Bad writing is often about music

Part of why Prince became [an icon] is that his oeuvre dealt with what is perhaps one of the ultimate questions: Can we have both reverence for God and fulfill the rawest of carnal desires?

Toure, I Would Die 4 U

Oeuvre is such a great word.  If you look it up you will find this:

(noun) How a french person or a fuckwit says: “the body of work of a painter, author or composer”.

That aside, we have the ultimate question: Can we really have reverence for God and fulfill our rawest carnal desires?

I don’t know how many hours I have spent sitting around with my mates chewing the fat over this question.

Someone called Toure has written a book about Prince called I Would Die 4 U.  The thesis of this book is that Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers is actually a serious piece of research that can be used to be the basis of books like I Would Die 4 U.  Therefore we can learn that the reason Prince is an icon is because he did the 10,000 hours of practice and was blessed with perfect zeitgeist timing.  To summarise this book I think we can break it down to an equation:

10,000 hours + Gen X = Prince becomes an icon.

If Prince had be making music in the 70s he would not, according to this thesis, have been a big star. His iconic status relies partly on tapping the Gen X zeitgeist. We therefore need to understand  Gen X if we are to understand Prince.

When we speak of Gen X, we mean people born approximately between 1965 and 1982….  [in a generation] we find people whose feelings, expectations, and values are shaped by being inside the time markers of their generation.  People who are in similar phases of life find themselves brought together and shaped by major historical events, social trends, technological leaps, and cultural touchstones of their time…. For Gen X, the seminal event that binds the generation and shapes and defines who we are and what we will become is divorce.

Divorce leads to latch key kids and access to alcohol and promiscuity.  Apparently.  I was there but I missed all this.  We also had post 60s cynicism and 80s paranoia about nuclear war.  Thankfully we also had the cultural markers of The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Reality Bites, Slackers and Clerks.  Although the only one of those movies I saw at the moment when they first came out was Slackers.  I think this means that I failed the Gen X test.
 Let’s flip to the end of the book.
Jesus ministered to the least, the last, and the lost; He sat with prostitutes and lepers.  In a way, Prince did the same by taking his spiritual message to the pop world.

In a way, Prince and Jesus are very similar.  They both, for example, liked to perform in high heels, knee-high fish nets, panties and a trench coat, and spread the message about how playing with the lines of sexuality over a funky backing band can be really cool.


I am, by Toure’s definition, slap bang in the middle of Gen X territory.  This is what that looked like:


My peak Prince was 1985 to 1988.  The whole Batdance thing was big in 1989, but he lost me part way through LoveSexy and didn’t get me back until this year which is a 25 year cooling off period.

A much better book than I Would  Die 4 U is called Love is a Mix Tape.  It’s about love and mix tapes.

The writing is much better.  I think good writing about music is often not about the music.  It’s about how the music makes you feel and the people and places it connects to.  Let’s be honest, pop music doesn’t really stand up to much analysis.  It’s enjoyable because it is – on the whole – pretty simple, and mines the same ground over and over.  A long time ago now I did a track by track breakdown of Purple Rain.  At the time I said it was a bit like writing tasting notes for Coke.  I was right.  Writing about the actual music of pop music only takes you so far.

Because I’m sick of politics for now I’m going to make a mix tape instead.

I think I’ll uses a C-60 which is the classic length.  It can be my love song for Prince.  No number one songs, remixes, covers or extended mixes.  I started secondary school in 1986 so I’ll make a 1986 mix tape.  It will be designed for the two classic reasons for making a mix tape when you are 13: (1) to impress a girl, and (2) to demonstrate how cool you are to your mates (and the girl).

Looking at my third form school photo I can identify my mates and remember the girl I was obsessed with (she wasn’t in my Form Class, but she was in one of my options).

scan (2)

My first days at Kapiti College were hard.  I had moved from Wellington to Kapiti and found myself in a brand new school – a secondary school – where I knew no one.  The worst of it was lunch time.  In class you just sat down and did what you were told, but at lunch time there was a whole hour to fill where you had no friends and no place to go.  I ended up hanging out with another lonely boy who could burp the alphabet, or – actually – perform burp recitations of anything you asked him to.  His gifts were unknown to me on that day.  On that day it was just a relief to stand next to someone in the quad and make awkward conversation about very little.  He didn’t turn out to be a long-term friend, but I had a soft spot for him right through school even though he was still clinging to his party trick of burping things when he was in the seventh form while I had moved on to much more sophisticated hobbies like trying to learn the chords for Highway to Hell, or pretending I was an orc slaying barbarian warrior in long afternoon role-playing sessions.

A few of my best mates at school are in this photo though.  I don’t see any of them now but in 1986 I hung around with a couple of them a lot.  One of them played me a song in 1986 that I still play quite often, and think of as one of the best songs of the 80s.  I think it is the perfect song to start my tape with because it is cool and a little obscure without being totally obscure in an annoying look-at-me-and-my-amazing-music-knowledge-I-don’t-listen-to-RTR-countdown-or-like-McDonalds-either way.  It also has a seeming-meaningful lyric which on closer inspection is meaningless.

For the girl I had a crush I would just put the track on and let it blow her mind with my awesome demonstration of taste: “that’s right, baby (I would never say baby), this song selection represents exactly how cool I am” (a technique for impressing women that I have found never, ever works by the way).  For my mate I would play some mean air guitar with a screwed up face to show how cool the guitar riff was, and then blather on about my favourite bit, the bit at 2’25” where the piano shifts its riff and sidles into what my tin ear hears as a jazzy interlude.

Yeah, that’s what I said: “jazzy interlude”. Go plug your air guitar in and stand in the middle of the bedroom and get ready. The next song better be for the girls. So they can dance and the boys can go and lean on a wall and try not to tap their foot.

Side One, Track One: Life’s What You Make It, Talk Talk (4’20”)

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō