Tuesday , February 27 2024
More than a musical genius and cultural icon, Prince made it possible for everyday people to shape their own identities.

Sexuality and Musicology: The Power of Prince

Sometimes it snows in April. So Prince wrote and sang so somberly (and alluringly) on his 1986 album with The Revolution, Parade. I doubt any listeners could have imagined then that the statement would prove itself true 30 years later by way of His Royal Badness’ own transition from “Planet Earth.” And while many have alluded to the sound of doves crying since the iconic force was so suddenly taken from us, I find myself going back repeatedly to the Parade, a collection of gems that didn’t resonate with the masses to the same degree as Purple Rain—but ultimately moved mountains for me for decades to come.

princeparadePrince’s impact on my life has been profoundly personal beyond my tastes in music. I was merely seven when I saw the music video for “Kiss” late one night on BET. Although I was not quite old enough to know the whole deal about “Girls and Boys,” the image of The Purple One sliding across the floor (in merely black, no less) to plant one on his female love interest in a special spot—not to mention the overall sequence of him getting down shirtless with fonky abandon—was quite powerful.

I can vividly remember the sense of mystery and taboo that accompanied the feelings that he aroused in me. That’s why, to this day, I can assuredly tell people the moment I “knew” that I was gay, despite whatever confusion and doubts brought on by societal norms I had to work through subsequently.

More fundamental, however, is the fact that Prince made me aware of my sexuality in the first place. This kind of awakening happens for everybody at different times, and often by way of direct experiences in one’s youth. Hence, in hindsight I can see that my revelations were so very powerful because they came by way of a musical connection. Yes, it was through the medium of music video, but just as importantly, the connection Prince had to his music through his wild, yet boldly authoritative style of singing and dancing was a part of the energy that drew me so strongly to this petite, simultaneously smooth and raw hunk of a man on the small screen.

Prince Kiss Sheet MusicWhich, of course, leads to a discussion of the unique physical characteristics of Prince. Aside from the fact that he was able to awaken this young boy’s hormones with his decidedly one-of-a-kind performance mannerisms and vocal gyrations, his natural handsomeness—from his slickly combed black hair to his lean, mean torso and small but strong shoulders and arms, and those dark, eternally enchanting eyes—may not have fit a textbook definition but was endlessly fascinating. Again, the music came through in his expressions and approach to interacting with his “Kiss” co-star, just as it did on the iconic album cover of the accompanying Parade.

Half of the original gatefold LP packaging, a close-up black-and-white bust shot of Prince with eyes closed in ecstasy as he pulls off his top to reveal a silver-and-black cross necklace adorning his impeccable pecs, was in striking contrast to the multi-hued, electric tones of the face of the Purple Rain soundtrack just two years earlier. Here was Prince stripped down, not only on the outside, but within baring a markedly revealing body of work ranging from the opening strains of “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” to the aforementioned “Sometimes It Snows in April.”

Even the amplified trio of tunes presented to the public at large in single form—“Kiss,” “Mountains,” and “Anotherloverholenyohead”—exposed a man continually fearless in his musical evolution, this time around employing the softer (but still ever so funky) side of his vocals amidst orchestrally bolstered arrangements assisted by cohorts Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. (Well, the unmatched soprano screams at the end of “Kiss” are an animal of their own!)

Mind you, this musical rawness and innate sexual energy was nothing new for Prince. After all, half a decade earlier he had sent shockwaves through much of the record-buying public with the daring content and look of 1981’s Dirty Mind. But I was only a wee little lad then, so I didn’t get to experience that controversy firsthand.

That brings up another interesting point of discussion. Many mention his early androgynous look when talking about his influence in bringing male sexuality to the forefront of popular culture. For me, though, the look that made such an impact was tamer and more traditional. In retrospect, I believe it was that simplicity that still speaks to me more loudly than some of his flashier moments. Along those lines, one could say that 1988’s Lovesexy cover was the ultimate climax of his inner and outer energies merging in the most provocative of ways.

princebc3As my childhood progressed, The Artist and his music continued to run through the fabric of my days. Aside from the Parade cover and “Kiss” video providing a consistent subliminal foundation underneath the turmoil which was coming to terms with my sexual orientation, subsequent works such as 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls and 1994’s Come, in particular, both afforded me hours of sonic enjoyment while also making profound conceptual statements with their respective lyrics (or lack of, in the case of Come’s “Orgasm”) and images (“Gett Off” and “Insatiable” instantly spring to mind). And, falling under an umbrella that warrants an entire essay of its own, there are the many songs which Prince wrote and/or produced for other artists, both those established and of his own discovery.

From the socially charged “Yo Mister” recorded by Patti LaBelle, to the moody “If I Luv U 2 Nite” released by Mica Paris, or the spine-tingling “Love…Thy Will Be Done” popularized by Martika, his understanding of melding the melodic and rhythmic components of multiple genres seemed unlimited. As an adult, I’ve continued to discover for myself further musical evidence that for one reason or another didn’t get much commercial exposure at the time (e.g., Jevetta Steele’s heart-tugging reading of “Hold Me” and Sheena Easton’s criminally overlooked “Eternity”).

Add to that the many entertainers with whom I probably would not be familiar had it not been for Prince’s introduction of them to the world at large. Whether the vibe be fun and campy (as in Apollonia’s 1988 solo album, which I regularly spin to this day), sultry and seriously jammin’ (Sheila E.’s Paisley Park catalog), or eclectic and colorful (Taja Sevelle’s first three albums), he was responsible for my familiarity with these artists—and the subsequent, immeasurable joy I’ve experienced as a result.

princebc4Although I admittedly didn’t follow Prince as religiously post-2000, I had recently started to experience his endless musical prowess all over again. It was on a trip to Germany last year that I purchased the vinyl LP of Art Official Age. The CD edition of HITnRUN Phase Two was an even more welcome addition to my collection last month.

While the repertoire may not be as groundbreaking as that of Parade (or 1985’s almost as marvelous Around the World in a Day), I could still hear that special spark in his playing and singing. The lyrical stances had changed over time, reflecting his personal shifts in lifestyle. Regardless, it was Prince doing his thing and doing it damn well.

Certainly, every person who has been touched by Prince’s music in some way has an individual story to tell. That is why I wanted to explore my own journey as co-guided by him when it came to discovering one of the most essential of my natural human characteristics (read: sexuality) and how it related to one of the most vital components of my being as far back as I can remember: music.

Yes, Prince exposed to me and millions of others those most basic ingredients of life in the most dynamic ways possible. The remarkably prolific mastery with which he did so (over 25 studio albums and hundreds of unreleased vault projects) is a major part of why his passing is so soul-shattering and almost unbelievable. Besides the fact that he seemed to never struggle with the drug demons that many superstar or eccentric talents do (as far as we publicly know), his unrelenting stamina in both recording and playing music live never gave one reason to pause and question his apparent immortality.

princebc2Now I know why there is a hole in my heart. For the man who gave me license to experience who I am at my core—and through the most meaningful channel of all, music—has left this planet. Undoubtedly, his absence will be felt strongly by me and millions of “Rainbow Children” across the world for years to come. When Prince sang “I Would Die 4 U,” he really meant it. That is why, your Royal Badness, “I Wish U Heaven” for eternity. Thank U.

About Justin Kantor

Justin Kantor is a music journalist with a passion for in-depth artist interviews and reviews. Most of his interviews for Blogcritics can be heard on his Blog Talk Radio program, "Rhythmic Talk." Justin's work has been published in Wax Poetics, The All-Music Guide, and SoulMusic.com. A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Music Business and Management program, he honed his writing chops as a teenager—publishing "The Hip Key" magazine from 1992-1996. The publication, which was created out of his childhood home in Virginia Beach, reached a circulation of 10,000 by the time he was 16. At Berklee, Justin continued to perfect his craft with a series of 'Underrated Soul' features for The Groove from 1997-2003. This led to a companion TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in 2002, as well as writing for the national Dance Music Authority (DMA). A self-described "obscure pop, dance, and R&B junkie," Justin also has penned liner notes for reissue labels such as Edsel Records and FunkyTownGrooves. He's excited to be a part of the BlogCritics team and indulge his musical fancies even further. Connect with him at his Facebook page, or via [email protected].

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  1. Excellent. Justin, thanks for writing this piece. Made me tear up (again, as that has been a daily occurrence since 4/21). The loss of my hero and inspiration has only been tempered by the constant reminders of just how many people feel precisely the same way. I never once contemplated a world without him since first becoming a fan at nine years old. For 32 years, he was a constant, daily presence in my life via (of course) his music. But only now have I really thought about just how much my attitude, thought process, and overall outlook on life has been influenced by him. I’m heartbroken.

  2. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Prince had a great singing voice with the unique ability to include very stylish pantomime concurrent with the overall presentation. I’ve read that he still has a huge repertoire of unreleased material that could be made public over the coming decades.

    He sang with tremendous expression and involved the audience with rhythmic sounds, light staccato notes, a panorama of lights and expressive dancing. His commanding physical presence, music and stage performances will be missed. Prince’s music will live on for many years to come just like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and others of our generation.

  3. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Presley and Jackson are basically entertainers for the baby boomers and beyond. Prince entertained the teens in generations X, Y and Z although he was very well known to the baby boomers too. Presley, Jackson and Prince should have good record sales well into this century.