The Artist Currently (and Formerly) Known as . . .

I’m an 80s girl. By that I mean that the ages typically known as the “formative years” for a person, middle and high school, happened for me between 1981 -1987. If you want to include college, that extends me out to 1991 (Now, you all know how old I am!). But the entirety of my teenage years happened in the 1980s.

The upshot to this is that much of the music permanently ensconced in my gray matter comes from that time period. I can’t remember what the “plan” is for this weekend, but I can remember all the lyrics to that Roxette song I heard while watching Pretty Woman the other day. Even though I haven’t heard that song since the last time I watched that movie. (Which, I promise you, has been more than a decade.)

Even as a white, middle class girl from the suburbs of a small city, two of the major influences on my musical development from that time period were Michael Jackson and Prince. But since they were two of the biggest names in the music business during that time, this really is no surprise. I’m not sure what attracted me to their largely androgynous appearances, but I was thoroughly enticed. I had Michael Jackson posters all over my bedroom walls and watched, and listened to, Purple Rain more times than I can count. (In my semi-defense, this was the era of HBO having 3-4 movies per month that they would show over and over and over again. So, I’ve pretty much seen ALL the movies of that time period a bajillion times). Because of my emerging adolescent self and all the hormones and whatnot that accompany this life event, I’m sure their songs’ pulse-pounding beats, titillating lyrics and gyrating dance moves (viewed via the MTV channel that actually showed music videos) had more than a little to do with my interest.

IWouldDie4UDiversions from your formative years die hard. So when I came across a review of I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon by Touré, I knew I had to read it. This book is a compilation of 3 lectures given by the author, a music journalist and television personality, for the Alan LeRoy Locke Lecture Series at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. Did you realize that there’s a difference between being a rock star and an icon? One entertains us, while the other embodies who we are as a people or generation, even if it’s just for that moment in time, expressing to us our deeply held feelings and beliefs that we might not have known were there in the first place. Touré makes the convincing argument that because of his childhood experiences (absent father and mother, latchkey kid, high school loner), spiritual beliefs and sexuality, Prince had all the foundations to become an icon for Generation X.

I had not read any other biographies or studies of Prince before this one, but having seen a bit in magazines and on television over the years, I felt I had some knowledge of his background and persona. What I discovered in the pages of this book reinforced what I already knew and provided me with more insight than the slim 150 pages would belie. I learned about childhood and adolescent traumas, relationships and marriages, his crazy work ethic and schedule, as well as the layers of meanings to many of Prince’s most popular song lyrics. When I finished, I felt like I knew as much about Prince as anyone on the outside could, given his propensity to project only the carefully crafted image he wants people to see.

To sum up, I highly recommend this book. I’ve been booktalking it to everyone I’ve run into for the past few weeks. People are getting tired of me. Seriously. So I figured I would recommend it to All of You and that might satisfy my need to jabber on and on about it. Plus, I’ll probably write a Staff Pick for it. Then I’ll REALLY be done talking about this book. Maybe.

Let’s Go Crazy,
Melissa M.


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4 responses to “The Artist Currently (and Formerly) Known as . . .

  1. I’m from a previous generation musically-speaking and have to admit I never really did get Prince’s appeal. He seemed alrightr, but never more than a somewhat wan inheritor of the great soul/funk tradition of the Sixties. But I do like Toure and his book on the Purple One sounds interesting. So I may check it out. Thanks so much for your review.

  2. e

    “I could Never Take the Place of Your Man” is one of the best songs EVER written and recorded. It is, sadly, under-rated. Great post! Thanks so much for the heads-up on this book!

  3. Pingback: Punch a Higher Floor | Eleventh Stack

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