This is not a book for casual Prince fans but that’s great – and anyway are there any books for the casual Prince fan? And are there in fact any casual Prince fans? Anyone reading a book about Prince is after more than just a timeline I should think. Particularly since he’s one of the few artists of the modern era who so perfectly understood the benefit of mystique, of retaining some mystery; heck, of flat-out selling a few lies…
Touré understands all of this – and, as this small volume demonstrates, a hell of a lot more beyond.
Using pop-culture references and taking diversionary trips off to lands of psychology, sociology, philosophy and spirituality, Touré makes a decent fist of unpacking some of the Prince mythology; of assessing Prince’s insatiable quest to become a superstar, an icon.
It’s a riveting read – one that Prince fans should be thankful for. We hear from ex-girlfriends and band members, there’s a hilarious – and revealing – recount of Touré interviewing Prince for a mid-90s magazine cover story. And there is a journey through not just the obvious influences (nice to have Touré mention the very obvious Joni Mitchell influence on Prince and how incongruous that seems given the more overt James Brown, Sly Stone, George Clinton worship).
The combination of the sacred and the profane was a big part in Prince’s allure – and in that mystique. He used sexuality to sell religion to a mainstream audience, he subverted not only religion but politics and the paranoia of the early part of the 1980s in pop songs as sharp and slim as this volume of words celebrating (a part of) his career.
So this book is all about Prince’s ascendency – it jumps around rather than following a strict chronology and it concentrates on the making of the man, early key albums such as Dirty Mind and 1999 and on to the global success of Purple Rain and the last of the sure-fire classics, Sign O’ The Times.
But actually it’s not about the albums and it’s not really about the music – beyond attempts to explain how the music is the lifeblood, maybe even the actual life-force that enables/propels Prince.
Touré enjoys various leaping-off points, assessing Generation X against Baby Boomers, the 1980s pop music experimentation as a flipside to the 1960s hippie counterculture; the movies of John Hughes and other key Gen X pop-culture players.
It’s a smart book – and good timing for it too. It’s been easy across the last two decades to paint Prince as a kook. Even people who aren’t fans tend to give him plenty of credit for that phenomenal first decade but having an engaging, thoughtful writer showing a lifetime of emersion in the music and a careful approach to current research and editing has allowed a book that is deceptive in its scope.
We learn a lot more about Prince’s methods and motivations here than in some of the other books; including the stricter biographical tomes.
Touré also gives Prince a lot of credit, a lot of praise for being a clever, insightful scene-setter with economical, deceptively simple lyric writing. And of course he’s right.
Lots to like here – in a short skim of pages too. It’ll have you going back to your favourite early albums; it’ll have you pondering, yet again, if that so often overused word ‘genius’ actually covers it all properly when it comes to Prince.