The May issue of Music Media Monthly covers a broad gamut of books, videos, websites, and recordings–from the hills of Appalachia to the concentration camp at Terezín, and from World War II-era classical music to the contemporary British reggae scene. There’s lots of great stuff here–enjoy!
Stories from the “good war” never cease to engage Americans. However, the music discussed in this fascinating and difficult book is not usually what comes to mind when we think of World War II: the Glenn Miller band, the Andrews Sisters, etc. Instead, this book bills itself as the first one to take an in-depth look at the role classical music and musicians played in the United States and abroad during the conflict.
What’s fascinating is how much ground Annegret Fauser covers — from the pop singalong Army Hit Kit to the treatment of luminaries like Béla Bartók as “enemy aliens,” from music as trauma therapy to the notion that “concert” music was a far more powerful force in the U.S. then than it is now. What’s difficult is Fauser’s style. She can be ponderous, and uses words like “imaginary” (as a noun) and “performative” that make this reader wince.
The best parts deal with propaganda, a term which did not have negative connotations on the Allied side 70 years ago. The list of those who worked for the Office of War Information (OWI), the leading propaganda agency, reads like a roll call of major figures: Samuel Barber, Marc Blitzstein, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, Roy Harris, Colin McPhee, Daniel Saidenberg and Kurt Weill among them. Carter produced the first recording of Arnold Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto as an OWI specialist.
Performers who entertained the troops included Yehudi Menuhin, Lily Pons, Jascha Heifetz and Isaac Stern. Pons and conductor Andre Kostelanetz were said to have appeared before more than 2 million troops on one long 1944-5 tour, including some in occupied Germany. (A hilarious photo in the book shows Pons cozying up to a huge phallic brass artillery shell.)
Government officials and private citizens were responsible for making records and stocking foreign libraries with American classical music. A major military project involved creating and shipping to troops “V-Discs,” which Fauser, a professor of music and women’s studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says constituted “a new medium – ‘12-inch practically unbreakable plastic platters.’” (V was for victory, not vinyl.) The first ones were of popular music, but there were classical selections too.
Sounds of War is filled with wonderful facts and anecdotes about how orchestras and symphonic works supported the battle against the Axis powers. Both Barber and Blitzstein wrote symphonies dedicated to aviation. Soldiers and sailors formed bands, symphony orchestras and string quartets. The Marine Corps had a women’s reserve band. Given the millions who served in the U.S. military during the war, this shouldn’t be surprising, yet the sweep of the effort is remarkable.
Not only was there much more to wartime music-making than “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” there were reputations to be made on the wartime stage. Pianist Eugene List was the “poster child” for classical music draftees. Fauser says his broadcasts and tours boosted his post-war career. Arturo Toscanini, already famous as a refugee from fascism, conducted his very first all-American concert in 1942. Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man was just one of the fanfares commissioned by conductor Eugene Goossens; others were by Harris, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, Darius Milhaud and Bohuslav Martinu.
Eleanor Roosevelt offered a ringing battle cry in the magazine Musical America: “Music should go on!” Meanwhile a seaman from the Bronx was earthier. Hearing Menuhin, he said: “Jeez, Dat guy c’n do more wit’ a G-string dan Gypsy Rose Lee!”
While there were issues about some programming of “enemy music,” particularly that of Richard Strauss (who was still alive and serving Hitler’s Germany with operas like Capriccio), American radio and live concerts did not avoid the dead German titans of the canon from Bach to Brahms; indeed, “entire concert series were dedicated to Beethoven.” On the Russian front, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7 (“Leningrad”) was played and discussed so much that it irked Americans like Virgil Thomson and Roy Harris, who wanted more “native” music to be publicized.
How important was “good music” (as it was sometimes referred to, during the “good war”) to the American public? It was huge.
The Army broadcast a show twice weekly for troops called “Soldiers’ Symphony.” Toscanini’s radio concerts were renowned, and OWI also oversaw regular broadcasts devoted to American contemporary music by such composers as Barber, Copland, Cowell, Robert Russell Bennett, George Chadwick, and Charles Ives, whose seventieth birthday program was sent all over the world for radio use.
Here was “propaganda” of the most refined kind, played for armed forces whose white and almost entirely male troops loved classical music almost as much as swing and jazz, and much more than country and western, according to wartime surveys. As for African Americans, that was a different story. Operas were staged for “racial uplift” by the National Negro Opera Company, founded in 1941. Its first production: Aida, natch.
In her final chapter, Fauser asserts that the attempt to create an American “art music” identity led to “chauvinism,” “provincialism,” “Americanism,” the blurring of lines that separate patriotism from “blinkered jingoism,” and, in the case of Roy Harris, what she denigrates as “hooray patriotism.” Really? While many of her interpretations are nuanced, this is not. I wonder if her take on “cultural politics” isn’t creating controversy where none exists.
One wrong note: the author writes that Henry Cowell was “notorious for his conviction and imprisonment on a morals charge.” Cowell biographer Joel Sachs has pointed out that “conviction” is a mistake too often repeated; Cowell never appeared before a jury, instead pleading guilty without the advice of counsel because he distrusted lawyers. And Fauser should have made clear that the charge was having consensual sex with a young man, a crime applicable to anyone, gay or straight, in California in 1936.
Fauser’s turgid writing can make Sounds of War a tough slog in spots for non-academics. But the book covers a critical period in music history. It should be of interest to serious listeners both on and off campus.
Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II by Annegret Fauser. 2013. 384 pages. ISBN: 9780199948031. Oxford University Press.
– Grace Lichtenstein
The last few months have seen a bumper crop of fine new reggae recordings hitting the market—some of them reissues or collections of older recordings, others offering new music that draws in varying degrees on reggae tradition. For this month’s column, I thought I’d draw attention to some of the more noteworthy releases of late 2012 and ealy 2013.
First up is a brilliant return from a little-known figure in British reggae, Joshua (aka Jashwha) Moses. Having first recorded in 1978, Moses soon became a mainstay of Bristol’s fertile reggae scene. However, over the following two decades he recorded only sparsely and only a tiny handful of his singles ever made it into commercial release. Between 2010 and 2012, the Bristol Archive label conducted a painstaking search for copies of Moses’ recordings, resulting in the excellent 15-track album From Joshua to Jashwa – 20 Years in the Wilderness (which includes several dub versions and live tracks in addition to the original studio recordings). Now comes a new studio album, and it’s even better. No War on Earth finds Moses in excellent form, backed by a solid band and helped out by local producer Mike Hall. The sound is clean but not slick, the songs strictly rootswise. It’s the best reggae album of 2013 (so far).
From the same label comes another new release, this one a little bit more confusing. Titled The Bristol Reggae Explosion Live 2012 (and apparently only available for download at this point), it is not in fact a live album, but rather a companion disc to a film of the same title which documents a showcase concert the label put on last year. The disc compiles studio tracks by artists featured at that concert, including Talisman, Bunny Marrett, Dan Ratchett, and Popsy Curious. It gives a nice overview of the work of one of Britain’s best independent labels.
One more from Bristol Archive: in late 2012, the label released an album from legendary “digi dub” outfit Dubkasm, consisting of dubplate tracks originally issued in the 1990s and handed over to London-based sound system operator Aba Shanti for remixing and use during his dances at the Brixton Recreation Center. Brixton Rec consists of absolutely brilliant modern British roots reggae, with vocal contributions from the likes of Tena Stelin and Ras Addis, and dub versions of all tracks included.
Coming back to the present day, we have a startlingly original album from a group called the Courtney John Project. This album takes some of the oldest elements of roots reggae (it’s centered on a new version of the classic Errol Dunkley song “Black Cinderella”) and combines them with up-to-the minute dubstep and EDM sounds, creating something simultaneously new and old, synhesized and rootsy, romantic and eerie. The album is titled Future, and it’s well worth hearing.
One of my favorite American reggae artists (and to be honest, there aren’t many I like) is the wonderful Rocker-T, a strictly conscious dancehall DJ who came to prominence working with the Version City crew in New York but has since shifted operations to Oakland, California. That move is celebrated on From Brooklyn to Oakland, a digital-only five-track EP intended as a teaser for his upcoming new album The Hurban Warrior of Peace. If these tracks are anything to go on, the album will be stylistically varied but of generally high quality, something that has been true of his previous releases as well. Very few reggae artists (and even fewer of those working in the dancehall genre) have Rocker-T’s talent with a hook, and when you combine that natural tunefulness with his refreshingly openhearted, positive philosophy, the result can be pretty stunning. I found the title track, an overlong slab of autobiographical old-school hip hop, to be less engaging than the best of his work, but the defiant “Neva Chat Slack,”a brilliant combination track featuring singer Terrie Ganzie, is worth the price of the download all by itself, and “Free Up” (with Gappy Ranks) is just as good. Highly recommended overall.
The last entry in this installment of the Reggae Roundup comes from a more recently-emerged talent among women reggae singers: Etana, currently the pride of the VP label’s roster. Better Tomorrow, her third album, begins rather unpromisingly, with an overearnest spoken-word number called “Spoken Soul” (Etana, honey, piano and ocean sounds? Seriously?), but she regains her footing immediately with “Queen,” a powerful one-drop sufferer’s track that proudly reclaims that well-established reggae subgenre in the name of women in poverty everywhere. And things stay strong for the rest of the album, with lots of pop-chart-worthy songs like “Beautiful Day,” the romantic “Reggae,” and the gospel-soul-flavored “The Prayer.” It’s been a pleasure to watch an artist of Etana’s caliber developing her talents over the course of the last few albums, and it will clearly continue to be so for a long time to come.
– Rick Anderson
This feature-length documentary is at once happy and somber. It describes the remarkable spark of hope that music brought to those who violently suffered seventy years ago at the Terezín concentration camp during a most despicable period of humanity. The film also portrays the journey of modern conductor Murray Sidlin who, along with his chorus and symphony orchestra, wants to enrich public knowledge of the music that was composed and performed at Terezín by presenting a revival concert of Verdi’s Requiem, a piece that was performed many times in the concentration camp. Both stories are elegantly intertwined into a film that will convince even the most cynical that music gives us what we need when we need it most—in the case of the Jews at Terezín, it gave them strength, perseverance, and defiance.
Terezín, a small, charming Czech town 40 miles from Prague that was built in the late 18th century as a walled community for 6,000 people, would become a torturous entrapment for 60,000 Jewish inmates by late 1942. One of the imprisoned was Czech conductor Rafael Schächter, a gentleman with respectable priorities, for when he was forced to leave Prague he included among his 110 lb. luggage allotment his copy of Verdi’s Requiem. At Terezín, Schächter found an old piano in the basement of the barracks and began recruiting singers, effectively starting an artistic revolution in the camp; theatrical and musical performances became somewhat common, including those of works by interned Jewish composers Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, and Pavel Haas. A former singer interviewed in the film mentions that Schächter translated the Requiem’s Latin text into Czech for the singers and that he was a “merciless” director at rehearsals, demanding focus and excellence. Another survivor claimed that when she sang, her always-empty stomach stopped growling, saying, “When you are more a soul than a person, the soul does not need to be nourished by anything except heavenly music.” Not only did Schächter’s volunteer, amateur, tired, hungry, diseased, and score-less chorus struggle to learn a piece that challenges even professional vocalists, he constantly had to rebuild the ensemble as his singers were loaded onto cattle cars and shipped to death camps.
As the Nazis’ death camps grew in number and the world’s awareness of them heightened, they decided to use Terezín as a façade to promote the illusion of the decent life they were providing the Jews. Prisoners were told to clean up the town, plant gardens, and build fake storefronts, and the Nazis filmed staged scenes of Jews using the town library and playing soccer. The Nazis created an entire propaganda video that includes Schächter’s choir performing Verdi’s Requiem for high-ranking Nazi officials and Red Cross inspectors from Switzerland, who were supposedly quite hoodwinked by the entire charade. In that performance, Schächter and his singers transformed the Requiem from a mass for the dead to a mass for the Nazis, subtly intimating that the Jews would be delivered from their captors (Libera Me), whose day of wrath is coming (Dies Irae). “We proved that they may have our bodies, they may have our minds, but they will never have our souls, not even when we are shot,” recalls one of singer-survivors. That was the sixteenth and last performance of the Requiem at Terezín; in 1944, Schächter and the remaining members of his choir were loaded into a transport train headed for Auschwitz.
While much of this film focuses on the occupants of Terezín in the 1940s, the true catalyst for the documentary and the eventual Defiant Requiem Foundation—specifically a revival performance of Verdi’s Requiem on site at Terezín—does get a fair amount of screen time. In many of the flash-forwards to 2006, we see a chorus and orchestra preparing for a performance in a Terezín warehouse, a space that was filled with prisoners during the camp’s operation. Some of the most effective footage in the film shows Sidlin bringing his chorus into Schächter’s basement rehearsal space, where they sing the unaccompanied “Requiem” section with the soprano soloist. Murray explains that he wanted to prepare his singers emotionally for the revival concert later that evening, as well as put the experience into perspective for them: it is cold, musty, and uncomfortable in that space, and while the modern singers could not wait to get out of there to warm up, the singers in Terezín, after a long day of hard labor, could not wait to get INTO that physically uncomfortable basement to rehearse the music.
The film includes many interviews with Terezín survivors, some of whom were Schächter’s piano students prior to the occupation, while others sang with Schächter in Terezín. There is also a wealth of images and video of Terezín, other camps, and cities like Prague being evacuated in the early 1940s. Defiant Requiem is a moving and inspirational film, and while I hope it brings much-deserved publicity and interest toward Sidlin’s continuing efforts to expand the Defiant Requiem Foundation, the documentary stands on its own merit. Recommended.
This DVD covers a curious and unique volunteer symphony orchestra called Spira Mirabilis. Players are invited to play with Spira primarily through current members who have played with them in other ensembles. The players have a lot in common: they are all freelance, mostly in their 20s and 30s, and they have disliked playing with other orchestras that are thrown together at the last minute with the primary objective of filling seats in a hall. Oh, and they are very, very good. Spira Mirabilis convenes about 6 times per year, for about 10 days each time, in Formigine, a small town in central Italy. All the musicians sleep and eat in the same house. There is no theater or auditorium in town so the group uses a multipurpose community room (provided gratis by the city government) to rehearse and give performances. One goal of Spira Mirabilis is to allow a group of musicians to study a symphonic piece in greater depth than they would in a large orchestra setting. The group typically only plays one work per concert, to allow both the players and the audience greater focus. Spira players live, breathe, and almost literally eat the music they plan to perform; this film shows the players, after their communal meal, gathering around a handful of scores of the piece they are working on, and studying it from beginning to end while listening to an LP recording of it.
The ensemble works without a conductor, and while the concertmaster acts as a sort of coordinator, every member of Spira has the opportunity to speak his or her mind. Participants feel that their democratic operation gives them more insight into the pieces rather than “just being instruments.” In one scene, at least five players bounce ideas back and forth about the correct articulation for two notes at the end of a phrase. Players take turns leaving the group to go listen and give feedback on balance, etc. A veteran member of the group reveals that it is not uncommon for them to spend 40 minutes talking about a single measure, and how new players sometimes have a hard time adjusting to that level of detail. Rather than seeing it as a waste of time, he perceives it as the group immersing themselves in the score.
Because players in Spira Mirabilis are unpaid, participating in the ensemble for its 60 active days per year represents a significant sacrifice of time and resources. But it’s in the bonus concert of the ensemble performing Schumann’s “Spring” symphony that we see just how deeply invested Spira’s players are in the ensemble’s philosophy. The performance—besides being stunningly musical—is extraordinarily intimate. The players look up and at each other more than at the score, seeming to share secrets that the audience will never know. Their faces are bright and smiling, their bodies are engaged, and they are without a doubt doing the thing they most want to be doing in the whole world. The story is an enjoyable one, and if you can’t take time out of your busy life to spend a fourth of the year making beautiful music in Formigine, watching this film is the next best thing.
– Anne Shelley
Initially published in 2006, the Encyclopedia of Appalachia is a massive, 1800+ page reference work designed to document the history, culture, complexities and diversity of the Appalachian region. In 2011, the Music section of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia was expanded and updated and made freely available online. Edited by Ted Olson, Professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University, the Music section features authoritative articles by Appalachian Studies scholars and musicians.
“Music,” asserts Olson in the introduction to the Music section, “has been and remains the most widely known manifestation of Appalachian culture, both within and outside the region.” Personal anecdote certainly suggests this is true: my professional title is “Appalachian Collection Librarian,” and when people hear this, quite often the first thing they ask me about is Appalachian music. And not just any music – typically people associate the region with bluegrass and country music.
Appalachian music is actually more diverse and complex than most folks know, as Olson eloquently explains in his introduction. “Many fans are unaware of (Appalachian music’s) true diversity,” he notes, adding that they are unaware that Appalachian music mixes “various ethnic and popular musical styles to create unique sounds.” Over the course of 179 entries, the music section of EOA explores and elaborates on the rich musical heritage of Appalachia.
Olson’s introduction offers an excellent overview of Appalachia’s musical heritage. He discusses the role of English folklorist Cecil Sharp and the place of the ballads collected and indexed by Francis James Child in developing a particular perception of region’s musical history. He also describes the role that other traditions played in the development of Appalachian music, including southern gospel, traditional instrumental tunes, folksong revivals, and African-American rhythm and blues.
As one would suspect, there are entries on a variety of the region’s most famous musicians. You’ll find entries on Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Dolly Parton, Hazel Dickens, Bessie Smith, and the Carter Family. In addition to individual musicians, there are many topical entries as well. Instruments such as the banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin have entries that describe each instrument’s role and history in Appalachian music. A search for “guitar” returns an array of entries, including both the standard guitar and the Dobro/resonator guitar, as well as a diverse group of guitarists that includes Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Etta Baker, and Brownie McGhee. Various music styles and forms are also covered, including folk songs, blues, string-band music, rock, bluegrass, and country.
A few examples illustrate the breadth of the Encyclopedia’s coverage, as well as the diversity of music found in the Appalachian region. The entry on jazz, for instance, discusses several hybrid forms of jazz-influenced music such as newgrass and jazz-grass. But it also lists the large number of mainstream jazz artists that hailed from Appalachia, often from the region’s cities. Pittsburgh, for instance, is home to Billy Eckstine and Billy Strayhorn, drummer Art Blakey, and guitarist George Benson. The eclectic, mystical big-band leader Sun Ra merits an entry because he was born on the Appalachian fringe of northern Alabama (alas, he was not actually born on Saturn, as he claimed) and relocated to northern Appalachia late in his career.
Most entries are succinct, running three or four paragraphs at most. A search box at the top of the page makes it easy to find what you’re looking for, and searches will also deliver relevant entries. For instance, a search for “Bill Monroe” returns entries on Bill Monroe, Bluegrass, Flatt and Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, and Mandolin.
As Ted Olson notes, Appalachian music includes not only bluegrass and country, but a range of other musical genres, often combining various and diverse elements to create unique sounds. The online section of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia is an excellent place to explore this rich musical heritage.
– Gene Hyde
The April issue of Music Media Monthly offers a few twists on the usual: our Websites column focuses on a particular musical genre (alt.country), while in Sound Recordings we have our first non-CD recommendation, a download of the complete recordings by jazz couple Herb and Lorraine Geller. Our book reviews cover new titles on Prince and on Lina Prokofiev (unfortunate wife of Sergey), and the DVD reviews deal with opera recordings by Benjamin Brittern and Gyorgi Ligeti. Enjoy!
The wreckage of lives and artistic endeavors wrought by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet government before and after World War II is on full display in Simon Morrison’s diligent biography of Sergey Prokofiev. Already an important Prokofiev biographer, Morrison had the cooperation of Prokofiev’s grandson for this book and uses newly-found information to describe the double-barreled horrors inflicted first by Prokofiev himself and second by the Soviets on his Madrid-born, American-raised first wife.
Being married to a great composer is rarely a picnic, even for as accomplished a musician as Clara Schumann or as worldly a serial celebrity spouse as Alma Mahler. For Lina, who was an aspiring soprano raised in New York, falling in love at 21 with a nasty piece of work like Prokofiev led to a disappointing early life and eight years in a gulag later on.
Lina was not without her own shortcomings, including an anti-Semitic streak. But she should have listened to her Ukrainian mother, who warned her that musicians could make terrible partners. (Lina’s father was a mediocre Spanish tenor.) Despite her mother’s warnings, when she heard the tall, thick-lipped Prokofiev perform at one of his earliest New York piano recitals, she was “smitten.” Ignoring his multiple romantic involvements, she traipsed after him to France, where he lived with the permission of the Bolshevik government.
Prokofiev may have been a child prodigy on a par with Mozart, as Morrison contends, but as a human being he was a creep: arrogant, overconfident, and singlemindedly focused on his own gifts. According to Morrison “his lack of basic human feeling could be shocking.” What, then, was his appeal for the exotically beautiful Lina? It was his very genius, suggests the author. Wishing to be “more than a fetching accoutrement,” she thought maybe “she could be the one person to break through his cerebral exterior and enchant him.”
It was a tragic miscalculation. He taunted her with his other dalliances and cynically used her extroverted charm as cover for his own indifference to others. When Lina became pregnant, they married.
For a time, after the birth of their second son, they lived a glamorous, peripatetic life. The Soviets campaigned for Prokofiev and his wife to relocate to Russia permanently. In 1935, they did move to Moscow. Not only did they naively dismiss signs that their phones were tapped and their movements monitored, but Lina also believed she could be a great advantage to Sergey in meeting the Russian hoi polloi. As Morrison writes, “his talent was writing a score, hers was working a room.”
The move turned out badly. The Prokofievs did not get the lodging they wanted. Lina’s radio concerts did not go well. Sergey traveled constantly. In 1938,the year he wrote the score for the movie Alexander Nevsky while spending a summer apart from Lina in the North Caucasus, he met Mira Abramovna Mendelson, a student whose parents were well connected. He was 47, she was 23. Soon they were a couple.
After much drama, in 1941 Sergey moved out of the family flat. As the war made life difficult in Moscow, he and Mira were evacuated to the Caucasus. Lina remained in Moscow. She worked for a time as a translator; her contacts with Westerners stirred suspicions that she was a Western spy.
Nothing went right once the war ended. Sergey’s musical output deteriorated. He wound up destitute and the Soviet regime began to denigrate his work. He died in 1953, on the same day as Stalin. Lina suffered much more; she was sent to horrible prisons and labor camps located in the frozen north. Not until 1956, aided by the intervention of Dmitri Shostakovich, was she freed. In 1974 she won the right to move to the west. She died in 1989.
Morrison has clearly burrowed through massive research material. But there’s nothing dry or academic about his vivid portrayal of a woman who spent a tragic twentieth century life serving a genius whose heart was as cold and barren as Siberia.
Lina and Serge: The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev by Simon Morrison. 2013. 336 pages. ISBN: 978-0547391311. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
“Stars entertain us. Icons do something much more. They embody us….Icons can see and feel the Zeitgeist of their Generation more clearly than the rest of us,” writes Touré in this brief meditation on the artist who put Minneapolis on the rock music map.
This is not a standard biography. Basic biographical information is covered, yet the only time the author interviewed Prince was in 1998, so he relies on many secondhand sources for quotes. He did talk to several important Prince collaborators. His focus is on the artist’s amazing work ethic, his songs, and the characteristics of Generation X, which makes up the lion’s share of Prince fans. Touré contrasts Gen X with Boomers, who came before, and Millennials, who came after. Prince, a late Boomer born in 1958, acts, in Touré ‘s thesis, as a cool older brother to Gen-Xers.
It’s easy to be put off by his emphasis on demography; however, Touré, a TV personality and Rolling Stone contributor, makes some interesting points as he seeks to identify the touchstones (events, moments, movies, music) that shaped each generation.
For Boomers, he says, those touchstones were Woodstock, Vietnam and the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. For Millennials, it was 9/11. He posits that for Gen X, the defining factor is a private one – divorce. “For many young people, divorce is akin to an apocalypse. It is not a death in the family, it is the death of a family. It changes their world forever and causes permanent damage.” He interprets “When Doves Cry” as an “opaque musical poem about the complexity of difficult relationships.”
Prince is also the king of what the author dubs “porn chic,” a Gen X taste based on a “harder, rougher, loveless vision of sex.” Touré goes into detail about how the video cassette recorder led to the normalization of porn and to the production of mainstream “pornish” movies, including Purple Rain. Then he dismisses porn chic in Prince’s work as a “loss-leader’ that helps get attention for his real message–Christian salvation. In this interpretation, Prince really wants to present himself as a religious messiah for the masses. Touré’s evidence includes lyrics about water, bathing and Prince’s habit of giving his lovers baths, which the author sees as baptismal symbolism.
Finally, he takes the song title “I Would Die 4 U” literally. Prince, now a Jehovah’s Witness, has become super serious about religion as a healing balm to the divorce-battered Gen X millions, Touré argues. I am not sure this book–part biography, part criticism–convinces me.
I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon by Touré. 2013. 176 pages. ISBN: 978-1476705491. Atria Books.
– Grace Lichtenstein