June 7, 2014
There are so many voices inside PRINCE (Prince Nelson, born 1958). Some of them are playful, like the androgynous Camille, credited with vocals on his masterpiece of gender slippage, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” (1987). Some of them are evil, like the deep distorted Bob George, a violent paranoid pimp. Some of them intone apophenic allegories, such as the narrator of The Rainbow Children, a 2001 concept album which combines anti-corporatism, arcane religious allegory, paranoid numerology and confrontational scholarship. (‘The opposite of NATO is OTAN’ he sings, treating the Bible like it’s CNN.) The Rainbow Children is Kenny G plays Philip K Dick’s VALIS, and a key work if we are to consider Prince not in the history of popular music (which is dead) but in the vital still-living context of science fiction.
Like all science fiction writers, Prince takes erotic pleasure in the end of the world; in 1999, the sky is all purple, there are people running everywhere, and it’s time to party. “Computer Blue” (1984) explores love from the perspective of an artificial intelligence. In his deep twenty-six minute jam “The War” (1998), Prince describes an underworld paradise where the price of entry is the ‘injection of a microchip in yo’ neck’. By the time the millennium came around, Prince was watching The Matrix and writing songs about the eradication of the radical impulse in humanity by the year 2045.
Prince’s relentless futurism means that, from the foothills of the twenty-first century, he is the only icon from the high pomp of the record business who remains enigmatic, in many ways obscure, and still working relentlessly, like a pulp SF writer who, banging out a novel a month, might produce trash or pull an idea out of the collective unconscious that resonates deeply. For Prince, the exegesis has just begun.
ALSO READ: Matthew De Abaitua’s HiLobrow post “Purple Exegetics.”
READ MORE about members of the Original Generation X (1954–1963).