A Dick Down the Audience’s Throat: Tales from Prince
Prologue: Once upon a time in a land called Minneapolis, lived a Purple Prince. This afro crowned boy was the son of a jazz musician and a singer. He had no gold coins but discipline and talent where his treasure. He taught himself to play piano. Moving to drums to guitar too, playing each with virtuoso skill, and making beautiful music all day and all night. When the people heard him, they knew this Prince was cool. They would line up around the block to hear him play. The Prince had many masks. He was Jamie Star, The Kid, Camille, Alexander Nevermind, Joey Coco, Tora Tora and the Symboltoo. His voice was like warm honey and ice cream. It took him around the world; singing songs for the rebels and the regal but always coming home to Minneapolis, where he believed the cold and the ice “kept the bad people out.”
These fairy tale pros tell the very true story of a magic man. His name has permeated modern music and pop culture for almost four decades. His name is shorthand for air born guitars, squelchy electro drum beats and synths dripped in sex. His name is royal. It’s lubricated. It’s the deepest purple. His name transcends race, gender and the confines of the music industry itself. It’s as if one little man from Minneapolis is just too big for definition.
There is the pop Prince. The multi-million selling superstar. There is the ethereal Prince, who sings about making love through the apocalypse, rivers of menstrual blood and psychedelic masturbation. There is the film star, the outsider, the pervert, the ghost writer, the live powerhouse, but more than anything — there is the musician: a vessel in which Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Joni Mitchell and James Brown pollinated each other’s sounds to create something we’d never heard before.
His name is Prince. He is music.
At 19, Prince has a record deal and releases his debut album For You. It opens with the declaration: “All of this and more is for you / With love, sincerity and deepest care / My life with you I share”.
A Dick Down the Audience’s Throat
In the words of Gayle Chapman, Keyboards 1978–1980
“We had a tiff one day. I asked Prince why he and Andre would use the ’N’ word with each other. He said it was none of my business. I got angry and asked why he’d hired me. “Because you have blonde hair and blue eyes. You fit the bill.” I was hurt because I wondered what any of that had to do with my talent but then he came back with “You’re the funkiest white chick I ever met”.
Our first big break was as the support act on the Rick James tour. Rick would get his crew together back stage with booze and joints and they would chant: “Shit, God damn! Get off your ass and jam!” I said “We should have our own way of preparing.” I suggested a prayer and Prince was ok with it. We’d hold hands and I’d say “Lord thanks for keeping us focused. Let us go out and really stomp tonight in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” Pretty soon, Prince started leading the prayer. He was going on stage and singing about oral sex but he was acknowledging Jesus too.
I think we were in Alabama and Prince had given us the set list. The way the whole thing was modelled was like putting a dick down the audience’s throat. He wanted to say “OK America! We’re black, white, men and women, gender and race don’t matter!” He was comfortable in high heel boots and bikini briefs. He was embracing the idea that you can love in an unconventional way. It doesn’t make you a bad person.
He put me out front doing dance moves in everyone’s face. He would have me on my back on all fours and pretend to play keyboard off my stomach. He’d stick his tongue down my throat. We were doing stuff on stage to suggest interracial promiscuity. It was intentional. He was hypersexual. The audience was all black kids. They loved him but they would boo me.”
In the words of Susan Rogers
“I can tell you what I remember. I’ve thought about this a lot. It was Winter in Minneapolis. A few months after Prince had broken off his engagement with Sussanah Melvoin, the twin sister of Wendy. He called me into record that day at his home studio. It was just the two of us. I think it was on the weekend. He left me a note saying what he wanted; sounds that were big, long reverb. It was going to be a ballad.
It starts with spoken word. He was speaking to Wally. Wally was a member of his crew at that time; one of the dancers on stage. He’s talking about wanting to go out and he compliments Wally on his glasses. “Can I try them on? I’m going to a party tonight and I want to look good.” He’s saying ‘I want to go out is because I just broke up with someone and I want to see if I can get someone new’.
There’s a melody underneath. He goes into a chorus repeating ‘Oh my la de da. Oh my la de da’. It’s play on words because it’s like ‘oh my melody’ and also, ‘oh my malady’ — my sickness. It breaks down. There’s a crescendo. The song gets huge. He layers the backing vocals and the piano gets really big. It breaks down. He says to Wally: “You can have your glasses back. I’m not going out”.
It was beautiful. Just beautiful. The arrangements, the idea, the expressions; just gorgeous. After we finished recording, he said “Put all 24 tracks in record and erase it.” He said it very calmly. I said “No. Think about it. Sleep on in”. He said “I’ll do it.” He put all 24 tracks in record, ready. He hit record and erased it. It was gone.
I was naïve. I didn’t know about artistic nature. It taught me why artists create. They create to say something. Just because you’ve said something, it doesn’t mean you want it heard. It’s like a diary. Sometimes you just want to get it out. He didn’t want it heard. He didn’t want it known.”
Excerpted from Prince — Stories From The Purple Underground (Stories Behind the Songs), by Mobeen Azhar, published by Carlton.
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