Sites O’ the Times

Artists have always been interested in new technologies. DaVinci was. Duchamp was. And the Artist is, too

Ben Greenman

In his early days, Prince was dismissed as a sensualist. Later on, when he started writing scriptural pop like Lovesexy and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, he was ridiculed as a spiritualist. All along the way, the Minneapolis multi-instrumentalist has been at once an avid consumer and a sharp critic of technology. The title song of 1999 fretted about nuclear weaponry, while the title song of Sign O’ the Times mused on the folly of space travel in the wake of the Challenger disaster.

In recent years, the Artist has turned his attention toward interactive technologies, particularly the Internet. Last year’s triple album Emancipation included two songs about cyberspace—“Emale” and “My Computer,” the latter of which sampled America Online’s “Welcome,” “You’ve got mail,” and “Good-bye” sounds. The Love 4 One Another Web site launched this summer. And on the eve of his Jam of the Year tour, in mid-July, the Artist even drew more than 300,000 participants on an AOL chat. Because of his interest in the online medium, the Artist agreed to talk to Yahoo! Internet Life about his music, his fans, the future of the Internet, and even cybersex.

YIL: When did you first go online?

The Artist: I first went online alone 7 months ago, 2 the best of my recollection.

YIL: How often do you go online?

TA: When I am not on the road, maybe 3 or 4 times a week.

YIL: Are there any sites that you think are especially good?

TA: Love 4 One Another. I also like the news section on AOL.

YIL: Are there any sites that you think are especially bad?

TA: Bad is not a word I use unless I am describing a fine girl.

YIL: Do you visit the newsgroup? If so, what do you think about it?

TA: I have seen it once or twice. It seems 2 just be a place 4 trading bootlegs.

YIL: Do you visit the fan Web sites devoted to your music? If so, what do you think about them?

TA: There are many I really dig. I’m really interested in getting all my friends 2gether on one site.

YIL: How do you feel about tape-trading and bootleg CDs? Have you ever bought a bootleg of one of your own performances?

TA: I understand their existence. But I don’t agree with buying and selling stolen property. Trading isn’t so despicable.

YIL: What about all the rumors, speculation, and criticism about you that circulates online? Is it amusing or annoying? For example, someone wrote to the newsgroup to complain that you always release the weakest songs from albums as singles.

TA: Opinion is how the world changes. That’s cool, but lies and rumors don’t deserve response. Also consider that any release of a single is only an advertisement 4 the album. And guess which 1 costs more?

YIL: On your newsgroup, some people have worried that the charity aspect of the Love 4 One Another site will be overwhelmed by the fandom aspect. Are you concerned about this?

TA: Not in the least bit. Negative souls are bored by things like charity. They obviously think the world revolves because of something other than love.

YIL: Why did you close your previous official site, The Dawn?

TA: Because without my involvement, the message was getting blurred. In my humble opinion, the dawn occurs when spiritual enlightenment takes place. When 1 learns of his or her relationship 2 everything on Earth and the universe. The new Web site will mirror the positive aspects of the dawn. In my rush 2 enlighten myself and others, I tried 2 “buffalo the vibe thru” when it was not ready. Love 4 One Another is the dawn.

YIL: Since you broke with Warner Bros., you’ve explored alternatives to traditional distribution. Do you have any plans to sell your music directly to consumers via the Net?

TA: Yes. NPG Records will sell as well as give away a lot of new and old music over the Internet in the not-too-distant future.

YIL: Will record labels eventually disappear?

TA: The writing is on the wall. Other souls were successful in their divide-and-conquer approach 4 a while. But now that we communicate with each other on a worldwide basis, the need 4 an “in4mation censor” is no longer a reality. The process of manufacturing and delivering music 2 a “friend” is not brain surgery.

YIL: On Emancipation, you wrote two songs about the Internet —“Emale” and “My Computer.” What was the inspiration for those songs?

TA: A man who unsuccessfully tried 2 “play me” was the catalyst 4 “Emale.” I imagined his woman looking at her computer and being seduced by her “emale.” “My Computer” was inspired by some of the insightful talks I have had with many positive people on the Net.

YIL: “Emale” is about cybersex. What do you think about cybersex? Have you ever done it?

TA: Ain’t nothin’ like the real thang.

YIL: In Graffiti Bridge, you use a Macintosh. Do you still use a Mac?

TA: My art department does. My wife owns an IBM. That’s what I use.

YIL: Does “Computer Blue” have anything at all to do with computers?

TA: It may. That hasn’t revealed itself yet.

YIL: What is the place of computer technology in composing new music?

TA: I try 2 let the song dictate its own direction. If one makes music with a computer, one has 2 be satisfied with the computer’s limitations (and there are many, especially when it comes 2 music), though some songs only “sing” when programmed on a computer.

YIL: On the Interactive enhanced CD and The Gold Experience LP, there’s a lot of talk about interactivity—“over 500 experiences to choose from,” etc. Have you ever thought about creating new types of music especially for the Internet-interactive environments, personalized songs, and so on?

TA: Yes. We are in discussion now 2 design a computer that can be a member of my band as well as interact with the audience. I have always been intrigued by the notion of being inside a computer.

YIL: OK, now for some final questions. If you were to write a theme song for the Internet, what would it be called, and what would it sound like?

TA: “New World.”

YIL: The Net seems to attract lots of studio-obsessed musicians. Is surfing the Net at all like being in the studio?

TA: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!

YIL: Do you think “Shockadelica” is your best song? If not, why not?

TA: “Shockadelica” is about a witch. “The Holy River” is about redemption. I am no judge.

YIL: What do you think about the Warner Bros. site?

TA: I never visit their site.

YIL: Most of the online search engines still have you listed as “Prince,” rather than the androgyny symbol, “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” or “The Artist.” How do you feel about that?

TA: 2 each his own. I am a progressor. Some like the past. I don’t mind.

YIL: This may sound nuts, but does the Camille alter ego, which you used on Sign O’ the Times, have anything to do with the famous nineteenth-century hermaphrodite Herculine Barbin, who was nicknamed Camille? If so, my younger brother will be very, very happy, since he has spent roughly a decade trying to convince me of this.

TA: Your brother is very wise.

YIL: And finally, will you be online in 1999?

TA: In some form, yes.