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Posts Tagged ‘Prince’

At Once Document and Symbol, and Other News

June 7, 2016 | by

Gordon Parks, Emerging Man, Harlem, New York, 1952, black-and-white photograph. Photo via The New Yorker

  • Today is Prince’s birthday—the Minnesota governor has declared it Prince Day, and I’m wearing my Purple Rain T-shirt. “The Morning Papers,” a collection at Media Diversified, invites writers of color and Prince devotees to reflect on his legacy. Tanuja Desai Hidier, who was many moons ago an intern at the Review, remembers him in the poem “Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh Purple barsaat ki raat”: “Pulsing purple Om. / Love symbol. Id. / Strumming us home: / A compass. The Kid.” And in “Camille Ain’t Dead, Honey,” Gemma Weekes mulls on his death: “We remembered all his talk about the Spooky Electric. Some of us thought The Kid was irresponsible and that the Spooky Electric was a train he’d jumped on in the middle of the night, taking him off to some traitorous adventure elsewhere. He’d not read section 3, passage 33 of the Town Rules that stipulated he choose a successor before quitting city limits … A growing percentage theorized that The Spooky Electric was a It wanted his light. It wanted to stop his light from spreading, so The Kid was kidnapped, or scrubbed free of glitter and buried under a thousand layers of darkness.”
  • In which Diana Hamilton embarks on a journey to define “fictional poetry”: “I realized I had never been writing about ‘postconceptual poetry’ at all, but about something I started to call ‘Fictional Poetry’—i.e., poetry that uses the style, plot, characterization, or forms of fiction … Key to this sense of the ‘fictional’ is a quality of aboutness that prevents overemphasis on form—and on the repetition of the forms that often characterizes the appearance of schools—and especially resists the belief that the shape a poem takes, rather than its ‘topic,’ is always the source of its politics / interestingness / literariness / purpose. Instead, the books I want to write about don’t mind being about things … A lot of contemporary poetry does not deal very directly with its ‘content’; or rather, it seems contentless. Most things that pass for poems today are list poems without knowing it: by trying to focus on the lyrical image’s mediation of reference, they become mere collections of images that pride themselves on their irrelevance.”

You Think You’re Special

May 13, 2016 | by

Prince Pizza Aktion restaurant, Innsbruck, 2013. Photograph by author.

Prince Pizza Aktion restaurant, Innsbruck, 2013. Photograph by author.

I have 294 records of showers of living things … there’s no accounting for the freaks of industry.

—Charles Fort, Book of the Damned

 

While My Guitar Gently Gets Bent at Pizza Hut

The florist sat drunk in the corner booth of a Pizza Hut in Myrtle Beach. “Erotic City” quietly grinded away on a jukebox over near the bathrooms. For the past three hours, I’d been feeding the florist cans of Coors Light while he drove his son and me across South Carolina. Purple Rain played the entire route. “Let’s Go Crazy” in Pageland, “The Beautiful Ones” in Ruby, “Computer Blues” through Cheraw, “Take Me with U” to Aynor.

That October of 1984, my friend’s listening habits skewed toward Pyromania. Mine: keytars, eyeliner dudes, and black radio—whatever Les Norman, “The Night-Time Master Blaster,” happened to be playing on WPEG. I remembered Leppard for their one-armed drummer arrested for spousal abuse. Meanwhile Prince played, like, twenty different instruments while having sex in the backseat of taxicabs, ducking the Antichrist, and shouting for gun control. Also: girlfriend on drums. What’s fair is fair. Read More »

Staff Picks: Blackass, Academic Robes, Floppy Disks

April 29, 2016 | by

Photo: Anil Dash

There’s a scene in The Producers in which Max Bialystock finds Kafka’s Metamorphosis as a script and rejects after reading the first line; “It’s too good,” he complains. I thought of this as I began reading A. Igoni Barrett’s novel Blackass, which takes Gregor Samsa’s experience as its starting point: Furo Wariboko wakes to discover that he has metamorphosed from a black Nigerian to a white Nigerian, which is a sort of person who doesn’t really exist. It’s hard to improve on Kafka’s original, but, luckily, that isn’t Barrett’s aim. Furo’s transformation into an impossible creature puts him in a unique position: he is white, and so has a natural power over his black countrymen, and he can speak Nigerian pidgin, which gives him influence with that same group; he is feared and respected. In Furo’s navigation from one of Lagos’s many struggling unemployed young people to a man of privilege and agency, Barrett deftly transmutes him from metaphor into full-fledged character. Barrett also employs a handful of secondary characters who metamorphose in other, less spectacular ways that are likewise tied to issues of race, gender, money, and status. (I thought, too, of Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, another novel that mixes reality and the fantastical to great effect.) The freedom that reinvention engenders proves intoxicating. As one character marvels, “I was whoever I wanted me to be.” —Nicole Rudick

I trust you weren’t expecting me to discuss anyone or anything other than Prince this week. I’d like to share three of the many remembrances that have moved me to tears. First is the story of a floppy disk that Prince distributed to the press in 1993, when he’d changed his name to the unpronounceable Love Symbol: the disk contained a font allowing journalists to type the glyph in place of his name. (“It just seemed like a logical thing to do,” his graphic designer said.) Second is an interview with his personal chef, Ray Roberts, who reveals Prince’s favorite desserts; while Ray was cooking, he often overheard Prince in diligent rehearsal. (“The kitchen was adjacent to the sound studio, so the biggest treat of all for Ray was hearing the music, every day, loud and clear in the kitchen … He says Prince would regularly play three seconds of a song, dozens of times in a row, to get it right.”) And the third is D’Angelo’s performance of “Sometimes It Snows in April” from the Tonight Show this week, which reduced me to a puddle. Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad … —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

Plimpton Worldwide, and Other News

April 28, 2016 | by

George Plimpton (left) with cat (right).

  • Jenny Diski has died at sixty-eight. Blake Morrison told the Guardian: “What I liked was her abrasiveness—she was tough, not least on herself. Whatever subject she took on—rape, depression, the sixties, Antarctica—she had something new and surprising to say … Some of the diaries and reviews she published in the London Review of Books were small masterpieces.” You can read those diaries here. “It’s as simple as pushing a button, and I’m lost in no man’s land,” she wrote in the last entry. “The insoluble grief. Not that there’s anything to be done about any of it.”
  • Prince’s early webmaster remembers helping him with the NPG Music Club, a crucial forerunner for social media, digital music, and artist-run distribution: “If he built his own online record label, his own online radio station, and his own online music store, he had just as much access to his audience as the traditional channels did. He finally had a way to skip all the barriers and go direct … This direct connection between the fans and an artist on Prince’s level didn’t exist before the NPG Music Club. There was no Twitter, Facebook, or even YouTube. At the time, he saw direct Internet distribution as a model for all artists. He would tell me, if you could build your own music club, why would you need to pay anyone else a share and give away all your fans’ information? Why not do it all yourself—downloads, concert tickets, streaming concert events, and even a hub for emerging artists? He was leading the way to a new artist-owned music business … For a moment in time, we had something special no one had ever seen before—and something prescient, that predicted some of the questions about online distribution and artist agency that would come later.”
  • Today in reality: Is it real? Do our sense perceptions offer anything more than impotent glimpses of the world outside our heads? “We’ve been shaped to have perceptions that keep us alive, so we have to take them seriously. If I see something that I think of as a snake, I don’t pick it up. If I see a train, I don’t step in front of it. I’ve evolved these symbols to keep me alive, so I have to take them seriously. But it’s a logical flaw to think that if we have to take it seriously, we also have to take it literally … I call it conscious realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view. Interestingly, I can take two conscious agents and have them interact, and the mathematical structure of that interaction also satisfies the definition of a conscious agent. This mathematics is telling me something. I can take two minds, and they can generate a new, unified single mind.”
  • When George Plimpton wasn’t editing The Paris Review, he was doing … almost literally everything else. “Plimpton was an omnipresence for much of American cultural life—both high and low—in the last third of the twentieth century. He appeared in commercials for Oldsmobile and Intellivision, and appeared in the movies The Bonfire of the Vanities and Good Will Hunting and on TV’s Married with Children. He was present when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, helping to tackle Sirhan Sirhan. He turned up as a character on The Simpsons. In a New Yorker cartoon from 1967, a man about to undergo surgery looks up at the doctor wearing a mask and asks, ‘Wait a minute! How do I know you’re not George Plimpton?’ That Zelig-like identity rested largely on a series of seven books in which the New York–born, Harvard-educated Plimpton threw himself both physically and intellectually into the professional sporting life. Decades before the onset of reality TV and the Twittersphere, Plimpton starred in his own Everyman story.”
  • As I write this, Moscow is teeming with horrendous art. So what, you may say—so’s New York. At least in Moscow’s case there’s a festival to blame: the Moscow Spring Festival, with a three-million-dollar price tag. “By Friday, the entire center of the city was covered with sculptures and installations, most of them far larger than life size. These included a plastic reproduction of the classic Russian painting Bogatyrs (featuring three Russian-superhero horsemen), the size of a two-story house; the head of a woman—also roughly the size of a house—in faux topiary, with a twisted hand growing out of the ground next to it; and a cartoon Soviet policeman, which was the height of a small apartment building. It was as if the city had been invaded by a horde of aliens with flamboyantly bad taste. The Moscow intelligentsia recoiled in horror.”

Staff Picks: Unspooling, Erupting, and Recoiling

April 22, 2016 | by

An image of Tambora taken by the Space Shuttle in 1992, with a view of the caldera produced by the 1815 eruption.

An image of Tambora taken by the Space Shuttle in 1992, with a view of the caldera produced by the 1815 eruption.

On a sad, sad morning, thanks to J. J. Sullivan for sending us this 1989 cover of “When You Were Mine,” by the Blue Rubies. —Lorin Stein

Since Mary Ruefle’s 2008 book Most of It, I’ve watched for a second collection of her short prose. So I was pleased when we published two such pieces from her upcoming book, My Private Property, in our Spring issue. (NB: they’re nestled under Poetry, but as Ruefle told me over the phone, she doesn’t think them poems, per se.) I’ve since gotten my hands on a galley of that book and have read it twice over: Ruefle is as good as ever. In forty-one ambrosial bits, she muses on everything from programs littering a concert-hall floor to menopause to what a bird might think as it watches a woman die. Many of these begin simply—with a golf pencil or a string of Christmas-tree lights—but they unspool into larger existential meditations, on language and death, on creation and sadness and boredom; some are even doused in whimsy. Ruefle’s is a soothing, enlightening voice—always playful, always gentle, and always unfettering some ineffable truth. There’s a closeness I feel toward her as I read this book, as if she’s telling me all the secrets of this world—or at least of hers—and that I’d be wise to listen. “And if you sleep through a truth,” she writes, “you will wake at the bitter end.” —Caitlin Youngquist

This summer marks the bicentennial anniversary of “Frankenstein”—not the book itself, but the spoken nub of the story, which Mary Shelley first narrated by firelight in Switzerland in the summer of 1816. The eighteen-year-old Shelley had traveled with her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, their infant son, and Mary’s stepsister to the shores of Lake Geneva. Their idea was to spend the season with Lord Byron, far from the dreary chill of London. This part of the story is well-known: incessant rain confined the group to the house, and to fight off cabin fever, they each wrote a ghost story. Shelley summoned the tale of Frankenstein, whose frequent confusion with his nameless creation became a great gift to two centuries of pedants, and, lately, to Twitter. What I learned this week, however, from a recent episode of In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg’s indispensable BBC radio show, is that the bad weather that night had its own traceable origin. A year before the Lake Geneva gathering, the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history occurred in Indonesia. The explosion, of a mountain called Tambora, threw thirty-eight cubic miles of rock, ash, and magma into the air. The airborne cloak of sunlight-reflecting ejecta circled the globe and was ultimately responsible for the “ungenial” weather of 1816, which became known as the Year Without a Summer. Tambora’s explosion likely killed some seventy thousand people, so it was hardly the innocuous butterfly of classic chaos theory. Still, we can guess that Shelley might have appreciated, at some level, the distant and violent origins of her tale. “Every thing must have a beginning,” she wrote in the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, “and that beginning must be linked to something that went before … Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.” —Robert P. Baird
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“Purple Elegy”

April 22, 2016 | by

Prince-news

Dearly beloved, this is what it sounds
Like when you become a symbol through sound
That roreth of the crying and the soun:
You give up all your shit, down to the sou,
Wade through raspberry death to find him so
You can remind yourself he once was

Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s second book of poems, Heaven, was published last year. He is the recipient of the 2013 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, a 2013 Whiting Writers’ Award, a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2016 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and is shortlisted for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize.