The Morning Papers – Prince
If he poured his heart into a cup and offered it like wine
She could drink it and be back in time for the morning papers
The third time I saw Prince live was with The New Power Generation at Glam Slam, his nightclub in downtown Los Angeles. Spring 1994. Jenny and I are renting a lovely old tiled and wood-floored 1940s ground floor apartment on King’s Road in West Hollywood, just south of Beverley Boulevard. It has a piano! The World Cup is approaching, but only the immigrants – the latinos, africans and europeans – are interested. Jenny spends a lot of time in London filming with John Thaw on Kavanagh QC playing a lawyer. For some childish reason I always call it Cavendish PC. There weren’t that many parts for black actors on British TV in those days. How times have changed…
We used to walk a couple of blocks west from King’s Road to Jans – an old time diner with booths and an endless menu which included The Monte Cristo – french toast with cheese, turkey and ham, my particular preference. With french fries. And ketchup, or catsup as it used to be known. And coffee. And the Morning Papers. Always the LA Times, which is thin fare, but that’s where we were. At least it had a decent Arts section, and film reviews were pored over. The LA Weekly (a kind of Village voice for Southern California) was a weekly staple and gave us film reviews and concert listings. We could actually walk to the Beverley Center – cinema, restaurants, shops etc, but we usually drove. Almost opposite us was the King’s Road Cafe, a hipster joint before the word was coined. It was self-consciously groovy and slightly twee and we preferred Jans, where the waitresses were all middle-aged ladies, often latinas, the owner was an ancient Greek and the customers were old jewish people and cops. Classic old-school American diner.
Jenny’s sister Lucy Jules (see My Pop Life #135) was staying with us in LA on an extended break from London. She’d just graduated from the Brit School in Croydon, and sung at our wedding and she wanted to check out La La Land while we were there – the centre of the music industry as well as the film industry. We were in Los Angeles for close to three years straight in the early 90s, and I could count the number of visitors we had from London on one hand. I know it’s a long way and an expensive flight, but there was free accommodation at the other end if you asked nicely !! Anyway, Lucy’s favourite artist is Prince.
Prince Rogers Nelson. Who died today Thursday April 21st 2016 aged 57 in Minneapolis. The shock will take a while to sink in. I’m still trying to deal with David Bowie passing not to mention Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman and Ronnie Corbett. This year the long scythe of death is cutting down many of our brightest and best and most loved creatives. We are all in shock at how fragile life is, at how young many of our heroes are dying. And it’s still only April.
About 22 years ago Lucy and I drove downtown in my stupid show-off car which I dearly loved, a 2-door gas guzzling white pimpmobile or Lincoln Continental. I couldn’t drink and drive of course, but there are no handy subway stations in Los Angeles. Everyone drives. I had seen Prince twice before : first in 1988 when he played Wembley Arena on the Lovesexy Tour, entering the stage on a Ford Thunderbird from the ceiling, Sheila E. on drums. A tremendous gig. Second time with my new girlfriend Jenny Jules a year later on the Nude tour, again at Wembley arena, again outstanding. This time it’s a darkened nightclub with a mixed crowd (hold the front page LA) and huge excitement in the air. The most recent Prince LP is LoveSymbol, the unpronounceable shape which signifies Prince at this time.
He would change his name later that year. The symbol apparently combines the male and female and led to Prince being known as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”. When he changed his name back to Prince some wisecrackers referred to him as “The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”. And so on and so forth.
While I had five or six Prince LPs (CDs in fact) at this point, I wouldn’t have described myself as a huge fan. But I know a good number of people who completely adore him : Lucy J, our good friend Loretta Sacco, Jen’s oldest friend Pippa Randall, Tim Lewis, Tom Jules and my friend Lewis MacLeod who came to Wembley with me in ’88. They are all devastated today. I’m just sad, upset, shocked. So is Jenny. Her favourite Prince song is Scandalous from the Batman soundtrack and it was favoured at many of our Brighton houseparties. As for me – well, I really like lots of Sign ‘O’ The Times (Slow Love is the best song probably because to me it sounds like an old-school soul record) and most of Lovesexy. Diamonds & Pearls is probably my peak Prince LP, the first album he recorded with The New Power Generation. Yes yes of course Purple Rain and 1999 but they’re like event songs. I’m just being honest here.
The LoveSymbol LP had a handful of absolute crackers – My Name Is Prince, Love 2 The 9s (Lucy’s favourite), 7, Sexy M.F. and this tune The Morning Papers, my favourite Prince song. Why ? I’m not sure that I could really analyse that, but I like the melody mainly, but also the sheer poppiness of it I think, I like the lyrics and the horns and I like the guitar solo. The song is inspired by and describes Prince’s early relationship with Mayte Garcia one of his back-up singers whom he married in 1996 two years later. She was 15 years younger than him.
He realised that she was new to love naive in every way
Every schoolboy’s fantasy of love that’s why he had to wait
They were divorced in 1999 after losing two children. There is a lovely story of his first meeting with Warner Brothers (I think) in a big office which had various instruments hanging on the walls. When Prince felt that the meeting wasn’t going the way he wanted he offered: “I can play any instrument in the world after studying it for five minutes by the way”. I think he knew he could, and he needed to be signed. The suit pointed to a French Horn and said Ok – play that. Five minutes later Prince played him the melody of the song they’d just been listening to and he was signed. He fought against this contract all his life – the Symbol name-change was his way of re-negotiating his deal, and he appeared in 1993 with the word SLAVE written across his cheek. There are no Prince videos on Youtube. None. There may be tomorrow. He sanctioned his autobiography two days ago. He really was a phenomena. His passing has left a huge whole in the musical firmament and in millions of lives. It feels very strange for me to be going out to a concert tonight (Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso) and I expect he will be remembered. I will remember him for sure, but I guess we all have to live on.
Now I’m home. The concert was superb, classy, wonderful. When Babs and I came out of BAM there was a huge crowd of people, police cars blocking the street, TV crews and loud music on South Elliott and Lafayette – a couple of thousand at least outside Spike Lee’s office. They’re playing Purple Rain and people are swaying, holding their phones aloft. It’s a love vibe. I love how New York mourns and celebrates and marks a major death like this. Spike did a similar thing for Michael Jackson, and of course John Lennon’s death was mourned across the city.
We saw Prince again in 1994 but I cannot remember where (Staples Centre?) or whether it was before or after Glam Slam. That night he and the band played for three hours straight and did a half-hour encore. Maybe more. Pure sweaty funk, with some pop and rock and soul poured liberally over the top. Most of Diamonds and Pearls, loads of Symbol and Sign O’ The Times, When Doves Cry, Purple Rain, Nothing Compares To You, 1999, Raspberry Beret, and on and on. It was, of course, fantastic. He was the ultimate showman in his cuban heels and cheeky smile, his absolute mastery of the guitar, his posing, his musicianship. His energy was infectious. He will be hugely missed. Prince Rogers Nelson R.I.P.
Live on Arsenio Hall :