I ended 2016 in an extreme state of WTF?!
The year had not made sense to me since Prince died in April of that year and it made even less sense to me that a country I call home would follow a presidential landmark of the ages--- the first EVER Black president of the United States finishing his second term--- with an ostentatious presidential landmark with the election of a man I can only say reiterated the fact that we are neither a post-racial nor united United States of America.
For those reasons, I called 2016 “The Year I Don’t Want to Remember, But Will Never Forget,” And that pretty sums up the attitude I had going into this year.
The beginning of the new year was a struggle as I reconciled that part of me that felt a loss linked to my youth with a future that seemed uncertain as an ill-equipped man-child was placed at the helm and was poised to drive us all off the brink. The beginning of 2017 was not looking up AT ALL!
Then, by March, I began to connect with people whom I shared musical tastes with--- some I thought I would never have anything in common with. But we found something in our love for Prince. As a result, we shared, and we exposed one another to new things, things that were general things women of a certain age talk about, and things that were Prince related. One of those things that I as exposed to, for which I am grateful, were Prince podcasts.
There are a number of different podcasts I found that were Prince-related, some famous and some infamous, depending on who you ask. Each host offers something different in their interviews and develops a different rapport with those whom they interview. All of the information is interesting and you usually come away with a perspective you’ve not otherwise considered, but that’s usually where the similarities end.
At least for me, that was the case.
There was one I found myself gravitating toward most and the reason is because the host would ask the questions, I would want to hear the answers to and that is perhaps because we have similar backgrounds, The Prince Podcast.
Hosted by Michael Dean, who is also CEO of Podcast Juice , an entity that hosts a number of podcasts on different topics including Prince, The Prince Podcast, covers just about everything you can imagine a Prince fan would want to learn. From interviews with collaborators, band members, biographers, writers, photographers, designers, Prince’s personal hairstylist, former employees and anyone else who has something to contribute to the depth of understanding about Prince as an artist and as a human being, Dean either has interviewed them or is working on interviewing them, including yours truly. Dean and company also review Prince’s albums, songs, films and other aspects of his career.
Over the course of a few months, I have spoken with Dean about the start of the podcast and where he hopes it will lead and what his team has planned for the future.
One of the first things that I learned about the podcast is that it had been around for a while. According to Dean, they began in 2005 and are the longest running Prince podcast. “We’ve been here for almost 13 years and we are still going. This is something you do because you love it. I always say, ‘work it like a job,’ you work your passions like a job and the money and recognition will come. So, that’s what I do.”
It is an approach that seems to work because Dean has interviewed some Prince alum who are very reluctant to give interviews and speak on the record out of respect for Prince, or who just do not feel they can add anything at the present time. When I asked Dean about how he was able to manage that, his response was quite simple and very similar to mine as a journalist.
“People know when you are genuine, when you have genuine love for Prince and his music, versus just trying to gossip. Once you talk to one person and they get a good vibe from you, and they feel like they can talk to you on or off the record, they let the next person know and that’s how it really has grown to what you see now.”
That also seems to be how Dean’s podcast has grown its audience with a Facebook following of nearly 25,000 and videos of the podcasts on YouTube where some have over 100,000 views.
One of the things I like about The Prince Podcast is how Dean integrates Prince’s blackness into the discussion and does not away from it, something that many have avoided; something I and many others see as being an integral part of Prince’s musical history as well as his cultural history. I have noticed that since his passing, people have tried to erase that part of himself he proudly proclaimed at his last Grammy appearance as they attempt to relate to Prince on some kinship level. But, to ignore his heritage as being fundamental to his art, is to ignore what his art what it was. While he was born in Minnesota, Prince was still born into a Black family in 1958. His parents and older siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and Bernadette Anderson all knew what it was like to grow up and live in the Jim Crow era. Living in North Minneapolis as opposed to Atlanta did not erase racism, it provided more opportunities, but the same attitudes persisted.
Dean addressed this is one of his podcasts, Black in Minneapolis, an interview with Ralph L. Crowder III, an independent journalist from Minneapolis and discussion of his series, Controversy, which focuses on Prince’s death and the impact of Prince on Black Minneapolis. It was interesting for me to listen to because artists like Prince and Michael Jackson to me were never NOT Black artists, even though their music crossed over. If anything, Prince was more like me--- a Black kid who grew up in Connecticut. And on that level, I am like Dean, who grew up in Seattle; not a lot of Black people lived in either place--- Dean says about 10 percent in his hometown. In my entire state, it is seven percent. I remember only having a full time Black AM-radio station growing up and a part-time FM station that was part of Yale. My proximity to both in the 1980s was because my father worked at one then the other part-time. Most of my exposure to the music of my people was through th albums my father and his friends played. Still, I can imagine what, it was like in the 1960s and 1970s when Prince was growing up. Unless it was Motown, there were very few Black artists on the radio. This not only affects your musical tastes, but it also impacts the kind of music you produce and the styles you experiment with.
“Prince was a universal artist, he could do any kind of music, but he understood that at the heart of it all, the founders of Rock & Roll, like Little Richard and the Chuck Berry’s, were Black artists; Lenny Kravitz is another artist who is like that.”
You get from Dean, not just his understanding of Prince and that history, but also his intricate knowledge of music in general and how he connects his knowledge of Prince to knowledge of other musical genres and how Prince has influenced those genres and what he also took from them, made his own, and put it out there (and sometimes not), but also the collective history that a whole generation of new Prince fans are now being exposed to--- the right way.
Listen to my interview with Michael Dean and a few others that I enjoyed listening to and read Part II of this piece next week when I share which interview was Dean’s favorite, who some of the interviews he’s hoping to acquire, and why Dean’s Purple Rain Minute may be my next favorite Prince “thing” going into 2018.