painted in stars along the outside wall
26th April, 2016
I’m not superstitious but I admit that the first four months of 2016 have been particularly bad for celebrity deaths - writing in the Guardian, columnist Deborah Orr puts it well - ‘People whose careers in entertainment began in or after the 1950’s - when mass culture started becoming truly dominant and helped make their innovations so rich - are beginning to die. Grief for the lost stars of mass culture is going to be a part of the fabric of western life from here on in’
Rock and roll is a relatively young art form, and such a significant one with a huge impact on generations of teenagers now grown into adults (like myself) - as well as all the teenagers of today. The first wave of really influential artists - the ones who made music or said things that had not been heard before - they’re all in their 60’s now, or older. There are also more famous, or public figures there ever were. We’re going to have to get used to this.
Prince was an artist I associate with growing up in the 80’s - being forced to watch my sister and her friends doing dance routines to ‘purple rain’ and ‘little red corvette’ (both classics admittedly). In the 90’s I was into Nirvana and Sonic youth and underground US rock, not ‘diamonds and pearls’ and the other songs that Prince was putting out, I couldn’t relate to ‘Get off’ or ‘the most beautiful girl in the world’ and so didn’t pay much attention to his career. I didn’t start to really appreciate him until years later.
When Idlewild started touring in America in the 00’s we started playing in Minneapolis and at the First avenue venue. This is legendary place full of musical history, and if, like me you’re a nerd for this kind of thing, it’s a pretty fascinating place to be - it seemed that literally everyone had played here and all their names are painted in stars along the outside wall - the toilets have no doors - that was another thing i remember. The replacements were from Minneapolis, and Bob Mould too which I admit, was much more exciting to me at the time, nevertheless I’d seen the ‘purple rain’ film plenty of times and it was very cool to be on the same stage.
Minneapolis looked like any other American city to me after a month or so on tour and i tended to follow the same routine wherever I was - find a diner, have coffee and pancakes, and then go for a walk looking for book shops and record stores before load in and soundcheck. I found plenty of both in Minneapolis, buying two things that have remained favourites ever since - ‘The book of disquiet’ by Fernando Pessoa and ‘Sign o the times’ by Prince.
I looked at that book and listened to that album everyday for the remainder of the tour. One is a a Portuguese post modernist classic - almost more of a philosophical quandary than normal novel, written from the perspective of three different characters - or ‘heteromyns’ as Pessoa called them. Existential musings falling somewhere between the vivid world of the mind and dreams and the monotony of a daily, work-driven existence. And then there’s ‘Sign o the times’ - with it’s eclectic, and defiantly messy mix of electro-funk, smooth soul and psychedelic pop rock - Prince is inhabiting many different characters over the course of this album. The lyrics and overall vibe is one of existential dread and end of the world doom. But funky with it. In a way the book and album work well with each other. They are expressing alot of the same anxieteies, thoughts, dreams - both in their own unique way.
One of Pessoa’s Heteronyms Bernard Soares writes, - “my soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddle strings and harps, drums and tambours I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.”
Prince has 40 albums and I own two (1999 is the other one) I’ve got much catching up to do. These large bodies of work that David Bowie and Prince left behind are literally things that will be discovered again and again for ever and ever.