Postscript: Dirty Mind 40 Graffiti Bridge 30 Virtual Symposium

Postscript: Dirty Mind 40 Graffiti Bridge 30 Virtual Symposium

I was looking forward to De Angela Duff’s virtual symposium celebrating 40 years of Dirty Mind and 30 years of Graffiti Bridge. But I didn’t know I needed it until I was there. It’s been, I think, a rough year for everyone. Those of us who listen to epidemiologists are about to enter our fourth month of staying home and staying isolated to flatten the curve of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, police brutality is running rampant across the country, with yet another man in Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks, joining the depressingly long list of recent victims of state-sanctioned murder, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and David McAtee. Under conditions like these, it’s hard to feel much enthusiasm about anything. Speaking for myself, I’ve been at a low ebb in creativity and motivation for a while, even before everything went to shit.

It’s hard to overstate, then, how energized I felt from the first moments of the online conference last Friday. Seeing familiar “faces” in the chat (Darling Nisi, Harold Pride, Erica Thompson, Arlene Oak, Annie Ward, Chris Aguilar-Garcia, Zack Stiegler, and Jason Breininger, to name just a few), and hearing from others who know me from my work, was a timely reminder that I’m not out here alone; that there is a vibrant, welcoming community that shares my passion. The whole thing felt like a warm hug–something that, in these times of social distancing, is in desperately short supply.

I’d also forgotten how exciting it is to hear new research from others in a shared area of expertise. I’ve been out of the academic game for a while, and my last conference even as an independent scholar was Prince from Minneapolis back in 2018. I didn’t realize how much I missed the intellectual stimulation events like this provide. As this blog attests, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Dirty Mind, but last weekend’s presentations gave me new ways to think about it: from Christopher A. Daniel’s vital excavation of contemporary discourse by music critics of color; to Steven G. Fullwood’s acute analysis of the ways Prince synthesized punk and disco to carve out liberatory new territory in popular music; to C. Leigh McInnis’ rousing, almost Pentecostal oration on the “street philosophy” of Dirty Mind and the ways it reshaped Black masculinity in the early ’80s. Even more impressive, though, were the ways presenters found to cast Graffiti Bridge–a project that has never been among my favorites–in a new light. Both Monique W. Morris and Robert Loss applied a richness and rigor of analysis to the film that was, frankly, above and beyond what the script demanded; while Kirsty Fairclough (of Salford Purple Reign conference fame) and Casci Ritchie made solid arguments for the film on the basis of its aesthetics. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Graffiti Bridge convert, but I thought more about the movie last weekend than I’ve thought about it in the past 30 years, and that in itself is an achievement.

What made DM40GB30 especially timely, however, were the ways its hosts, guests, and presenters spoke directly to the current historical context. The keynote by André Cymone and Jill Jones included lengthy discussions of what it was like for a Black person to grow up (in André’s case), or move to (in Jill’s), Minneapolis: a city that, as we know all too well, has often failed to live up to the “Uptown” mythology Prince helped invent. Journalist Hasit Shah also spoke to this context in his presentation, making the argument that “Uptown” is not the uncritical celebration of multiculturalism which it has become in some sections of the fan community, but “a fucking protest song.” Even the weekend-closing musical set by musician Chris Rob incorporated numerous shout-outs to George Floyd, demonstrating that the music Prince recorded in 1980, 1990, and everywhere in-between has lasting social relevance beyond basic fan nostalgia.

If you were at the symposium and you noticed that I didn’t mention your favorite presentation, it’s probably because I didn’t catch it. I regrettably missed the majority of both the Dirty Mind roundtable, with BBC Manchester presenter Karen Gabay, musician Nicolay, journalist Keith Murphy, and former Right On! magazine editor Cynthia M. Horner (!); as well as its Graffiti Bridge equivalent, with the recurring panel of De Angela, Zaheer Ali, Anil Dash, Miles Marshall Lewis, and Elliott H. Powell. I plan to rectify this–and rewatch a lot of other presentations that I missed, in full or in part–once the video archive of the symposium is available in July.

Mostly, though, I intend to ride the creative and intellectual high I experienced last weekend for as long as humanly possible. I came out of DM40GB30 feeling renewed, inspired, and ready to throw myself into this and other projects–something I haven’t felt in a good, long while. I would, of course, jump at the chance to participate in next year’s symposium, which will celebrate 40 years of Controversy, 30 years of Diamonds and Pearls, and 20 years of The Rainbow Children. But even if I don’t get that chance, I will definitely be attending. Events like this are much too precious and rare to take for granted.

(Thank you so much to De Angela Duff, who clearly put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears–and a decent amount of her own money–into making this thing happen; and to Arthur Turnbull, who did a great job helping to steer the ship. Also, thanks to everyone who tuned in to my roundtable on the Time’s Pandemonium with KaNisa, Ricky Wyatt, and Ivan Orr on Sunday evening–I hope you had even a fraction of the amount of fun I did!)

Lady Cab Driver (Rearrange)

Lady Cab Driver (Rearrange)

(Featured Image: A real-life “Lady Cab Driver,” circa 1919; photo stolen from pastpictures.org.)

Of the 11 songs that would eventually make their way onto Prince’s fifth album, “Lady Cab Driver” appears to have had the longest gestation period. The song was completed at Sunset Sound on July 7, 1982, the day after “Moonbeam Levels”; but, as the recent deluxe edition of 1999 revealed, its seeds had been planted during a break in the Controversy tour over half a year earlier on December 8, 1981, in the form of a different song called “Rearrange.”

According to sessionologist Duane Tudahl in the Minneapolis Public Radio documentary The Story of 1999, “Rearrange” was long known to researchers by its title alone: “it was one of those songs that we’d heard existed, but I didn’t think it was actually a song,” he told host Andrea Swensson. “I thought it was just some shuffling of his stuff”–a studio note indicating a literal rearrangement of tapes. As it turned out, of course, it was real–though it was also little more than an admittedly funky sketch: a stark, mid-paced groove with a slick rhythm guitar hook similar to the Time track “The Stick.” Given this similarity–not to mention Prince’s guitar solo, which plays neatly to Jesse Johnson’s combustive style–it seems likely that “Rearrange” was at least provisionally mooted for that group. But this is just speculation; ultimately, says Tudahl, we “don’t know whether it was intended for 1999, whether he was searching for a voice for 1999, or whether he was saying, ‘I gotta record another Time album soon.’ But either way it was something that was not planned. He just thought, ‘I’m in the studio, I gotta record, I’m going to record. This is what I’m gonna do’” (Swensson 2019 Episode 2).

Continue reading “Lady Cab Driver (Rearrange)”

Roundup: What Time is It?, 1982

Roundup: What Time is It?, 1982

(Featured Image: Morris Day checks his watch on the cover of What Time is It?, 1982; © Warner Bros.)

It’s been a much shorter time than usual since the last roundup post; I won’t pat myself on the back too hard, though, because this one has been a long time coming. Fortunately, the Time’s second album happens to be my favorite of their slender catalogue by a long shot: the perfect crystallization of the project’s lean, mean brand of Minneapolis funk, before the battle of wills between Prince and his reluctant protégés scuttled the whole enterprise. Here’s how I rank the tracks:

6. “Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody A trifle best remembered for its closing “We Don’t Like New Wave” chant (a raspberry blown in the direction of André Cymone), this nevertheless stands as proof that the Time were getting better: I’d take it over the worst of their first album any day.

5. “I Don’t Wanna Leave You My brain tends to lump together this one and “Oneday,” its fellow side-closer and filler track. But “I Don’t Wanna Leave You” actually gets stuck in my head once in a while, so it gets the edge.

4. “The Walk Deservedly considered a signature Time track, this still feels to me like a better comedy sketch than a song. As a comedy sketch, though, it’s the album’s–and maybe the Time’s–peak.

3. “Wild and Loose Yeah, the jailbait-baiting lyrics are a little icky, but that jackhammer of a rhythm guitar part gets me every time.

2. “777-9311 I’ll admit, this one dropped a bit in my esteem when I realized Prince had less to do with the drum programming than I originally thought. Still, props to Jellybean for actually figuring out how to play the damn thing.

1. “Gigolos Get Lonely Too Listening to the Time’s first album, who would have guessed that the best track on their second album would be a ballad? Certainly not me, and yet here we are. If you’re not sold, check out Prince’s original vocal track on this year’s Originals compilation and become a convert.

Not a tremendous number of changes to the tag cloud since last time–though “Sister” has made a belated appearance, most likely thanks to that episode of the Press Rewind podcast from a few months back. And for those keeping track, my What Time is It? posts averaged 1,377 words: about 40% more than I wrote for The Time, which is fair, because What Time is It? is just about a 40% better album.

A few quick updates before I sign off for the week: if you’re a Patreon supporter at the $5 level or above (or are willing to become one in the next couple of days), you can vote on the next song I cover. We’re still in a dead lock between “Horny Toad” and “Purple Music”–if no one breaks the tie by, say, Monday, I’ll have to break it myself. Also, as I noted yesterday, patrons can expect a review of Morris Day’s new autobiography sometime early-ish next week. And then, of course, we have The Beautiful Ones to look forward to in the next few weeks as well. There have certainly been worse times to be an amateur Prince scholar!

P.S. It seems I forgot to add the Spotify playlist link… oops! At some point I also intend to put my renewed TIDAL subscription to good use and bring back the playlist for that streaming service–probably not until next roundup post, though.

Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody

Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody

(Featured Image: Lil’ Morris Day and Prince Nelson, in a still presumably from the cancelled Morris Babies TV series; photo stolen from Morris Day and the Time’s Facebook.)

The first four tracks recorded for the Time’s second album were all good to great: “The Walk,” “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” “Wild and Loose,” and “777-9311,” each a highlight of the group’s overall catalogue. So, to truly live up to the legacy of their 1981 debut, they were long overdue for some filler. Recorded around the same time as “777-9311” in late Spring 1982, “Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody” was exactly that: a slight, palate-cleansing trifle to fill out the first side of the album.

But it isn’t just its throwaway nature that makes this track feel like a callback to the early days of the Time. It’s also the sound: retro rock’n’roll with a dash of New Wave kitsch, not dissimilar from one of Prince’s formative influences for the group, the BusBoys–and, of course, more than a little reminiscent of his own contemporary material. In particular, “Oneday”’s squiggly main synth line recalls “Horny Toad”–another song recorded around the same time and later released as the B-side for “Delirious”–with all of the rough edges and, frankly, most of the appeal buffed away.

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