Prince: More than just a ‘Dirty Mind’

Dennis Hunt

When he was a precious 9-year old in Minneapolis, Prince, pop music’s new boy wonder, used to sneak into his mother’s bedroom and read her spicy novels. "They were underneath that Better Homes and Gardens and places like that,” recall the 20-year-old pop/rhythm and blues musician.

Soon, reading such novels wasn’t enough for him: “once I got tired of reading those stories, I wrote my own. For a while I thought that’s what I wanted to do in life. But I realized as I got a little older I wasn’t going to make any money writing does not hold. I think I would have been a failure at writing them.”

Being a prepubescent porn addict left its mark on him: ’"I think reading those novels has a lot to do with my sexuality in my openness about it. I think it affects you when you have a very early awareness about sexual issues.”

Prince interest in the subject, which may be a byproduct of an erratic home life, didn’t lead to a writing career but it influenced his music. A sexual thread runs through his three Warner Bros. albums the first two—"For You” and "Prince"—are merely suggestive. However, certain songs on his latest album, appropriately titled “Dirty Mind,” are seamy as anything in those novels he used to read. For one, “Sister” is about an incestuous relationship between a teen-ager and a sister twice his age: “it’s part of life. It’s something that’s inside of all of us to some degree, whether we like it or not. We may think about it or encounter it in some form or other.”

It’s rare to see an album from a major label by a well-known artist that is littered with such sexually explicit lyrics. Other artists, Prince observed, are just too timid to roam in this range. “They bypass a lot of heavy things, particularly sexual things,
 he said. ’"I’m not about to do that.”

There’s more to “Dirty Mind” than X-rated lyrics. It’s exceptional in every area—vocals, instrumentation, production, arrangement and composition. Remarkably, Prince, a one-man studio gang, does all these things by himself.

Prince, Charleston, S.C., at the time, did the interview by phone. Unlike just about every other artist, he prefers phone interviews. “No one can see me on the phone,” he explained.

His problem has always been extreme shyness: “I would wonder what it would be like if you were sitting here with me?” He inquired. “I don’t seem shy now but I would if you were here. I’m really shy when I meet someone for the first time. I like to listen. I think other people are more interesting than I am. An interview means I have to do all the talking.”

Until the last few weeks he had done very few interviews. As a result a Prince mystique sprang up. “When people couldn’t talk to me or find out much about me, they starting making things up,” he said. “I’m supposed to be mysterious person but I’m not mysterious.”

But now he’s talking to the media mainly to help people understand his album: “my first two albums were self-explanatory but this one isn’t,” he said. Skeptics, of course, are saying he isn’t so much interested in explaining “Dirty Mind” as he is in bolstering its lagging sales. The album, stalled at No. 46 on the Billboard chart, does need a boost because most of it, no matter how excellent, is unsuitable for radio. If fans don’t hear it often on the radio, they are less likely to buy it. Media attention could prod some stations to play the album.

"That’s not the idea behind me talking to the media,” he insisted. “I never thought the album would get a lot of airplay. Maybe I can help those who buy it to understand it better. Anyway, it’s time I step forward and started making myself heard.”

Prince maybe sorry: “I’ve been spilling my guts more to the media then I ever have to my friends,” he had made it. “They’ll find out things from these interviews they didn’t know about.”

One reason Prince is so dedicated to music is that as a child in Minneapolis singing and playing piano was his refuge against unhappiness. His boyhood chronicle belongs in a primer on how not to raise a child.

"I have four brothers and sisters by different fathers and mothers,” he said. “We were never an immediate family. When I was 12 I ran away for the first time because of problems with my stepfather. I went to live with my real father but that didn’t last too long because he’s as stubborn as I am. I lived with my aunt for a while. I was constantly running from family to family. It was nice on the one hand because I always had a new family, but I didn’t like being shuffled around. I was bitter for a while but I adjusted.”

Prince is his real first name but he won’t reveal his last name. He speculated he was named Prince —the stage name off his father, a jazz band leader—for an odd reason: “I think my father was kind of lashing out at my mother when he named me Prince.”

He felt he was ridiculed by his mother for getting into music. “I was into it a little too much for her.” Prince recalled. “My father left home when I was 7

That’s when I got into music. She didn’t like that because music is what broke up her marriage. My father was too serious about music. “I was considered strange. I recall having a lot of strange dreams. I spend a lot of time alone. I turned to music. In some ways it was more important than people.”

Prince started his own band at 12 and by the time he was out of high school was a good enough musician to be signed to a Warner Bros. contract. A self-taught musician, he plays every instrument on his albums—keyboards, drums, guitar and bass. “I learned how to play so many things out of boredom,” Prince said. “I got bored with one and then I could go on and learn something else.” This musical expertise is all the more remarkable considering he doesn’t read music.

Prince is one of those Jekyll-and-Hyde’s types. Offstage he shy; on stage is a torrid performer who even strips down to his bikini underwear. However, he doesn’t read car is persona us as being all that different: “I don’t say death march on stage. I’m still shy on stage. But it’s easy because it’s music. I’m just interpreting music, which is still that one thing in life I feel good about.”