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!)

Controversy, Part 3: Do I Believe in God? Do I Believe in Me?

Controversy, Part 3: Do I Believe in God? Do I Believe in Me?

(Featured Image: Prince’s electric church in the music video for “Controversy,” 1981; © Warner Bros.)

Note: This is the third and last post on “Controversy”: a song that presents so much to unpack, I’ve opted to split my analysis into parts. Please read the first and second parts before proceeding.

Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me?

Of the famous questions Prince asks in the lyrics to “Controversy,” he only answers one–or two, depending on how you count them. The questions are, “Do I believe in God?” and, “Do I believe in me?” The answer–to both, presumably–is “yes.”

More even than the nuances of race and sexuality, this distinction between “God” and “me”–the sacred and the secular, the spirit and the flesh, etc.–was the prevailing theme of Prince’s career. This in itself hardly makes him unique: the “comingling of the profane and the spiritual is an age-old Black music trope,” writes cultural critic Touré. “Quite often in Black music history the erotic and the divine, or the concerns of Saturday night and Sunday morning, are close together in a song or a playing style or an album or a career”–including those of Prince progenitors like Little Richard, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and others (Touré 125). But while the majority of these artists vacillated between “God’s music” and “the Devil’s,” Prince’s innovation was in combining the two: making gospel-informed music that erased the fine line between matters of the body and the soul.

Continue reading “Controversy, Part 3: Do I Believe in God? Do I Believe in Me?”

d / m / s / r Year Two in Review

d / m / s / r Year Two in Review

(Featured Image: My quick ‘n’ dirty d / m / s / r logo, apologies to Warner Bros. and Andy Warhol.)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole two years since I launched dance / music / sex / romance. I want to thank everyone who’s been following along thus far; many of you, I know, have been here pretty much from the beginning. If you need a refresher on (most of) what’s happened since the last year-end round-up, here you go:

Dirty Mind, 1980
The Time, 1981

And for those who are just stumbling upon it now, here’s where I recommend you start (all of the posts in chronological order):

The Story So Far

Last but not least, here are the podcast episodes released since last June. First, the miniseries on the University of Salford’s Purple Reign conference:

Welcome to the New Story: Jane Clare Jones
The Evolution Will Be Colorized: Zack Stiegler
It’s Time Someone Programmed You: Leah McDaniel
Everybody Shut Up, Listen to the Band: Felicia Holman and Harold Pride
Something Wrong with the Machinery: Carmen Hoover
Vous êtes très belle: Joni Todd and Karen Turman
I Know That the Lord is Coming Soon: Erica Thompson
I am Something That You’ll Never Understand: Chris Aguilar-Garcia and Natalie Clifford
Yes: Chambers Stevens

Then the miscellaneous episodes, including a few with noted authors in the Prince community:

Am I Straight or Gay: Snax
24 Feelings All in a Row: Duane Tudahl
Nothing Compares: Marylou Badeaux
The Crazy Things You Do: Kimberly C. Ransom
Paisley Park is in Your Heart: Stuart Willoughby

And finally, the first installment of what I hope to be another miniseries offering alternate perspectives on Prince’s studio albums:

40 Years of For You

So, what have we done in the last 12 months? A little less than I promised this time last year, but also a lot more. If you look purely at the number of songs covered on the blog, my progress has slowed significantly: a mere 20, versus last year’s 45. If I keep up this pace, the 2036 end point I semi-jokingly offered last year just might become a reality. But I’ve also been doing a lot more than I was doing in June 2017. The podcast has taken on a life of its own; I’ve become a regular guest on another podcast, Prince: Track by Track; I wrote an essay about Prince and New Wave for publication in an anthology on Prince and the Minneapolis Sound; I presented on two panels at the Prince from Minneapolis conference; I launched my own magazine, thanks in large part to the support and goodwill of a small but dedicated group of readers.

I’m not gonna lie, I have more plans for extracurricular activities in 2018-19. Some of them depend on external forces outside my control; some of them you’ll probably be hearing about in the near future. But I also think that the next 12 months of d / m / s / r will be a little bit of a “back to basics” move. I really want to get through more than two albums by next June; I really want to go back to my weekly post routine. I have some thoughts about how to make this possible with my other commitments, which I’ll be sharing in the near future. For now, if you’ve been reading this blog, thanks for hanging in there for the lean times and thanks for your support. And if you’ve just started reading, welcome! I hope you enjoy this labor of love as much as I continue to.

Nothing Compares 2 U

Nothing Compares 2 U

(Featured Image: Cover art for “Nothing Compares 2 U,” 2018; photo by Nancy Bundt, © NPG Records/Warner Bros.)

Last week, I made my long-awaited, surreal, exhausting pilgrimage to the Twin Cities to attend the Prince from Minneapolis conference and Paisley Park’s Celebration 2018. I have complicated feelings, which I’m still processing–and will continue to do so, with the help of some other people who were there, on the podcast in the coming weeks. For now, though, I have some basic reactions to Celebration, and to the newly-released Prince song that was debuted on the event’s first day.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Celebration coming in–reports of last year’s event suggested a combination music festival, fan convention, and cult indoctrination–but in my experience, it was basically a corporate retreat for hardcore Prince fans. There were hours of panel discussions with ex-band members Gayle Chapman, Dez Dickerson, Matt Fink, and Bobby Z; photographers Allen Beaulieu, Nancy Bundt, Terry Gydesen, and Nandy McLean; and dancers Tomasina Tate and, um, Wally Safford. There were screenings of Prince concerts from the Piano & A Microphone, HitnRun 2015, and–via the associated “Prince: Live on the Big Screen” event at the Target Center–Welcome 2 America tours. There were live performances by Sheila E, fDeluxe (née the Family), and a (fantastic) new supergroup of New Power Generation alumni dubbed the Funk Soldiers. And, of course, there was the debut of the music video for Prince’s previously-unreleased studio version of his pop standard “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Continue reading “Nothing Compares 2 U”