April 21, 2017


No other artist mixed religion and sex like Prince (Kimberly Winston, April 20, 2017, Religion News Service)

Now, amid the anniversary appreciations and concerts, Prince's faith is gaining recognition as a driving force behind his music. In January, Yale University held a three-day conference on the music of Prince and David Bowie -- who also died in 2016 -- that included a panel on religion and spirituality in their work.

A handful of scholars and critics are also producing books that, in part, explore the influence of faith on the music of Prince.

One of those is Ben Greenman, whose "Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince" was released this month. He says that in a career that spanned almost four decades, Prince's music was always concerned with religion -- but what kind of religion depends on where in his career the record needle touches down.

"Early on, he came on as an iconoclast, charging hard against conventional conceptions of morality, sexuality, and spirituality, though he always straightforwardly credited God in his liner notes," Greenman said in an email. "Between (the 1984 and 1985 albums) 'Purple Rain' and 'Around the World in a Day,' he seemed to grapple with his carnal urges and to appeal to God for self-control and a better understanding of love versus lust."

Prince's early music reflects his upbringing by devout Seventh-day Adventist parents in Minneapolis. His father -- also a musician -- was strict. "He was so hard on me," Prince told Tavis Smiley in 2009. "I was never good enough." His parents divorced, and as a teenager Prince went to live with a neighbor.

Seventh-day Adventists are millennialists -- believers in an imminent end times -- and multiple Prince songs, including the hit "1999," include doomsday scenarios:

I was dreamin' when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray
But when I woke up this mornin', could've sworn it was judgment day
The sky was all purple, there were people runnin' everywhere
Tryin' to run from the destruction, you know I didn't even care

At the end, Prince sings, "Can't run from revelation, no."

Prince's version of the end times is not full of fear or grief. Instead, it is full of hope, joy and anticipation.

"You get to be in paradise," said Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania who spoke at the Yale conference. "Yes, there might be destruction, but it is also going to be a great thing. This is not a fearful thing. It is heaven or paradise."

But there was a darker, B side, too. "Sign O' the Times," released in 1987, included his most overtly Christian song to date, "The Cross," a soulful brooding on the Crucifixion:

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry for he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There'll be bread for all, y'all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah

Karl Jacobson, an assistant professor at Augsburg College in Prince's hometown of Minneapolis, said this song helped him better understand his own Lutheran faith. In an appreciation he wrote for the blog BibPopCult, he likened the song to Martin Luther's "theology of the cross" -- the idea that the cross is all a Christian needs to know who God is.

"It tells the truth about a troubled world," Jacobson writes. " ... If we can just bear the cross -- bear the truth it shows us about our world and about ourselves and about this God, and bear it with us as we live our lives, then this whole world will be kept and fed in the cross of Christ."

To Toure, who describes Prince as a preacher in some of his songs, the message is even simpler:

"For him there was no need to separate the things we do on Saturday night from the things we do on Sunday morning."

Posted by at April 21, 2017 5:57 AM