Posin’ til closin’

Tony Mitchell

FOR SOMEONE who’s chosen stage attire consist of black posing briefs and legwarmers under a long raincoat, and who gets so visibly excited by stimulating oral sex with his guitar that he could do it with a permanently running cold shower at the side of the stage, Prince is a remarkable private and undemonstrative person once he’s out of the spotlight. It hardly seems believable that this diminutive doe-eyed 21-year-old from Minnesota who shuffles silently ahead of his manager to the car waiting outside the venue, or sits quietly in the corner of his dressing room, expression impenetrable behind mirrored shades while his band indulge in the usual backstage chat and tomfoolery, is the same Prince whose first two albums, ’For You’ and ’Prince’ have both gone platinum in the States while his current, most controversial cutting ’Dirty Mind’ is also heading that way with over half a million sales already knocked up despite total lack of airplay. What kind of man is he, who’s lyrics deal openly with just about every sexual taboo subject you can think of, whose stage show is a vehicle for flashiness and and eroticism, and yet who would probably rather run a mile than to talk to a journalist or post for an impromptu photo session “because it’s like robbery.” Well this enigmatic prodigy did lift the veil slightly – but only slightly – for the Soundsprobe team of Mitchell and Turbett who were dispatched to Amsterdam last week to catch his first ever European appearance at the Paradiso club. I’d already met him briefly at Steve Strange’s Embassy birthday party; I shook his hand, which felt limply from mine, and he stood gazing into the middle distance while manager Steve Fargnoli did the talking. It was almost as if he was embarrassed that people should be hailing him as the natural successor to everyone from Jimi Hendrix downwards. Even from my sceptic’s viewpoint, I had to concede that the state show is capable of revoking that kind of excitement, though not necessarily by the same means. Camp touches like tiger skin-covered guitars and amps were offset by slick choreography, and (contrary to expectations) the eroticism was powerfully heterosexual – witness swooning girls in audience – despite the falsetto vocals and ballet dancers flashing gear. I did ask him what drove him to choose his particular mode of dress. His answer? “It’s hard to dance with a lot of stuff on your leg.” And that was the end of that. ’DIRTY MIND’ is not an album you’ll be hearing on the radio, and even though a claims of the live show go to drop a much-needed mine and placid waters of Old Grey Whistle Test you won’t be seeing friends on TV either. “It doesn’t bother me,” he claims. “Since the album was released I’ve learned to live with it. I only write from experience. I don’t plan to shock people. I write about things I guess people are afraid to talk about.” Like incest for example. “I was only 16” goes the first verse of ’Sister’, “but I guess that’s no excuse. My sister was 32, lovely and – loose.” And in case you don’t get the implication, "incest” declares Prince “is everything it’s said to be.” What makes ’Dirty Mind’ special, however, is that the lyrics and delivery are completely devoid of that nudge-nudge lavatorial prurience that passes for humour on Judge Dread records. Not only is Prince deadly earnest on lyrical level but the music stands up(!) For itself too – and I’ll have you know it was the latter, and not the former, that turned me on to the guy. His previous two albums, pretty well conventional disco records, he now regards as “forgotten adopted children", although about half of the material on ’Prince’ still features in his life act. ’Dirty Mind’ – written record it and produce almost totally by the man himself – may have started life as a bunch of demos but it has ended up as one of the most original dance records in a long time. The demoing style has endowed the songs with the kind of hip minimalism that could probably never have been achieved if Prince had set out to create it with a big production budget, and the basic ideas are a unique blend of classic soul, modern funk, White rock ’n’ roll and probably hundred of other minor influences. So how did that come about? “I think I matured in a sense. I reached puberty, I got new management, I got a new guitar which brought life into the sound of the album – most of the songs were written on guitar. The second album was written mostly on the piano.” But was it a conscience effort to move away from disco influences? “No, nothing’s conscious. I don’t sit down and plan anything. I was too young really, I was in diapers, I didn’t hear much. All I heard was my dad pounding away on his piano downstairs. He was a jazz band leader and my mother was a singer. “I had an executive producer when I did the first two albums but the last one I did it all on my own; it’s more me. I wasn’t thinking, I was just singing and playing… So I guess I sort of found myself. I think all artists you produce themselves. I really do. I mean I don’t know how someone else can be in the same frame of mind – unless they eat and sleep with the person.” HE DELIVERS these answers in an almost in audible monotone that makes you wonder if he was seriously mistreated as a kid. He seems at times to have that resigned air of someone who has given up bucking the system and survives just by doing what he’s told. He admits he doesn’t know what he’s doing playing in Europe at this particular time. “I don’t ask too many questions,” he explains. “I just play whenever I get the chance.” His black funk/white rock crossover style interest me so I ask him where it originates. Dead bit of the conversation goes like this: “it might be where I come from – I’m surrounded by it… Country and Western.” I’m not very familiar with Minnesota. “That’s good.” You still lived there, so you haven’t found the attraction of New York or LA irresistible? “there are too many plastic bags in LA. Sometimes when I’m in a certain mental state I can get into New York, but I’m not always like that. It’s hard to be passionate in that city.” Do you have any immediate recording plans? “No" But you’ll be making another album soon? “Well if I keep going to the red light district I’ll come out with something.” Will people expect it to be more excessive than ’Dirty Mind’? “I think so. I think they’ll expect it.” But will they get it? “Aha – that’s hard to say. Depends what frame of mind I’m in. I haven’t met anyone for a long time so, er, I find it hard to write when I don’t have anything to write about. I’ve been pretty much alone and I haven’t gone anywhere cos we haven’t played. Now that I’m out on the road and I met you and other people… I get ideas. I don’t just want to sit in the house alone and make up these nasty vulgar songs and put ’em out – I’d rather wait until I have something to write about.” Something else that emerges is the likely involvement of the whole band in the next album, whenever it might be recorded. On stage, princess backed by a mixed bag rockers and funkateers – redheaded, black-leather Dez on guitar, soul-brother Andre on bass, suit ’n’ tie job Bobby Z on drums, plus two keyboard players – surgeon-masked-and-gowned Dr. Fink and Fedora ’n’ fag-waving Lisa Coleman. To date, credits for them on the albums have been restricted to a couple of guest spot and all cobalt to ship: date being purely a touring band all do their own thing as individuals but, according to Dez, are “just waiting by the front door with the suitcase” for the call to arms. But why have previous albums been solo efforts? Seems for Prince it’s a question of shared shared emotions: “When I’m recording I could have orgasm on my mind and my bass player could have pickles on his. It makes it a little rough when you listen back to attract and it’s not played with the same intensity.” But the hypothetical idea of a band of six Princes doesn’t appeal. “No, we’d probably argue. We all want the same girlfriends. But the band are all learning more about one another’s personalities and everything, and in time hopefully will be thinking as one or two or three rather than six different individuals.” Seeing how well these six individuals worked together at the Paradiso when they were supposedly rusty from inaction, I at least got the impression they were made for each other. And if you recording the next album with the band will be one milestone in princess career, done first OK songs to be recorded by another artist is surely one too – and that’s just happened with the eminent release by Bette Bright of a version of ’When You Were Mine’, the most accessible and least lyrical contentious track ’Dirty Mind.’ WHAT DOES Prince think of this? “I like it a lot. It was really kind of thrilling to hear someone else do one of my songs for the first time. “That he doesn’t envisage making a career of writing for other people. In fact he says dropping a mini bomb shell without so much as a change of expression , I’m not going to do this for much longer. “He says this like a man who rs got some incurable disease, but I opt for the safe question and ask what he’s going to do next then. “Something else.” Like what? “I’d rather not say. “ Mmm. The plot thickens. Something else artistic? “It ’s hard to say. Just something else. I just know myself. I know I won’t stay in things too long. I like to keep moving.” The inference seems to be that he ’II get tired of what he ’s doing no w just like he got tired of playing Top 40 material in high school bands, which he did from the ages of 13 to17. “It got pretty sickening, “he explains, ’ ’because I had to dissect these songs and teach each part to each person, so when the artist got a hit again I knew exactly what was gonna go down in the music and it was just a turn off. It was sickening more so to have everyone walk out when you went into an original, then come back in when you got to Top Ten stuff.” So why do it in the first place? “I was broke. Primarily I did it for money. I owed people money. I wanted to pay them back, so I did it. And once I’d paid ’em back, I did it for fun. Now I don’t know why I do it. Sometimes I don’t like to do anything musical at all. I don’t like to listen to it and I don’t like to play it.” And what does he do when he doesn’t want to be involved in music? "Unprintable.” ANSWERS LIKE this have a kind of finality about them that defy you to probe deeper. It might be bullshit of course but Prince, a man of few words at the best of times, doesn’t give the impression he ’d waste any o f them on bullshitting. So he remains, either naturally or by design, an enigmatic, charismatic character. A real Jekyll and Hyde case, with a private life that ’s publically exposed only through those very explicit lyrics on stage a totally salacious extrovert and o ff stage practically a recluse. But whatever mysteries lie beneath the fixed off-stage expression. Prince the performer has the kind o f musical talent, feel and showmanship that casts a giant shadow over the efforts of blue-eyed funksters everywhere.