Prince, RIP

Comments to Steve Sailer:

* I have to admit it was embarrassingly recently that I found out Prince was black (and I think I only found that out from one of those lists commemorating prominent African Americans that casts as wide a net, on the one-drop principle, as possible). I wonder after the few decades of gangsta rap and hip-hop since Prince’s career started, and the subculture associated with those genres taking root, what the likelihood is of seeing another aspiring black musician finding a similar cultural niche in funk-rock fusion and gender ambiguity.

* And of course, everyone’s favorite half-blood Prince in DC had to chime in on this latest black event, so everyone would know he was black and relevant.

* So glad Obama chimed in on this.

After all, who could forget FDR’s moving elegy after Glenn Miller died, or JFK’s heartfelt tribute to Marilyn Monroe?

What a trivial, trashy, essentially empty society we have become.

* Something that really struck me reading one of the obit articles today was that Prince supposedly only required three hours of sleep a night, and he used this to great productive advantage. Thinking of this I was reminded of the striking similarities between him and Napoleon.

Don’t laugh – it’s not crazy. Both possessed exceptional intelligence, and more importantly vision. Both were driven and ambitious, and didn’t play by the rules and chafed against the established order. Both were famously short, extremely energetic (Prince would often play concerts, and then after the concerts would then go to a club and play several hours MORE) and most tellingly both required very little sleep. Napoleon also only needed 3 -4 hours a night and essentially perfected the cat nap , and there are tales of him trying to force his generals to stay up all night while he discussed strategy, and they would inevitably fall asleep on him one by one, which didn’t anger him but only served to demonstrate his superiority.

Now I’m an engineer, and have no background in biology or genetics, but I can recognize a pattern when I see one. So, Steve (or someone else) – what do these to have in common in their metabolism, genetics or brain chemistry? (step two after identification: duplication). Although, I also can’t help but wonder what toll this eventually takes on the body…

* Starts from the top. He comments on every major pop culture event. I think he’s secretly very active on Twitter. His admin. is openly very active on Twitter and mans it around the clock for him.

When the Donald Sterling broke over the weekend Obama was on a foreign trip in Asia. During a press conference a few hours after it broke on Saturday he was asked & he knew enough about the story to comment.

Sen. Corker was asked on a Sunday morning show he replied he hadn’t heard about it and couldn’t comment. He commented hours after clock boy broke and it was limited to the Twitter where it broke for a day.

The white Americans that voted for Obama unknowingly voted for cultural decline & standards. He said he’d fundamentally transform Ameruca and he has done just that.

* All four of his grandparents were black and all four were born in Louisiana. Probably linked to mulattos or Creoles down there but he’s not mixed in the common sense. He didn’t have a white parent.

* Prince is the reason why all men should learn how to play guitar. Extremely short ( right around 5 feet, if not below), skinny, runty body, ugly face. He basically looked like Chris Kattan with dark hair and a weird Dracula skin washed-out. If a girl met a guy who looked like him she would laugh at him and push him off her.

Yet put a guitar in his hands and the dude got chicks going crazy over him.

Prince to me represented to me the last of the blacks who didn’t believe in “black” music v. “white” music. He played guitar on stage and his style was a cross between Bowie’s weirdness and Mick Jagger’s moves. His songs were a bit too poppy to be hard, but he also secretly wrote some hits under different names. And he was the last—Lenny Kravitz is a corporate-created chick rock loser. Prince was actually respectable. And his brilliant weirdness was so calculated yet came off so well–he definitely owed Bowie a lot, but so many later folk stole it from him. Madonna is often cited as being a direct descendant of Bowie in the “weird for the sake of attention” category, but she actually got about half her act from Prince.

After Prince, black musicians concentrated on just singing/rapping and dancing and being “hard” and “tough” (or, if they sang sex songs, being “smooth” and “playas”). No guitars on stage, no sign they played any music by hand. Which, ironically, is a throwback to country music : for years, country music bands were strongly discouraged from playing their instruments on stage; instead they were to sing into the microphone while the band played for them. Alabama talks about it had to argue to have their guitars and drums with them instead of just looking like the Statler Bros. And considering rap is just a form of fast-talking country music from the 60s and 70s, it means rappers are just aping country white dudes in style.

* Prince did remind me a bit of Bowie, but without the perverse, wretched drug patina. As a performer, Prince seemed a bit exotic, perverse in a goofy way, but entirely safe, almost suburban.

Sheila E was suburban as it gets. It trumped her attempt at “sluttiness.” I just didn’t believe her. I believed her like I believed Olivia Newton John, in that, she might suck dick on occasion, but she’s not a bona fide dick-sucker.

All his girls had the same underlying suburbaness. Real sluts, like Madonna, would have eaten him alive if they shared the stage. His “rock” style was supported onstage by girls playing wannabe sluts, who could never really challenge him. He seemed to attract the same sensibilities in his audience. Suburbanites with too much makeup, hair relaxer, or silly clothes, or people who liked to watch others doing the same.

Suffice to say, if I were a dad with a teenage daughter, I wouldn’t be too worried about her attending a Prince concert.

He deferred to funk, which is rooted in blues, but Prince always had a bit of a light-heartedness in spite of his posings that always makes his music enjoyable. You can throw his music on anytime. I think Black Eyed Peas, back in the day, owe him an inspirational debt. “Hey Ya” was very “Princey.”

* A tragic fact about Prince is that about 20 years ago his then-wife gave birth to a boy who was monstrously deformed. Prince didn’t release many details, let alone photos, but it was obvious that the deformities were far beyond any hope of repair. It was pretty much a relief when the infant died after a few days.

*
1. Pop music is all about freshness/newness. As a pretty shallow artistic endeavor, pop music survives on giving kids their own “sound” to define their lives by. After a few years, the kids realize(even if they never admit it) that’s it’s shallow, and move on. so the next crop comes in. Old hit makers are interchanged for new ones. This is also why the few long-lasting pop radio stars have adopted the “David Bowie/Madonna” method of changing their look and “persona” every 3-5 years—-stay fresh, be weird again, get attention! (or not giving away any information. the pop star Vitaman C is in her 40s but plays to teenagers and keeps her personal life hidden)

The record companies of the 1950s realized this, and started the whole radio-rock-star movement we still have today. Teenagers + disposable income + time at home=a mint for a record company that has the next “new” star the kids can cheer for. And the best part is the new stars generally age out with their audience so the record company doesn’t have to pay the star more if they’re smart, they just go get a new one.

2. Most musicians, after hitting it big, end up having fights with their record companies. Record Companies are notorious for screwing the royalties and money out of young, eager musicians who just want to make the radio. Then the young musicians realize the can make a poop-ton more on touring than on records. So once the musician gets enough hits under his belt to justify headlining a tour, they tend to avoid big record contracts and tour a lot more.

Record companies have had a huge problem with making money off male-centered bands (as in rock) because they tend to become tour megastars quickly. So the record companies invented rap, which requires radio play to become big. Rappers have slowly worked their way off the record company teat and become more tour-oriented, but being a rap star is still tied to massive payola/music company promotion/radio play—much more so than rockers.

* CNN and MSNBC were celebrating Prince tonight as a progressive activist, gay icon and Black resistance leader when I think he more rightly belongs in an eccentric category of his own. The obituaries seem to be conspicuously avoiding his staunch religious beliefs and his charming inscrutableness. Like Bowie, he really blazed his own path and that should be respected. There should be room in society for eccentric artists who defy easy categorization.

* Did they mention Prince’s Reaganite anti-Soviet phase?

* Prince seemed have been able to look out for himself in that snake pit called the music industry but, yes, Chyna was yet another person used up and spit out by the mass entertainment beast.

* Prince had a redeeming innocence I thought, despite his music being genuinely dirty for its time–and that’s part of what made it great. Of course, if gangsta and Beyonce were the inevitable consequence of us boomers indulging those relatively early stirrings of explicit pop, I’m not sure it was worth it, to say the least.
I like that he stayed in his beloved home state of Minnesota.
The unique thing about Prince maybe was he was equal parts Minnesota nice and black soul.

* It’s interesting how classical composers generally got better and better with age – perhaps up to 70 ish at least, and sometimes beyond (of course there are exceptions like Charles Ives or Sibelius). With popular music only a tiny handful have produced anything creative after their early 30′s, and the ones who did were the ones who broke from the faddishness of the industry that you describe – e.g Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. Perhaps popular traditions just have a whole bunch of incentives NOT to innovate or push forms to the limit and those who transgress are just sidelined. The so called popular exceptions like Bowie and Madonna strike me as feigning growth – in style and posture – but not in musical exploration.

With the death of the classical tradition (let’s say with the death of Shostakovich in 1975) we’ve really lost a whole dimension of interest in life – the value of exploring forms in radical, unexpected ways. It’s the conservatism of popular music that’s depressing to me (and I don’t mean its overt politics obviously).

* That Killers stuff is pretty good.

There’s good music being made.

The difference is the new stuff don’t make a difference.

Rock has been exhausted of new directions.

So, there’s plenty of good stuff but no ground-breaking stuff.

Beach Boys, Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Floyd, Byrds, Neil Young, Bowie, Velvet Underground, and etc were creating new sounds and styles. They captured the imagination and shaped the culture.

But now, Rock has pretty much stalled in breaking out into new directions. Sure, there’s still distinct and eccentric stuff. But they are not game-changers.

Also, the cultural narrative is now mostly focused on Industry Pop, so even much of good rock music don’t get discussed except in alternative venues.

There was a time when Rock Criticism favored the artists over industry product. Rolling Stone magazine didn’t give much cover to stuff like Shaun Cassidy and Olivia Newton John even though they had huge hits. They favored more serious acts.
But that’s all gone. Front and back, the critical discussion is now mostly over Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and etc.

Same with movies. There’s still excellent movies made, but the main critical discussion is about the Product.
In the 60s, critics liked stuff like 007 movies but the main discussion was about more serious stuff. No longer.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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