I’d been meaning to do this post for a while and now I’m finally making the time to do it… because this is something really worth going into, especially for someone like me who gets off on this sort of thing.
I think I’d heard rumblings about this book, possibly… it was so long ago I don’t remember. But when it came out, I knew it was something I was going to be interested in checking into. It was just a matter of when. With Prince, it always seems like I have to be at a point I’m just ready to take the plunge. This whole thing started with that exact scenario… I’d first heard 1999 around the actual year and I would die 4 u/baby I’m a star a couple years after that and saw half of Purple Rain (the half where those songs were performed) a little after that… Prince popped in and out of my life a few times since then, but it wasn’t until 2007 that I began my journey that ultimately led me to this point.
And ultimately, what I was waiting for… the book to drop in price 😛 I have no idea how much it was beforehand, but the fact Peach & Black retweeted Duane saying how Amazon cut the price of the book while adding “what are you waiting for”… that was all I needed. Plus, I was due to finally check out the deluxe edition of Purple Rain.
Well, long story short, I finished the book within maybe a month and I’m only halfway through the second disc of Purple Rain deluxe… but I think that comes more from other projects, albums and eras catching my attention than my dislike of the material. What I’d gotten through so far, I’m 50/50 satisfied. There’s a little give and take, but my overall scope is positive up to this point.
Back to the book… this is one of those Prince books I’d have loved to have had 10-11 years ago when I was beginning my journey. It satisfied my thirst for knowledge about him, but it also gave me the feeling I knew him by reading what others have said.
For those who haven’t read it, the events in the book took place from January 1 1983 to December 31 1984. During this time, Prince was on the 1999 triple threat tour and the album was starting to blow up and get critical acclaim and the wheels were in motion for Purple Rain, the album and the movie. Every date within this two year stretch had a place card saying what happened that date- the songs Prince worked on and where or the city he was touring at the current time. And in between, there was a narrative about Prince’s life at that time and the blanks were filled by interviews from the people surrounding him. Whether they were engineers like Susan Rogers or Peggy McCreary, fellow musicians from The Revolution or his associated acts or people like Alan Leeds. Some of these interviews interviewed were conducted by Duane himself, but many were taken from other interviews. A bunch of quotes I recognized myself because I’d read or heard them in the Purple Rain DVD extras or that BBC radio documentary I’m still trying to find so I can download and listen to again.
Besides the dedication put into getting the interviews done, I need to give this guy kudos just for having the guts to go to Sunset Sound and ask to see the work orders.
Overall, I really loved reading this book. While I’ve gotten to know Prince rather well over the 10 years and especially more now that he’s passed away, whether it’s more people talking about him or those moments where I feel some sort of spiritual link with him- whether it’s listening to the music and feeling him in the room with me or I just talk to him and I can hear him answer back. The latter could just be my own initiation, but as long as it sounds like his face answering my back, that’s how I’ll choose to think about it.
Then of course Duane got interviewed by Peach and Black and it was yet another entertaining podcast. Hearing this guy talk about Prince and all the work he put into this book, it not only made me admire him, but I felt like I was looking in a mirror some of the time. He was nerding out on Prince the way the guys on the podcast do. And even though I have whatever relationship I have with Prince through his music and otherwise, I almost felt a kindred spirit in him. He had the same adoration of Prince and really knows his stuff. I don’t pretend to be an expert, of course, but it’s always fun to hear from people who know more.
One thing reading the book that stood out was the occasional quote from Prince himself- always in bold, always taken from a secondary source because Duane never got to interview him himself, sadly… some quotes I knew, but there were others that really stood out. The one I remember- although not exactly verbatim- he says how he writes his music with a blind person in mind, and he gives the music enough textures where they can envision where he’s taking them as clearly as if they had the sight themselves. That hit home for me because it explains why Prince’s music is on another level for me. Not only does it take more places emotionally than anyone else has, but I feel the physical differences and I also feel like my imagination is more vivid when I’m listening to him. So whatever Prince was attempting to do, he’d succeeded.
I think the only parts I didn’t like were when The Time came up… a lot of the members were very unhappy with him and talked smack about him because of how he controlled the group. But maybe it’s just me not wanting to see Prince in a negative light… I know he can be difficult to work with, but I didn’t want to think these guys were completely right to not be happy with him. I guess it was just hard to realize how the group really was his to do whatever with. It was interesting to hear how the tracks were laid down in the studio by Morris Day on drums, following a guide track and Prince playing everything else. I had no idea Morris did anything but sing on those albums, so that was a cool thing to learn.
But it was sad to read how he had checked out after Jimmy and Terry were fired… Prince’s reasoning behind firing them, I understand, they got stuck in Atlanta during a snowstorm while on tour because they chose to book the last flight out when that’s the last thing you should do… but after that, Morris had checked out and really didn’t hang out with the band anymore other than what he was obligated to. Meaning what was in the movie. I thought he did a really good performance, but it made me wonder how much better he would have been in the movie if he was happy.
I also learned more about the other associated artists. I had no idea that The Family, Sheila E. and Apollonia 6 had albums that Prince had more or less finished before Purple Rain was even released. That just blew my mind. I also found out more about the dynamic of Vanity 6- having no idea that Brenda was meant to keep an eye on the other two girls even though Vanity was the lead.
And there’s the fact numerous tracks from Around the world in a Day were finished beforehand as well… absolutely insane… Prince was really like a freight train that couldn’t be stopped… and unfortunately that led to him not wanting to do Purple Rain for much longer after the movie came out. He had spent so much time working on that music that he was sick of it. The tour ended after only 6 months because he just couldn’t do it anymore. And it’s sad to think about how that happened and how he succeeded in his goals, but spent his whole career trying to escape it. It’s amazing that he was able to get through Purple Rain every time he played it… I guess it helped to have new bands and new arrangements… but I couldn’t blame him for doing what he did.
Maybe my biggest disappointment about the book overall… and this is going to sound so stupid… finding out that When Doves Cry wasn’t written overnight because Al Magnoli asked Prince to write for a montage in the movie… I believed that for 10 years and now I find out that he wrote the song over a week… and he didn’t write it because he was asked to provide a song. It was in the works before that. While that is one part of Prince’s mythos I lost forever… there was a song or two that he had written essentially in one day, so it’s not like he’s never done that.
But I also got to read how he played that song for Bobby Z and Dr. Fink and they were looking for a bass line and Prince more or less said people were going to lose their shit when they heard the song without it. One part could be that the song sounded better to him without a bass line, but he might have also done it to stand out and start something in music that people would go nuts over and talk about for years.
Not everything was talked about in the podcast, but it was pretty cool to hear all these Prince nerds in one place… MC pretty much took the helm and was asking all the questions. Some time later, Captain chimes in and says “you know, MC, we have questions too”… all of us collectively lost it… and we started to hear more from the rest of the crowd.
Also- Questlove wrote the forward for the book and it’s really cool to hear him nerd out as well 😛 I’m still over the moon about his segment with Jimmy Fallon where he’d guess all these Prince songs based on the first few seconds of the song… he nailed everything and except for one, I did as well… but that was a song I didn’t know terribly well so I couldn’t be mad about it 😛 I love getting to test my Prince knowledge whenever possible, especially if they go beyond what your typical fan knows. I’d say my knowledge is above average, but it’s not exceptional. And I don’t know if I want to reach that level cuz I don’t ever want to know everything about Prince.
I also think after reading the book that I started to pick other things up that I haven’t before… like I’ve listened to some Beatles stuff and wondered how that stuff was recorded- whether it was all in one take or they had to do multiple takes or overdubs… it just expanded my brain in how I listen to the music. And heck, whatever keeps me from getting sick of Prince or his music, I’ll gladly welcome.
And of course part of me wants to submit a page or two of what I’d personally write for a book on Prince for Duane to read… just to hear what he thinks… up to this point, I’d only shared my stuff (specifically for this project) with one other person… and because Duane actually succeeded in publishing a book on Prince and his Prince nerd-level is similar if not more than mine… I’m just curious to hear what he’d think.
Thinking about The Word in general… I feel like I’ve found the style I want to stick with… the only problem is that I’d already written a number of chapters over the last several years… some of it will probably stay, but some might not be good enough anymore. Or doesn’t match my current views. I think the symbol album will have to be completely revamped cuz I called it one of my favorites albums… it isn’t… out of the 38 albums I have, it’s in my bottom 10, maybe even my bottom 5.
Another thing that stood out about the podcast… Duane talked about how he’d written most of it before 2016 and after April 21, he had to change all of the “Prince is” comments to “Prince was”… put him in past tense… from an editor’s standpoint, that must have sucked so bad to do because it’s just a pain.
But from my POV, it really made me think… I don’t think I could ever do that with my book… unless I address thoughts and opinions about songs or albums after he passed away, I really don’t want to do that. In general, I always think of him in present tense because I think I’d go crazy if all of it had to be past tense.
Not to mention the fact his spirit is very much alive and feels like it’s with me a lot of the time, it’s hard to think of him that way.
In general, depending on what I’m talking about, I do oscillate between past and present tense. Like if it’s the biographical stuff, setting up the background of an album or a song, the events are in past tense so the paragraph has to be. But when talking about Prince in the context of the songs… I doubt I could do anything but speak of him in the present tense. I mean, I could just say it’s my artistic decision to do so… I want the book to be a positive experience overall so I’m not going to dwell on the negative unless it works in the context of the music or I spend a page or even a paragraph saying what it was like to lose him at the time we did. I do inject my opinion on occasion, but the whole thing isn’t about my personal opinions.
My ultimate goal was to write the book about Prince I wish had been around for me in 2007 when I started getting to know him. And as Duane and Captain talked about on the podcast, it’s important to write a book that you would personally want to read and not to do it with the motivation of fame and fortune.
After his death, I’d written about Diamonds & Pearls (which I’d recently revisited, but decided not to change despite getting more ideas about how I could do the intro), For You, Prince, and I think some of Musicology, a quick intro for Batman and a full intro for Art Official Age… I also wrote an intro for Emancipation and nearly all of my track by track discussion on Disc I.
I feel like my vision on what I want to do is clearer than it was before… but I’m also only writing when I’m really inspired… and those are the moments I feel like Prince is very much present because ideas are flowing through my mind and won’t shut up… and I try to write them down before they’ve disappeared into the cloud 😛
of course I want it to sound professional and I don’t want to overuse the same words and phrases all the time… but I also don’t want it to be heavy on fact or just me paraphrasing other things I’d heard or read. Whether it was the Per Nilsen book or that BBC radio special. Other people are going heavy into facts and opinions… I just want to go through the albums and the music to help old fans see the music in a new way and hopefully to recruit new fans as well… make people appreciate Prince more than they had before… even before his passing, that was one of my goals and now it feels just as, if not more, important.
At the moment I feel like I’m being drawn towards Emancipation… but I could always wake up tomorrow and be drawn somewhere else… with Prince, it’s hard to know until I get there. I just know that I need to follow the inspiration because so far in the recent months… that’s been where my best work has come out.