Project 05 Prince

RESEARCHER / TEAM

An articulation of emerging concepts in the making and selling of music in the new millennium.  For Educational, Non-Profit Use Only. No Copyright Infringement Intended. Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976: Allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, research and love.

 

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, LOVED & BLESSED 

“When you found me/ I was just a piece of clay/ I was formless/ You gave me a new name/ With the breath of life I now live abundant/ All I needed was the potter's hand/ And the blood on Calvary.”​

 

—  Name, Title

i am #transformed

The Gospel according to Prince

Minister Dexter Strong, Courtesy: AL.com

There is something almost sacramental about the music of Prince. Imbued into each courageous dance step, virtuoso guitar solo, gender-bending performance, and probing lyric was a dare which challenged every listener to celebrate their own body and live creatively. The freedom with which he lived pervaded every note. And as we listened, as his music careened towards that part of the self we rarely access, we, if only for a moment, felt free too. That's why we loved him. We have not simply lost a musician. We have lost a prophet.

Rarely do we reflect on a "secular" artist like Prince in theological terms. The rigid dogmatism constraining our own faith journeys preclude us from recognizing the divine immanent in his music. Some Christians may find his sexual content, and gender nonconformity vulgar. Others will dismiss his spiritual contributions because of his unorthodox religious upbringing and beliefs. Each camp, to paraphrase Jesus, strains at gnats and swallows camels. Prince's music must be understood on it's own terms.

Each Prince hymn strikes a numinous chord transcending denomination and sect. Albums like "Lovesexy" forced our binary oriented society to see sexuality and the sacred, eroticism and eternity, as not opposing, but necessarily intertwined. Prince's music is not dissimilar in this respect to the biblical poetry of Song of Solomon. Each frustrates our contemporary urge to dissociate our experiences as being humans with bodies, and our experiences as being humans with souls. Prince had both. We have both. We need to affirm both.

As Yale Professor of Ethics Emerita, Margaret Farley puts it, we are both souls living inside of bodies, and bodies which happen to have souls. Understanding and affirming each of these dimension of the self is essential towards living rich, full lives. No one made music with more "embodied soul" than Prince. Each song and show seeped with sensuality. Prince demanded that we touch our world, ruminate in the feelings, and make meaning out of them. Prince's music is a desperate outcry for touch, and a despairing reminder of the hopelessness occurring when we're alienated from human contact. These are unmistakably Christian observations.

Sin is the state of being alienated from, or being out of touch with, God. The great ethical demand of Christianity is to be compassionate, in touch, with our neighbor. Even God enfleshes God's self in order to touch humanity toward salvation. Prince's sultry call for more touch reminds us that there is divine meaning to be derived from the act of touching, and being touched.

The crooning and moaning characteristic of Prince's music entrances our bodies, bodies restless from lack of touch, until we must touch, and allow ourselves to be touched by whomever is near. The funky ballads of Prince can arouse that urge in even the most disciplined ascetic. Prince helps us to see our body and its capacity for feeling, as neither problematic nor inconsequential, but as a divine endowment.

More fascinating still is the peculiar form and function of Prince's body. Prince's body, in terms of physique, was utterly unremarkable. He had a slight frame, and stood only about 5'2". But, he owned his body in ways awe inspiring. He walked, spoke and experimented as one totally at ease with himself.

The palpable aura surrounding him made him more alluring to women than men who bodies exemplified the traits most commonly associated with sex appeal.

By guiltlessly blurring gender lines with his dress and gestures, he became a paragon of masculinity. Shamelessly he used his body as a vehicle for his art. He clothed himself in sexual innuendo. He pushed his eccentricities to the public fore, and his almost percussive authenticity became the marching cadence for a musical revolution.

Prince's flagrant disregard for norms of beauty and masculinity is a clear reminder of how we should view ourselves. The creative soul animating the body of Prince could not be confined to any singular form of expression, and it did not view the our narrowly constructed ideals of beauty as authoritative. We should be similarly courageous.

We are all unique expression of universe, each of us gifted not only with God's image, but also with God's creative energy. Social obsessions with appropriate body types and roles should not deter us from maximizing our potential for creative self-determination and expression. Living authentically is its own reward, and has it's own allure. As Prince reminds us in his hit "Kiss", we don't have to be beautiful, at least not in the conventional sense, to be immensely attractive and valuable.

Prince wasn't afraid to take stands against social injustices, a rare quality in musicians of his popularity. In a song entitled "Baltimore" Prince asks "does anybody hear us pray/for Michael Brown and Freddie Gray?" Prince saw himself as responsible for helping to dismantle systems of oppression, even if that meant upsetting fans who would rather him remain neutral and non-political. But as he rightly points outs "If there is no justice there can be no peace."

From responding to Katrina tragedy, to civil rights campaign collaborations with Cornel West, Prince has a well documented history of political involvement on the behalf of the poor and oppressed. Prince communicates musically the importance of respecting all embodied souls. And he wasn't shy about reminding us that we've done a poor job valuing the black and brown ones.

It is here where Christ calls us to follow in his own footpaths. We must preach the acceptable year of God's favor, lifting up those who've yet to receive favor from the those which govern daily affairs. Not to remember Prince's powerful call for justice, through music and action, is to misremember him. Will we be as moved by Prince's call for an end to systematic racism and injustice, as we are by his call to party like it's 1999?

 

Prince's music, and performances helped generations to embrace the contradictions which constitute them. His musical activism is as cultural impactful as Bob Dylan. Prince just draped his brand commentary in purple velvet.

For one who lived life so colorfully it seems wrong that his life have such a sudden, drab conclusion. But we have his music! Those genre-less, euphoric sounds of funk, and rock, and pop, and R&B! These sounds drown out the banal blend of social norms and respectability. In four minute intervals Prince draws from our psyche the person that we try desperately to repress; the person the world attempts to either exploit, or regiment.

Prince has had a uniquely liberating effect on American culture. Prince is a sage gone much too soon. But, where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. God must be present somewhere inside of Prince's music.

 
 

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