“I Am #Transformed”
At the EyeO Festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I celebrated what would have been Prince’s 58th birthday with a talk connecting immigration & migration, artistry & technology, grave injustices & profound triumphs.
By the end of his life, Prince claimed a cultural and artistic victory that was every bit as profound and unique as his music.
This talk was designed as a one-time tribute to Prince’s artistry, courage and unique spirit. Collected here are sources, footnotes and related links designed to add context and clarity to the video of the talk, as well as errata covering my errors and omissions along the way. (Apologies for those; I did the talk without notes.)
“I am #transformed” is divided into 7 themed chapters, each beginning with a fun Prince Fact.
Prince Fact 1: “Graffiti Bridge” & Prince’s Trackball
01:25 — Errata: Prince’s computer in Graffiti Bridge is a Mac SE, not a Mac IISE, per Nicola D’Agostino. The MIDI sequencing software that Prince is using is called “Performer”, created by MOTU. It’s unclear what model of trackball Prince is using.
Here’s a GIF I made of Prince turning his back on the beautiful Jill Jones in order to focus on using his giant trackball with his Mac SE.
Chapter 1: American. Indians.
05:30—Depicted in this photo of a Mexican-Sikh couple are Valentina Alvarez and Rullia Singh, from Karen Leonard’s Punjabi Mexican American Papers at Stanford. Karen is cited in a this story about some of the last members of the Punjabi-Mexican community, and she explores the topic fully in Making Ethnic Choices, her book on the community and its identity.
06:00—Vaishno Das Bagai’s story is best told by his granddaughter, Rani Bagai; the photo here is from her collection. The Bagai family’s story is also recollected on the Immigrant Voices site, an archive of immigration stories about the Pacific Coast run by the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.
06:45—Errata: Zarif Khan is the man we’re talking about, though I incorrectly referred to him as “Zafir”. This photo of Khan is from a site for alumni of Sheridan High School. The definitive documentation of Khan’s life and impact as Tamale Louie is Kathryn Schulz’s “Citizen Khan”, from The New Yorker.
07:44—Bhagat Singh Thind’s descendants maintain a detailed archive about his life. This first photo showing Thind at Camp Lewis is from the incredible collection of the South Asian American Digital Archive.
08:25—The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project offers an entire section on the Bellingham riots. Errata: In this talk, I stated that South Asian immigrants in Bellingham were killed in the 1907 riots; while South Asians were killed in earlier similar riots and lynchings in Washington, in the 1907 attacks, victims were assaulted, had their homes ransacked, and were run out of town, but official records do not show that any were killed.
08:45—The 1917 Immigration Act was also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, which did a pretty good job of explaining its intent.
09:05—In 1923, under United States v Bhagat Singh Thind, the Supreme Court rejected citizenship for South Asian immigrants. It is in that case that we find Thind’s declaration of antiblackness as his (unsuccessful) basis for proving his suitability for citizenship.
The high-caste Hindu regards the aboriginal Indian Mongoloid in the same manner as the American regards the Negro, speaking from a matrimonial standpoint.
Prince Fact 2: “Computer Blue” & Poor Lonely Computer
12:15—The released version of “Computer Blue” is available on the Purple Rain album.
12:45—Full text of the “poor lonely computer” lyrics elided from “Computer Blue”:
Poor lonely computer
It’s time someone programmed U
It’s time U learned love and lust
They both have 4 letters
But they’re entirely different words
Poor lonely computer
Poor, poor lonely computer
Do U really know what love is?
13:50—Though “Father’s Song” was never released on its own, there are bootleg recordings of Prince’s piano version of the song circulating amongst fans.
14:08—Full lyrics of the “hallway speech” Prince makes in unreleased versions of “Computer Blue”, alluding to virtual hallways that each connect to certain emotions:
He didn’t like living alone
The house where he lived had many hallways
It was a long walk 2 his bedroom
Because 2 him each hallway represented an emotion
Every one vastly different from the next
One day while she was with him
He decided 2 name each one
She walked by his side, one hand on his thigh
No — she was sort of half a step behind him
Yeah, the grip on his thigh intensified
As they walked slowly through the corridor
He named the hallway “Lust”
And as they passed through the next one
He named it “Fear”
The grip she now loosened
So he walked faster
Her hands now trembling
She let dropped 2 her side as he wrote the word “Insecurity”
He looked into her eyes and smiled a demon smile
And quickly walked onto the next
Corridor after corridor
He named almost all when suddenly… he stopped
He picked up the word “Hate”
She was gone
So he picked up another — “Pain”
Chapter 2: Migration
15:00—Though there are many resources covering the Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns is generally acclaimed as one of the most definitive places to start.
15:25—Victor Greene’s Negro Motorist Green Book is eloquently remembered in this Carvell Wallace piece.
15:45—Phyllis Wheatley, the pioneering African American poet, lent her name to a lot of buildings and institutions across America. In Minneapolis, though it was the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center (first opened in 1924) that took her name. Though today it performs a wide variety of roles as a general community center, from its earliest days, it was a safe haven as a settlement house that welcomed African Americans, especially women. It was this function that first earned it a place in the Green Book as a notable stop for black travelers who were visiting the Twin Cities.
16:05—Roots author Alex Haley contributed to Movin’ Up, the autobiography of Berry “Pop” Gordy, Sr. On Haley’s website in a discussion of his introduction to the book, it mentions Gordy’s birth on a plantation in Georgia in 1922, and his eventual participation in the Great Migration northward to Detroit.
16:30—The Arkansas Black Hall of Fame approvingly claims Joseph Jackson as one of its own, for having been born in Fountain Hill, Arkansas in 1929. Fountain Hill is said to have then had a population of just 68 people. Jackson would eventually settle in Gary, Indiana in 1947, where he would marry Katharine Scruse and father the legendary Jackson family of entertainers, including his son Michael Jackson in 1958.
17:00—John Nelson was born in Cotton Valley, Louisiana in 1916 (population 1,009). His path along the Great Migration would bring him to Minneapolis in 1948, where he would marry Mattie Shaw and have his son Prince Nelson in 1958.
17:25—This photo of the Prince Rogers Trio dates to the late 40s and is courtesy of the John Glanton Collection at the Hennepin County Library.
The bass player here may be Fred Anderson, father of Andre (Cymone) Anderson. The resemblance between John and his son is a little more obvious when compared to this photo.
Prince Fact 3: Yahoo & the Linn LM-1 Drum Machine
17:50— “Anybody who has followed my career knows how much technology has meant 2 me.” There are no online archives for Yahoo’s Internet Life magazine but fans have archived the magazine’s 2001 interview with Prince, which is extraordinary for its prescience:
Napster was inevitable — a file-sharing program that allowed the user to be a part of the process — especially given the general arrogance of the music industry as a whole. I mean, $18 a CD. Where are they getting that? The production costs aren’t going up, that’s for sure. People are getting hip to that. This is a wonderful time, because everything is shifting. Everybody can be an artist — and there are good and bad consequences to that. But people who control their own work will succeed. Look at Bill Gates. The man is unstoppable. He never sold out. He never sold the rights to his software.
The interview referenced his recurring theme of the time, in which he evoked The Matrix (one of his favorite films) in recommending people be mindful of the impact that the Internet might have on them. Given the contemporary issues with online abuse, it’s particularly notable that Prince said in 2001:
I’m not one to judge what is beautiful. I do know what isn’t beautiful. Everybody’s a critic. People are flaming each other without any knowledge of the effect it has on others — the kind of physical, psychological effect it has on them.
As part of his promotion with Yahoo, he showed up at Yahoo’s award ceremony that year, again referencing The Matrix. You can watch Prince’s full speech from the 2001 Yahoo Internet awards:
Chapter 3: Invention.
19:25—Bo Diddley (born Ellas Bates) was captured with one of his cigar box-style guitars in this photo from the Frank Driggs Collection of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Rolling Stone would name his homemade cigar box guitar one of the 20 most iconic guitars of the rock and roll era.
20:00—Jimi Hendrix’s pioneering work in helping create the earliest and most influential guitar effects is well documented from collaborators like Roger Mayer. This photo of Jimi using his pedals at his 1970 show at the Isle of Wight festival isn’t just iconic (the festival renamed their main stage after his performance!), it makes a great inspiration and illustration for a physicist’s explanation of the science behind guitar distortion.
20:40—There’s a great interview with a longtime employee of Hohner (makers of the Clavinet keyboard) centered on Stevie Wonder’s pioneering use of the instrument in the 70s.
22:17—Aretha Franklin’s dogged, sometimes over-the-top focus on being paid fairly (and up front!) is best documented in David Ritz’s excellent, defintive biography, Respect. It’s an incredible history covering not just Aretha’s career, but a moment in the civil rights movement, in the maturation of popular entertainment, in the transformation of church’s place in society, and in the ascendance of the cultural centrality of black women. I can’t recommend it enough.
22:55—It’s hard to document all of the related acts that George Clinton and the P-Funk family were involved in; I liked this list of just the top dozen acts.
Chapter 4: Highways.
24:35—The Federal Highway Administration has a history of the creation of the Interstate Highway System, which would later be named after Dwight Eisenhower, who spearheaded its passage.
24:35—From the OurDocuments.gov site, we can see an actual image of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which became popularly known as the “National Interstate and Defense Highways Act”, reflecting the argument that highway building would strengthen the nation’s defenses.
24:45—The United States is relatively unique in that our highway policy was to build only highways, to the exclusion of other methods of transportation. Peter Norton from the University of Virginia makes a striking case for how this extremism has worked to the detriment of urban conditions.
26:15—The interactions between South Asian identity and the antiblack structures of Jim Crow laws were complex; Sri Lankan scholar Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneratne used to promote the use of turbans as a way of avoiding systemic anti-black discrimination. Given contemporary violence against turban wearers due to islamophobia, it’s striking to think of turbans as a tool of succumbing to respectability politics.
Prince Fact 5: Interactive CD-ROM!
27:00—Prince’s Interactive CD-ROM is actually not that bad, upon replaying it. I made a GIF that kind of gives you a feel for the splendour of the visuals when you explore the various rooms in the game.
If you want to see what it was like to play the game in full, I made a complete walkthrough video on YouTube, and unbelievably, it has almost 19,000 views despite being two hours long.
Chapter 5: Redlining.
28:50—The original Yellow Book map of proposed “interregional” highways looked like this (from the US Government Printing Office, via Wikipedia):
29:15—The Yellow Book’s suggested plans for where to locate highways in the Twin Cities predominantly located them in marginalized neighborhoods. This image is from Adam Froehlig’s excellent and incredibly detailed highway history website.
More on the Yellow Book, as well as other colors of books:
30:00—Much has been written about the impact that Robert Moses’ construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway had on the culture and community of the South Bronx. One of the most seminal accounts connecting that impact to the genesis of hip hop is Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. And the most important documentation of Moses’ broader impact is in the absolutely essential The Power Broker, by Robert Caro.
30:30—The first “slum map” we see of St. Paul was created by Dr. Calvin Schmid, and rediscovered by cartographer Geoff Maas. Maas’ work was shared by City Pages in this striking piece detailing the impact that I-94 construction had on Rondo, the pre-eminent black neighborhood of the Twin Cities.
30:35—Maas made a much more legible, color-coded version of the same map, which we can find on Streets.mn.
31:25—The similar Minneapolis map can be sourced to this City Pages article with the unusual headline, “Check out this super racist Minneapolis map from 1935”.
31:50—The original Phyllis Wheatley House of Minneapolis was on the near Northside, (it’s upper left on the map, not upper-right as I say here) as indicated by the African American Registry’s mention of its location.
31:55—The Historyapolis Project’s article about the Phyllis Wheatley House makes explicit mention of its place in the Negro Motorist Green Book.
32:05—The neighborhood change maps showing highway construction are courtesy of the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma.
32:15—When I spoke at the Eyeo Festival, the venue for my talk was the Nicollet Island Pavilion, on Nicollet Island. Other events at the Festival took place at the Walker Art Center, which was accessed via the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge over I-94.
32:55—Most of the stories about the Anderson family are sourced to private correspondence I had with Andre (Cymone) Anderson. There’s also a wonderful remembrance of “Queen Bernie” at Insight News. Andre’s father, Fred Anderson, played together with John Nelson in the 50s, and may have been in the photo of the Prince Nelson Trio, above (17:25).
33:30—This photo of Bernadette Anderson is from a 1985 profile of her in People Magazine, as Prince and her son Andre reached their peak fame. It’s shared by The Numero Group, whose incredible collection Purple Snow is the single best compilation of the early sounds of the Minneapolis funk scene.
34:15—The photo of Linda Anderson, André Cymone, Morris Day, Terry Jackson, Prince, and William Doughty was originally shared in this Wax Poetics interview with Andre. Twin Cities public television put together a nice history of North Minneapolis, including this video where Bernadette’s son Edward is interviewed about the history that happened in her basement.
34:35—The photo of Prince in the basement of the Russell Avenue house was taken by Sylvia Anderson, shared with the Hennepin History Museum, and featured on the Historyapolis blog.
35:05—The 94 East sessions were released a few times, with the most significant being in the 80s when Prince was at peak popularity and once in the 90s after Prince changed his name. Some of their work appears on the Purple Snow compilation from Numero Group, or on various 94 East releases still available on Amazon.
Prince Fact 6: Owning Your Masters
35:50—This Prince chat with fans happened on his Love4OneAnother website, not on AOL as I had recalled, but fortunately the text has been archived.
Chapter 6: Changing the music industry.
36:45—Prince loved the Linn LM-1 drum machine, as noted at 17:50 in this talk. His comments on the Linn are especially resonant:
Anybody who has followed my career knows how much technology has meant to me. When it was three o’clock in the morning, and I’d try to get [Revolution drummer] Bobby Z to come out to the studio, sometimes he’d come, sometimes he wouldn’t. But I’ve had this Roger Linn drum machine since 1981. It’s one of the first drum machines ever created. It takes me five seconds to put together a beat on this thing. So from the very start, technology gave me a direct result for my efforts. I’m a very simple person.
Last fall, Prince asked his Twitter followers who their favorite drummer was, retweeting a fan’s suggestion he was his own favorite drummer, linking to this Instagram photo. My response was to post this photo of a Linn LM-1, which he retweeted:
Prince later deleted all his retweets of fan responses, as he did with all his “caption contest” tweets, but it was clear he had kept a soft spot in his heart for that piece of hardware.