I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God, and Genius in the Music of Prince by Ben Greenman


Greenman is a free-lance journalist, a critic, a man who has helped others write their story (Questlove, George Clinton, and Brian Wilson), and has written both fiction and non-fiction works.  He is also the biggest Prince fan ever and owns nearly every Prince song there is to be had.  I mention this in order to show that he is qualified to examine Prince's music and making determinations about it.

Prince was an extraordinary artist who was quite prolific, destroyed the notions of race and gender, and "redefined the role of sex in pop music".  Prince was like a machine who never stopped making music often staying up all night then waking up early the next morning.  He was obsessed with it. He had side projects where he mentored others and produced their records, writing the songs on the albums.

Most of these groups or solo acts were made up of women. He also offered help to those who were already established, such as Stevie Nicks (who actually asked him), Paula Abdul, Bonnie Rait, and more.  His female groups really begin with Vanity 6. They had very minor success even though Vanity wasn't the greatest singer. Vanity would be replaced with the woman who played the female lead in Purple Rain, Apollonia, and the band would be renamed Apollonia 6. While she had a better singing voice, the songs were too good and lacked the "punkish insistence" of Vanity 6.  Some of the songs that were meant for Apollonia 6 ended up going to others, such as the Bangles ("Manic Monday"), Shelia E. ("Glamours Life") and Prince himself ("17 Days").  Shelia E. and Sheena Easton, both protegees of Prince, benefitted greatly from working with him. But that was not always the case with the protegees who worked with him. Ingrid Chavez was no winner and neither was Carmen Electra, Tamar Davis or Bria Valente and let's please forget Kim Basinger.   Jill Jones was another exception of a protegee that worked out.  He worked with her on and off throughout the 1980s and finally released her album in 1987 which "offers a nearly perfectly disillusion of the Minneapolis aesthetic synth-heavy funk loaded with double entendre, heartfelt ballads, and layered vocal arrangements." He was a Svengali, however, his connection with his own female identity meant he was just as caught in the web as they were.

On all of Prince's albums, he always gave thanks to God. He had a faith in God that came out in his music. On the song "Let's Go Crazy" it starts off with a church organ and a sermonesque talking bit about the afterworld.  He recorded a song called "God" that was subtitled "Love Theme From Purple Rain" that was put on a B side. In America and Britain it was instrumental, but elsewhere there were words that described the end times and how you should dance in response to it.  The song "Temptation" describes how Prince let his carnal desires keep him from the divine.  "Sometimes It Snows In April" shows Christopher Tracy as a Christ figure waiting for resurrection.  "The Cross" couldn't have been more plainly faith-based.

The book also covers sex in his music, race and politics in his music, why he changed his name and the chaos that ensued, his frustration with his fans and the internet, what he was like on stage, and how he was able to produce so much for so long.  This book was an odd if somewhat interesting read. The author reminds you of the English major who sees symbolism everywhere when sometimes a lyric is just a lyric so to speak.  He does love the music but is not too blind to admit when a song sucks.  I also have to say his knowledge of the music is unparalleled.  One thing I really enjoyed was the list of albums and songs at the end with his pick of one song from the album and a brief description of why it was so good.  Overall this wasn't such a bad book. It was highly informative and gave this Prince fan some songs to hunt down.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Dig-If-You-Will-Picture-ebook/dp/B01MRU59CS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502109433&sr=8-1&keywords=dig+if+you+will+the+picture

  

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