Prince: The Dream Interview
I can’t believe it. In my extremely fortunate 10+ year writing career, I have not ever published a story about Prince. Prince, who has been the object of my musical obsession since I was 16 years old, proudly walking around the Bronx High School of Science in a Lovesexy tour shirt, crisp blue jeans and a pair of black Air Jordans IIIs, has never been the subject of a Smokey D. Fontaine article.
The 1991 cover story on him for Spin magazine written by Scott Poulson-Bryant was one of the reasons I so excitedly took an apprenticeship with Scott at Vibe. Not being able to appropriately write about Prince for the bible of “hip-hop music, culture, and politics,” was one of the reasons I turned down the top spot at The Souce a few years after that. And being stood up by his Purple One, a beautiful summer morning, at a chateau of the Beverly Hills Hotel, where I had a photo shoot planned with one of the best photographers in the world after 6 months of negotiation, still ranks high as a career disappointment. I still have the still pictures I took of how me and Luis Sanchis had the room set up anticipating a 8am arrival that never came.
As far back as my oldest friends remember, Prince has been a memorable and almost defining part of my identity. Maybe that was because Prince’s identity so infused my personality. I never dressed like him (maybe because my infatuation came a bit after the leather jacket Purple Rain era, closer to the Sign Of The Times / Lovesexy years, so what was I going to do? Walk around naked with a flower in my mouth?), never even really tried to act like him (I was too tall for starters, and that little Prince diddy-bop walk of his really needed a stage and some lights to look at all cool, at least in those pre reality TV days), but Prince was still all up in my head, and, therefore, in most everything I said and did.
I listened to his albums on the way to school, on the way home from school, in the morning over breakfast, at night going to sleep. There were songs for every mood, every situation. When I was happy, I played Prince. When I was sad I played Prince. When I was lonely or afraid or…horny. More than anything, Prince inspired my attitudes toward women. Those brash, provocative, poetic and nasty words found on almost every Prince track, for so many years, were the soundtrack for all of my romantic relationships. Prince’s lyrics gave a wildly insecure kid a sexual swagger that I only recently put on the shelf being grown, and married, and a father. His lyrics gave me a confidence toward women, because, with the Man as my teacher, I had already played out all of my sexual fantasies in my head that were going to be so far beyond the pale of those of anyone I would meet. I could want U, take U, need U, love U, make you come…running, any time there was an opportunity. No wonder I was called a freak (No telling if the rumors were true). And if I met a fellow Prince fan of the opposite sex, then, not only did things get pretty interesting, but it sent me back to my Prince lab to dig deeper into his lyrics, to find another nasty whisper or two—you know the ones, a little bit behind the beat—that even she hadn’t caught yet.
At the second of my fabled Prince house parties, pre-iPod, I spun four hours of nothing but Prince songs to dozens of my friends all coupled up in the dark, the last hour of which was nothing but slow jams. I will never forget the shadows of everyone—and I mean, everyone—grinding on the floor at 4am to “Darling Nikki.” That was almost as memorable as my wedding reception, when everyone knew every breath of “Adore.” I had already taught my groomsmen how to walk into the church to “Forever In My Life,” and now all 100 of the crew had our falsettos going in unison as loudly as we could under the reception tent. “U don’t know what U mean to me…!”
Now, with this 12-page Prince package, the world will know what Prince means, and has meant over the years, to both my staff and me.
On the eve of Planet Earth, his 28th studio album, and to recognize the economic pimp hand he’s continued to slap the music industry with (who would have imagined that Prince, the defiant outsider, would be getting fat corporate checks the way he’s seemed to lately? A rumored $30 million for 30 nights at the Hotel Roosevelt? Gangsta.), it was the perfect time to celebrate a master. When coupled with GIANT’s coronation of the wonderful CHRIS BROWN, first portrait of a sports icon, CHAD JOHNSON, the glory of the pop comeback of VANESSA CARLTON, and the beauty of our FALL FASHION ISSUE, lots of hard work has paid off. Enjoy.
In the talent room, behind the stage of Los Angeles’ House Of Blues nightclub, I sat down one-on-one with Prince while he waited to begin one of his fabled after-parties…
PRINCE: OK, let’s go…you get six questions.
SMOKEY D. FONTAINE: Six? Well I guess I better make them good ones then; deep questions that lead to long follow-ups!
PRINCE: Good ones are fine.
SDF: Let me start by saying that I’ve been a fan for many many years. My iPod says I have 423 of your songs on it. If I played them all in a row it would take 2.4 days!
PRINCE: (laughs) I appreciate it.
SDF: Over the past three decades, you have influenced music in so many ways. As an artist you don’t really have any peers—
PRINCE: Hold on. If you write that, please just do me a favor and put it in a way that gets the point across but doesn’t dis anybody. Because my band and I are not in competition with anybody. If you’re hanging out with Maceo Parker, who are you in competition with, really? At this age, it starts to more be about what the gift is, and then what your role is. That’s where the scriptures come into play. As men, we’re supposed to be humble. The ones that can’t admit that, are the ones that fall, because they’re caught up in worldly things like women, sex, drugs. The Bible is literally like the guidebook to help men and women with their sins. If I’m I going to get some advice, wouldn’t I want it from Solomon? That man had a 1000 wives. I want to talk to someone who had 1,000 women!
SDF: Do you feel gifted?
PRINCE: Yes. And I’m not going to waste my blessings. God over-blessed me, but you have to appreciate what you have, and to do that you have to break down a lot of walls. You can’t be afraid. If you look at earlier performances of mine, my eyes were closed.
SDF: There seems to be a calmness about you now. You seem happy, positive.
PRINCE: Over time I’ve started to understand that it’s really the love of music. When you have a real love for music, you kind of let go. When you let go, I don’t care if you’re a writer, or a dancer, or a musician, or a lighting guy doing the spots above the stage. Sometimes I look at our lighting guy sitting up there and he’ll be watching me during a show knowing, like, I got it. It’s little things like that. I mean, we could be dead, we could be non-existent, but we’re not. We’re all alive. It’s the acceptance of the gift of life.
SDF: Was there a turning point for you when you began to realize this?
PRINCE: No. I always accepted it, but I didn’t understand I until I got into the Scriptures. When you read the Scriptures, you start to understand that, wait a minute, someone said this way before I did. I ain’t the first one. If society did this we would have a paradigm shift and everybody would all get along. Everyone is supposed to eat. Everybody is supposed to treat people with respect.
SDF: Has this understanding affected your music?
PRINCE: The more you get evolved in the truth, the more it affects everything. It affects every decision you make. Sometimes kids have to try different things. Well let me try this -ism, or let me try that -ism until you get to the point where none of them really satisfy you, none of them give you peace. This is the beauty of God. Once you get with God’s will, now you feel whole.
SDF: Do you have a plan for the next phase of your music?
PRINCE: I might try a symphony, might try composing something with flutes. I also want to talk to people, be able to listen to them.
SDF: When you hear melodies, do you hear notes?
PRINCE: It’s hard for me to answer that, because I am music. It’s like me asking you to describe whatever race you are. Ultimately, your answer will only be rehashed out of what someone else told you that you are. I can’t put it into words.
SDF: Okay. When you get on stage, and you strum a note on the guitar, or play a key on the piano, what does it feel like?
PRINCE: It feels like a revelation, a realization. The answer. That concept of the everlasting now.
SDF: Was all this meant to be?
PRINCE: Well, I don’t believe in time now, so your question… you just want to look at what God’s will is. They say I’m arrogant, but what I’m just trying to do is lead people to the truth. The truth is that we don’t even know what the world will be like until we shake things up a little bit.
SDF: You’ve never been shy at doing that.
PRINCE: You got to. Miles shook it up. Stevie shook it. I’m going to shake it up. It’s like, wait a minute, you sold a million copies, and didn’t release it on a major? Nah. That can’t be true.
SDF: I’ve always felt that modern fame gets in the way of artistic expression, but you’ve seemed to have been able to navigate threw that pretty well.
PRINCE: Go back to when Coltrane and Miles and all those guys were playing, what was fame back then? Fame is only a by-product of whatever the medium is, like the Internet, or 50 channels as opposed with 4. Me? I grew up with 4 channels. We didn’t have E!, Extra, 20/20, 60 Minutes…you can go on and on. And in Miles’ time you didn’t have any of those! Fame is media constructed, with stars that they control.
SDF: So how do you succeed in that system?
PRINCE: The best thing you can do, as a writer, is to keep telling the truth. Keep people’s antennas up because it’s crazy. It’s all fake. This old lady came up to me recently and asked me if I was teaching younger musicians not to lip sync? And I said, ‘Ma’am, that’s not my duty. I just do what I do.
SDF: Do you teach a lot of the younger musicians in your bands.
PRINCE: No. That’s not my duty. I just do what I do and they’re going to get what they are going to get. If they get dog, they get dog.
SDF: I’ve always thought there are two kinds of artsts. Those that listen to their own music, and those that don’t. Do you listen to your own music?
PRINCE: No, because I’m always working on something new and as you can see (pointing to his band) these young people don’t listen to the old music. They just want to get out on this stage…! Goodnight.