perplexed faces, “Of course songs are about lyrics and music…”  Allow me…

“I, how you say, I wonder you, I wonder you.”

Prince exquisitely captures that notion of “lost in translation” superbly.  The song may have been recorded in LA but the European vibe that drenches this album is clearly apparent.  Whatever the influence Wendy and Lisa, Clare Fischer, the script for Under The Cherry Moon, France were having, it’s all there in this song.  The pause between “I” and “how you say” indicates the foreigness of the language or, perhaps, an internal dialogue – a person searching for the right word or words.  And then there is the kicker “I wonder you”.  Wonder – noun, a reaction to something that is beautiful.  A word that indicates thought, consideration, preoccupation.  A simply genius, foreign conceptualisation of the word love.  Easy to understand how a non-native speaker may mistake this word for the one they wanted.  Beyond that, it is also a word often used synonymously with adoration or awe.  The vocalist conveys their sense of complete devotion to the object of their words.

The phrasing of each of the lines indicates this struggle to translate a compelling feeling; love, dreams, a constancy of desire and need.  “Though, you are far, I wonder you, you’re on the mind.”  It’s beautiful the way the struggle is summed up in a misspoken colloquialism that reinforces the fixed presence of the object in the thoughts of the singer.

Finally there is the fact that the vocal is performed by Wendy.  The use of a female voice as a counterpoint to vocals on the rest of the album makes this song stand out.  Reading about the recording of the song, it is interesting to note that Prince played the same trick he used on 1999 – recording a joint lead vocal and then reverting to a single voice…and he chose to leave his off.  There is a sense of exotic in Wendy’s delivery and sense of uncertainty, a nervous longing and hope the “wonder” will be reciprocated.  The intensity of emotion is beautiful.  It is overwhelming.  It overwhelms me still, twenty eight years after I first heard it.

What augments this is the music.  Prince, in 1986, with all the influences around him at work, truly understood atmosphere.  Listen to There’s Others Here With Us or In All My Dreams – he transforms these songs from curiosities through his production and his use of layering of sounds and effects making the first spookily ethereal and the second a carnival.  Atmosphere is pervasive through out this period of Prince’s music – even the playful cliché of Do U Lie sits well because of Prince’s use of mood on this record.  It is, in my opinion, massively ironic that he considered the album or the released material weak.  Forget the rest of the instrumentation, even the segues in and out of this song smack of an artist in complete control.  The flow from the drum pattern into and then the string chord outro seamlessly entwine these songs together.

The laughter, the conviviality of the party is just overdone enough, it sounds harsh, and through this comes the thoughts of the lover, the lyricist, whose words sound a little out of place.  The three note bass sequence before the melody starts in is a beautiful detail.  Detail is perhaps the key word here.  There is an evident measure of care.  The intensity referred to above is also manifest in the way Prince was working at the time – again, in my opinion.  The detailing in the songs on Parade is one of its cornerstones, what makes it a rightly recognised classic album.  The lower register of the flute family supports this discordance between the situation the singer appears to find themselves in – the raucous party – and the desire they have to communicate their love.  The rumble of the bass, though so clear on every note, again reinforces this notion.  The sharpness of the notes give way to a more fluid and flowing expression as the confidence grows.  It is a beautiful arrangement of Prince and Fischer, combining beautifully with the simplicity of the lyric.

One final aspect.  The guitar.  As the song builds to its climax, the guitar builds in the mix.  It takes over the highlighting of the song – toing and froing between it and the repeat of the flute notes.  Points of punctuation between and over the words; pin-pricks of delight in the swirl of noise.  And at the end, the wee solo.  So out of place but so right.  It shouldn’t work.  It comes from a different song – perhaps a different language – but it translates into a perfect full-stop.  A Prince signature.

It is thirty years since this song’s release.  Parade as a whole is still as vital a sounding album now as it ever was.  I Wonder U is a heartbeat in Prince’s musical career but one, I would contend, of the most significant.  I’ve used the word beautiful many times in this piece.  I have done so purposefully.  This song is a work of beauty and sings of a beautiful subject.  It is arguably Prince and the Revolution’s most (beautiful) important song.

*

When you listen to the alternative versions of this song – the one with Prince’s lead overshadowing Wendy’s or the extended version with the further orchestration – you marvel at the decisions artists make.  In 1986, Prince made some perfect decisions.

Oh – and why this song, why now?  When I flicked on the internet and saw Prince had been rushed to hospital and initial reports were a little confused – this was the first song that sprang to mind.  I wondered about him, I hoped he was well.  I’m glad he is.

What’s My Name?

“What’s My Name” is a song that has intrigued me from the moment I heard it on a poorly recorded bootleg of the Ulysses show Prince produced back in 1993.  It captured the essence of Prince from that time quite succinctly but also asked many questions of the mind of the man who composed it.  It is a simple song masking a mixed up mind.

*

Prince was in crisis.  According to one of his album covers, he was dead.  He had the word “slave” scrawled on his face and, fuck, did he look thin.  There genuinely appeared to be a moment of madness about Prince at this time; the gemini in him pulling him this way and that… the other person inside him.  And at the heart of it a letter talking about new music.  Beyond that letter was the songs.

The albums generated by this period of creativity (Come, The Gold Experience and Exodus) remain amongst Prince’s best work outside his 80’s purple patch – although The Gold Experience does suffer if listened to in isolation.  This triple threat contains the rebirth of vivacity in Prince’s music.  Pheremone, Dark, Space, Eye Hate U, Billy Jack Bitch, Shy, The Exodus Has Begun, Return of the Bump Squad, Big Fun – the list grows and grows.  There’s still bloom in this blossom.  The tinniness that would mar much production a few years later hadn’t quite crept in.  There was still an earthiness about the sound.  Songs like Race and Papa challenged and provoked.  Cherry, Cherry, with its doo-wop smile, and Count the Days, with its sinister minister, still play easy on the ears. There is also a secondary layer of songs from this time that received obscure issue through the Crystal Ball venture.  One of those is “What’s My Name”.

My naivety at the time led me to believe Prince’s call for “free music”.  I got caught up in his fight against the corporate.  How dare they stop him releasing music.  How dare they stymie his creativity.  Couldn’t they see what they had on their hands?  Why on earth would they treat genius in this fashion?  Tortured genius at that.  Here was a man searching his soul, seeking identity and experimenting in this journey through his music.  He was inviting us to listen to his internal monologue and a corporate was getting in the way.  A man no longer wanted to be known by his given name.  He was thrashing about, trying to get a grip on reality and songs were pouring out of him.  I wanted to hear these songs.  Prince, sorry, Not-Prince wanted me to hear these songs and Warner Bros. wouldn’t let us.  Boo!  Party Poop!

In the centre of this maelstrom was a song dealing with the very subject upon which his empire had been built.  The name.

The delivery of the lyrics swing between a sulky, spoken, low in the mix murmur to screams and abandonment of sanity.  They open with a casting aside of the name by which we’d known our hero for fifteen or so years, and a dismissal of the fame and fortune that had come with it.  It sounds like the moment Prince, sorry, Not-Prince realised the shift in tastes and styles – curiously on a track that merges these tastes and styles quite superbly (oh, sweet irony).  It is the middle section of the song that still thrills me when I listen to it.

“Take this bass, I can’t play it
It only makes me wish for the way it used to be
You could slap my face, but I got to say it
You never would have drank my coffee if I had never served you cream”

There’s a “Rosebud” feeling about the instrument pealing away from a loosening grip and falling to the floor.  The bass becoming dormant at the feet of the maestro who can no longer see the worth of it.  The spiteful notion of the quality of the music it has produced summed up beautifully in the metaphor that follows – a wonderful use of allusion here, too; Prince pushing the image of the Cream video to the front and centre of the mind of the listener. There is also a political element in this imagery: the coffee is black and isn’t palatable until it has white put into it.  Not-Prince appears to be analysing the need for him to have diluted his music in order to gain that mass-market.  He was, of course, lauded for the bi-racial line up of his band and the music world celebrated the mixed audience Prince played for through Purple Rain, etc.  In this song Prince questions his actions and, maybe, his motives for compromising his music. The song then finished with a judgement sequence of couplets that finish the song off – a mural of Not-Prince’s mysticism which has a faint whiff of Prince’s.  Oddly, however, there is the last line “Do you live a liar, or do you live for love”.

[extra analysis – ALSO there’s the reference to the quality of the music created by Prince in the coffee/cream metaphor.  The simple lyric belies the complexity and ambiguity of its meaning.]

“Live for love” was a refrain of Prince’s throughout the early 90s.  It is a natural continuation of his Paisley Park policy and for a time also captured the altruism for which Prince does not get the recognition he deserves – rightly so, I imagine from his point of view, because you have to look quite closely to see how charitable Prince is – anyway.  The line “Do you live a liar” is the game-breaker here because, in my opinion, Not-Prince was being a little too black and white about an issue which was grey: the name change.

We all know now that Prince’s name change was centred around length of contract with Warner Bros. and in 2000 Not-Prince became Prince again.  The soul-searching and the desperate pleas for him to be able to use his music as a therapeutic method through which to discover who he really was (I’m paraphrasing the argument here, obviously) were ditched.  I recall be annoyed.  More annoyed at myself for falling for it, I suppose, but also annoyed at Prince for playing the game the way he did.

What’s My Name is a toys being thrown out of the cot song of the highest degree, and I love it.  I love the fact he is so sassy about right and wrong of the argument.  I love that he is so petulant.  I particularly love that it manifests itself in a mercurial moment of music; a furious bomb of noise and rhythm.  The sublime bass, which of course he can’t play; the house-style keyboard riff, saturated in rave sweat, and the thunder of percussion neatly encapsulate the crazy of Prince’s mind from the time.  It is a song that still resonates – this is the man who wrote the word “slave” on his face and the man who said, “Albums, like books and black lives, still matter” – the bitter irony here is another article in an of itself.  It is a song for those who want to know who Prince was and is.  It is a song that makes me smile.

*

I’ve wanted to write about this song for quite some time.  Each time I got going though the momentum fizzled out.  Listening to The B-Sides, the other night, reminded me of the massive arsenal of songs Prince has released and hardly anyone knows about.  It is a strong back-catalog this Minneapolitan marvel has at his disposal.  More people should know about this song.  If only there was a way in which Prince could get his music to masses in a easy and accessible fashion?

Oh, The Interweb He Weaves

I hold in my hands a copy of LotusFlow3r by Prince.  I bought it for $7.99.  It was a surprise find at The Warehouse and, indeed, I found it a bargain.  Well, sort of a bargain.  I may have just spent $7.99 on the three CD collection but all this did was take the tally I have spent on this release to – at today’s exchange rate – approximately $123.28…give or take.  You see, I was one of the follyous few to part with (US)$77 for the new venture in Prince’s online endeavours – http://www.lotusflow3r.com.  The irony of the advertisement on the hard copy CD packaging “for the entire galactic experience, visit…” was not lost on me.  This purchase now means I have seen the T-shirt I was to receive as part of joining the membership of this website.  It looks quite cool.

 

I’ve spent quite a few bucks on Prince.  He’s quite a bugger at getting you to spend money.  Many would argue that of late this has been money spent on diminishing returns, too. Many would argue that the LotusFlow3r escapade was a nadir in the diminishment of the returns.  Many would argue, in fact, that the procurement of money has become the preoccupation of the Minneapolitan as opposed to making a product worth purchasing.  You pays your money, or not, as is the case…more of that momentarily.

The lotusflow3r.com catastrophe encapsulates Prince’s incomprehensible attitude to the internet quite nicely.  From the outset there were problems with the site’s performance and it ultimately failed.  The site was slow, too unwieldy and fundamentally did not live up to the performer’s promise.  The idea, like much of Prince’s output, was quite impressive but the delivery, like much of Prince’s output, was disappointing.  In the reckoning, thousands of customers found themselves out of pocket.  I know I did not get $77 value from the site…not even a T-shirt.  And that disappointed me.  A fair few years before, I had used one of Prince’s first websites to order the 5CD Crystal Ball set.  It turned up and so did the T-shirt.  I had bought albums from NPG Music Club and listened to the ahdio shows.  Prince knew how to use the internet successfully.  There was no rocket science here.

Bucks, apparently, have become more important over the course of the years.  I understand it.  Prince’s outgoings must be vast.  Paisley Park as a going concern must cost a fortune to run and maintain.  Add to that the grandiose artistic visions of the the Park’s Wonkaesque owner and it isn’t difficult to see why he chases dollars.  Using his value as a live performer or a bankable star asset for all they are worth may have meant his balance stays in the black, but the payoff is a creative morass that lacks direction or purpose.  Take the recent releases: Art Official Age is a genuinely interesting album – albeit one blighted by a meme-driven song which does not sit well in this collection; PlectrumElctrum – a curates’ egg of a release but one which hinted at an interesting musical enterprise with this all female rock trio backing band of his… HitNRun Phase One – awful, just awful.  HitNRun Phase Two – haven’t heard it, can’t judge.  For the first time since 1988 I have not bought a Prince album when I have had the opportunity to – and the why is because of the way I have the opportunity to buy it.  I don’t own One Nite Alone.  I didn’t have the ability to purchase this online when it came out.  I now have the ability to purchase HitNRun Phase Two but I have chosen not to.

Prince’s deal with Tidal will have put much $ in his bank account – maybe as much as $3million plus a percentage according to reports.  Prince will argue that he signed with the Jay Z Group as part of his stand against the corporate world of the music industry.  Maybe he’s right.  I’m thinking about this as I type… look at me multi-tasking!… Actually, I’m not sure he is.  To get TIDAL I pay a flat rate.  This means I get Prince’s music.  I also get access to all the other artists’ music on TIDAL.  Gee – umm – thanks.  OK.  All these musicians who have deals with record companies are being paid again by TIDAL subscribers.  I can only imagine the glee with which this was received by every accounts department of every record label in the world.  The money going to the artists through TIDAL will mean a double payment to the record company: either through the deal the artist has cut, or through a renegotiated deal taking into account any income from TIDAL…I imagine.  Call me cut-throat but that’s what industry does.  Even so…let’s say I’m happy with that: I pay a fee to access the hosting site and then I pay further for new music…is that right?  That wasn’t how it used to be when Prince had his own site.  I seem to remember a time when membership was free and you paid for new music.  That was always going to be the problem with the LotusFlow3r site.  It was a year’s membership.  Prince was going to be after us for further cash donations a year later.  It was so poorly thought through… although, $77 for a year’s membership that gave you access to the three albums, the T-shirt and some unreleased stuff…ok, I could go for that.  But the concept was so cluttered and ill-considered from the get-go it could only end in failure.

Prince and the internet used to be such a simple and happy tale.  Prince started a website and used it to share new music.  At the time of the dispute between him and Warner Bros., it was a vital portal through which Prince fans could venture and find his product. (You must also remember it was a time when Prince had his own shop fronts in Camden and in Minneapolis too…both sorely missed!)  It appeared as though he would be able to go it alone in the mire of the music industry.  And he could have.  He chose not to.

Little and often wasn’t enough for Prince:  “I was right about the internet – tell me a musician who’s got rich off it…”, as much as he may deny this, Prince has increasingly become about the bottom line.  He followed up that line with a quip about how well Apple was doing.  Yes, Apple makes money.  Yes, Warners, A&M, Sony, EMI all make/made money…until some of them didn’t… but the part about industry that Prince doesn’t seem to understand is that there is more to the product than the product.  There’s more to music than the notes.  On his most recent tour Prince has been educating the masses about funk; about funk existing in the space between notes.  If he would; I’d like to take this analogy a little further.  The music industry exists in the spaces, in the silences.  In those spaces exist the cleaners, the office workers, the designers, the editors, the artists, the copy-editors, the writers, the distributors, the manufacturers, the printers, the van drivers, the loaders, the retail staff…that’s the music industry.  And, I suppose, that is why I haven’t bought Prince’s new album.  By buying into TIDAL, is Prince actually supporting the music industry?

In 1995 Prince toured.  The tour booklet had a wonderful cover to it.  Free Music, was the proclamation on it.  At the time, it appeared to be a clarion call, a muster to musicians to rise up and reclaim the rights that were theirs.  Chaos and Disorder followed, sounding at the time like a misspent week in Prince’s world – how odd the state of music that this album sounds so coherent and tuneful now.  Prince’s way, not Warner Bros.’ way, was the way.  It was the only way.  Of course, Prince doesn’t see it like this now.

LotusFlow3r was the epitome of Prince’s hubris.  I’m sure it will be matched again, he’s not above the hubristic, not one iota.  It is an episode, for those of us interested in Prince, which tells us both a lot about ourselves and how we interact with this artist, and how far we are going to allow ourselves to go to acquiesce his every whim.

It grates with me that I still don’t own HitNRun Phase Two.  I’m not sure yet whose fault that it is.

*In the course of the writing of this piece HitNRun Phase One was played.  Out loud.  It truly is not a Prince album.  Not even the last four songs – which could be Prince songs – make it a Prince album.  It is an experiment which turned up negative results.  Fair enough.  If I’m understanding it right, Phase Two acknowledged some of this.  I don’t own Phase Two.  I couldn’t comment.

One word Cwmbran…

…Litter.

Walking across “The Chems” from town centre towards Oakfield, along a pathway sodden with orange tinged water, you come to a fork in the path.  This was new to me.  When I was growing up in Cwmbran there was only one pathway around the back of the stadium and it joined on to a branch of Oakfield Road, down past a paltry park and behind the football fields.  Now there is a second pathway that takes you to the entrance to the cemetery.  Staying on the old pathway brings you to the alley that cuts between the houses and out on to the road.  As you enter the alleyway the ground is littered with half a dozen coke cans, beer cans, energy cans, some polystyrene food cartons and other sundry bits of paper and plastic.  About halfway back up “The Chems” – probably at about the halfway mark of the beautifully appointed, newly laid artificial pitch in the stadium – it looks as if someone has gone through the drawers of the house, found as much sweet wrappers, plastic odds and ends, bits of paper, small toys, etc, etc…you know, like all the chaff you get in drawers when you leave them alone for long enough…it looks like they’ve got a hold of all this chaff in one drawer, walked halfway along the path and dumped it on the ground.  During the time of my stay the rain it fell and the mud it formed.  The detritus on the ground was sinking in, was wearing in to the soil.  It was awful to see.

Two examples.  More?  Ok, more.

Having been down to Oakfield Shops – and having negotiated rubbish and overflowing bins (a cat having managed to get a hold of a turkey or chicken carcass and picking it over as I passed down Abbey Green) – I walked back up East Road.  Part way up East Road is a house whose owner has taken some care over the presentation of the house.  The front garden has been knocked away to make provision for a paved front garden area, presumably to be used as a car port.  The side of the garden has a wood-chip like flooring out of which grows some tended rose bushes and other plants.  In the roots of these plants coke cans and other wrappers.  Blown in from wherever they were dropped.  At the junction of The Highway and East Road a spent bottle of rose wine lay in the grass for a couple of days.  It was still there when I left the town last Monday.

Walking to town up St David’s Road, at a point where some garages back on to the pathway, three trolleys sat for a couple of days – they may still be there now – strewn around them polystyrene food containers.  The other fork down to the cemetery: milk cartons, drink cans, food packaging.  The junction at the top of town centre at Maendy Way and  Caradoc Road – fish & chip paper, other paper and other litter all over the place.  The by-pass round, up the other side of the stadium, has so much ground in rubbish in the planted sidings it is pitiful.

I have never seen litter like it.  Rather, I have never seen litter tolerated like this.

Irony of ironies – when putting household rubbish together now, the denizens of Cwmbran must selectively bag and bin, must sort recyclables from non, must put paper and tins in one and plastic in another, must put decomposable rubbish in yet another.  All this for the household rubbish; nothing for the town’s.  I have being trying to think what is at the heart of this.  Why would, how could a town appear so readily to put up with the this awful appearance?  I have a conclusion, it may not be right – it may not bring agreement from any, but a conclusion it is nonetheless.  And it is this: there is no identity in Cwmbran anymore.  No identity means no pride, means the population are happy to tread through filth and rubbish each and every time they walk out their doors, means that they are happy to see it swirled into and ground into their gardens and pathways.  How heartbreaking.

Cwmbran has a funny history – a series of old villages expanded in the post-war era as a place of industry and to absorb population (I think I’ve got that right – hang on…Wikipedia suggests so).  So, perhaps, it is a little odd to suggest a town which has an artificial birth has lost its identity.  Bear with.  The town’s development was for people to live and work in Cwmbran.  Now people live in Cwmbran to work otherwhere.  The population commute – to Cardiff, to Bristol, to Newport (which is now pretty much indistinguishable from Cwmbran – borders really blurred by housing estates); my brother tells of a commuting group who travel daily to Reading.  Industrial buildings and schools have been and are being torn down and turned into houses.  The heart of the town is now longer production it is a hyper-market of retail development and entertainments.  Increasingly, people don’t live in Cwmbran, they just sleep there.  It is a town upon which people can gain the first step on the property ladder.  It is a stepping stone.  It is no longer a place where you are “from”.  This is just my opinion – and one that many can mock if they choose to do so as I no longer live in Cwmbran, nor in Wales…my pathway has taken me further afield.  But, I know where I am from…knew, more accurately.

During my recent stay back in Cwmbran, a relative of mine asked me whether much had changed.  I couldn’t articulate an answer but knew inside that everything had changed.  Now there are just memories of the town in my past – and they’ve become littered.

 

Two words, New Zealand…

“Central heating” and “double glazing”.

So, I have had to come back to the UK for a family visit.  I’ve been reminded of the importance of central heating and double glazing to a family’s comfort and health.  When I consider the houses I have lived in in New Zealand, the difference is staggering.

The house I grew up in, in Wales, was a council house.  It had a coal, then a gas fire and single glazing.  It was a good house but it was a house that suffered cold and condensation.  Sound familiar?  Since I have been away the house has been refurbished with both central heating and double glazing.  The difference is palpable.  The houses I lived in throughout my adulthood in the UK all had central heating – perhaps not double glazing (mother memory not serving me well)… The effect of heating on a house is staggering.  The effect of reducing condensation and dampness in a house is equally so.

Now – OBVIOUS POINT ALERT – the state housing in New Zealand – the majority of private housing in New Zealand – have neither central heating nor double glazing.  Much has been made of the government’s attempts to solve the “leaky homes” issue in the land of the long white cloud.  They haven’t been overly successful.

Well heated and insulated houses mean better health and well-being for the families therein.  These houses mean less money is spent on power heating a home.  Less cabling running to electric heaters.  Less money spent on power means more money in the disposable income which can be diverted to, for instance, food and clothing (and or entertainment/education).  Better diet also means better health; better atmosphere in the house means better health – means less money being spent on doctors’ visits or at the pharmacy…means more disposable income…

It’s not difficult, is it?  And yet the approach to actually accomplish this is half-hearted, at best.  When you consider the leaning of the government and the people most likely to benefit from this action it’s not difficult to understand why it’s not happening…or certainly not happening anywhere quickly enough.

New Zealand PLC – with CEO Key – isn’t running at enough profit to allow for funding of off-shoot projects like this…the numbers don’t stack up.  If only they’d govern the country instead of running it.

I’m a bit annoyed that the visit home has brought this home to me.  New Zealand should be at the forefront of development and ensuring its population are well looked after, well governed.  It is a young country and has the lessons of history to learn from.  That they have adopted a “she’ll be right” attitude is something that baffles a little.  In the main, this should be a positive.  It should made one feel proud that the New Zealand mantra is one of “we can do this” but it merely serves to further the frustration when you see the conditions the citizens of this country are forced to live in.

You know, I’m reading this back over and cannot believe that I am actually typing this content…I know first world problems and all that but everything in perspective, the impoverishment families in New Zealand are being held in in criminal.

I don’t have words.

On last week’s episode of The News Quiz Extra, Jeremy Hardy, one of the comedians on the show, was commenting on the fact that people’s stories about their holidays are boring if the said people had a good time.  He indicated that being taken hostage or involved in a terrorist situation is much more likely to engage your audience because good holiday stories are boring.  I paraphrase.  You can listen here.  It’s a comment that has more poignancy now.

Please do not think for one moment that I am “having a go” at Jeremy Hardy.  His was a comment made at a time before the events occurred in Paris but after numerous other incidences in which holiday makers have been caught up in terrorist attacks – the one they are discussing on the show being the Russia airliner seemingly brought down by a terrorist bomb.  It’s just that listening to him speak actually began to give me the framework upon which to hang these words.  Up until listening to him talk I had nothing.  Before the events in Paris I had a few things I wanted to talk about.  They all seem secondary at the moment.  They are all matters of import to me: John Key’s continued arseness, The idiocy of people watching Jeremy Corbyn during the Armistice Parade.  The upcoming tour of music venues by Prince and a piano.  The fury evident in much of New Zealand’s grassroots music scene.  They all weigh heavily with me but they all appeared to be … formless … in the wake of events in Paris.

In 2001 I was in HMV when a chap received a text on his mobile phone and he turned to the man at his side and said, “A plane’s flown into a building in America.”  That was all.  This Saturday, I was driving a minibus back from cricket and the radio said “social media has gone into meltdown over events in Paris.  We’ll keep you up to date with news as we receive it…” and then it went back to music.  It was only once I had got back home and switched on talk-radio that I learned of what was occurring.  I had no words.  My mate said his daughter had asked him why these men were doing this.  He said he had replied, “I don’t know.”  He asked what else he could say.  Exactly.  What could he say?

When you think back over the major terrorist attacks that have struck The West – and I stress that strongly – since 2001 you have…?  Madrid and London – attacks on commerce (the commute), Paris – Charlie Hebdo; and, the murder or attempted murder of film makers/journalists in The Netherlands and in Denmark  – attack on free speech; The shootings at a Jewish school in Southern France – religion, and the murder of Lee Rigby, in London – the killing of a soldier.  These all appear to have a purpose…if my daughter was to ask me why these attacks happened, I would be able to say “well…”  Do you know what I mean?  (And please excuse me if my sloppy brain and research has omitted any other attack)

Against this, of course, you have the countless, countless (and largely unreported/unrecognised) attacks across the Middle East, Africa and Asia (except when it involves holiday destinations like Bali/Egypt and there are Western casualties) which are arbitrary/barbaric/callous/specific/thoughtful/random and hateful which fall into this second category the West is now realising.  The attack in Tunisia against a holiday resort, these attacks in Paris against sport, dining and music.  They are without meaning.  They cannot be explained in any rational way.  They are arbitrary/callous/specific/thoughtful/random and hateful.  They leave one feeling without words.

You want to rail against the subject.  You want to scream defiance.  You want to look this in the eye and demand “why?” – and expect a response.  One of the victims of the Paris attacks wrote that the killer didn’t speak, that their eyes said everything.  I would want to compel them to explain their eyes.  I would want them to explain the killing of a concert crowd, of a sports’ fan, of a family out dining….or of a father and child out at a market.  I would like to hear the words they use.  I would like to hear the rhetoric and the argument.  I don’t think for a moment that I would be able to reason with them.  I don’t believe I would be able to convince them of their folly.  I don’t think that with reasoned argument and witty repartee I would be able to undo the indoctrination.  I would just like to actually hear the words come out of the mouth of the 20 year old, the 30 year old, the 40 year old who believes this is an act of goodness. … Not that anything good would come if it.

Stephen Fry wrote about the three most powerful words in language.  Three words.  It’s from one of the articles in his Paperweight book.  He writes about an episode of Star Trek and the three words are not “I love you”, as you may imagine but are in fact, “please, help me.”  It’s about hope, you see.  If things are hopeless, well … and today, for much of today, things have felt hopeless.  I’m wondering whether Jeremy Hardy’s words will help to … ‘heal’ isn’t the right word … that his words will help me cope with what’s happened in Paris.  Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.  I still come to the evening with a sense of despondency hanging over me.

Perhaps for all this 999-odd of them, I’m still without words.

*

do have these words:

Before there is a backlash, do take the time to remember every religious atrocity committed in the name of the god you are most familiar with/attend a church for/most identify with and then shut the fuck up and sit back down.

*

Oh, and:

Donald Trump is a prime fuckfest.  And he wants to be President of the USA.  And other people want him to be too.  Fuckfest.

Not Even A Politician’s Apology

He is good.  He continues to be good.  Labour look a little amateurish at the moment but, above all else, Key looks good.  A great strategist, you see.  Yesterday, I got so carried away I forgot to say why he was such a smooth operator…he must have Sade looking coyly at him all night!

John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is now framing this “stoush” – what a word – with him as victim.  Beautiful.  With the aid of the media, the Prime Minister of New Zealand is able to get away with labelling his opposition as supporters of rapists, child molesters and murderers.  For a while, I couldn’t quite get my head around what was occurring.  It seemed a simple matter of fact that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, had behaved atrociously in parliament; had spoken in a way to offend not only reasoned debate but in an ad hominem manner we school our junior debaters not to do, and should apologise.  He needn’t apologise for feeling angry regarding the position the opposition were taking, but he should apologise for the undignified and malignant way he labelled those who disagreed with him and were challenging him on this issue.  Malignant?  Yes, because it sticks you see.  This soundbite will come back again and again, courtesy of the media, to pummel and traduce the Labour Party and its supporters.  That’s how the game is played.  That’s how smart John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is.  Smart?  All right; manipulative, dishonest, conniving, Machiavellian.

Meanwhile, Labour are treading water.  Andrew Little spoke eloquently in parliament today about the manner of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key.  There was fire in the belly.  For moments he sounded like a Left-Wing Firebrand… for moments.  That was until, of course, you realised a couple of things.  He had been out-manoeuvred by the Right.  This argument, this speech should have come 24 hours earlier.  It would have sounded more authentic as the Members of Parliament walked out or were asked to leave by the Speaker – shame on you still for “not hearing”, shame – and would have been a rallying point for those appalled at the government’s actions and policies regarding the detainees awaiting deportation.  It was not to be.  Today, Andrew Little played out his speech to an empty chamber.  It was not empty because of moral or ethical standpoint or action.  It was empty because the National Members, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, included, had not bothered to attend debate.  Andrew Little blew his wind and crack’d his cheeks and no one was there.

There has been a fair bit of morose staring at the carpet during the typing of this blog.  It pains me to write in this way about the Labour Party.  Today, Andrew Little looked a leader – and no one saw him.  If you go to the stuff.co.nz website, you cannot find his speech.  There is nothing of his attack on National to be seen; rather there is an editorial stating that he is not the man to lead Labour out of the wilderness.  He might very well be the man to get Labour back in government but we don’t know.  Why don’t we know?  In my opinion, there are three reasons:

  1. The media in New Zealand are enjoying the free-market and so they are not going to overly favour a Labour government.
  2. Enjoying the freedom of the press, the National Party set an agenda that allows fair and balanced coverage on matters that are, ultimately, without worth, nominally giving the appearance of a democracy, and;
  3. Labour keep getting sucked into playing the game.

Right now (about 10pm 12th Nov), Stuff.co.nz has John Key being the victim and not apologising on it’s lead news page and it’s political page.  The Labour editorial, mentioned above, is scathing and hidden at the bottom of the scroll.  NZHerald.co.nz has little mention of politics on its front page other than a story: “‘Abuse hurled at PM'” – (oh and a story about Novopay having to send out debt collectors to teachers to reclaim over-payment…nice (greedy, nasty teachers…greedy, holiday-hogging, nasty, greedy, pay-wanting teachers…who had their pay screwed up for them by the Government and Novopay but who are now the criminals here..nasty, greedy, leeching teachers with all their holidays!)).  No – you have to scroll down to the politics section to see Andrew Little described as ‘limp-wristed”in an editorial that has now – as I come to proofread this piece this editorial been dropped from the front page of the Herald website.  Fair and Balanced.  Thank god for the Dominion Post – curiously, hosted by Stuff.co.nz.  Their website has as its first political story, as of the now – John Key (Prime Minister of New Zealand) should not defend the Australian policy toward the NZ detainees, he should fight it.  Go The DP!  It is, of course, down a scroll or two…but it is there.  Fair and Balanced.  Thankfully, the balance is there… a further editorial on the Post’s website states that Andrew Little cannot excite the electorate.  So there we are… a rude poll, but one that indicates a 6:1 bias in favour of the National Party.  Labour are being screwed at the press.

Knowing the press won’t go after him, the Prime Minister of New Zealand – John Key – can lead policies he knows will go unchallenged and unchecked.  He knows he is going to get all the positive coverage he likes, whether that’s jokey pictures of his changing room antics with the All Blacks or fun and frolics with a breakfast radio show.  John Key, the PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND, is operating in a manner of a man with some sort of sinecure cum privileged position usually associated only with the public school proliferation of PMs and Cabinet Ministers in Britain.  This hasn’t gone unnoticed.  The political discourse in New Zealand has been skewed by a lazily centre-right media.  John Key, the New Zealand Prime Minister, is routinely given an easy ride.  I now hear the Hoskyns and the Henrys scoff, but they know they scoff up their sleeves.  If John Key was Prime Minister of New Zealand, there would not be a housing crisis; there would not be the handing over of assets to business; there would not be the undermining of workers’ rights through free-trade agreements with much larger and aggressive economies; there would not be the undermining of much of the public sector through a mismatching of inflation and rates of pay.  If he was Prime Minister…but he isn’t.  John Key is CEO of NZ Inc.  That’s how he sees it.

And Labour allow it to be the status quo.  They should learn to disrupt the status quo.  Andrew Little should refuse to speak with the media.  He should not play their game.  He has at his disposal the means to reach the public and the means to make the public manage the media for him.  Andrew Little should speak to the policies that would redress the balance and make New Zealand the country it should be.  This country has at its heart the can-do attitude – many mistake that for being a conservative attitude.  They are wrong.  This can-do attitude is one of community.  It is an attitude that ensures that “she’ll be right”…right for everyone.  New Zealanders are neighbours, are friends and are a country of four million that looks out for their mates.  I have been lucky enough to live here for ten years.  I am still astonished each day at the communal attitude and the union of this country’s people.  Labour need to realise that the groundswell is there.  We know we deserve better than this National government.  Stop playing their game, start speaking with us as a nation.  Give New Zealand a government again, instead of the Board of Directors and CEO we have as of the now.