Rebirth of cool

In an age of Britneys and American Idols, Prince reminds us of what we’ve been missing

Adriane Lee

In the whirlwind of media exposure surrounding his latest album, Musicology, Prince winces at the word, “comeback.” Interview after interview has heralded Musicology as the musical genius’ grand attempt to win back his fans. But let’s face it, Prince has always been cool. One can find his musical influences everywhere, from Beck to Outcast. He has made his indelible mark on our culture—just think, “Purple Rain,” “Little Red Corvette,” or "Kiss,” His albums are a staple in every hipster's record collection.

Respected as a visionary, Prince has changed the music industry as we know it. He has led a revolution in a fight to own the rights to his music, and retain creative control. He has evolved to keep pace in this age of technology, and through legal battles, a name change, and finding a new religion, his fans have stuck by him. That is powerful.

Musicology delivers a funk-tifiect Prince, sounding better than ever at age 45, Having come full circle—pushing the limits, creating shock value, and oozing sexuality in an almost obscene manner, this album is a return to oldschool, untainted, classic musicianship. Touted as his best work in a decade, it is a powerful and fitting statement in our current musical landscape. With cookie-cutter popsters in a constant scramble to outdo each other: how sexy can you get? How shocking can you be? Musicology is Prince’s royal flush. ’Beat that.' He's been there, and done that. and now he pays homage–Prince style–to where it all began.

”I never understood the word, re-invention. What’s cool to begin with. will always be cool. The only thing that always goes out of style are clothes,”  Prince explains. He is referring to the secret of his longevity. The timeless icon has released 33 albums in 26 years. The mere thought is exhausting. But even with all the time that has passed, he is still being pasted all over the magazine covers, perhaps in addition to having a buzz-worthy new album, it is our longing for quality. In the midst of the American Idol phenomenon, good music is refreshing. For a whole generation, Prince is classic.

While the cool factor and his art have remained consistent, no one can evolution has taken place in the public eye. He might not conscious re-invention, self-discovery may be a more appropriate The man has proven how far one can move away from where one started without isolating the fans. He proclaims. “I always just try to speak the truth as see it. Sometimes the truth hurts. It’s part of life. That sad, our audience is very sophisticated and leave a lot of room for growth. Casual fans who focus on the Hit Parade won't be around anyway when the real “agitation” begins. Remember the pearl...”

His journey to truth has led loyal fans along a tumultuous path. Moving from explicit lyrics to borderline religious undertones, he has gone from a deviate to a devote Jehovah’s Witness. But he has been afforded the luxury  of unconditional love, as he stumbles, or makes contradictions, and has come into  his own. How could you care? He’s Prince.

In the 20 years since Purple Rain, Prince has found religion. He’s cut some of the racier  songs from his shows, doesn't curse, and praises the Almighty at unexpected times. The man who once sang “Darling Nikki.w seems to have realigned himself with a higher being. But. those of us condemned fans, worried about the fuel for our romantic escapades, want to know, can sensuality and sexuality coexist with spirituality? “Words like spirituality, sexuality, etc, seek to describe the indescribable. The interaction of flowers, birds and bees is realty no different than intercourse between a man and wife. It just depends on what level you do it on. Spirituality, for lack of a better word, plays a big part in everything we do,” he states.

His marriage to Manuela Testolini in 2001 has also aided in putting a more G-rated spin on the record. Musicology is peppered with praise of monogamy, and the celebration of marriage. It’s highly danceable, with its soul and funk influences, evoking an innocence that brings to mind the good times. References to politics and current events take the place where explicit lyrics might have been. It’s Prince all grown-up, preparing to take thee throne. And it’s been a big year for him, having recently been inducted into the Rock 'n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and performing at the Grammy's.

But through the years, he’s always maintained a home in Minneapolis. Perhaps, in an attempt to preserve a somewhat normal life, he lives part time in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and part time in Canada. One has to wonder whether or not the artist chooses this second home because of the current politics. “My wife lives in Canada and she was very influential in my affection for the country. As far as world affairs go, I tend to “render unto Caesar what is his and render unto God what is God’s.” In other words—serious Bible study will clear up any confusion as to who is really in charge of things and what the final outcome will be,” he waxes.

“The world is what you make it. Many things are wrong, but we have the courage and the wilt to change that. We probably need to question the leadership. eh? Next we might wanna take a look at the system itself. Is it working? Together, if we ask the hard questions, then together we can seek better counsel,” he continues.

And he has done just that. His battle with record label, Warner Brothers, has made history. At one point. business and the record industry became entangled with his music. For the average music listener, the politics of music was more than what they had bargained for. In 1993, he changed his name to a symbol. At the time he was bound by a contract with Warner Brothers and didn’t see a way out Instead, he went around the system, coming to be known as, “the artist formerly known as Prince,” and it seemed to hold them off for a while. In 1995, he appeared with the word “slave” written across his face, in protest against the record giant. Finally in 2000, Prince was Prince again, but instead with a new plan of attack. He launched the New Power Generation members only website, and produced his music under the NPG label.

NPG sought to revise the existing system. Prince had complete control of his music, and sold his own merchandise, CDs, and concert tickets within this on-line community. It was an operation ahead of its time, as it charged members a fee to enter the website, and allowed them to download the album in advance. NPG has been running strong, and the courageous move has the recording industry shaking in their boots. It’s a sign of where things are headed. Autonomy, freedom, and an egalitarian approach to music.

“The “music industry” is of no concern to real artists. The music they make is not for mass consumption anyway. The "industry” wants to market music that the listener doesn’t have to think about too much. So, the industry will get the audience it deserves. Just like with movies—Independence is the new cool,” Prince offers.

Prince’s dissection of the system, and his questioning of the leadership, has led to better counsel. Doing it ’his own way, ' and with the counsel of business partner and friend, Londell McMillan, they have created a whole new business model. Together, with this marketing platform, they have designed an extremely lucrative system that serves to preserve musical integrity, and proves financially successful.

Currently, on Prince’s 2004ever tour, free copies of Musicology are given away to concert-goers. The cost of the CDs were factored into the price of the ticket and allows for mass distribution of the new record. It has been an issue of controversy as to whether or not these free CDs should be counted into sound scan. As it stands, these CDs were allowed to count toward the album’s total record sale. By pushing the envelope, it has made industry executives rethink how they arrive at these figures, and what types of distribution could qualify for these numbers.

Surely the battle with Warner Brothers has taught him something about music rights. He has rewritten the entire book for generations of musicians to come. He serves as a role model for new musicians who are looking better alternatives in the distribution of their music”

”I always had the rights to my music, I just had to click my heels three times. (laughs) If anything, i learned that contracts are for people who don’t trust each other. People who sign them get the relationship they deserve. Lawyers are kept in business because of contracts. The relationship I have with Sony is based on trust. They do not restrict us from doing anything. That was all we ever wanted—FREEDOM, “declares Prince.

“Prince: s current relationship with Columbia, an arm of Sony, is that they are being commissioned to distribute and market the album. In this case, no advances were taken, and in return, Prince will get an even higher percentage of the sales, than in a normal deal. He has worked, or reworked, the system to his advantage.

Again, renegotiating the norm, brilliant. It is easy to be jaded and say that pure music can not exist in the world of business. Are dollars responsible for the demise of music today? The artist sees it as less black and white, “Allowing executives, lawyers and accountants into the creative process has a tot to do with the state of the business today. A lot of the creative decisions these days are made with the bottom-line in mind. However, it is neither bad nor good. It is what it is. A bed—that someone has to steep in.”

Much has changed since Prince first started his career. Britney Spears and American Idol clogs the television, and produced packaged bands are manufactured a dime-a-dozen. In a Pro Tools age where any Joe Schmo can record an album, and the Internet can aid in its distribution, it’s easy to think w might be creating a world of disposable music. Optimistically he replies, “Disposable music? That is an oxymoron. Music is a precious gift from the Creator. It's best when it nourishes us in some way.” His tone is hopeful, not bitter and it seems that his changed course has put him on the highroad.

That high road has aided in his longevity. Prince is just as cool as he was back then.  Today he is a new cool. Perhaps  it’s his independence, the gift that had him marching to his own funky drum, doing the things his way. His over-the-top, larger-than-life antics have led to a mysterious persona that has kept us guessing. Look back on what he’s accomplished., perhaps we were all caught up in the flash. He's put one over us. His 'poker-face' has revealed a royal flush. So, what's the biggest misconception about the man?  And ultimately, is it  important to him, to be understood? Prince determines, “All those who know the truth, DO understand.”