Home / Books / Book Reviews / Book Review: Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution by Jason Draper

Book Review: Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution by Jason Draper

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

Jason Draper’s Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution is a stunningly thorough, meticulously researched account of one of rock’s most influential and trailblazing, yet ultimately mystifying careers.

In just under 300 pages, Draper skillfully condenses all of the highs and lows of the Prince story into a tightly woven narrative. Draper’s straightforward, matter of fact story is told with the eye to detail of a master journalist, but also with the easily digested style of a great storyteller.

From the dizzying heights of his commercial peak in the eighties — a time when Prince’s record sales and concert tours were matched only by Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen — to his often bizarre career moves (like changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol), Draper’s blow-by-blow retelling of events doesn’t miss a thing. Whether you are already a Prince fan, or just looking for insight into the star-making (and breaking) machinations of the music business, this is a fascinating read.

Although Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution lightly touches on Prince’s personal life — including both documented and rumored relationships with everyone from Vanity and Susannah Melvoin to Kim Bassinger, Carmen Elektra and Sheena Easton — Draper wisely places most of his focus on the music. As a result, the single biggest revelation of the book is just how much music Prince has actually recorded over the years.

The fact that Prince’s artistic output has been quite prolific (to say the least) is of course hardly a secret to anyone who has followed his career. In the years immediately following his 1984 multi-platinum breakthrough Purple Rain, Prince cranked out albums (both by himself and with a stable of artists including The Time, Vanity and later Appolonia 6, Madhouse, the Family and others), at an astonishing rate — often driving the marketing department at Warner Brothers Records to fits in doing so. In more recent years, Prince has proved himself quite capable of dropping multiple-album sets on a continuously revolving series of record labels with the same sort of regularity that the rest of us mere mortals change our underwear.

What is less known, however, is the staggering amount of Prince material which remains unreleased, and which the artist himself seems perfectly content to allow to languish in a mysterious “vault” somewhere in Minneapolis. Draper places a particular emphasis on these “lost albums” — which may number as many as his official recordings — with acute detail. For hardcore Prince fans, this alone makes Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution an essential read.

In addition to these lost recordings, Draper also reveals little-known, insider details about Prince’s various business dealings (Glam Slam, Paisley Park Records) and his often volatile relationships with the musicians he has worked with. In one of the more interesting stories here, Draper recounts how a reunion with the Revolution — arguably his most successful band — was scuttled when Prince suggested that band members Wendy and Lisa would have to renounce their lesbian relationship (Prince himself had just become a newly converted Jehovah’s Witness at the time).

The picture which ultimately emerges from this book is that of an enigmatic if not always pragmatic personality whose undeniable talent has perhaps only been held back by his own stubbornness.

On the one hand, Prince remains one of only a handful of artists to have reached this iconic level — Neil Young is another which comes immediately to mind — strictly on his own musical and artistic terms. On the other, this same refusal to compromise has also resulted in some of the most colossal marketing blunders ever to come within a whisker of sinking a career. The “love symbol” phase, along with Prince’s battles with Warner Brothers and, more recently, releasing far too many records on numerous labels for even the most devoted fan to keep up with would have been certain career-enders for a lesser artist. Prince’s rationale for these and other equally strange career decisions have never been adequately explained, and they aren’t here either.

At the same time, Prince’s innovations as an artist are beyond question. From pioneering the concept of multi-racial, gender bending bands in the eighties with the Revolution, to being among the earliest rock stars to embrace the possibilities of the internet (even though he is now on record as saying the same internet “is over”), Prince’s legacy as a trailblazer is still largely being written.

He may not sell as many records these days. But Jason Draper’s Prince: Chaos Disorder And Revolution makes a very convincing case that Prince remains as artistically relevant today as he has ever been. It is also one of the more eye-opening unauthorized rock bios in recent memory.


Powered by

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • zingzing

    lovesexy is amazing. kind of like an opposite world of the black album. slick instead of gritty, positive instead of negative, tight instead of loose, psychedelic funk instead of hard funk, with pop (albeit abstract pop) being the focus instead of the enemy. if you haven’t given it a shot in a while, i’d put it on soon. it’s his most underrated album.

    i’ve never actually seen him. it’s a void in the last 15 years of my life.

  • I like the Black Album a lot, Lovesexy not so much. I also agree that if you take bits and pieces of his recent stuff you could probably come up with something as great as Sign O The Times (that album itself is supposedly comprised of outtakes in a similar fashion).

    The biggest problem with latter day Prince is — like you say — too much quantity, with only fleeting glimpses of his former greatness. There’s just not enough of those brief flashes of genius to sustain an entire album — at least not that I have heard.

    I know he’s still got it — the live shows alone prove that much. But he just cranks out too much material for anyone to digest, and the “quality” of the music often reflects this “throw it against the wall to see what sticks” approach.

    The last time I saw him live, on the Musicology tour, I liked the new stuff as much as I did the old hits. But then when I got the album home, I just didn’t hear the same thing I did at the arena. When he’s locked in that sticky groove, and when he lets the guitar stuff really rip, that’s pure gold though.


  • zingzing

    sign o the times is his best album, i’d say, but black album and lovesexy would rank as “truly great” for me, and if he didn’t suddenly feel the need to stretch his albums out as far as possible, some of the stuff after that (love sign and gold experience especially,) could have been pared down into truly great albums. i’d say he was great up until about 1995 or so, but after that the quality was overwhelmed by the quantity.

    still, “the work” isn’t completely chronological. so even the later volumes contain some prime period stuff. and–no joke–you could very easily make something with every bit of the brilliance and diversity of sign o the times out of stuff you’ve never heard on these discs. it’s kinda like an alternate reality where prince was more experimental and let the funk ride longer.

  • Yeah, I probably wouldn’t be all that interested in the latter stuff. For me, he’s had his few moments in recent years, but his last truly great album was Sign O The Times. He still kicks ass live, but I don’t think I’ve bought one of his albums since Diamonds and Pearls. But some choice early period outtakes are something I’d definitely be interested in hearing…just not thirty discs worth.


  • zingzing

    heh. well, that’s not the way it comes. i would say most of the stuff on there (at least in the earlier volumes… there’s a little more barrel scraping going on on the later discs) is interesting to a prince fan for one reason or another. and there’s stuff like a 15 minute version of something in the water and multiple versions of crystal ball (including a minimalist take that’s prolly my favorite), etc, etc. not everything is unfamiliar.

    it is far too much to take in, but that’s a problem i’m okay with.

  • Sorting through thirty discs to pick out a few nuggets is a bit much for me, zing. I had a hard enough time getting through Neil Young’s Archives. Maybe if there were a “best of” condensed down into, say two or three discs of the best stuff…


  • zingzing

    i read a news story about how prince and his bass player showed up at this woman’s house and sat down and talked with her about being a witness. she said she was just happy to talk to prince.

    glen, you should look for a bootleg series called “the work.” it’s at least 30 something discs of prime studio boots. some of that stuff deserves to languish (prince once had quality control!), and other bits are unreleasable (like the one where he says he’ll just have to rape a woman if she won’t do it willingly), but there’s also some of his absolute best stuff tucked away on there. and the quality is usually pretty good, and always the best copy of a particular track (as far as i’ve heard).

    love me some prince. will have to take a peek around for this book.

  • He doesn’t have to record any new music Charlie. He already has so much unreleased material gathering dust in “the Vault” that he could just release that. There is a precedent for this too — its exactly what he did when he was at war with Warner Bros two decades ago.


  • Charlie Doherty

    Great review! Even though I don’t care for half his discography, I have a lot of respect for this guy. He’s all about artistic integrity.

    It will be interesting going forward how he’ll continue being successful when he’s saying this now: “Prince Won’t Record New Music Until Internet piracy Is Under Control.”

  • I haven’t seen that much evidence that Prince actively promotes his beliefs the same way Cruise does. He has toned down some of the racier aspects of his live performance in recent years though. Thanx for the comment.


  • Prince (born Prince Rogers Raymond Nelson)
    Prince promoting Jehovah’s Witnesses is the same as Tom Cruise & Scientology.
    I like Prince music and I like Tom Cruise movies.