I dig not dig that Prince left us. Honestly, I played Dirty Mind at least four times (yes, Whitney Shroyer–the best album of the ’80s), 1999 twice, re-watched Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times to my and my wife’s great happiness, and wrote this via an email to a Purple-agnostic friend the morning after he passed:
Having grown up with The Purple One (he was just three years my senior, and part of my life since I was a 17-year-old lifeguard hearing “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on the juke), I find it hard to be too objective. In terms of entertainment value and sheer skill (vocal range, instrumental facility, compositional acumen, dancing) he leaves MJ in the dust. He effectively synthesized JB, Sly, punk ‘n’ new wave, a dab o’ Dylan (the sui generis musical visionary) and other stuff it’s too early for me to pull out into his own totally inimitable blend–a little mind-blowing. He was at the forefront of gender-bend (and lyrical taboo-violation!) in terms of being an AMERICAN artist and being popularly successful–many forget he was called “faggot” relentlessly in the early days (including by Stones fans when they took him on tour in ’81). Tipper Gore had to create the PMRC to deal with his existence in pop music. It’s like Chamberlain and the widening of the lane (that didn’t work any better than the PMRC). Also–so generous in writing songs for other artists and producing their records! PLUS: outside of having a dirty mind, he was one clean motherfucker.
I think one thing that makes him hard to assess at this moment is since the peaking of rap (’89-’95), he’s been foundering–I mean live he would still kick anybody’s ass doing a greatest hits set, but he hadn’t quite figured out how to be post-50 Prince. Finding religion and falling under the influence of a charismatic (Larry Graham, formerly of the Family Stone, OF ALL PEOPLE!!!) did not help. But several artists, Dylan among them, and I’d argue the Stones (less effectively), struggled with the same dilemma. Artists in the wilderness–a trope since Dante. Easily one of the greats–cranked his music for a good three hours with windows open yesterday afternoon, and Nicole and I re-watched both Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times last night.”
I am hyperbolizing a few places in there, but only a few. I would add if I could re-send that he was wonderfully weird and could strike the normal (whoever they are) DEEP. He was dedicated to inclusion (maybe he learned it from Sly). And those Stones fans’ epithets (I heard ’em in my hometown of Carthage, Missouri, too)? Without an iota of protest on his part, he just shut ’em up. And made plenty of them fans, dragging them kicking and screaming in-to the pur-ple rain. I’ll never forget the Lefty Brothers covering that song at a honky tonk in Springfield (aka “Banks and Bibles, Missouri”).
OTHER highlights of my last week’s listening, scored on a mystic 10-point scale for which I am only a medium:
James Booker/GONZO: MORE THAN THE 45s – 8.5 – A collection of The Piano Prince’s early recordings, including “Doing the Hambone,” a regional hit scored when he was a mere 14 (his piano’s under the mix a bit), “Gonzo,” a 1960 #3 R&B smash that allegedly inspired Hunter S. Thompson, its superior flip “Cool Turkey,” a crazed organ workout Garth Hudson must have worn out, and many more wonderful oddities. He shoulda been a contender, and his zany keyboard genius thrills me.
THE SWAN SILVERTONES/SAVIOUR PASS ME NOT – 10 – There is little American gospel music more sublime than what the Swan Silvertones recorded for Vee-Jay. One reason is the transported, flexible, and very sexy vocals of the Reverend Claude Jeter, whom a little kid named Al Green was definitely tuned in to; another is bassman William Conner, whose larynx still beats other folks’ four-strings. This two-fer-one disc includes the definitive version of the classic “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” and a “Lord’s Prayer” the beauty of which will shock you.
Parquet Courts/HUMAN PERFORMANCE – 8.8 – Rock and roll! Or is it? These dudes are intimately familiar with my (and many of your) sweet spots. Every time my attention starts to drift, they poke one (Mo Tucker percussion, Lou Reed drone-solo, deadpan Richman phrasing, rave-ups–not to say they are only masters of VU-and-offshoots moves), to the point where I start to wonder, “Are these pastiches of pastiches, pastiched together?” I guess that’s modern art for you: the poking of sweet spots. At any rate, critics are doing handsprings over the lyrics suddenly meaning things, to which I quietly respond, “And where did that get Michael Stipe?” What they oughtta work on is the vocal attack, which usually projects all of the personality of this album’s title.
The Del McCoury Band/DEL AND WOODY – 8.5 – How deep is the barrel of Woody Guthrie lyrics he didn’t write tunes for? Only daughter Nora knows for sure, but I can vouch that, from the evidence of this collection, the bottom has not been reached. Highlights are hymns to national road building, inexpensive mechanics, and poor folks’ food. Plus, this band can pick and move.
Prince/CHAOS AND DISORDER – 8.8 – You might have missed this ’96 release–because the late great Purple One had lost his grip on the charts and was knee-deep in label-wrangling. But, hey, if you dug his guitar-playing as much as his other 1,000 gifts, this is a nook to go back and explore. Also, if you’re imagining what might emerge from the vault if his estate will ever allow it, this is a fascinating hint.
Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil/DOIS AMIGOS, UM SECULO DE MUSICA – 9.5 – Just two 73-year-old Brazilians, their songs, and their acoustic guitars, performing to the home crowd across two discs. But the rhythms, melodies, and vocal passion, fueled by fifty years of friendship, political commitment, and complicated patriotism, will mesmerize you. I need not remind you today to give men their propers while they are living. Tropicalia fans, you know what to do.