The Artist enters a spiritual mind frame

John Sakamoto

TORONTO—There’s a song that The Artist I Still Call Prince has just finished writing that neatly captures the odd fork-in-the-road at which he finds himself, and it goes like this:

“I’m over 30, and I don’t smoke weed/And I don’t play into the same stereo/Your type’s trying to feed ...”

“It’s called Don’t Play Me, and it’s about getting older and being told, ’You don’t fit into our format anymore’, which I think is really funny,” the slender, soft-spoken 38 year old is saying Monday afternoon in a downtown Toronto hotel room.

The chorus revolves around the pun implicit in the title: fine, DON’T play me on the radio because, even if you do, you’re just playin’ me for a fool who fits into your rigid format.

Shockingly, it’s one of only two new songs the usually prolific ex-Prince has written since completing Emancipation, the ambitious three-CD album he released with great fanfare last month. In past years, he would’ve already wrapped up his next album by now and probably be working on the one after that.

“Yeah, I know, I’m like SHAKING right now,” he laughs. “Like I want a patch cord for all the stuff I’m writing in my head.

“But I’m learning to live differently because of my wife (Mayte) ... My family is more dear to me now than my time in the studio.”

Now, anyone who reads the supermarket tabloids or surfs around websites such as the aptly named Cybersleaze already knows that his “family” is at the centre of an unusually intense debate right now.

Several published and online reports have claimed that the baby he and Mayte had in October died two weeks later from a birth defect. Despite the proliferation of stories—or perhaps BECAUSE of them—The Artist has steadfastly refused to discuss the rumors.

He does, however, engage in a great deal of awkward, and highly emotional, conversation about the larger issue of God’s role in one’s life, which makes it awfully difficult to resist the temptation to read between the lines.

Take the following exchange about why he chose to cover Joan Osborne’s “One Of Us” on Emancipation.

“It’s nice to hear God mentioned on the radio. To me, spiritual music is the new alternative music because alternative always means ’that which isn’t spoken about.’ And nobody speaks about God in music.

“Everybody is sort of anxious right now. You can feel it with the coming change of the millennium.”

Do you believe that there has to be an apocalypse—either literal or metaphorical—for a widespread change in attitude toward talking about God to take place?

“Well, for some people, it’s already happened. Like when that earthquake hit Mexico, to some of them, that WAS the Apocalypse.

“I know there have been times when I thought I had my own apocalypse. (Pause). But to really have belief in God is to fear nothing. Once you’ve gone through some kind of apocalypse, nothing can harm you. (Another pause). And that’s where I am now. I’ve seen the worst of it.

“But if you seek help and never give up faith that you will get help, sooner or later you will.

“There have been moments when I wanted to give in, but I didn’t. I’m here talking to you because of that.”