(Continued from yesterday)
It was summertime. Again. I had money. For once. Another distraction in an endless series of distractions came into view: preorders for the deluxe edition of Sign O’ the Times. Super deluxe, in fact. Remastered also. With bonus tracks.
Every fanboy bell in my brain went off, cacophonous. And what’s a fanboy if not one of Pavlov’s hounds? I took a deep breath and preordered the set, a birthday gift to myself.
Prince’s unfinished memoirs cite Miles Davis’ belief in two kinds of thinking: truth, and “white bullshit.” The posthumous releases by Prince’s estate are very firmly within the latter camp. So was my purchasing the boxset in the first place. This money wouldn’t go to Prince. This money wouldn’t go to Black people or communities that needed it. It was a cash grab in the era of stimulus checks.
Regret set in. When the boxset finally arrived, I was too soured on how I had come to acquire it all. I had reverted to an eager child, not realizing my own relationship to SOTT had changed. Suffice to say, my love was not reactivated.
Prince was said to despise professional critics. But he enjoyed reading fan’s writings. This speaks to sycophancy as one motor of popular art (or, ‘entertainment’). But it’s also about the fan’s urge to apocrypha. We all have our own schematics. It’s true that no interpreter is really needed.
Songs are almost too tender, too crucial, to write about objectively anyway. And what’s poetry worth to another poem? Writing love songs to love songs: A suspicious practice. Is one’s love intelligible in that way? Or is idolatry meant to be a private tongue?
I’ll be honest: re-listening to SOTT, it still sounds good. But it’s not like it once was. There are other songs I would rather listen to than “Adore” 80 times a day. There are other songs I listened to even as I wrote this essay.
What’s as amusing to me now is SOTT’s many collisions, and the way it shows how things come together. Or don't come together. The ways our best efforts inevitably get misinterpreted, shuffled, or just plain fail—quite a series of signs to receive, no?
Not that I understood such signs at 18, honestly. Why, in my youthful ignorance, was I so possessed to write about music, specifically SOTT? The answer I can only imagine as simple: it was what came loudest from the depths. Commerce, pop star myths, web 2.0’s baby algorithms for finding new music—who can say what brought me to connoisseurship? It doesn’t matter, because The Obsession is always the proof. The Obsession is the proof of pretty much any- and everything, as it proofs whatever is needed at the moment.
Sign does not extend me its infinite warmness anymore. That’s OK. To stop loving a work of art is to acknowledge a change that was necessary, or, at least, inevitable.
The album itself is Prince’s own kind of coda. Nothing gets a man contemplating “the times” like having to deal with a buncha bullshit. There’s the male brooding again. Not that it’s unwarranted. By the time they were released, SOTT’s love songs not only addressed an ex but some featured her backing vocals. Prince had replaced most of his bandmates. Even Windy and Lisa were gone. Sounds like enough drama for the light funerary mood which pervades the album: the ends of relationships, the end of being single, the ending track as contender for Prince’s most conclusive ballad. Who knows what other private traumas may have filled the air?
The album is still an absolute flex. As I said, it’s an asteroid: solid, beautiful and rough. An earthbound object reminding us of some cosmic love inside. Maybe one day when I’m riding the bus it’ll all come back to me. And I’ll be mesmerized by SOTT again. You never know with music.
I’m a long way from that hot, stuffy bus in Colchester. I would say I’ve progressed…some. But there is knowledge that’s worth keeping not for its utility, but because it shapes a memory. No need to make sagacity out of sentiment. It’s enough to remember the gone-thing warmly, the glow, the same suffuse yellow that Prince turns his back to on the cover of Sign.
My pointless knowledge? The best Black & Milds are the wood tips. I know this because it’s 2010, and my most favorite song in the whole world is a love song. It’s called “Adore.”