Moonbeam Levels (The New Master)

Moonbeam Levels (The New Master)

(Featured Image: Outtake from the 1999 photo sessions, by Allen Beaulieu; © the Prince Estate.)

Note: Incredibly, it’s been just over three years since I first wrote about “Moonbeam Levels” for dance / music / sex / romance. That post focused on the song’s status as the first posthumously-released track from Prince’s Vault, and was colored by the then-recent passings of both Prince and David Bowie, who I still consider to be an unsung source of inspiration for the song. You can still read that version if you want; but here is what I now consider to be the official d / m / s / r take on “Moonbeam Levels.”

In early July 1982, after spending the latter half of the spring back home in Minnesota, Prince returned to Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. His goal, almost certainly, was to put the finishing touches on the album that would become 1999. But in typical fashion, he overshot that goal: instead, launching himself into the stratosphere with the appropriately extraterrestrial outtake “Moonbeam Levels.”

In some ways, “Moonbeam Levels” feels very much of a piece with the other songs Prince was recording in mid-1982. Like many of the tracks that would end up on 1999, it opens with a prominent Linn LM-1 beat: in this case, the mechanical pulse of a bass drum, punctuated by a hiss of synthesized exhaust. To this futuristic foundation, Prince adds Blade Runner synth pads and lyrics evoking space travel: his narrator fantasizes about “a nice condo overlookin’ the rings of Saturn” and asks for the titular “moonbeam levels,” a poetic turn of phrase that conjures up images of interplanetary transmissions and cosmic rays. Meanwhile, the ever-present threat of annihilation looms: Prince imagines a never-written novel with the capsule summary, “Boy loses girl in a rainstorm, nuclear World War III,” his pet themes of personal and global apocalypse summed up in a single, devastating line. The whole package feels custom-built for precisely the kind of science-fiction pop-funk epic Prince had spent the past six months assembling piece by piece.

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Patreon Exclusive: Review – The Beautiful Ones

Patreon Exclusive: Review – The Beautiful Ones

(Featured Image: Cover art for The Beautiful Ones by Prince, from Amazon.)

As promised, I’ve sorted through my thoughts on The Beautiful Ones, the new part-memoir, part-scrapbook from the Prince estate, and have made them available for patrons here:

Patreon Exclusive: Review – The Beautiful Ones

TL;DR version for non-patrons: it is what it is, I’m glad it exists, but it’s inescapably dwarfed by the possibilities of what a completed memoir might have been. On the other hand, this is Prince we’re talking about, so who’s to say that the book would have ever come out even if he’d lived to finish it?

I’m sure a lot of readers have also been digging into The Beautiful Ones this last week, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment and let me know how you’re processing the book, what you think of it, what’s most (or least) compelling to you, etc.! And of course, if you haven’t bought the book yet, feel free to do so using my Amazon affiliate link.

A few housekeeping-type notes before I go: first, now that I’m pretty sure I have my shit together again, the blog is moving back to a Patreon-first schedule: I’m hoping to have the next post (on “Horny Toad”) up for patrons tomorrow, to appear on the regular blog next week. After that, I’m once again leaving the next post up to patrons: the choice is between “Lust U Always” and “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya,” and as of this writing the former is winning. If you have a dog in this particular fight and want your voice to be heard, you can become a patron at the $5 level or above and vote–preferably by the end of the weekend, as I’ll need to start writing soon!

Finally, you might have noticed that the blog is now ad-free; this is an intentional choice, both because I’m shilling the Patreon enough without involving other revenue streams and because frankly today’s Internet ad rates are too low to justify the ugliness of advertisements all over the website. Thanks for tolerating them while they were here.

I think that’s it for now. Looking ahead, if I can keep to my current schedule, we’ll be closing out 2019 with a real big one. I can’t wait!

I Don’t Wanna Leave You

I Don’t Wanna Leave You

(Featured Image: The Time’s Morris Day and his sparring partner, the Artist Formerly Known as Jamie Starr, circa 1982; photo by Allen Beaulieu.)

The Time’s second album, What Time is It?, was released on August 25, 1982–just two weeks after the self-titled debut by Vanity 6. It easily outperformed both Vanity 6 and the Time’s own debut, and effectively tied with Prince’s previous album Controversy: peaking at Number 26 on the Billboard 200 and Number 2 on the Black Albums (recently renamed from “Soul”) chart.

Despite their success–or, more likely, because of it–Prince was determined to keep the spinoff group in their place. Studio tech Don Batts recalled him showing up to one of the band’s rehearsals with a rough mix of the finished record: “He threw the cassette at [guitarist] Jesse [Johnson] and said, ‘Hey man, you play really good on your album,’” Batts told biographer Per Nilsen. “That kind of comment, it was like saying, ‘Hey puppets!’” (Nilsen 1999 108).

More than anything, though, Prince kept his grip on the Time’s strings by saving their best material for himself. It’s hard to hear What Time is It?’s underwhelming closing track, “I Don’t Wanna Leave You,” without imagining a stronger alternative in its place: something that would end the album with a bang, rather than a whimper. Something, that is, like “International Lover,” which Prince had originally conceived for his side project back in January before poaching it for the finale of his own forthcoming album

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