I cannot sing, I cannot play a guitar, but I can make art. Tribute and respect to Prince, for all the music he shared with us.
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Prince was built for me.
Not just for me, but I got to see him assembled, got to see him become a genius, got to see him become smart, famous, weird, sexy, talented, unspeakable, driving, relentless, a musical power like no other I had been able to see from start to finish.
Prince was the copy of Playboy hidden in my room, something that I was petrified that my parents would discover, yet driven to have and try to understand. I didn’t know exactly what it was that drew me to him, and I was confused because some of the things he did seemed counter to what I was taught, off, not what I should think. He was forbidden fruit, but really really good forbidden fruit that attracted me and confused the hell out of me. He was nothing like me, and yet he connected something, gave voice to something I could not identify. That made him all the more interesting. So was it just teenage hormones that connected me? No; there were plenty of other musical connections for the angst of a teen growing up in the 80’s, plenty of Van Halen and AC/DC to supply the cock rock angle, but that didn’t interest me. That was too easy. Prince was a puzzle, up front and hidden all at the same time.
Looking at Prince now, seeing what I thought would continue forever be changed in front of my eyes, I tried to identify what really was his connection to me, back then and now. Why could he still pass the test of true genius, how was he able to still be interesting and engaging, past the superstar rock star status that always surrounded him? How could I still justify my connection to him amidst periods of him being brilliant and batshit crazy at the same time? One thing came to mind:
Prince left nothing off the table.
His musical genius lay in the fact that he was nourished by arguably the greatest generation of rock, funk and R&B, and emerged the child of all of those parents, equal parts Marvin Gaye, Jimmie Page, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. Given that, in making his own music, he never left any genre off the table in making a song. He was also born into a time that expanded rock, electronic music and the video age, and jumped into all of those genres with equal gusto. Nothing was off limits, and he found ways to reconcile seemingly un-combinable musical elements and made them his own. Finding a way to have a Hendrix riff mesh with an acid house beat was the act of a fearless creative, and it sounded like nothing else.
He was fearless, either driven by ego or genius or both, he was not afraid to embody the sacred and the profane, to embrace his heart or his libido, and know that both had something worth saying. But he was also a craftsman, someone who knew the work that had to go into being better, to getting to more interesting places. He knew that boredom was death, and he did amazing and stupid and unbelievable and shocking things to keep his life free from boredom. But he was also enough of an entertainer to know that part of being a professional was making sure that people knew what you were doing. He was a savvy businessman, albeit an eccentric one, but damn he knew how to deliver. At the end of the day, Prince could deliver his product, and it was always top grade and the best in the world.
So from a creative perspective, I got to see a genius build himself, try on new outfits, stumble around, fail in grand fashion, and find a way to use those failures to become better and better. He was not perfect, but that’s what made him great; he knew what perfection looked like, but he also knew how great trying something new and not knowing if it would work could be. He could look to God, but also knew how to make people shake their asses on the dance floor, and knew that both were equally important.
So we have no more direct exposure to him as a growing and evolving artist, and that is sad. But we also had 57 years of seeing him become something that we had never seen in this combination before, nourished by the greatest, and generating things that still inspire today. I will play “Erotic City” and “Kiss” and “1999” every time I can for a crowd, and hope that someone feels something weird and wonderful when I do.
Thanks Prince, I owe you. We all do.
BATMAN v SUPERMAN: Dawn of Justice
Finally went to see this film at my local Alamo Drafthouse, armed with a big bowl of Alamo spiced popcorn and an open mind. Here’s my thoughts, spoilers in moderation:
Imagine an 8 year old kid going into a gourmet kitchen, with the intent of making breakfast for Mom and Dad before they wake up. The finest ingredients are there, the best pots and pans, fresh food, rich in vitamins and nutrients, all the bounty of field and farm, there for the using. And now imagine that kid is Zack Synder…
Despite the best intentions, what is delivered on the plates that are dropped on Mom and Dad’s chests, waking them out of a dead sleep, have egg shells in the pancakes, syrup in the orange juice, sausages that were left too long on the burners, and things that Mom and Dad will smile and say “Oh honey, what an interesting idea” as their gag reflex is only barely contained. And when Mom and Dad walk downstairs into the kitchen, despite their pride at having such a thoughtful son, they are also thinking about the hours and hours it will take to clean up the enormous mess left in the kitchen, including the flapjacks that somehow ended up behind the refrigerator, and will be discovered only when they begin to mold.
At nearly every scene of this film, I saw something really cool, and then saw if mis-used and discarded. I saw Ben Affleck bring worn down weariness to Batman, and then watched a script rip it out of his hands and replace it with ham-fisted bully boy tactics. I saw Lois Lane get set up for interesting scenarios, only to end up dumb and kidnapped and crying and a girlfriend in a bathtub. Oh, and a sad fiancee/widow. She was never tied up in a chair and gagged; hat honor went to Martha Kent.
Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor was laughable, seeming to not be able to decide if he was Lex or The Joker, sometimes second to second, and more often just coming off as annoying, not evil or genius. Pa Kent makes me just want to punch him, not shake his hand.
The entire film was watching someone bring out a top line steak, put it on the table in front of you, and then cover it in Taco Bell hot sauce. I saw lots of things I wanted to work well in the movie, and at every turn was massively frustrated by seeing it yanked away from me as the viewer. The script felt like it was written by someone who learned to write by memorizing dialogue from bad first person shooter video games, and (to evoke the 8 year old analogy again), was hobbled by the “And Then…” school of storytelling that felt like someone who had you for 2.5 hours and wanted to tell you everything they could about all of these characters, but never let you get a word in. It felt like I was being talked AT for 2.5 hours, not with.
I entered with an open mind, and there were things that did shine through: Wonder Woman was great (wish I could have scraped away all the other sludge of the film and seen more of her), the graphic design/User Interface design of the film was terrific, and I thought Affleck did a great job as Older Batman. His only failing was having to follow the train wreck of the script. I won’t harp on the atypical/off-model mess of both Batman and Superman; that’s been well covered elsewhere.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I felt that this film seemed to be running hard, trying to catch up to Marvel, trying to accomplish what they had done over multiple films in one film, so they could go toe to toe on an even playing field. Instead, little reveals of the future seemed shoe-horned in, and the wonder in seeing them was replaced with how they disrupted the story you were trying to pay attention to, like an interrupting 8 year old who just remembered something really really important they needed to tell you about The Flash. Pacing was a major problem; either it was a damning trickle or a fire hose in the face.
And in the end, like many, and perhaps like the movie going public in general, I felt tired and worn out at the end. Not wanting to catch a second showing to discover more little Easter eggs hidden in the periphery, but counting myself lucky to have made it though once. That kind of made me sad; because I want comic films to be good; I’ve worked my entire life to justify my love for comics as a storytelling medium, and while this film isn’t horrible, it doesn’t do many favors to the comics medium. These are great characters, with great history and great potential. The DC universe has produced some of the greatest modern legends and fables of the hero’s journey in our time, and also some of the most introspective reinterpretations and pointed social stories of comics’ history. I just wish this film set up a stronger foundation to tell more of those stories to a wider audience. I really wish it did.
And I really hope that’s just an egg shell in my pancake…