(So many of our great Master Teachers are leaving this plane in recent years. This year in particular has been hard. I had begun writing this piece pretty soon after Prince’s transition, and as I was in the midst of writing it I heard the news of Muhammad Ali’s last moments on earth, and soon after that, his transition. There are many things Muhammad Ali’s said over the years which actually correspond with the messages of this piece, so adding his quotes alongside Prince’s make absolute sense. The two bonded in 1997; it was one of those few times you saw Prince Rogers Nelson publicly light up like a child.
They were so much alike in many ways: Both changed their names and demanded that people respect their decision- or else. Not only did they both use their looks as part of the whole package, they both used their platform as a tool to speak against injustice. While Muhammad Ali committed a great revolutionary act by committing ‘class suicide’ when he refused to serve in the U.S. military, Prince committed a ‘career suicide’ of sorts, repeatedly, after he ended his relationship with Warner Bros. There’s no comparison between the two actions, but it is clear they both stood up for what they believed in, and paid a huge price. They are both now at peace.)
“A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
– Muhammad Ali
“This is a test to see where will we spend our life- in heaven or hell.. This is not the life now… Your real self is inside you; your body gets old… you don’t have no teeth, your hair is leaving you, your bodies get tired. But your soul and your spirit never die. That’s gonna live forever, so your body is just housing your soul and spirit. So God is testing us on how we treat each other; how we live, to see where our REAL home be, in Heaven… So this physical stuff don’t last but so long. We don’t stay here- we’re just trustees, we don’t own nothin’.”
Power to the ones, power to the ones
who could raise a child like me
The path was set
But if u look the truth will set us free
I’ve heard about those happy endings
But it’s still a mystery
Lemme tell u about me
I’m happiest when I can see
My way back home
“A strong spirit transcends rules,” Prince Rogers Nelson famously said. Those ‘rules’ seem to apply only to the ones on Earth, because he appeared to be working on clearing his spiritual house, to make room for the ancestors. As far as the place he resided? Well, he spoke of the ‘house… always’ being ‘a mess’ when She (or He or They) arrived. With that ‘mess’ came a lot of physical pain. The casing which housed the spirit endured many a physical hardship, much of it self-inflicted, to the point where it could no longer hold on.
No amount of footage, no report or speculation can tell me what my heart tells me: that after all these years it is no irony that Prince Rogers Nelson left this Earth in an elevator; he was ready to punch a higher floor, leading to his true home- his body fragile, yet his spirit determined. Many have been arguing about whether or not a will existed; he was notoriously against contracts later in his life, and one not turning up is far from surprising, since a will ain’t nothing but a contract, connecting him back onto this Earth.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of a ‘house’ and what it means artistically. My brain is the house in which words and ideas enter and exit daily; but somehow I have struggling with this piece, in terms of what to say… Still processing this moment of transcendence which has connected me to a thousand other moments. What do you say when you don’t exactly have a writer’s block, yet there’s difficulty in articulation?
You return to the songs, which now make more sense than ever. For me, looking at what it all means spiritually is the only thing that makes sense. Musically, Prince didn’t seem to be as deep in struggle between his spiritual and Earthly selves as Marvin Gaye, or even Michael Jackson. He generally has not been looked at as a Gospel artist; but look closely into the officially released catalog, and a significant number of the songs are Praise songs. With songs like ‘The Future,’ ‘The Ladder,’ ‘The Cross,’ ‘4 The tears In Your Eyes,’ ‘Planet Earth,’ ‘The Rainbow Children,’ and of course ‘God’; Prince consistently used his music as a vehicle to contemplate and witness to the world. Even a song like ‘Darling Nikki’ seemingly was used as a tool to do so (more on that later).
Ultimately, all he wanted to do was warn a brotha (and sista) about the labels that limit our creative potential- and he was consistent that the only way one can truly be free is through spiritual elevation, organization and contemplation. Even though he was a solid member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in his later years, there were aspects of his journey which were consistently evolving.
Christopher Tracy has finally found other friends on another plane; he no longer has to struggle in that civil war of epilepsy (an experience which was alluded to in the song ‘The Sacrifice of Victor’), abuse, sociopolitical injustice, stifling of creativity… and the many battles within human relationships. I feel solace in knowing Christopher is in a much better place. Christopher Tracy- so proud to live, to create life into art… and unafraid to die, to evolve. Christopher Tracy knew that life did not cease after physical death- you only transcend. This is why he was so unafraid. Perhaps we will all see each other amongst the clouds someday; until then we have his messages, dot-dot-dashing into the night until the early morn- where we haven’t slept, drunk on exploring our true creative selves.
The day after Prince physically transcended, it rained. All of the songs finally made sense. Perhaps that’s what was supposed to happen. Walking outside, I noticed a long purple strip (which looked like a ribbon) quickly appear and disappear on the ground. i sensed his transition was quick, painless and without obstacles. It was as if he was informing anyone who was receptive, that he was okay… in a better place.
In my years of coming to know Prince as an artist, and as a man (primarily through his interviews) he seemed to be an extremely sensitive, spiritually heightened person. He was eventually more focused on using his music to connect the listener with their higher spiritual selves. I saw him as having less and less of a connection with anything connected with physical limitations- and that included his body. It makes sense to me why he kept moving and performing, despite any pain he felt. There may be many who attribute his more recent attitudes regarding spirituality to his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I attribute it more to his ability to see beyond what most of us allowed ourselves to see- he was a true ‘Rainbow Child’.
Rainbow Children are said to represent the future (‘and it will be…’), where the oppressive system we currently exist in will be eliminated. Rainbow Children represent feelings and instinct, not shame. According to Sandra Weaver (of Spiritual Growth Prophecies), Rainbow Children are “considered by some as Christ-consciousness incarnated.” They “are entirely fearless of everyone. They know where their protection lies. It lies in their unwavering trust in God and their intuitive feelings for the almost forgotten, Mother of all things. Their natural healing abilities spread unconditional love and joy. Healing themselves and others is their purpose on earth. When you look into their enormous deep eyes, you feel the embodiment of divinity. The spoken word is not important to them.” Doreen Virtue states that “The Rainbow Children are perfectly balanced in their male and female energies. They are confident without aggressiveness; they are intuitive and psychic without effort; they are magical and can bend time, become invisible, and go without sleep and food.” Prince always spoke about how he doesn’t particularly look to the past to guide any decisions he’d make in the future. This would make sense, as one of the qualities of a Rainbow Child is that they have no karma since they have not been here before.
Dolphins have been used over time to assist in healing due to their being able to emit rainbow energy as well. This has been researched to the point where even PBS/NOVA created a hoax article in 2014 entitled, ‘Scientists Beam Light In Front Of Dolphins, Accidentally Create Rainbow Lasers’. Is it any coincidence that Prince references (and titles a full song after) a dolphin in song, when speaking about being free? I cannot say. Not only do dolphins represent freedom from restriction, but also the will of a people to continually survive over time, amidst the chains that reincarnate themselves, psychologically and physically. For so long dolphins were not even safe as they became ‘collateral damage’ to the tuna industry. But still they rise, the Rainbow Children of the sea. They will die before they let you tell them how to swim.
It makes sense that metaphors were huge in Prince’s catalog; the more notoriety he got, the more resistant he was to the societally dominant uses of language, gender and spirituality. The more popular he became the more he resisted homogeneity. In this context it is interesting to note that some of his most spiritually and politically-heightened music comes from albums such as The Rainbow Children, Lotusflow3r, and with the group 3RDEYEGIRL. Once he changed his name to something deemed unpronounceable (because ultimately love is a symbol of unlimited experience) the music he publicly released confounded listeners and critics alike. It wasn’t merely a case of asking if he was “White or Black… Straight or gay,” now it is a case of “Is your spirit right?”
Though he spent the final part of his life here as a Jehovah’s Witness, when I first first heard the name of (one of) the last project(s) he’d be working with to be called 3RDEYEGIRL I knew this was another aspect of Prince’s spiritual evolution. Many religious folks (and let’s keep it real, conspiracy theorists) look at the engaging of the third eye (or the pineal gland) as being satanic. The fact is, ALL of us have the capacity to engage this energy within our bodies. Some call it prana, others call it qi/chi. Words ALSO manifest energy, and we are taught constantly that they don’t. Because of this, the negative energy; the processed, altered foods we ingest; the increase in distraction through mini device use and lack of exercise, hydration, meditation and prayer – it is far easier for the pineal gland to calcify. Because of what I see as the ‘Rainbow Child’ connection, I could also see that his third eye was wide open.
Prince to me was the kind of dude who could not be bothered- with anyone wasting his time, with people standing around acting like ‘fans,’ with negative energy getting in his way. As many of us sit here encouraging folks to focus more on reading books than social media, this man not only watched more television than anyone I know- combined. He did this as well as found time to do deep study. He was one of those people who, energy-wise, was beyond many of us. He was able to attend events and places surrounded by negative or evil energy or people, and none of it appeared to phase him. He was just about his work. He looked at Minnesota as a place to live life (and read), and a place like California to study the industry.
He also had a notorious love/hate relationship with the internet. He went from having various interactive websites to shutting them down, to returning to social media by the end of his physical existence. He’s even formed lawsuits and cease-and-desist orders against supporters and unofficial sites over the years. He was not fond of the word ‘fan’ (as it’s short for ‘fanatic’); he wanted to consider those who supported him as ‘friends’. However, he was entirely focused on maintaining control of his art to the point where it did alienate some of those ‘friends’.
His relationship with music was interesting. He seemed to have used it as a way of challenging himself. When he began to master his instruments he would listen to music to inspire where he wanted to go. Once he got there, he listened to music that “I can’t do. That I would never do.” As a listener he preferred “ambient music that doesn’t get in the way of speech, you know, ’cause rhythm does that and also voice.” As a person who creates I understand this. I understand it specifically as a person who writes. In writing this piece on Mr. Nelson I have not really read or seen other pieces on him (outside of interviews), so as not to shape or color anything I would write.
Though he said he didn’t really listen to other people’s music, he knew enough about music to give props to folks like Janelle Monae, as well as add Olivia Warfield, Andy Allo and Judith Hill to his crew. What was most important to him as an artist is ownership of the work, so if he saw that you owned your work he respected you. It did not seem as if it took much to impress him- if you produced the work on your own terms he respected you.
“I like to study history—especially Egyptian history. I don’t want to start endorsing any sites right now, but I like the ones that go back the furthest. ‘Cause I’m interested in how we got in this predicament in the first place. You can talk about symptoms all day long. But I like to talk about solutions.”
“…(P)eople are learning more about everything, so then the brain works more, makes more connections and then eventually we’ll be in eternal brain mode because we’ll be able to hold eternity in our minds.”
i came to ‘discover’ Prince Rogers Nelson at a very young age. When his first two albums (For You and Prince, respectively) were released, I recall his music being played on the radio. i even specifically remember loving the instrumental jam at the end of ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ right after hearing it. i vaguely remember seeing the infamous performance and interview with Dick Clark on American Bandstand when it first aired. And of course as we got older, my sister became obsessed with BOTH Prince and Michael Jackson. At the age of 6 or 7, my sister had huge posters of both of them behind her bed- they were her husbands. It may seem funny now, but they both used to frighten me at that age. It was the short films associated with them, mainly. From the convincingly grotesque makeup in Thriller (and the extra loud effects in ‘Can You Feel It’), from the consistent smoke machine filled rooms in Prince’s short films (and of course, that shirtless bathtub scene in ‘When Doves Cry’), i wanted to tear those posters off the wall. I even HAD a ‘Thriller’ doll, and I STILL had nightmares after watching it.
Of course, Prince was my sister’s favorite artist growing up; so when she eventually got a hold of his albums i never heard the end of them. She specifically would play the 2nd to the 6th albums. Dirty Mind and Prince were the ones she played the most, to the point where i wanted to smash those albums in half. Being that she used to beat me up religiously, I wasn’t sure if she played these songs a little bit extra just so she could torture me. I do recall the cover of the 2nd album fascinating me though- I was intrigued by this shirtless man (who at that time i thought was Puerto Rican) who had this huge blowout. i kept asking my sister, “Why is he naked, on a horse??!! WHY??!!”, and she would just answer, “I don’t know, but I LOVE him, and he is so cute!” No matter what, I realized that a man who was depicted on the back of an album cover on a Pegasus was NOT to be messed with. He was charting territory we as people of African descent were not supposed to go. And you had to respect that.
Before Prince Rogers Nelson became the artist deemed ‘different’ and ‘outrageous’, according to an interview he did in 1981 he stated, “(I)n the beginning my lifestyle was a bit different. I wasn’t allowed any freedom in the beginning.” He would “listen to the management and creative team, who would tell (him) how to write the songs.” The old management told him that it was important for him to establish an audience of a “Black American base.” Limitation of genres or base was clearly not a goal of Prince. He also said he thought he “matured a great deal” after this period. With that, the Pegasus on the cover of Prince makes even more sense. Over the years he would state that he had “autonomous control from the very beginning to make my album.” This would seemingly contradict what he said in the 1981 interview, but one thing is clear: he had to battle with a record company from day one.
Although people generally recognize Purple Rain to be the first Prince album to have backmasking on it, in actuality he had been doing that on earlier albums. He used it as a tool to contribute to the already existing soundscapes. When 1984 came around, the world gravitated even more towards Mr. Nelson after his success with 1999, the 5th album. Because of the very strategically placed backmasking (especially after a song like ‘Darling Nikki’), many thought he was conveying satanic messages- in fact ‘Darling Nikki’ was the song which inspired the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), and the hearing which eventually introduced the ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers on albums. Ironically, the ‘Purple Rain’ era was when i first truly heard him begin to sonically witness his love of God, non-ironically and in full, to the world. Technically, 1999 did this first (with songs like ‘1999’ and ‘Let’s Pretend We’re Married’) but I felt as if the messages/visions in Purple Rain were much clearer. Previously, the Most High was thanked first in all the linear notes, but no song spoke of comfort in knowing “The Lord is coming… coming soon” (which was spoken right after ‘Darling Nikki’) or that “God made you, God made me” to the extent Purple Rain did (There have been other songs such as ‘God Is Alive’ and ‘God Is Everywhere’). The merging of sexuality and spirituality exist in the relationship between The Kid and Apollonia as the instrumental version of ‘God’ plays, and is captioned as the ‘Love Theme From Purple Rain.’ I feel as if his acceptance of the last days made it crucial for him to make a decision between increasing fame or spiritual solace. It seems that with the height of fame he reached, he knew that his connection with the Most High needed to be stronger than ever. To ‘Dance the Dance Electric’ is to punch that higher floor; it is to be in tune with the balls of energy rolling within us. As a result of his decision he never musically repeated Purple Rain and began to release projects that initially sounded disjointed to those used to his previous work. Like Michael Jackson in particular, Prince did not want his music limited to particular genres bestowed upon him by the record industry. Releasing Around The World In A Day was a bold artistic step at the time, and he never looked back. In varying capacities during and after Purple Rain he began consistently and openly testifying on his albums.
Despite growing up with Prince’s prolific body of work (of course this included associated folks such as Sheila E., The Time, Mazarati’, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, The Family, etc.; and by proxy groups like Tamara & the Seen) and even liking some of it; it was not until I heard ‘Mountains’ in 1986 when I truly began to respect him as an artist. I don’t remember in what context I first heard the song it- was definitely played on the radio and on television, and I was riveted by the horn charting at the end. Whether or not I realized it at the time, jazz was to become my first musical love. After being inundated with his more straightforward (or so i thought at the time) Linn drum party tracks; here was this song that displayed complex harmonies and structures. I never let my sister hear the end of my love for this song, and of course she gloated a bit, because it was Prince, and finally i was on her side!
I was not to learn until after hearing the song of course, that he had jazz in his bloodline; as his parents were jazz musicians, and he was even named after his father’s stage name. It was clear that this was his destiny. I am forever grateful to Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps for changing my life in terms of music in general; in relation to Prince, Parade was the album that altered how I viewed his music and I proceeded to pay more attention, with an open ear.
After Prince’s transition to the ancestors, the only song I could listen to for a number of days was ‘Mountains’. Being that I was still processing the transition of Maurice White (who was asked by Warner Brothers to produce Prince’s first album, in which Prince refused), I was also frequently listening to Earth Wind & Fire’s ‘Fantasy.’ Although it has been my favorite Revolution song for many years, I tried to make sense of it in this time. As I sat there listening over and over, the firstline eventually hit me “Once upon a time in a land called Fantasy” and I began to cry.
“You can’t compare people, you really can’t, unless someone is blatantly trying to rip somebody off. And you can’t really tell that unless you play the songs.”
“People don’t want artists to endlessly repeat themselves, yet they can’t tolerate change either. Prince changes all the time, always working on the public’s imagination, always trying to keep ahead of them.”
Despite people believing the opposite I will be the first to say that I am in no form or fashion a ‘Prince Head.’ I have never been part of his dedicated base. I’ve purchased albums; i have seen him live before (certainly one of the best shows i’ve ever seen), and I have massive respect for him as an artist; but I cannot claim to be part of the ‘immediate family.’ I guess you could say I was a 3rd cousin. The greatest irony (and simultaneous gift) is that, as a person over the years who has come to love Michael Jackson as a favorite artist, I got a bulk of support from the ‘Purple Army,’ as I was judged harshly by Michael supporters. Not only (for the most part) were they kind and open-minded towards me, they were serious in their love for Prince. The ‘Army’ didn’t blindly follow and idolize him (in fact, there were many folks in the community who had no problem critiquing him, which is usually a no-no in the world of celebrity fandom). They followed a lot of the deep album and non-album cuts i’d come to love over time, as opposed to the ubiquitous few songs many ask for. For example, a dear brother of mine introduced me to Xpectation years ago; it immediately became one of my favorite albums in his catalog. I learned so much from them (and eventually ended up digging deeper in my own education) that I ended up being able to hold my own in a conversation with them!
Mr. Nelson, already coming from a musical lineage, gained even more experience in bands like 94 East before he set out to fulfil his destiny as the consummate artist. He was rejected by several labels before getting signed by Warner Bros. It was either that they did not see potential in such a young person, or… they didn’t want to deal with someone they knew could not be controlled. Artistically, Prince is like James Brown or Nina Simone in many ways- he was not going to be tied to anyone else’s standards of what they thought he should do. He wasn’t trained in the Motown school of performance, where everything is marketed to respond apolitically.
It was not until he gained notoriety where his music became overtly political (with songs like ‘Sexuality,’ and ‘Ronnie Talk To Russia’), but everything Prince did in his career automatically had a political lens. You had a relatively (unknown outside of Minneapolis) young kid of African descent performing, producing and arranging an album by himself. It was usually in the jazz field where you saw young people being given a space to explore unlimited territory (Patrice Rushen and Herbie Hancock come to mind). The closest to pop music you saw this was with Stevie Wonder’s Where I’m Coming From and Music of My Mind. However, Steveland Morris had to fight for creative autonomy in order to get to what is commonly known as his ‘classic period.’ His first album, For You, obviously had elements of Motown and Philly soul; there were also nods to Rufus and Joni Mitchell. An ‘R&B’ descriptor is far too limiting for that album. It is easy to tell that he grew up listening to music without limitations.
Of course, upon signing with Warner Bros., he became part of a legacy of artists who were creatively inspiring Earth Wind & Fire, Tower Of Power, Randy Crawford, Graham Central Staton, Funkadelic, Mavis Staples, Ashford & Simpson, Richard Pryor, George Benson, Allen Toussaint, Alice Coltrane… Some of these artists were uncompromising, and some of them he ended up working with and building relationships with them.
He eventually created so much music he had to create splinter groups in order for Warner Bros. to leave him alone: Vanity 6, The Time, and much of the ‘side project’ work was him playing most or all of the instruments. He composed all the songs but due to contractual obligations (and occasional generosity) he stated that he had nothing to do with musically contributing to those projects. Before O(+>, names such as Joey Coco, Christopher, Jamie Starr, and many other pseudonyms were used in order for Prince to retain some creative and publishing control. That ‘control’ did generate some controversy over the years, as there were, for example, battles for the use of the name ‘The Time’. For years, the band had to go by the name ‘The Original 7even.’ He was in control of everything- imagery, musical arrangement… Everything. It must be said that even if he was able to play all the instruments, he needed people who were just as talented to back him up. Though he played on and authored many of Sheila E(scovedo)’s songs, prior to working with Prince she was already an established musician in her own right. She’s worked with George Duke, Tito Puente, Herbie Hancock and of course, her own family. Morris Day (who grew up with Prince) is underrated as a drummer, and James Harris III and Terry Lewis, after being fired by Prince made a name for themselves for being top producers and writers in the business, most notably working with the SOS Band, Cherelle, Alexander O’Neal (who has a history with Prince himself), New Edition and Janet Jackson, whom they still work with today.
I can’t even imagine what any of these people were experiencing upon Prince’s transition.
“Sex is something we can all understand. It’s limitless. But I try to make the songs so they can be viewed in different ways, I know some people will go right through those [message] elements in a song, but there are some who won’t. If you make it too easy, you lose the point. Most music today is too easy. People just come out and do the same old same olds over and over. … All people care about nowadays is getting paid so they try to do just what the audience wants them to do. I’d rather give people what they need rather than just what they want.”
-Prince“If you go back to the beginning, it’s about union and interaction. Again, a word like “sex,” how many different ways has it been misused, right? It’s almost hard to sing now, you can’t even sing a word like that and make it sound like anything … that you want it to. But I can take you out there and hit this guitar for you, and then what you’ll hear is sex. You will hear something where you’d run out of adjectives like you do when you meet the finest woman.”
-Prince“Recent analysis has proved that there’s probably two people inside of me…. like a Gemini. We haven’t determined what sex that other person is yet.”
-Prince“We are all both male and female. Sex to me is like a smörgåsbord. Whatever I feel like, I go for. What kind of sexual am I? I am omnisexual!”
Prince sang that he “never wanted… a trophy wife”; it’s impossible to ignore the fact that all of the main women in his life- the muses, the romantic partners, the wives- have been just as beautiful as he. He spent much time (as described in his music) looking for love, and was an extremely romantic person. All the while he advocated for sexual freedom he also advocated for the act of sex within the context of a committed relationship. A song such as ‘Let’s Pretend We’re Married’ is a perfect example of this merging a carnal act with testifying about the love of God. There was this overarching idea that the best sex is going to come from people who have an established spiritual understanding of one another. In the song, a one-night stand evolves into the possibility of being with him for “the next 7 years.”
Whatever you heard about me is true
I change the rules and do what I wanna do
I’m in love with God, he’s the only way
‘Cuz you and I know we gotta die some day
He had a great desire to be a father (stating in an interview once that he wanted 10 children (the same number of children Michael Jackson said he wanted to have)) ‘Erotic City’ even speaks of whether or not offspring are in the future of that particular relationship. Even before his decision to be a Jehovah’s Witness, many of his songs sang of marriage and birth. He spoke of sexual freedom not only in respect to spiritual connection but also in the context of organizing for an alternative to an oppressive society, with songs like ‘Sexuality’. It should come as no surprise that in the ‘early years’ he posed ‘morality tales.’ Songs such as ‘Baby’ (from For You) described a situation where he was in an unwed relationship with his partner, and they got pregnant. Should they continue to ‘live in sin’ or “get married”? It’s very clear that the both of them were unprepared for this situation, especially him, since he was always “very careful.” Of course, the listener has to interpret for themselves how “careful” he was: did they use condoms, or did they attempt less secure ways of preventing pregnancy? He let his partner know that “whatever (she) decide(s)” Breaking off the relationship? Abortion? he would support her decision. He puts much of the responsibility and blame on himself, given that he wasn’t as careful as he thought. Despite him having very little money to provide for a family of three he insists things will work out. The song depicts the confusion one feels when faced with a life-altering decision. Even if he truly loved his partner he has to convince himself that he loves her even more, in order to make sense of things. He aims to take responsibility but ultimately puts much of it on his partner as well, rounding out the song with his wish that he “hope(s) our baby has eyes just like (hers).”
“Nah. I was never rich, so I have very little regard for money now. I only respect it inasmuch as it can feed somebody. I give a lot of things away, a lot of presents and money. Money is best spent on someone who needs it. That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t like to make a big deal about the things I do that way.”
We are all brought to this earth with certain gifts. Prince appeared to have discovered his in the midst of trauma, embodying a certain completeness. At an early age he acknowledged the balance between male and female energies inside of him (another trait of a Rainbow Child). This was evident in some of the early live performances, lyrics and album covers. He also acknowledged this in a 1996 interview with Oprah Winfrey. When asked if he was concerned if people thought he was gay, he shrugs this off and laughs, stating, “Whatever floats the boat.” Little Richard put it in even stronger terms: “I figure if being called a sissy would make me famous, let them say what they want to.” He continues, in relation to this ‘second person’: “What they seemed to find was that it was someone I had created when I was 5 years old. For whatever reason I’m not sure yet, but I hope to find out.” Watching him say this, there is apparent sadness in his eyes and voice. At the time of the interview he no longer identified as Prince, and stated that he felt “divorced” from the name and personality attached to it. He imagined the ‘secondary person’ was most likely created as a response to being ridiculed due to his height. He imagined they would be “(s)omebody that care about you and love you and be your friend and not ridicule you.” His responses to trauma were slightly different than Michael Jackson’s when interviewed by Winfrey. However it was clear that both endured abuse, and figured out a way to cope both creatively and in life.
From a spiritual perspective I don’t think Prince saw sex or gender in the same way many of us who think about it do. Firstly, far too many of us view sex and gender as being one and the same. People also view masculinity or femininity as correlating with one’s sexual orientation. Prince Rogers Nelson clearly identified with his feminine side, yet also identified as heterosexual. He defied whatever expectations we had of sexuality, because he saw sexuality (and the act of sex) as being inherently and primarily spiritual, being acted out in physical form. To me, the O(+> symbol he used, merging the male and the female is directly connected to the Ankh- the Egyptian symbol which merges the masculine and feminine, thereby producing life. In early promo photos from the For You-era, he actually did wear an Ankh around his neck. Music was Prince’s life, and each song he created, he considered his ‘children.’ The more one creates, the continuation of the creator’s works will exist, eternally. The merging was of a higher spiritual plane for him. Sexually, creatively- it was a part of that merging, the greatest gift the Creator could give to us. The symbol appeared years before he began to publicly associate with it in name, on the cover of the 1982 album, 1999 (Hint: it’s drawn in the first ‘9’ on the cover). The symbol’s most famous appearance during that time was in 1984 with Purple Rain, particularly on the motorcycle he rode. It was a custom-made 1981 Honda CM400A Hondamatic. It was very clear that when he began using a name which was deemed unpronounceable by many, he breathed new life into his art. Prince took a clear dialectical approach to not only his art, but his name as well. Any solution is going to present a new series of problems, and while he felt free he still had to face a world which preferred to limit him. Watching his face as he spoke of the ‘second person’ I could not help but think about how dialectics work. As creating a second persona as a child most likely was a way to deal with some sort of immediate trauma, an adult with a child’s spirit has to learn to navigate through a society which has stifled the child’s heart.
The ‘Love Symbol’ was not the only way Prince defied convention. Not only was he able to use colloquialisms and cadences previously rejected by ‘dominant culture’ (Watch Under the Cherry Moon for some perfect examples); he also influenced the way people spelled. You began to see a rise in images and numbers replacing words, as well as a purposeful misspelling of words.
I guess we can now say that Prince is hanging out at that wrecka stow in the sky.
Prince was certainly advanced spiritually, but he was also human. While he was striving for evolution he’s also acknowledged his contradictions, of which there were many. While as humans we all bear them, his were pronounced. Ironically (or not) his very life as an artist was the root of these contradictions. He was not fond of people covering his songs, yet he had no problem covering others’ music. In fact, he had several covers on his albums after the Warner Bros. Period (I take all of this as a ‘control’ issue). He didn’t believe in voting as a Jehovah’s Witness (and openly spoke on numerous occasions about how there IS no two-party system, and how the political system is a joke), yet he’s shouted out the fact that a ‘black president’ exists on more than one occasion. While he was definitely recognizing the symbolism in light of the African experience in the U.S., it’s still interesting to see him ultimately have a bit of investment in that. It only makes sense when one thinks abut how much investment he did put into the states, despite hating the injustices of U.S. imperialism and racism, as well as living in other areas around the world over time. He said early in his career that he was going to spend his last days in Minnesota. He was true to his word. Minnesota (in my eyes) was a way for him to be creatively unlimited; but it also bestowed humility onto him in ways that NYC, L.A. and other major cities where artists live could not. Minnesota seemed to be a way for a man of his stature to remain close to God.
His relationship to God could also be seen as a contradiction, but I see it more as a lifelong journey. Throughout his life he released songs representing Christianity, but songs such as ‘The Cross’ counter the more recent beliefs, since Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus died on a cross (but simply, on a stake. Prior to 1921 The Watchtower publication and organization did acknowledge a cross), nor do they believe in the concept of ‘the trinity.’ As a Jehovah’s Witness he did not celebrate birthdays (I don’t either, since every day you wake up is a new/’birth’ day), and he also looked forward to getting older, never understanding the word ‘retire.’ At the same time he’s said, “I don’t have time for old people.”
Perhaps the biggest contradiction of all was his relationship to the LGBTQ community. Like with David Bowie, Prince Rogers Nelson was thoroughly embraced by many who felt like outcasts in a society which protected heteronormitivity as a virtue. Here was a man who was as physically beautiful as the women he associated with, wearing makeup, lace and high heels. He lived in his truth as a spiritual being, but many did not interpret what he did as such and considered the very act of ‘gender-bending’ to be of a primarily political (or theatrical) nature. While on one hand he was not bothered that people assumed he was gay; the question was answered in ‘Uptown’ yet people still made assumptions, so he re-enacted the curiosity in ‘Controversy’. On another hand he was heavily influenced by religious ideology. I’ve never heard him say anything negative about the LGBTQ community over the years; outside of his music (and comments about his own personal issues) I hadn’t heard him say much at all… until that infamous quote, as reported in the 24 November 2008 edition of the New Yorker): “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’” The quote was a clear reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, amongst other things. Many people reference Leviticus as a rulebook of anti-gay sentiment. From my reading and understanding, while it was crucial for everyone to live by God’s code; Leviticus is a rule book for the priesthood, and not the general public.
Like many pieces before it, this published statement was written in its own paragraph, leading me to think it was part of a much larger conversation. Right before this oft-repeated quote, he mentions that the most common sides of the political spectrum of Democrat and Republican were wrong on social issues. In its fuller context it appears that he was not just speaking to gay relationships, but other ones as well. It is possible, like many others he was more tolerant towards relationships with two women than with two men. I recall reading an interview with him years ago, where he mentioned having to get over his irrational discomfort when it came to a moment of Stevie Wonder going to grab his hand; There also appeared to be some discomfort in his voice when speaking about men bumping into him, on Arsenio Hall’s show in May of 2014.
I look at this in some ways, outside of ‘traditional’ anti-gay sentiment: As a whole it may not seem to bother him if it’s assumed he’s gay (since he recognizes society views sexuality in massively different ways than he does); but there’s seemingly a frustration that people assume he lives his life as sexually open as the lyrics he pens. The reaction to his announcement that he was celibate towards the end of his life proves this. Because he’s already assumed as gay, any interaction with men in which touching occurs (beyond his control) most likely heightens his sensitivity. Pay attention to the interviews he’s done with women, versus the ones he’s done with men. With women, he’s either playful, flirtatious or bashful, eschewing pretence. His childlike qualities are more pronounced. When interviewed by men (particularly ones he’s not friendly with) he generally smiles a lot less, his posture is more upright and he’s more decisive and about his business. There seems to be a bit of a territorial, distrusting aspect when he is with men.
It all comes down to control. While I vehemently disagree with his sentiments on the issue I feel as if his feelings are a bit more nuanced, since many of his actions contradict that one statement. He was clearly upset at what he felt was a ‘misinterpretation’ of what he’d said, and in response spoke of friends who were gay that he’s studied the bible with.
There are times he’s perfectly embodied feminine energy (one of the biggest examples is during the 27 October 1998 Tavis Smiley interview where he states the oft-referenced quote “It’s not Memorex; I go on stage and my microphone is on”). At the same time, when speaking of the reasons why he chose not to collaborate with Michael Jackson for the song ‘Bad,’ he stated: “Well, you know, that Wesley Snipes character, that would’ve been me. You run that video in your mind. The first line of that song is ‘Your butt is mine’. Now I said, ‘Who’s gonna sing that to whom? ‘Cause you sure ain’t singing it to me. And I sure ain’t singing it to you… So right there, we got a problem.” He also acknowledged the song being slated for major success, with or without him. He had no problem enacting moments of shadiness or pettiness (qualities stereotypically attributed to women and gay men) but was incredibly resistant to a line in a song which had NOTHING to do with homosexual tendencies.
Correlation does not imply causation, as the saying goes.
His relationship to the LGBTQ community is much more complex than one statement in a publication-a publication that has itself been called out for its racism (or ignorance of cultural nuances) over the years; particularly since two of the main collaborators throughout his life (Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin) were married for 20 years, and were in a romantic relationship as members of The Revolution, which Prince creatively used to his advantage:
Lisa: I’ll give you an example. We had a photo shoot for the “Purple Rain” poster. We were all in our different positions and he at one point walked over to me and Wendy and lifted my arm up and put my hand around Wendy’s waist and said “There.” And that is the poster. That’s how precise he was about how he wanted the image of the band to be. He wanted it to be way more obvious. We weren’t just the girls in the band.
Wendy: We were the couple.
Lisa: We were the gay girls in the band. It was very calculated.
And lest we forget, there’s Camille, Prince’s most famous alter ego. Though he carried feminine traits (due to his acknowledgement of the balance) I personally never read him as gay at all. Also, despite the advocacy of freedom and love for all, like Michael Jackson he seemed consistently fairly conservative on certain issues; this one being same sex/gender relationships. This is not a new thing for him. For example, ‘Bambi’ focused its energy on trying to change the titular woman.
“Don’t get me wrong – I’m still as wild as I was. I’m just funneling it in a different direction. And now I analyze things so much that sometimes I can’t shut my brain off and it hurts.”
His relationships with women were interesting. He took inspiration from artists such as Sylvester Stewart and put together a group which was multi-ethnic and multi-gendered. He certainly expected the best out of everyone he worked with, but acknowledgement of the feminine energy he had gave him a different creative relationship with women. Some of his collaborators were also his muses and romantic partners. When I was younger, from the outside looking in it looked as if only women were his accessories to control. In reality he was in control of his image regardless of who or what the muse was, and this control seemed to challenge many who worked with him. Unsurprisingly there were times that caused rifts in his relationships. You were also encouraged to work just as hard as he. Ultimately he was so in control of his image that very few people understood how much physical pain he was in.
Humble yet guided by ego (as many artists are), he recognized his own astounding physical beauty so much that he even joked about it, often stating that some of the love songs he wrote were inspired by looking at himself in the mirror. Songs like ‘Prettyman’ were the musical accompaniment to this tribute to himself. His doe-like eyes were accentuated with eyeliner; his petite frame heightened with 6-inch heels. Once he established himself as a recognized artist, he was able to unashamedly display a sort of femininity that was usually reserved for European rock stars and openly gay men. Men such as Eskew Reeder Jr., Richard Penniman, Tony Washington (of the Dynamic Superiors) and Sylvester James defied limitations. Despite people snickering at his audacity, women (and girls like my sister) were incredibly attracted to him, and men could not help but marvel at his beauty.
“People say I’m always wearing heels cuz I’m short… I wear heels because the women like ’em.”
He wasn’t merely covering rock, jazz, classical, etc. he made a conscious decision to exceed expectations of what those genres were. He had no problem with a wide range of people enjoying his music, but he was extremely decisive in dispelling all myths about who we are as African people, in terms of the creation of these forms of music. Many have decided/perceived that Prince ‘didn’t see color,’ but this would contradict much of his musical catalog, particularly with songs like ‘Paris 1798430’ (performed by Tevin Campbell), ‘Black Muse’, ‘Family Name,’ or ‘When Will We B Paid’ (Respect to the Staples). Much of Mr. Nelson’s music is about endurance of a people. About organization of a people. African people have always been a spiritual people, even if the original methods were stolen from us around the world. Prince Rogers Nelson’s music is simply but a continuation of that legacy.
“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”
“For the black man to come out superior,” Ali said, “would be against America’s teachings. I have been so great in boxing they had to create an image like Rocky, a white image on the screen, to counteract my image in the ring. America has to have its white images, no matter where it gets them. Jesus, Wonder Woman, Tarzan and Rocky.”
“How can I kill somebody when I pray five times a day for peace?”
“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more
important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism ar incapable of being conquered,”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Many white Americans of goodwill have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
“This is our music, this is rock and roll, we created this.”
The only artist I could think of who was just as free (utilizing spirituality and paying tribute to the ancestors in her music to a similar extent) is Teena Marie. Like Prince, Mary Christine Brockert was inspired by a wide range of the musical arts, thus playing a wide range of instruments and producing/arranging and composing her music. She also ran her own label (Sarai), and had battles with previous ones for stifling her creativity. In 1982 (after she counter-sued Motown) The Brockert Initiative (or the Teena Marie Law) was passed, allowing artists to be able to legally get out of their contracts whenever a record label was not releasing their music. Mr. Nelson, for the very same reason Ms. Brockert sued Motown, very publicly considered himself to be constricted by the executives at Warner Bros., as they wanted him to slow down his creative process. They underestimated him as an artist, as their primary motivation was profit. As a result he wrote ‘Slave’ on his face. While he was the recipient of many a joke at the time, in the long run he was the victor who knew that with success comes sacrifice. People are attracted to the results, and are afraid of the work to get there. Just like with Prince, Teena Marie is consistently relegated to the 1980s and to certain genres; however, the woman has played jazz, classical, rock, traditional soul, country, gospel and much more sometimes on one album. She actually nodded to Prince on the cover of Robbery, with a piece of paper showing the numbers ‘777-9…’ She also nods to Purple Rain‘s ‘The Beautiful Ones’ for her song ‘Black Rain.’ They have certainly shared the stage together: Prince opened for Rick James in 1980, Teena Marie opened for Prince’s Dirty Mind tour, and ended up doing shows with The Time years later.
“We were on the Dirty Mind tour together… [Prince and I] never had a problem. We would kick it…neither one of us drank so after the concerts we’d go and sit and have our little orange juice or whatever. He had a lot of respect for me. There were some nights that I would come on stage and I would kick his butt, you know, and [afterwards] he’d walk by me and go “Whew! I have to work hard tonight’ and there were some nights that he would come by and say ‘I whooped you! I whooped you tonight!’ so it was really awesome and he’s always been really wonderful to me.”
“And you know what? Do you ever see people who are, like, they don’t get the… They just don’t get what they should have. She’s one of those women. A lot of people don’t know about Teena Marie but they should. She’s a singin’ somebody! When you think about Madonna and some of the other(s) you should think about Teena Marie.”
Indeed, in a spiritual sense both Ms. Brockert and Mr. Nelson saw beyond the societal constraints of racial identity that is the only way either of them could make the music they did, yet they had a great understanding about how culture plays into identity and survival. Far too many people conflate cultural pride and acknowledgement of injustices with racism, which is still commonly defined as ‘hating someone because of their color.’. If one notices, Prince on many an occasion actually utilized the correct definition of racism (under the umbrella of capitalism) in his music- an organized system that is able to affect who has proper access to housing, education, food and security.
“If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.”
In terms of Teena Marie, people tended to look at her as being ‘a black woman in a white body,’ but I think like Prince, she was just spiritually advanced. She was able to see the connectivity in all things (encompassed in a song written by Rick James, ‘Deja Vu (I’ve Been here Before))’:
‘The soul feels like the Universe
It’s vast and never ends
Stars to me are the Children
Babies are my friends
God is like a galaxy
Within my spirit flies
Felt this way a million times
Please don’t ask me why’
Though it was not written by her, she’s said that the song best represents her. She always humbly acknowledged her roots and inspirations, and was openly, completely indebted to the African community for accepting her gifts of music (I can attest, having seen her in concert). In her liner note poetry (some of my favorite aspects of the albums) she alluded several times to the hatred she got from ‘dominant society.’ I used to work with a man of European descent who was in love with her, and he mentioned he was not able to find her albums in a particular record store years ago because the clerks told him her music was “too soulful.”
“I will never forget the night we sat on the rooftop of his hotel in Switzerland, after he’d slayed the Montreux Jazz Festival. Michael Jackson had recently passed, and Prince would talk for hours that night about his own mortality and what the loss of Michael Jackson really meant for him.”
“Can I just say something? I’ve never really, uh, spoke publicly about Michael. We should all just kind of like, chill, because it’s… you know, he may know somethin’ none of us really
know…. Let’s wait it out. You never know, right? You just never know. Ultimately we all got to come back home, so… Let’s just make a home for everybody.”
“It is always sad to lose someone you loved.”
I would be remiss if I did not speak to the ever-arching comparisons made between Michael Jackson and Prince Rogers Nelson as well as the supposed ‘rivalry’. Over the years I figured them to be two completely different artists with different missions, but as mentioned before, hindsight is 20/20. While their sonic art is generally different from one another, it does not contrast. The basis of this writing is from a spiritual perspective (with a focus on healing), and that’s where I consider most of their similarities to lie.
I can’t imagine the thoughts in Prince’s head, upon the news of Michael’s transcendence. When asked in 2014 about his thoughts on Michael, he responded, “I don’t want to talk about it. I’m too close to it.” Right after I read this (before any news of an autopsy report came out) I wondered if the ‘closeness’ was in relation to any sort of drug dependency he was experiencing himself… or if it simply had to do with his weariness of being compared all the time. Ultimately, he was a lot closer to it than he revealed. Both men left this earth alone, in a world of physical pain and a message to tell the world. Both gave very clear signs they were not going to be on this earth much longer. Both were incredibly misunderstood in a society based on coloring within the lines.
While Prince contradicted everything we were conditioned to accept when it came to gender, sexuality and race, Michael did as well. While Prince was emphatic that everything he did in this fashion was tied to a spiritual belief system, I would say similar things for Michael, to the point where people assumed he was asexual, because of how he viewed and responded to the world around him. In 2007 he stated: “Who wants mortality? Everybody wants immortality. You want what you create to live! Be it sculpting, painting, music, composition. That is why to escape death I attempt to bind my soul to my work because I just want it to live forever and just give all that I have.” Michael grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and the concepts of ‘Rainbow People’ and racial justice were not foreign to him.
Both Prince and Michael’s connection to spirituality consistently evolved, and in some ways this is where they differed. While Prince Rogers Nelson viewed numerical age as something arbitrary and did not mind being older (He did not believe in the concept of retirement and intended to be out there performing until he physically could not), Michael was afraid of it:
“I don’t want a long (life). I don’t like, I don’t, I don’t. I think growing old is the ugliest, the most, the ugliest thing. When the body breaks down and you start to wrinkle, I think it’s so bad… And I never want to look in the mirror and see that. I don ́t understand it. I really don’t. And people say that growing old is beautiful and this and that. I disagree. I totally do… I just don’t want to look old and start forgetting. I want to always be youthful and have the energy to run around and play hide and seek, which is one of my favorite games.”
Michael did not want to ‘grow old’, but was also afraid of physical death. It was very clear to me that at the time of his transition he was very troubled- even without having any knowledge of his troubles he had solidly been on my mind for two and a half years. I set up healing vigils for him to the point where people were asking me if he died. I was in the process of writing a book when he transitioned, speaking to how ‘discovering’ him all over again as an adult has contributed to my own healing. I intended to travel to London during his proposed residency at the O2 to try to find a way to give him the book to thank him. Since his transition I have since stopped writing the book, and for a few years people have asked if I planned to finish it. The answer is no, since the focus in which I wrote the book has shifted into other means of creativity.
Because of the turbulent nature of the situations surrounding Michael’s transition (as well as the fact that he left behind three children (and a huge catalog of published works) behind), it was clear that the transition was not as seamless as Prince’s. His energy was still felt for some time afterwards, because it was clear he still had plenty of work to do. It took a long process of a year, where only this year (2016) I’ve felt total acceptance of the journey. The moment I saw those three words announcing Michael’s physical departure back in 2009, I cried for 16 days straight. I received condolences, flowers, cards and more, as if he were a loving blood relative. With Prince, I cried a little (but only due to the Maurice White connection, as mentioned earlier) because I knew he was alright, and there was no need to worry.
While both had different views on what growing physically old meant to them, they both shared similarities in their art being immortal. Both considered their ‘compounds’ (Neverland Ranch and Paisley Park, respectively) to be places where smiles (and a child’s heart) were welcome, and creativity unlimited. It was obviously devastating to Michael that the place he created to be a space of joy for so many was tainted by scandal.
Still it’s nice to know that uh, when bodies wear out
We can get another
I began to think about how both Michael and Prince were deemed mysterious (and marketed themselves as such), yet at the same time they consistently aired their vulnerabilities in their art. The greatest artists are going to eventually bear their souls to all who listen. Both were major advocates of escapism as survival from abuse: Prince created an alternate person at the age of 5, a journey eventually leading to a full-on name change; Michael adopted state of the art technology and huge statues to overcompensate for any inadequacies he internalized. Both were deemed sexy by their respective ‘armies’; to me, both of them encapsulated childlike qualities. Both were shy yet mischievous. Neither one was immune to shrinking in a chair when asked certain questions. They both spoke at volumes where you actually had to stop and listen to capture what they were truly saying. Being that they personified youth in many ways it should come as not surprise that they also found inspiration in young(er) people and made conscious decisions to spend time with them. Both of Prince’s wives were significantly younger than he was, and he spent the last few years of his life working with 3RDEYEGIRL, Judith Hill and others, and co-producing with Joshua Welton. Prince was not as heavily criticized as Michael for his relationships with young people (for obvious reasons), but he’s definitely gotten some comments over time about trying to ‘stay relevant’… Which of course is ironic, in light of Linda Perry’s recent comments regarding contemporaries Shiela Escovedo, Chaka Khan and Lenny Kravitz as being “not relevant” enough to do a tribute for their friend. It’s also ironic, being that Prince consistently created and reinvented himself. Both he and Michael were known to work on a single song over the course of a number of years, until they felt it was fit enough to release. When Oprah Winfrey asked how many songs he had within him, Prince answered, “One a day… I hope till I die.” Joseph Vogel (whose tireless research on Michael has led to some of the most compelling and humanistic written articles and books on him) said it best in an piece entitled ‘The Rivalry and the Revolution’:
“The list of similarities goes on: both were lonely, sensitive, sponge-like children; both idolized James Brown, Sly Stone, and Stevie Wonder; both were “crossover” artists, who believed in musical fusion, and surrounded themselves with racially diverse collaborators; both believed in making music visual; both played liberally with notions of race, gender and sexuality, redefining what it meant to be a man; both were private (sometimes reclusive), rarely granted interviews (especially in the ‘80s), and created seemingly impenetrable mystique; both were deeply spiritual, and identified at some point as members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith; both built grand gated personal utopias (Paisley Park and Neverland Ranch); both fought tooth-and-nail against their music labels and the industry as a whole over principles of fair compensation, corporate exploitation, and creative control; both experienced significant commercial and critical declines in the United States in the wake of scandals; and both died unexpectedly and tragically in the midst of artistic comebacks.”
“You don’t understand… If I’m not there to receive these ideas, God might give them to
In terms of an actual ‘rivalry’ there was none that could be seen as something other than creative competition. They have definitely taken jabs at one another but ultimately the both of them were inspired by and respected one another’s craft. Though he began honoring Michael in his performances more consistently after 2009, Prince openly acknowledged Michael to be ‘a genius’ in interviews years prior; and Michael has echoed similar sentiments. During the Bad tour, ‘It’s Gonna be a Beautiful Night’ was played during breaks in the set. For the Dangerous album in particular, people tended to give Teddy Riley the most credit for contributing to Michael’s ‘revitalization’ (somehow finding a way to bypass Michael in the process); anyone with a keen ear will also recognize nods to Mr. Nelson all over that album, and other songs from those sessions.
“The only time I feel like a prisoner,” he continues, “is when I think too much and can’t sleep from just having so many things on my mind. You know, stuff like ‘I could do this, I could do that. I could work with this band. When am I gonna do this show or that show?’ There’s so many things. There’s women. Do I have to eat? I wish I didn’t have to eat.”
One of the things I thought about right after Prince’s transcendence was my own creative process. The man was willing to create at the expense of his own health and well-being. As a person who is extremely focused on working on particular projects and pieces (such as this one) it becomes all too easy to miss out on proper meals, hydration and rest. Though writing is the thing I do the most of, I also play music (interestingly, I play piano, guitar and drums/percussion just not as good as Mr. Nelson). He was notorious for getting a few hours of rest a night; and while I’ve yelled at Prince in my mind to get proper rest, I’VE also been yelled at. While it’s definitely improved over the years there are still moments where I become so focused I do not recognize the time… which is ultimately a fabricated concept anyway. We use time to go to our jobs, have meetings, to organize for or against something… if every person were truly free our bodies would be aligned with the sun, we would be properly nourished, and we would not even have to use increments. It’s no surprise that many creative people work during hours when many others are in bed.
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
– Muhammad Ali
See my bed’s made up at night
‘Cuz in my dreams I roam
“I don’t like to go to sleep because the dream is not as good as real life.”
“I don’t think about gone. I just think about in the future when I don’t want to speak in real
I noticed some major clues as to this acknowledgement of a sunset. In the last few years of his life he returned to the Afro. He eventually continued to make amends with, and work with those he lost contact with, or had strained relationships with (such as Madonna). As private as he was, he announced he was in the process of writing a memoir (Maurice White did the same exact thing towards the end of his life). He felt a need to add narratives to some of the songs he performed. While there were times over the years he performed solo he decided to create a whole tour around it. He knew very well how to navigate around his physical ailments and create the best art he could. Both he and Michael were struggling with the day to day of doing the very thing they loved to do- create art. Michael was far from fond of touring, but he appreciated his supporters immensely.
I reckon the comparisons between Prince and Michael to be similar to the ones that happen for El Hajj Malik El Shabazz and Martin Luther King, Jr. The comparisons (which are unnecessary) are treated as if the work each of them did was mutually exclusive to one another. Just as both El Hajj Malik El Shabazz and Martin Luther King, Jr. worked tirelessly to assure freedom for oppressed people; both Prince and Michael utilized their art to promote healing and connection to a higher consciousness. They all lived their truth. Both Michael and Prince clowned each other over the years (sometimes publicly, mostly in private); it was more friendly competition than many made it out to be. They respected each other as artists, and they have a history of playing ping pong and basketball together. Just as with Teena Marie, Michael was also relegated to the 1980s, based off the success of one album, despite his work (in my view) being far superior and more vulnerable after Thriller. Though I am sincerely happy that both men are in a better place; processing Prince’s transition (on a Thursday in April) certainly leads me to remember that Thursday in June. Just as I have yet to see This Is It (the film which is said to document Michael’s final months on earth) it’s difficult for me to even listen to any audio from the Piano and a Microphone shows. Echoing Mr. Nelson’s sentiments, I still feel too close to it all.
C’mon everybody, yeah, this is your life
I’m talking about a revolution we gotta organize
Don’t let your children watch television until they know how to read
Or else all they’ll know how to do is cuss, fight and breed
No child is bad from the beginning… they only imitate their atmosphere
If they’re in the company of tourists, alcohol and US history
What’s to be expected is 3 minus 3… absolutely nothing
I have been thinking a lot about Michael, Whitney Houston and Prince in particular-three individuals who had a unshakable belief in the Most High and used spirituality to guide them in their life’s journey and how they always had to battle with an industry that is anything but spiritual. I remember watching in 2010, an electronic press kit Ms. Houston did for her Nothing But Love tour (the final one she would do), where she was extremely measured with her words regarding the energy emanating from modern popular culture. She spoke about bringing love back to the people. I have yet to see the video posted anywhere after her transition, but in digging deep I found a quote: “They want to hear um, ah, someone who, um, from all the years I have been in the business, which is now going on 30 years, um, sing love to them, um, not so much, um, strip for them, take their clothes off for them, or, you know, do soft porn for them.”
In another portion of the press kit she (without naming names) spoke about how unnecessary it was for performers to resort to what amounted to ‘dark energy’ to get attention. As her voice was in a position of frailty in those final years, I have massive respect for her as a person to display such vulnerability during that tour, knowing full well she would be attacked for her ‘failing vocals.’ Unlike Prince and Michael she did not market herself to be mysterious, and she was honest about her vulnerabilities, and life’s journey. She did not fault her ex-husband for her own drug use or any other paths that veered off from her public persona, as many others had. Certainly the relationship with Bobby Brown exacerbated any sort of ‘wild’ behavior; those close to her acknowledged though, that the married Whitney was the same Whitney they saw in everyday life prior to their marriage and I think that needs to be respected. We must remember that being a ‘celebrity’ is a job as well, and they clock in and out just like the rest of us do. They have families, and make mistakes just like the rest of us do. Their occupation should not require them to be on stage 24 hours a day.
We have to remember that the ‘entertainment’ industry (under capitalism) is set up to keep us occupied so that we don’t engage each other as humans. We are conditioned to idolize celebrities and always have them work for us, regardless of the issues they may be going through. We are conditioned to look at justice-based organization as something that is unattainable. Many of us are resistant to the work it takes to do this type of organizing, as we simultaneously organize our lives daily for capitalism setting our alarms to go to our jobs. Spending much of our time on social media asking why the police are senselessly murdering us, and posting memes in response. Setting our alarms so we don’t miss our favorite television programs.
Ultimately at fault for what happened to Prince, Michael, Whitney Houston and others is us. Not on some individual, personal responsibility level, but on a collective level. We idolize these figures to the point where we have to rationalize our fear of physical death and create theories just to make sense of their transitions ‘They are ALIVE!!! His death was a hoax!’ ‘I saw his ghost walking across the teevee screen!’ ‘He predicted his death by many years!’ ‘Such and such performed on this date! It is in accordance with such and such ritual on such and such date, so of COURSE the Illuminati killed him!’ Many of these theories are based on fear, which in many circles is acronymed, ‘False Evidence Appearing Real.’ It is sad that Prince has been speaking to many of the same messages long before his identification as a Jehovah’s Witness and certainly long before the proliferation of social media, yet there are some who are utilizing conjecture by way of conspiracy theory and have clearly never examined his music or words prior to his transcendence.
Many of us try to make sense of their transitions by suiting it to our political ideology. And of course, I am guilty of this very thing. This very piece I am writing is based on my perceptions of Prince Rogers Nelson, politically and spiritually. With that, I acknowledge that some of the things I write here could be totally incorrect. I could speak all day to the heavily documented ways the medical system perpetuates racism (documented in books such as Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid)… You can say the same for drug policy. I could speak of how the U.S. system of ‘health care’ (from medical school right on down to doctor’s visits and the ‘Affordable’ Care Act) takes a ‘profit over people’ approach. I could address how people living in chronic pain pain are the muse to these corporate pharmaceutical and insurance industries’ contribution to policy decision-making, and how because of this, addiction and dependency will never be addressed in wholistic ways.
But I won’t. The larger spiritual connection of the piece I’ve written here is one way I am choosing to honor someone whose impact was felt by many around the world. He was a man who wanted people to recognize the messages in his music; he never wanted it any other way.
“Paisley Park is in everybody’s heart. It’s not just something that I have the keys to. I was trying to say something about looking inside oneself to find perfection. Perfection is in everyone. Nobody’s perfect, but they can be. We may never reach that, but it’s better to strive than not.”
“Paisley Park is the place one should find in oneself, where one can go when one is alone.”
“Sometimes it gets lonely here. To be perfectly honest, I wish more of my friends would come by.”
Paisley Park was the place Prince Rogers Nelson was found, alone for hours in an elevator, to the point where rigor mortis most likely had set in. It goes without saying that Prince Rogers Nelson left this earth in the same way he lived it with controversy. Was it AIDS or murder? Was it suicide? Was it a toxic drug in the system immediately after a withdrawal? Was it a combination of drugs? Why did someone steal his will (because why would he not have one)? Closure is always desired when it comes to the transition of the ones we love; but speculation always has a habit of leading the way. It should be tied with anger as the 2nd stage of grief, after denial. Many of us are in denial of the possibility he was using drugs to cope with the massive amount of pain he was in. The autopsy report was looked at by many as a falsehood and a conspiracy, because, well, he had been a vegan for many years, and lived clean. As a 23-year vegan I can guarantee that vegans are not a monolith. Some of us are raw vegans; some of us eat ‘junk food’, some of us eat meat substitutes. Some of us see it as a diet; others, a lifestyle. Some of us do it for health purposes; others do it for ethical ones. Some of us may end up taking pharmaceuticals because everything else we’ve tried does not work. So many of us have assumed that because he looked far younger than his actual ‘earth’ age that it’s impossible for him to be unhealthy in any way. Not only does this say a lot about societal biases against growing older, but our assumptions do not take into account how forgiving the body (as a part of nature) is. As much damage as we’ve done to the earth as humans over time; only now are we seeing the extreme effects of it. The body works in the same way. The body is forgiving over time (if you take care of it), but do the same damage repeatedly over and over, the results are going to show itself much quicker.
Prince wore high heels during a solid majority of his 38 years as an artist. While he wore heels he jumped off risers, did splits, kicks, and many other complex moves. Whatever diet he consumed is going to definitely affect how quickly the body breaks down as a result of of those moves, but the body will eventually break down regardless. Anyone professionally in sports, dance, etc. can attest. It should be of no surprise to anyone that Prince was in chronic pain. There were many times he’d walk around with a cane and an obvious limp, and it amazed me that he could perform with such precision in spite of that pain. Endorphins are a true gift. One of the attributes people associate with and love about Prince is his eyes, but I have stopped to think that sometimes in the later years, the glasses he wore were possibly due to concealing whatever pain he was feeling, to the best of his ability.
It is possible he had an illness no one but his closest allies and doctors were aware of. I do not know. What I do know is that I recall seeing an image many months before his transition. It was attached to a Dutch or German interview he did, most likely related to a recently released project, or the upcoming (at the time) Piano and a Microphone tour. I spoke with a brother of mine (who was friends with him) about the image, wondering why he looked sick. His cheeks were sunken in, and he looked a bit pale. My dear brother was not able to answer, just as sure as many others were unable to. Because he already had a thin frame it may have been more difficult to recognize the drastic change in his appearance, unless you were aware of what he looked like over time. The gauntness and paleness may have been due to an illness; it may have been due to dehydration, anemia and lack of vitamins B12 and D; it may have been depression, starvation… anything. Dealing with chronic pain through heavy medication contributes to nutritional depletion in many ways. We can talk all day about how his financial status contributed to how he may or may not have dealt with his pain, but one thing is for sure: he was human.
It is possible he was dealing with a broken heart. It is possible that, just like the lyrics, it felt “just like the end” because once his love went away, there was nothing left to say.
“So many different things happen to you when you finally connect with your soulmate. You eat better, you sleep more. You wanna stay in the house lil more.”
Denise Matthews transitioned two months before Prince Rogers Nelson. It seems that in many ways, she was incredibly inspiring to him so inspiring that he created a group around her, Vanity 6. The group originally was to be modeled around Susan Moonsie (who was in a romantic relationship at the time with Prince), but Susan was not interested in singing lead. Surely the creation of Vanity 6 could be assumed as a dig towards Rick James (whom Ms. Matthews was said to have been linked with before she met Prince. The Mary Jane Girls and Vanity 6 were seen by many as rival groups). There were other companions he felt close to and loved in his life but I feel entirely sure that the universe brought Prince and Denise together as soul mates, or more specifically, twin flames. Prince thought of her as a reflection of himself (and both went through traumatic childhoods), so this would make sense. Prince had many questions and debated with Larry Graham for a long period of time before he made the decision to observe the Jehovah’s Witness faith. It is possible that Denise’s decision to connect herself to Christianity was the inspiration for him to return to something of that magnitude. It is interesting that as Ms. Matthews became an evangelist towards the end of the 1990s, Prince (before the JW period) became more open in witnessing through his interviews as well as his music. Both of them needed to get to a particularly low place to get to where they ended up.
The person who will most change your life may be the one person you struggle with the most. Both strong-willed people, both Prince and Denise did have battles. For Prince to switch up the order of his show to honor this woman he most likely saw sporadically after their partnership; for him to open up and state how they “used to love each other deeply” is significant. “She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be.” In 1997 to Jet Magazine, Prince said, “Everyone thought I was going to marry Vanity; she is where I am right now. She’s connected with her spirit.”
Shortly before Denise Matthews’ transition she told the members of the church she attended that she was “ready to go home.” I remember watching interviews and clips of her long ago, where she constantly spoke of the joy she would feel when she ‘goes home.’ About Prince, she wrote in her book Blame It On Vanity that he was the only man she ever loved. In 2007 she told Jet Magazine, “I look forward to hopefully seeing him in the future. I’m waiting for God to supernaturally hook us up. I would love to see his face. I’ve been praying for Prince a very long time and I believe he’s praying for me. God does supernatural things because He’s able.” Throughout the years, their health seemed to be affected together. A quality that twin flames have is the ability to feel when one another is suffering, even when they are apart. As she was dealing with sclerosis encapsulating peritonitis (affecting the lining of the abdominal cavity), Prince walking around with a cane became more and more of a necessity. After Denise’s transition was the period where people began to truly notice what seemed to be declining health on his part, so much that people spoke about praying for him at which he reportedly responded, “Wait a few days before you waste your prayers on me.” As prayer and God were of utmost importance to him, I view what he was saying as not a rejection of people’s prayers, but a request to pray for him as a fellow child of the Most High, not an ‘icon.’ I also see what he said as, again, his awareness of his limited time on earth, of which the days were getting closer to the end.
“God gave me this illness to remind me that I’m not number One; He is.”
Denise Matthews ended her relationship with Prince, left Vanity 6 and pursued a solo musical and acting career, before heavier use of drugs derailed her experiences. The film Purple Rain (as well as the ‘6’ group) replaced her with Patricia ‘Appolonia’ Kotero. In a funny way I feel it was necessary for Denise to leave, in order for Prince to consciously make a decision if he wanted to maintain the same level of fame he had achieved, or if he wanted to achieve closeness with God. To me that was second major symbol of evolution, the first being the second album. The third symbol is the name change- a literal symbol. As discussed earlier, the ‘Love Symbol’ represented life, as well as peace and spiritual enlightenment. After disassociating from the name ‘Vanity’, Denise felt free, and was at peace. Their journeys match one another over time. In order to evolve in a journey, one part of you must die.
Prince loved. And when he did, he loved hard. Over time Prince wrote songs for the women he felt close to, and were attracted to, sometimes all on one album. Purple Rain is no different. In light of what I feel the relationship between the two represented I also now view Purple Rain as an album not only asking questions of the self (and accepting that one part of you must die in order to grow), but also a way to translate, to try to make sense of what happened between himself and Denise. The majority of the songs weren’t even about her (Prince reportedly wrote ‘The Beautiful Ones’ for Susanna Melvoin and ‘When Doves Cry’ for Susan). However, one of the things about twin flames is that many of your relationships are going to embody the characteristics of the person who is the twin flame. Many have commented over the years how many of Prince’s partners resemble a similar frame (or even look) to Denise.
“I think when one discovers himself, he discovers God. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I’m not sure. . . . It’s hard to put into words. It’s a feeling – someone knows when they get it. That’s all I can really say.”
“Ask me about God… You need Him. We all do.”
Even with its secular songs in between, I consider Purple Rain to be a spiritual album. Prince’s explanation for the song ‘Purple Rain’ is the very reason why I think the album is connected to the conscious death of this era of his life (evolving to Around the World In A Day) and his decision to utilize his music more for ministering to the world: “When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue=purple… purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/God guide you through the purple rain.” He understood clearly that time was of the essence, so we have to get our minds and bodies right spiritually. People complained when he included the instruction of opening our bibles during performances of the song on the 2004 Musicology tour; however, the album itself (and songs like ‘God’ or ‘The Dance Electric’ (written by Prince and officially released on childhood friend André Cymone’s album A.C.)) were not far off from the messages he gave in later years.
The song is about the goal of repairing relationships with those in his life he’s hurt- it’s one of the greatest signs of humility in a popular song I have ever heard. His explanation of the song in many ways matches Denise’s hope that God will once again connect the two that love one another. As music and words contain energy, I feel as if Prince’s constant performance of ‘Purple Rain’ (usually saving the song for last) was not only (perhaps) a decision to play a ‘crowd favorite’; I also see it as a sign of sending cosmic love to her while they were apart.
“Sometimes It Snows In April” was really the pinnacle of our relationship together (with Prince).”
The song, with ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’ (in which the Parade version was initially worked on, on the 21st of April 1985), fused with ‘The Beautiful Ones’ and ‘Diamonds and Pearls’) were to be the last songs he ever performed in concert, before his physical transition. He left the stage at some points to regroup in the 7 p.m. show, and upon returning said, “Sometimes you forget how emotional the music is.” He paid tribute to one of his creative contemporaries who transcended shortly before he did, David Bowie, with ‘Heroes.’ It was reported in Variety magazine that Jake Reuse, who attended at least one of the shows, said “It was more like a church service than a concert.”
Regarding the shows, Prince said in 2015: “So I’m doing it to challenge myself, like tying one hand behind my back, not relying on the craft that I’ve known for 30 years. I won’t know what songs I’m going to do when I go on stage, I really won’t. I won’t have to, because I won’t have a band. Tempo, keys, all those things can dictate what song I’m going to play next, you know, as opposed to, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do my hit single now, I’ve got to play this album all the way through,’ or whatever. There’s so much material, it’s hard to choose. It’s hard. So that’s what I’d like to do.” Interestingly, he did not perform ‘Purple Rain’ during the first (7p.m.) set of that final night, and was booed as a response. I do not know if he was bothered by the jeering; I do see the moment as further proof of the idea that artists must act as automatons, and never change, at the expense of their art.
The final song ever played in concert (from the 10 p.m. show) was a recap of ‘Purple Rain.’
The greatest art will be one that challenges the self. Coming to this new (and final) chapter in his life seemed very freeing. As mentioned, it was as if he knew he would be ‘home’ soon. To display this amount of vulnerability after all of these years of assuming control is entirely freeing. A man alone with a piano a man so consumed with his art that this very tour sits at the root of these contradictions. He sacrificed physical comfort for the sake of spiritual elevation of (and devotion to) the art, to the point where he had to end up using the piano as a tool of self-reflection. It was the first time people not in his immediate circle noted signs of his increasing vulnerability.
The Piano And A Microphone Tour Was dedicated to John L. Nelson, Prince’s father, and the
source of much of his abuse as a child. Prince has spoken about the idea of forgiveness over the years, but in 2014 he put it like this: “Have you ever instantly forgiven somebody? It’s the best feeling in the world, I try to do it instantly now. And it totally dismantles that person’s whole stance.”
Someone named ‘courtneycostumes’ wrote on a social media post: “Prince gave us a gift that night. We all felt it. His fans spanned every race, age, sexuality. It was us and him and a piano. I was moved to tears. His songs, his personality, his life, his energy filled the intimate Theater in Atlanta. I had already felt the night was gifted to me by a higher power, to be alive at the same time as an artist who could give to his fans the way he gave to us. Who could radiate talent and love in equal parts. When he ended the show playing Purple Rain our hearts were so full. We found out he hadn’t played the song for any other concert in Atlanta, just ours, what would end up being his last concert ever. Thank you for the amazing gift you gave us and will continue to give us with your music.” The universe speaks loudly and clearly, if you are willing to listen.
Prince Rogers Nelson has physically left this plane in April, but just as he said for his dear friend Denise, the healing thing to do is to “celebrate (his) life and not mourn (him).”
Thank you, and rest well Christopher Tracy, great Rainbow Child.
Most people in this world are born dead
I was born with this dream
With a dream outside my head
That I could find my way back home
But I was born alive