Sex & Gender battle/balance in Prince’s looks + music.
Welcome a flood of transubstantiation
PRINCE: Inside The Music and The Masks by Ronin Ro.
COVER REVIEW: Check out the crucial use of Pantone Purple spot-color Offset, printed to heavenly standards on ultra-matte Shark Skin premium paper. A tactile treasure with a sandy-soft feel, this next-level stock is a mastery of texture. Crack the perfect binding and you’ll find your soul complete. Beyond iconic, this illustrated cover bears a photo from the musician’s Parade era, transfixed with beatific vision. A magnetic mannequin, Prince looks on, frozen, serene as porcelain: a Byronic duotone Christ come to avenge funk, soul, rock and roll with a caliber of FULL-FACE-Faggotry unseen since Little Richard’s retreat to the closet.
The author, Ronin Ro, glosses over the profound gender expressionism of The Star. Barely mentioned—and deeply misinterpreted—is Prince’s mysteriously scrapped album: Camille, concepted and recorded from his divinely-developed feminine persona. Ro falls in with the bros at Warner Music—who resisted the record—reducing The Artists’ composition to a simple, silly matter of “sped up vocals.” Over and over, Ro commits to butching up the Queenly King of Sound, frequently excusing the artist’s high heels and costuming with some variant of the “Chicks Dig It, Man” defense. Ew! Bret Michaels, Prince was not.
I relent. Ro is a wonderfully compelling journalist, fully illustrating Prince’s struggle to create boundary-free music for a culture deep in the trenches of sublimated segregation. A measly two decades after Vietnam and the Civil Rights creshendo, the 1980s brought on a pretense of post-racial “We Are The World” missionary colonialism, while radio-waves and neighborhoods remained divided. Prince united audiences, and set the standard to top every chart. With fairness, Ro gives ink to the anti-gay tensions rife throughout the artist’s early tour with Rick James, among many others. Of note: Run-DMC + LL Cool J’s impatience for the brilliance of Shiela E.’s stiletto-pounding percussive performances. Most puzzling: Prince’s bitter quest to “elevate” rap. The road to progress is always problematic.
After the label’s bid to censor Camille, the material streamed into a proposed triple album, Crystal Ball, which then evolved into the live opera, Glam Slam Ulysses, co-written by David Henry Hwang—author of the Tony Award winning ode to genderfuck: M. Butterfly. Other tracks found their way into 1987’s Sign o’ The Times, and 1994’s Come.
(Editrix Note: The Scribbler departs from Ronin Ro’s Scholarship hereon.)
Looking past behind-the-times executives, it’s possible Prince recognized he need not apply post-production tricks to access his innate force of womanhood. No one can deny, Prince has always been the master of Pitch-Play. And a respectful one at that. As his falsetto fails him during the production of 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls, Prince bows to a more able avatar—gospel resounding through the pure kthonic power of Rosie Gaines, on the title track she belts: LOVE IS THE MASTER PLAN.
The holy unity of female & male iconography is inextricable from Prince’s work. Beyond the binary, gender metamorphosis is concentrated in the esoteric Love Symbol.
Prince famously changed his name to this unpronounceable (and unspeakable) icon Logographic in attempt to cut ties with his oppressive record label—the slick scoundrels at Warner Brothers trademarked his birth name, a brutal denial of the singer’s independence and autonomy. As such, they had right to stifle his insurmountable body of work. Unfortunately, this kind of spiritual and legal robbery is common in the entertainment industry, with a long line from Louis B. Mayer’s systematic drugging of Judy Garland, to Phil Spector’s “motivational” gun-point murders, to Harvey Weinstein’s strong-arming of everyone from Rose McGowan to Gwyneth Goop to HRH Winslet. Occam’s Razor: not limited to unfamous “little people” like Gerri Santoro and Sandra Bland, it happens on the A-List too.
I digress!—The name-change was a move made with much more significance than we can allot to a legal loophole alone. For The Purple One had reached at a point of no return—after 13 albums, several film projects, and a list of successful associated acts longer than Leviathan: he achieved artistic apotheosis. Exceeding the limits of time and space, fusion with his work was total. “I am music,” he professed.
Later in life, He reclaimed His given name, but the Symbol would persist.
Watch, listen, learn while Larry King asks the tough questions with all the finesse of a drunk bus driver in this cryptic 1999 interview with The Star.
Prince’s religious thesis was unique til the end, defying typical theology. A lifelong Christian and latter-day Jehovah’s Witness: he would never abandon the sacred, ancient act of gender bending. Prince practiced a particular brand of find-Jesus-through-sex, and sang about it in just about every song. In a 2016 New York Times article, Touré quotes The Artist’s longtime manager, Alan Leeds: “For him the love of God and the sexual urges we feel are one and the same.…it all comes from the same root inside a human being. God planted these urges and it’s never wrong to feel that way. The urge itself is a holy urge.” Slain!
Ever mystic, Prince hid this truth in plain sight as early as 1984, with the hypnotic, backward-looped choral-coda of his naughtiest: “Darling Nikki”. Notably, this very verse disturbed the indefensible Tipper Gore to her rotten core, prompting the construction of the Left Wing’s bridge to the fascist Right with censorial “Explicit Content” stickers. (This here Writer-Witch wagers: it was YOU, Nasty Tip, who insidiously inspired the long line of liberal permissiveness for policed language, art, and thought. A policed future is a miserable one!) Tipper, of course, heard a voice that commanded submission to Satanic impulses; a testimony this scribbler will not refute—as Gore clearly has a direct line to Hell.
But Tipper isn’t always wrong. The Artist had been undeniably debauched, as rock-stardom brings externalized sexual fulfillment. With sensual solipsism, a committed journey inward would present the next glorious level of consciousness.
Prince believed the most sanctified of marriages were the utterly hidden and impenetrable ones; deep within the psyche, where our feminine & masculine selves find one another, spilling into harmonious, free-form unity. Brain, Body, Unlimited Identity: ascending into One. To Him, this Heavenly clash was transcendence itself, and the sole means of creative (read: immaculate) conception.
Duality gets extreme play in the soundtrack for Tim Burton’s Batman. In an accompanying full-length MTV film, mutable morality and polychrome identity climax in the final number, “Batdance”, with an elaborate, double-cast of characters. Morphing from frame to frame, a circus of Batmen face-off against a chorus of Jokerwomen, who then splash over to the other side of the gender spectrum: and vice versa. IF ONLY the rest of us could transition by aid of ultraviolet light and sfumato fog alone!
Prince’s most potent confessions dazzle in the music video for Parade’s “Kiss”, where the artist dances with a cloaked feminine form, his teasing Anima. Supreme, slippery, and thriving: she demands relentless creativity and cunning to be reached. The elusive, sheer-sheathed companion is The Artists’ shadow-self in spiked pointe shoes: subconscious, thus sacrosanct, able to travel back and forth to the underworld, retrieving every secret. A delightful game that is always worth it, should one have the strength. In all, Prince brings these sanctified truths to full-fruition in four minutes. For Carl Jung, the credited cartographer of the Anima-animus concept, it would take decades of digging—from his belly button to his brain—to make any coherence of this theory.
The Artist eventually found the externalization of this psyche-symbol in the form of Mayte Garcia, a thriving antecedent to the static Kim Kardashian—and author of the official tell-all, The Most Beautiful.
Introduced to the prodigy when she was just 16, Prince was staggered by Garcia’s ecstatic ballet-belly dancing: idealized supernatural fantasy made corporeal.
Like purple, red, and gold mercury—the pair would go on to perform with the unrepentant tenacity of crushing-creative love—a mind-blending, otherworldly mirror-dance unseen or heard of since Ovid’s tale of Salmacis & Hermaphroditus. Prince + Mayte’s ending, however was less happy than the total unity of classical literature’s Queer, river-bound lovers.
In 1996, the momentary joy of their son’s birth would be followed by a mysterious death six days later. Do yourself a favor and NEVER watch the Oprah interview where they show a unified front—clenching tears, claiming their child is alive. We are still sobbing.
Proving that even the most sacred of Pop Culture Saints are subject to fallibility, Prince burned every single one of the possessions he and Garcia procured for their lost child. A divorce and gag-order on his wife soon followed.
Now, with Prince’s untimely death, Mayte is finally allowed the last word: “My whole body felt taken over with rage. It felt hot and toxic and lasted for a long, long time…I would never get over him,” she explains in her book, a hardback Pietà. Still, she moved on. While Prince would create until his last, painful day, little of his output would have the impact of Mayte’s behind-the-scenes work. Agency to the core: in the new millennium, Garcia snatched at the chance to play puppeteer, offering a spell of choreography to Britney Spears’ turning-point production, “I’m A Slave 4 U”. With Mayte’s help, Princess takes King of Kings. Dearest Prince, Rest in Perfection.
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