This is the long version as linked from the blog:
Wednesday, June 27, 2001
Going To Mecca, Losing My Religion
Neumu's Randy Reiss writes: I've been a devoted fan of Prince since my senior year of high school, when I got my first car and Lovesexy's "Alphabet Street" spurred me to load up on his catalog so I'd have some decent cruising music. Then I got my hands on a pirated copy of The Black Album, and the deal was closed: I would follow this artist through hell or high water. As it turned out, I would also end up following him through a lot more than that (name changes, label battles, spotty albums), all the way up to today as a paying "Premium" member of his NPG Music Club (http://www.npgmusicclub.com).
As a club member, I was invited to "Prince — A Celebration: The Rainbow Children," a gathering of the faithful at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn., which took place two weeks ago (June 11–18). For $70, I could take a self-guided tour of Prince's legendary studio complex during the day and attend intimate concerts at the Park featuring artists like Erykah Badu, Common, Maceo Parker and Nikka Costa at night (non-club members could also purchase tickets). Prince also scheduled two arena-sized concerts at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul that weekend; if you wanted to attend, you paid an additional fee (and, if you were a club member, you also got to watch his soundcheck). NPG Music Club members were given the VIP treatment throughout the week, and the chance to listen to and discuss Prince's upcoming album, The Rainbow Children.
With two unused airline tickets burning a hole in my pocket, it didn't take too much arm-twisting for me and my wife to decide to make the trip out from San Francisco for a weekend of fun and music; we viewed the trip very much as a pilgrimage to our own personal Mecca.
It was certainly a more, uh, interesting trip than I anticipated. I really wasn't prepared to be so awestruck as I sat in the studios where so many of my favorite albums (Sign o' the Times, Emancipation) were recorded. The people I met were uniformly engaging and fun to trade trivia with. My wife and I laughed with a couple from L.A. about how all of us had picked the wrong night to attend the 1999 New Year's show at Studio 54 in Las Vegas. The night we'd all gone, The Time played and Prince made a brief appearance; the next night, the one we missed, he played a full set of his own!
We also spoke with another couple from L.A., Kurt and Shelley, while we waited for the Nikka Costa performance to begin at the large Paisley Park soundstage on Sunday night. We debated about whether new-age horn player Najee has been a boon or a detriment to Prince's band during the past year. (My wife and I usually sit down during his solos.) We also talked about how, for the most part, having Prince produce your album is a career-killing move. You get one huge hit out of it and then you're done.
We attended both of Prince's Xcel Energy Center shows. Friday's concert was a bit hampered by sound problems and Prince's hurt leg — and the fact that I'd seen basically the same show twice before. Saturday's show, however, was off-the-hook as Prince led his incredibly tight band through the usual hits, but also rarities like "Bambi," " Sometimes It Snows in April," "Free" and "Three Chains o' Gold."
On Sunday, I went to the last listening session for The Rainbow Children. The reports I'd gotten from other fans who listened to it earlier in the week weren't encouraging. They said musically it was pretty good, but lyrically it was a heavy-handed concept album inspired by Prince's recent studies with Jehovah's Witnesses. As I sat on an overstuffed couch outside Paisley Park's soundstage, I was horrified to hear that they were not leading me astray.
The Rainbow Children (which Prince has indicated he might only make available through his Web site and 800 number and to his fan club members) was indeed 70 minutes of engaging funk, rock, R&B ballads and even some jazz fusion. Taken separately, the James Brown-like "The Work" and the ballads "Mellow" and "She Loves Me 4 Me" are outstanding. But I wasn't impressed with the overall concept, and the heavy-handed lyrics aren't something I'd want to listen to again. The Rainbow Children tells the tale of the Wise One, whose family and loved ones are tempted by the Distractor and his minions. This happens and then that happens (the plot twists just aren't that interesting), and then the Rainbow Children ascend to a higher level of consciousness by living under the word of God, leaving the Banished Ones behind while they party on in Heaven.
Unfortunately, a lot of this story is told by an annoying narrator in a super-slowed-down voice, not unlike the demonic voice in "Bob George." There's also a lot of race-baiting ("Holocaust aside/ Many lived and died/ But when the truth is told/ Would U rather be dead or be sold?") that just doesn't jive with the album's message of coming together under the word of God. I mean, both slavery and the Holocaust were horrible, reprehensible things — what good does it do to set them against each other and ask people to decide which was worse? In the end, The Rainbow Children plays more like a sermon than a story; I was really offended more than once as I listened. For the record, it also made me bob my head and tap my feet.
Each listening session was followed by a group discussion about the album, with some of the sessions filmed for a documentary by Kevin Smith (the filmmaker responsible for "Clerks" and "Dogma"). According to a number of accounts I got from attendees, the first discussion went south when not everyone was enthused with the album's message of getting an "accurate understanding of God" or else getting left behind. In sessions later in the week, Prince and/or pioneering funk bassist (and Jehovah's Witness) Larry Graham joined in to talk about their beliefs and to answer questions.
The discussions sometimes went on for hours, I was told, with Prince asking, for example, "Do you believe in God?" If you answered no, he asked you to step to the other side of the room, and then he would start a discussion about why you were wrong. Then another question, another division, another discussion about why those who didn't agree with Prince were wrong. A lot of people I spoke with were very put off by this, yet found it hard to speak their mind with their hero sitting nearby, talking with them like they'd always dreamed. In the end, Prince always tried to bring the group back together, but was not often successful.
Ultimately, I decided the best course of action was to skip my discussion session. I've found that heated discussions about religion and politics convert no one and piss off everyone. The Rainbow Children had upset me enough — I wasn't relishing the opportunity to have Prince make me stand in the corner with a dunce cap on my head.
Prince has had some rough years, with his label battles, the death of his child, and his annulled marriage. I will never begrudge a person their faith, nor fault them for where they find their strength in times of need. This is why I'm willing to give Prince a little room on this one. I won't, however, stand for someone not giving me that same respect, and that's what I came away with from my trip to Mecca. That was me on the airplane, losing my religion, both in the sense of being angry and in the sense of accepting that a man who has shaped a lot of my philosophical views has moved on. Maybe someday, like fellow Minnesota music genius Bob Dylan, he'll swing back, and we can meet in the middle. That's what I'm praying for.
The InsiderOne Daily Report appears weekdays at 9 AM PST, except when it doesn't. by Michael Goldberg
Wow, anyone heard this?
Another victim of the Borg!