Prince's music is so potent and intoxicating that despite universal acclaim it still seems underrated. What sacred art, what sacred love.
— James Greene, Jr. (@HoneyIShrunkJG2) April 21, 2016
To say anything else may be exceptionally unnecessary. And yet…
It was only a few years ago that I began digging into the Prince catalog. I purposely started with The Black Album, my reasoning being, I know the hits, I know Prince can orchestrate pop perfection, let’s see what it’s like when this guy is stumbling. Prince suppressed Black for nearly a decade because he felt dissatisfaction with it (one rumor suggests a bad ecstasy trip convinced him the album projects too much evil). Yes, I often begin my journey into legendary bodies via a most dubious property. What can I tell you? I’m American, I’m obsessed with failure.
My immediate reaction to The Black Album: if this is Prince at his worst, sign me up. Sections of Black’s malcontent electro funk are misguided, sure, but as with all his work, Prince commits with such totality (even to utter silliness) you can’t deny the sale. You remain absorbed and ultimately feted.
Now The Love Symbol Album and The Gold Experience are go-tos. Bold, decadent, liberating, rich with flavor. I also spend a lot of time getting lost in the grooves and hymnals of Chaos & Disorder. Sign O’ The Times? That thing is a best of / greatest hits unto itself. And of course, the one Prince album I paid close attention to at the time of its release, Batman.
I want to say I understand people who dog the Batman album but I actually don’t. Prince captures the glamor, the restlessness, and the bankruptcy of Gotham City. The music freezes, it bleeds, it works both within and outside the motion picture’s context. I can’t comprehend why “Partyman” and “Trust” aren’t FM radio staples. The balladry avoids being overwrought. What a thrill to have it all culminate in the white knuckle lunacy of “Batdance.”
“Batdance” is on this Warhol level, a gleeful vandalism of Neal Hefti’s 1960s theme, a schizophrenic pastiche of Burton’s film driven by fascist percussion, indiscriminate keyboards, searing guitar, and direct dialogue samples. It’s jarring and insane but again, Prince commits. That’s why the song reached #1; the Artist’s dedication willed this cacophony into something incredible.
It feels strange to comment on all the risks Prince took in his career, if only because he possessed the celestial wizardry to more or less conquer them all. Is there another human being who could have successfully changed their enormously bankable and recognizable name to a singular character of their own invention with no known (or offered) pronunciation? Ricky Shroder has spent decades trying in vain to make people drop the “y.” If he had adopted a symbol we would have sent him to live on the international space station.
Thanks for the fifty-seven years, Prince. You will never be equaled.
A: All Night Lotus Party by Volcano Suns; “Razors In The Night” by Blitz; Brody Dalle’s Diploid Love (which actually came out this year); Prince’s Black Album; the s/t debut from Orient Express; “River Rock” by Froggy Landers; Anti Everything by Surf Nazis Must Die; Destroyed by Sloppy Seconds; Iron Prostate’s Loud, Fast, & Rapidly Aging.
Don’t ask me how I made it to 35 without hearing some of this stuff prior. I can only blame ex-girlfriends who ate up valuable listening time with ska or Our Lady Peace.
Today marks twenty-five years since the release of Tim Burton’s Batman, a.k.a. Batman ’89. The arrival of that property seemed like the most important event of its decade (please note: I was only a decade old in 1989). It was definitely the most important Batman movie—the first outing since Adam West’s goofy tenure. Could they reclaim Bats from the campy mire of his 1960s tv series? Imagine if they’d messed it up. Twenty more years might have passed sans Batman. On the other hand, a chasm like that would have left the floor open for something totally wild, like a Wonder Woman movie.
There are, of course, folks out there who think they did mess up Batman ’89 and that the one true Bat-film is Batman Returns or The Dark Knight or one of the animated features. I am not one of those people. I dig Batman Returns, Dark Knight is probably my favorite film of the current era, but Batman ’89 is pure intoxication. The perfect meld of 1940s gothic and ’80s decay, a grime-streaked world where inky blackness acts like some kind of bizarre security blanket. They had trouble replicating that atmosphere even in the sequel where Burton was directly involved. And how can you top the disturbed, punchy combo of Keaton and Nicholson?
Sure, they cut a few corners. The Joker as the guy who murdered Batman’s parents is too convenient and in the end pointless when all they do is have Bats and J argue about it like sixth graders. They posit Vicki Vale as some big shot journalist but the solution to the Batman mystery is just served up to her on a plate. What do you want? No movie is perfect. Nothing’s perfect. Methinks the dialogue is crackling enough to cover these stumbles in plot.
This is the part where I remind you my parents did not let me see Batman ’89 at the cinema; a friend’s mother told my mother it was too violent. I must have complained all summer and fall because my dad brought it home on VHS that Christmas. He wouldn’t let me watch it straight up, though: first I had to sit through The Bells of St. Mary’s, which is one of those Bing Crosby movies where he breaks up fights between altar boys and croons for nuns. I appreciate this torturous move now but at the time I was pretty outraged. Still, I endured, and then Daddy-o let me watch Batman in peace.
To celebrate today’s auspicious occasion I will of course engage in some binge listening of Prince’s Batman ’89 soundtrack. I think a few Pat Hingle impressions are also in order. By the way, I’ve never understood those who gripe about the Prince music in Batman. The sexual undercurrent of pop funk accents the blackness and grit so nicely. Also, like the Joker, Prince is a garish weirdo outfitted in purple who is constantly on the verge of either kissing or slapping someone. Would you have preferred Michael Jackson? MJ was originally approached to write for the movie but couldn’t commit.
It could have been worse. They could have asked some hair metal band to write a power ballad about the Batmobile. One of the greatest joys Batman ’89 brings me is that I can watch it and not think about Vince Neil.
This is a test post because my last entry Houdini’d its title. To make it worth your while, I have included twenty minutes of punk n’ rollers Zeke tearing up some stage in 1998.
I remember the first time I heard Zeke. It was Dirty Sanchez, right after it came out. I’m being dead serious when I say I thought it was too good and did not listen to it again for over a decade. I just couldn’t handle it. I felt like I was having a heart attack when I heard it. Has that ever happened to you?
Some Radiohead albums are like that for me as well. One or two Prince cuts too. That Prince, with his dirty funk!
Or “Writer Rehashes Content You’ve Already Ignored Once.”
Estonia officially adopts the Euro as its national currency. The singer from an nth generation rockabilly band accuses a toy conglomerate of stealing her identity. The Green Hornet is theatrically released, but I hear mixed things, so I decide to wait until it’s on DVD.
The White Stripes break up, allowing me to finally admit I was always a fan. I get food poisoning at my own Super Bowl party from a batch of eggplant-based dip. A computer beats Ken Jennings on “Jeopardy!”, shaming this country’s entire Mormon population.
I interview Mike Watt at the suggestion of my Crawdaddy! editor; the chat goes well, but I later regret not asking more questions about “Piss Bottle Man.” Zoogz Rift dies. Yuppies have a collective hissy fit when it’s announced the new season of “Mad Men” will be delayed until 2012.
Prince William marries Kate Middleton. I commemorate the early ’90s advertising ubiquity of MC Hammer. I also attempt to finish writing “We Didn’t Start The Fire” for Billy Joel. Yuppies have a collective hissy fit when this month sees the end of both LCD Soundsystem and Steve Carrell’s tenure on “The Office.”
I issue not one but two lengthy feature reports on forgotten Star Wars disco song “Lapti Nek”; unfortunately, they come too late in the year for Pulitzer Prize consideration. A personal trip to Minneapolis fails to yield any Prince sightings.
I discover via Twitter that the little kid from Cop & A Half is a rapper. Seth Putnam dies. Super 8 is released, and the scene were the children all sing “My Sharona” strikes me as not only grating but historically improbable; while I am researching this story, my boss calls to tell me Crawdaddy! is folding.
I interview “Weird Al” Yankovic, fulfilling a life-long dream. I see The Green Hornet and my distaste for Seth Rogen is cemented.
It is revealed that Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols didn’t really play on The Great Milenko. The original Star Wars movies are released on Blu-Ray with even more ridiculous CGI scribbling. A personal trip to Denver fails to yield any Sinbad sightings.
I publish my investigation into the Atari Landfill legend after it’s clear no one from the former video game giant can sue me. My favorite soda Vault is discontinued. Anthrax finally release Worship Music; riots erupt nowhere in response.
Steve Jobs dies, ostensibly before hearing a single note of Lulu. I interview Raj from “What’s Happening!!” and discover he’s a cool guy. After several seasons of speculation, Dr Pepper announces that they have no affiliation with “South Park.” The best song of the year is released.
The Justin Bieber Christmas album drops and gives the world a moment to reconsider Busta Rhymes. I eat pizza for Thanksgiving.
Americans suspect Coca-Cola of flavor treachery. Universal Studios Florida announces the closure of their Jaws attraction. An image surfaces that proves noted UFOlogist Giorgio Tsoukalos once combed his hair. Kim Jong-Il dies. I live the cliché by getting socks for Christmas.
The Bus Boys
Minimum Wage Rock n’ Roll
The general population remembers this Los Angeles sextet for their rollicking 1982 hit “The Boys Are Back In Town,” which was prominently featured in Eddie Murphy’s breakout detective flick 48 Hrs. A few years prior, the Bus Boys released their major label debut, Minimum Wage Rock n’ Roll, a remarkably more staid affair that cops the lion’s share of its moves from Don Henley over Bo Diddly or Little Richard. To wit: The terse guitar that drives opening cut “Dr. Doctor” is the same monster that’s kept your city’s classic rock station pulsating for decades, and you actually sort of have to strain to hear the boogie-woogie piano this group would later build a small empire upon.
Even the Moog seems to get more spotlight here than the regular ol’ eighty-eight, accenting New Wave dips like a bizarre shoe shiner’s lament called “Did You See Me” and the Rentals-evoking non-Aretha-related “Respect.” Generally, though, it’s an overcooked ’70s guitar at the center of Minimum Wage. This is the sound of a bar band trying to find its footing—yet there’s no mistaking the unabashed R&B stamp in all the album’s vocals. The O’Neal brothers, keyboardist Brian and bassist Kevin, sell their mostly second gear material with buckets of soulful harmonizing. Less competent throats surely couldn’t have handled the confusing speedy government dis track “KKK” with such sugar and aplomb.
Race comes up quite a bit in Minimum Wage’s lyrics, which strikes the listener as strange only because the Bus Boys’ basic legacy is a party sound so carefree it was eventually transformed into a beer commercial. These guys want to have a serious discussion about civil rights? Well, no. The O’Neals keep their tongues firmly in cheek when they turn the tables to complain about a Caucasian invasion in “There Goes The Neighborgood”; on the aforementioned “Did You See Me,” you can hear the fellas grinning as they challenge “You never heard music like this by spades!” For the Bus Boys, there’s no reason to check the playful tone when discussing big picture stuff.
In the end, Minimum Wage Rock n’ Roll only boasts one or two selections whose relative obscurity is humankind’s absolute loss. One such selection is the delightfully Cars-ish love whine “Angie,” a song Prince probably could have scored with during his Purple Rain reign. The other might be that damn Moog-infested “Respect.” For all its herky-jerkies, the melody cuts like a diamond, and the chorus contains what more or less amounts to the official Bus Boy manifesto: “If you don’t like rock n’ roll music, you can kiss my ass!”
FINAL SCORE: Two solid Eddie Murphy laughs (out of four).