‘Earlier, I had been talking stuff in a violent room’—- okay, it wasn’t a ‘violent room,’ more like a violet one. Purple. THE color that belongs to only one artist and no one will own it the way he has for more than 35 years. In this purple space, I was contemplating and discussing what the VMAs mean to me this year, 16 months after Prince’s passing. Like many, I still roam these musical streets in a constant state of WTH!?, but I am coping by listening to what he left us, watching his films and videos and fervently reading things I hadn’t read since I was 12, new books, hard to find out-of-print books and even a few advance copies of forthcoming works. In the midst of my healing, I found these books listed to be useful as I work on liner notes for a free tribute album produced by Nyle Girgis and Elisa Fiorillo Dease (who worked with Prince), a chapter in a 2018 scholarly work on Prince and the Minneapolis Sound that I am calling “For Love is the Color: Prince’s Paisley Park as One of Black Music’s Forgotten Treasures 1985-1994,” and an earlier interview I did with Afshin Shahidi about his forthcoming book on Prince.
All of these have been great ways for me to put 30+ years of fandom to use and in some ways it is amusing because at least one person who was at my 10th birthday party in 1984 and went to see Purple Rain with us that night has said none of this surprises them. I guess that I am not surprised, either, except for the fact that Prince isn’t here. What I am, though, is perplexed. Prince was one of the first African American artists to be played regularly on MTV with the videos for 1999 and Little Red Corvette, so like everyone else, I was taken aback by the fact that he nor David Bowie (who also passed in 2016) got a proper tribute at the 2016 awards.
There is little that can be done about that now, but we can offer a tribute of a different kind. Thirty years ago, on September 11, 1987, Prince made history for two reasons. First, it was his first time performing at the MTV VMAs (he would perform again in 1991 in an equally memorable performance that displayed all his royal assets). Second, it was the last time anyone ever saw Prince perform in jeans. Prince. Prince Nelson. That Prince. In acid-washed jeans. It was as 80s as one could possibly be, but it was also iconic because as Afshin Shahidi said to us earlier, Prince was “the ultimate icon,” so even wearing a pair of jeans, on him it was special.
Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait, Steve Parke with Foreword by Sheila E.
Steve Parke is Prince’s former art director. This book includes photographs, specifically 16 pages of photographs that were thought to be lost. The foreword is written by Prince’s long-time collaborator, Sheila E.
Prince: A Private View, Afshin Shahidi with Foreword by Beyonce Knowles-Carter
Afshin Shahidi shared his insight with us about his time as Prince’s photographer in an exclusive interview. This book is due October 24th and contains a foreword written by the ‘Queen Bey,’ Beyonce Knowles-Carter.
Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984, Duane Tudahl with Foreword by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
Purple Rain, the song, the album, and the film will be forever identified as Prince’s signature work. It is what catapulted him to super stardom and it is the last song he performed live before leaving this earth. Tudahl spoke with musicians, singers and engineers to pull back what he calls ‘the paisley curtain’ on how this work was created and its impact.
Dig if You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince, Ben Greenman with Foreword by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
When I asked about writing this book, author Ben Greenman said, “it was a difficult book to write: written quickly, in grief, in the wake of his untimely (and to me, his shocking) death. I wanted to communicate the excitement and the expansive joy I felt every time I got my hands on a new album, every time I saw him in concert, every time a piece of a lyric slid into place. A book is a living thing. A book is alive. Like any life, I have some regrets surrounding it—things I wish I could have communicated more sharply or investigated more deeply, mistakes I made—but I hope that the book pushes people back into his music.” The foreword was written by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots and Late Nite with Jimmy Fallon.
Prince: Life and Times: Revised and Updated, Jason Draper
I was given this book originally in 2008 as a Christmas gift from my aunt. It stayed in the original plastic for another three years before I opened it in 2011 to read it. It was also the first thing I saw staring across from me as I was reading a text message from a childhood friend telling me Prince had died. For a while the cover was turned to face the wall because it was difficult for me to look at, but several months later, I re-read it. I recently saw the revised version and it is still a favorite of mine and makes a nice coffee table book.
Prince: The Man and His Music, Matt Thorne
Yes, I read all 600+ pages of this book in less than a week. It is a pretty throrough study of Prince’s works and really focuses solely on the music. For me, the most amusing part came in the last 100 pages where Thorne, who is from the UK, misunderstood the lyrics to “Incense and Candles” from Prince’s 3121 album. I found myself giggling that the line, “give props to your mama for the healthy food she must have gave ya; for the meek at heart these words they might sound like a sinner; but the truth is that you’re sitting on every one of your dinners” wasn’t to be taken literally. That was a subtle, but not too subtle way of complimenting the derriere of the object of his affections.
Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! It wasn’t just the stories told by those who were there. It was the epilogue, where Light talks about waiting in line at Cutler’s Records on Broadway (in New Haven, not New York City) when he was a student at Yale to get tickets for the Purple Rain concert at Madison Square Garden. I smiled reading this because I am a New Haven hometown girl and I remember driving past Cutler’s as the Yalies and others stood in that line and I envied them. Confession: I read this book three times since I bought it last year.
Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks, Ronin Ro
Another gift, this one from my sister last Christmas. I read the first printing in 2015 at my local library. I am still working on this new version. Ronin Ro interviewed a lot of people who worked or were intimate with Prince in some way and chronicles his life from childhood until his untimely death.
I’ve asked Touré a few times on Twitter about different things in the book because it is an interesting study. It isn’t quite a biography, though there are some biographical aspects, it is more sociocultural interpretation of Prince’s influence over Generation X and the complexities therein related to race, and sexuality. I get it! If you like cultural analysis mixed humor (reading Touré write ‘boning’ more than once had me in stitches), it really is a quick and enjoyable read.
21 Nights, Prince
This is a photographic essay with pictures by Randee St. Nicholas. The book went along with Prince’s 21 night gig at London’s O2 in 2007. It includes poetry and lyrics by Prince and is just a really nice thing to have, if you love Prince as much as I do. Amazon calls it “a movie-in-a-book,[where] readers are taken on his journey from London to Prague, in a style that takes glam rock to a new level.” While it is no longer in print, new and used copies are available and are reasonably priced.
The Rise of Prince: 1958 – 1988, Alex Hahn and Laura Tiebert
This book is in my purse now. Hahn wrote an earlier version that covered Prince’s early life through the year 2003 called “Possessed.” That book was re-purposed and reworked, and essentially rewritten with Laura Tiebert as co-author to give focus to the first 30 years of Prince’s life and what is regarded as his most successful era. About writing this book, Hahn told me: “it meant a lot to me that people felt Possessed holds up and were interested in a re-release. Upon updating the research, it became clear that an entire revisiting of Prince’s years was necessary. Meanwhile, Laura Tiebert emerged to offer selfless assistance, and her role and our friendship expanded by the day. She had an extremely out-sized influence on the thesis of the book, in addition to being an amazing writing partner. It was tremendously exciting to learn more about the early years, including Prince’s high school band Grand Central. There is no question that key traits of his character were forged during those years.”
I am still reveling in this book, but I can say that if you know I love Prince, you know I love Jill Jones (I knew who Jill was before I knew who Prince was because of her Motown connections). My favorite parts were the parts where she is quoted because it is 100% real, she sugarcoats nothing and through her eyes, I see Prince as a whole person who was imperfectly perfect and perfectly imperfect, as we all are.
Prince Ultimate, Prince
I won’t even try and pretend I played these songs. However, I do know a lot of our readers are musicians and would enjoy the best Prince fake book to practice with. This one goes with the Ultimate Prince compilation album and is just that, the ultimate Prince. I have it for no other reason than to read the lyrics, it has “She’s Always In My Hair,” and because it looks nice on my shelf next to Jason Draper’s book.
Wax Poetics 50: The Prince Issue, Alan Leeds, Gwen Leeds, and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
This is more of a magazine, but it was a special edition and is a collector’s item. Alan Leeds was Prince’s tour manager in the early days, then later served as President of Paisley Park Records. His brother, Eric Leeds, was Prince’s saxophonist for many years. Questlove was also part of helping with this edition of Wax Poetics dedicated to Prince.
A Prince fan on Twitter made me aware of this book and it really is worth buying, especially for new Prince fans. You can have all the facts and interesting little quips about our purple friend in one place and get a general understanding before venturing on to the other books listed here. I would recommend this as a first read for Prince novices.
Blame It on Vanity, Denise K. Matthews
With the exception of a Prince memoir, this is probably the most sought after book among Prince fans. Denise “Vanity” Matthews was a loyal friend to Prince, was someone he loved and had been in love with at one point. As Prince said he “she loved me for the artist I was; and I loved her for the artist she was trying to become.” Denise died two months prior to Prince, on February 15, 2016. While the book does discuss her time with Prince, without selling him out or exploiting him, it is more her story from an abusive childhood to fame, to addiction, to health crises and then to redemption. It is inspiring and uplifting. It is heartbreaking, at times, but it is who Denise was and you understand why Prince and anyone who met her loved her and her spirit. It was self-published, Denise would sign and send copies to fans directly, but it is now out of print and costs a little more than a car note by independent sellers. However, if you are able to find and afford a copy, it is book you will enjoy.
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