Former Prince gives the fax on his career, motivation

Tony Norman

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince has sworn off talking to the press. He faxes us now, but with a few cute quirks. Example? Well, not that it’s particularly difficult to type the letter “I” but he substitutes a little eyeball symbol when talking first person. He does, however,  save a couple of key strokes by typing the letter “U” when he means "you.” Strangely enough, I did the latter, too, when faxing these questions. Shortcuts are all around, it would seem.

At any rate, The Artist, who ruled the charts in 1984 with “Purple Rain,” performs tonight at the Civic Arena.

Our machine-to-machine conversation follows. (Blame my editor for typing in the words “I” and “you.”)

Question: “Emancipation” was such an amalgamation of styles and genre bending. It featured you at your very best, in my opinion, giving pop music a much needed reminder of its potential as a medium of liberation, and boogieness. So, why couldn’t you do that at WB?

Answer: where shall I begin? Well, let’s see, probably wear the name of the record came from—freedom—not just artistic, but in every aspect… Especially the business side! And above all, ownership of the work. An album that "features me at my best” should ultimately belong to my family, wouldn’t you think?

All of my songs are an extension of me, and any one song couldn’t have been written without the other. They’re all interrelated that way. And just like with children, I wouldn’t place one above the other. The songs I think to play in concert usually reflects the audiences preference, not necessarily mine. I miss playing “Anna Stesia.” By 1999 it should be back in the set.

Q. To what extend do you believe the way major labels do business militates against the making of consistently good music? Were you dragged kicking and screaming to your current understanding of music business economics, or was it something that dawned on you years ago?

A. I regret nothing and would trade my life for no one’s. Humans interacting is a big part of the experience, isn’t it? To be anonymous is an illusion. Freedom to me means the unadulterated right to seek God on one’s own terms without a hindrance of others. Freedom is especially important to artists.

Q. You released “1999” in’ 82 and “Purple Rain” two years later. What gave you the confidence to make a loosely biographical movie when you weren’t exactly a household name yet? Did you suspect that the movie “Purple Rain” which somehow resonate with the public?

A. God gives confidence and belief in one’s destiny.

I use my art as a way to sift through different facets of my personality and ego. And because I do so in a public forum, I am criticized for too much output. But who’s journey is this?

Q. The 80s seem to be a decade of pop icons: Michael, Bruce, Madonna, you. Were you ever conscious of a racial/sexual dynamic at work in lifting some icons at the expense of others? Did all the (record label-induced) idolatry irritate or titillate you?

A. I dislike record companies and people who run them. Everyone finds truth in their own way, and I am no judge. I only know what’s right for me. I wish everyone heaven.

Q. You’ve spoken highly of folks like Ani DiFranco and how are you hope to release some songs of her Righteous Babe label. From what I understand, NPG is set up to be the same sort of label, so why release anything on Righteous Babe?

A. Ani DiFranco is a prime example of what happens when one chooses not to respond to another’s illusion. Her albums are a success by virtue of their existence. She doesn’t seem to need a plaque given to her by her “bosses” to validate her world. I would love to work with her, simply because of what I believe to be the strength of her character.

Q. What’s been the most fascinating and challenging aspect of becoming a self-distributing musical entity? And what’s your advice to wannbe recording artist looking at the market today, especially African-Americans who may not have your entrepreneurial chops and experience?

A. Had I owned the master recordings of all my earlier work, I am certain I wouldn’t respect the position I’m in today, although there is something to envy about Ani’s situation. Every one of her compositions—which are probably extensions of her – remain hers! Look at the Jimi Hendrix family and I struggle to retain ownership rights to Jimi’s got to lock. (But) the truth always always prevails!

Q. Pop is beginning to eat itself. R&B is all about remakes. Remixes dominate the urban charts. The derivative; but admittedly talented artist like Prodigy, Beck in the Chemical Brothers have become the new arbiters of pop tastes, though what they’re selling isn’t particularly new. When you look over this fragmented and dispirited pop scene, do you feel even slightly messianic? Don’t you think you could take anyone of these characters in your sleep?

A. Worrying about another’s journey was never my brand of tea.

Q. Who would you like to work with before you backed it in? Giving your admin a ration for Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, have you ever thought about approaching them?

A. Everything that should happen, does. All questions are answered by God. God supplies one’s need from an "inexhaustible well.” I am currently working with (R&B master) Larry Graham, which I believe is a gift from that well. I have learned so much from him, spiritually as well as musically.

Q. Why has it taking you so long to come back to Pittsburgh? Was it something we said?

A. No, I am immune to criticism. Look at the mouths from which it comes. They are usually connected to bodies run by souls in need. Relying on someone else to defined your success will have you writing on your face.