What We Talk About When We Talk About Prince -The Toast

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I. The Ubiquity of Prince Ephemera

Hilton Als wrote one of the strongest memoir pieces in recent–as well as not-so-recent–memory, published by Harper’s under the title “I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love: A Paean To Prince.” The masterful way in which Als deconstructs abstract gender identities is applied to formulate a personal saga. Particularly, the convoluted nature of Prince’s prowess as a performer is digressed in dichotomies of masculinity and femininity, interspersed with the intentionality Prince used over time to navigate the audience’s perception of him.

Regardless of how Prince ultimately chooses to use his heightened sexual appeal in both male and female forms, its magnetic verisimilitude shines through. Prince’s appeal defines him. Als presented a seriocomic anecdote in which Jamie Foxx confessed his temporary gayness in the presence of Prince, who confessed he was drawn to him “cause he was pretty. He looked like a deer or something, or a fawn…”

Vanessa Grigoriadis also highlighted the irresistible wetness of his eyes in a cover story for a recent V Magazine: “his extremely large, liquid eyes seem to occupy half his face,” she observed. I interviewed Grigoriadis on her experience interviewing Prince, the legendary performer who continues to astound audiences with his musical gift and artistic mystique.

Grigoriadis succinctly presents his contradictory nature by underlining the numerous antitheses that can be used to describe him (yet under no circumstances define him): “A devout Jehovah’s Witness since 2001, he writes music that is explicit about both Jesus and sexual desire. He’s a black man with light skin who usually dresses in clothes that seem inspired by female icons, from Twiggy to Marie Antoinette. A heterosexual man who deeply worships sexually confident women, he nonetheless wants to dominate them.”

II. Grigoriadis’ Perspective

ET: How did you set up and prepare for the interview?

VG: I didn’t set it up myself. They [V Magazine staff and Prince] actually set it up themselves. So I didn’t have anything to do with the logistics. He did request to see three of my pieces, so we had to send him my articles, but I didn’t actually have anything to do with the logistics of setting it up.

I have been a big fan of his my entire life. I probably respect him more than anybody else. As a musician, he is someone whose songs I made up dances to in sixth grade with my friends, so I have admired him my whole life, really. I was really excited to meet him, because he is known to be a “funny” interview; he is an individual who says exactly what’s on his mind.

ET: Do the majority of attendees know the rules before they attend? (strict enforcement of no cameras, no cellphones during the concert)

VG: I wouldn’t call it a majority. When we went to this concert in Orange County the security guards asked us to do the same thing: stop using all phones, cameras and technological devices. People understand, they don’t cause a scene.

ET: Is Prince a technophobe or is his aversion towards technology rooted in his desire to control the ownership rights of his work?

VG: He has certainly kept himself more ‘pure,’ or some people would just think it is backwards in terms of the way he is with technology. He doesn’t really want his music to be on every available channel, he doesn’t want his videos to be all over Youtube.

ET: Do you think he can afford to abstain from using the Internet because there is no need for him to engage online, or because he favors catering to a more dedicated audience?

VG: I think that it is probably both. He is definitely curious about wanting to have his primary fanbase be a live audience/fanbase. Ideally, he wants his songs to be consumed by his loyal fans and by people who come to see him live. That is really his priority and main emphasis: performing live.

Prince has the luxury of making himself less available because of his established position as an artist on a grand scale. Very few people who are young don’t use the online networks available to them; that’s the way the system works now.

Actually, there’s also very few older artists who have the status that Prince has, where he doesn’t have to place his music online, make portions of his performing available on the Internet.

He can pack any mid-to-large size arena and do two shows; that is very unique. He has the stamina! He is like Willie Nelson in terms of energy. He can really criss-cross on not only a national, but also a global level. I do think that is remarkable: he is unique.

ET: You asked him about his opinion on the difference between men and women, and he didn’t really provide an answer. (Prince’s response:“If we didn’t have to go to a party, we could talk about that.”) Why do you think that is?

VG: It is hard to say if he was looking for an easy way out of that question, or if it just was an inappropriate time. The interview was for a fashion magazine, and it took place at 2AM, so perhaps it wasn’t the moment to have that kind of “heavy” conversation.

ET: It almost seems like he personally chose what to expand on and didn’t want to talk about his views on gender.

VG: Yeah. I think that’s somewhat true. He could have definitely talked about it had he wanted to talk about it. He just didn’t.

My opinion is that he has been somewhat misunderstood on a lot of those topics, so he is wary of them. Again, addressing gender wasn’t really necessary, due to the thematic focus of the magazine being fashion. It wasn’t about pushing him to talk on topics he does not talk about.

ET: Prince rejects the idea of a set routine when performing, following his instinct and spontaneously choosing the song order every time he performs. Does this appear controlling to you?

VG: I think most artists are controlling. There is always somebody in the band who is pretty dominant. But I also think that you know… he is Prince!

He gets away with what he wants to get away with, he is a songwriting genius, certainly an inspiration for these women (3RDEYEGIRL) who are in the beginnings of their careers. They are so young, it is such a privilege and an exciting lesson for them to follow his lead.

ET: Your most challenging question centered on how Prince balances religious faith with the main subject of his songs: sexual desire. Prince laughed in response, and stated: “Now we know what you’re going to write about. We were waiting for your thread,” before starting to form a response prior to ultimately refusing to answer the question. Did you find his tone accusatory in this instance? When I read the interview, I personally interpreted the dialogue to be confrontational, almost indicative of the desire to maintain power throughout the exchange.

VG: Oh no! I did not think that! I think he was just saying ‘I figured out what you are going to write about.’ Generally people talk to their managers, guessing ‘What does she want to write about?’ That might be addressed before, so they can prepare their answers accordingly. In this case they were like ‘Oh, now I know,’ once religion and sin came up. I think he was starting to respond, but he eventually decided not to.

ET: What were the three stories of yours you ended up sending prior to the interview?

VG: I sent my stories on Patti Smith, Devendra Banhart, and Karl Lagerfeld.

III. When Princes Tweet

In attaining a deeper understanding of the elements that make Prince a music powerhouse, his insistence on being a private individual is immediately transcendent. While direct autobiographical elements exist in his work–and are particularly evident in the 1984 film Purple Rain, which chronicles the artist’s transition to a star/conglomerate–he was never willing to become a public person, outside of his music. In the modern reality of creative individuals’ living in public via their online simulacra, Prince resists the virtual immersion most of his colleagues have already underwent.

His outspoken stance against new media does him no harm: it might even strengthen his brand as the primary focus becomes performing live, intimately. Rolling Stone’s “50 Greatest Live Acts Right Now” ranks Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL at the second position, solely following the lead of Bruce Springsteen, while still placed ahead of seasoned industry leaders such as Jay-Z and The Rolling Stones.

Despite his strong aversion towards technology, the quixotic quest that preceded the identification of the extraordinary talent he would eventually mentor–3RDEYEGIRL–was conducted using the very same technology, the same means on which he refuses to featured his work on: 3RDEYEGIRL was a YouTube discovery.

“I’m trying to get these women’s careers started, because they’re all so talented. It’s not even about me anymore,” Prince told Grigoriadis, and it seems like he fully meant it. His dedication to buttressing 3RDEYEGIRL is manifested in his endeavor to tweet via the 3RDEYEGIRL twitter account. While generating tweets may seem like a small gesture for most, it is grand coming from Prince. It shows his dedication to help his larger cause: these women deserve all the success he can get them. Prince’s love was never easy, but he would die 4 them.

Elias is a generalist writer and an aspiring human being based on Avenue D.

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