Two Memorials

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(Pictured: Prince takes a bow after playing the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI in 2007.)

After Prince died last month, I wrote a post about him that never got out of the drafts folder, because the day after his death was not the time to be critical of any aspect of his work. I’m not sure a month later is the right time, either, but one paragraph of that post seems worthy of the light of day.

From “Soft and Wet” on forward, you’d have a hard time finding an artist more consistently sexual/sensual than Prince. Michael Jackson sang about matters physical even though it was hard to imagine him even speaking to a woman, let alone bedding one. In the 80s, at least, Madonna was as much about teasing as she was about actually getting it on. Prince, on the other hand, often sounded like he’d just extricated himself from a partner (or two, or three) and hurried out of the sack to make the session. Sometimes, his viewpoint was pubescent: “Sugar Walls,” which he wrote and produced for Sheena Easton, is built on a metaphor that’s only sexy if you’re 12 years old; “U Got the Look,” a duet he cut with Easton, contains the lines “If love is good / Let’s get to rammin'”; Rolling Stone‘s obituary notes that he wanted Vanity, one of his protegés, to call herself “Vagina.” His “Darling Nikki” bears a great deal of responsibility for the Parents Music Resource Center and the parental advisory stickering of albums.

I’m not a prude—not by a long shot—but the sexual content of Prince’s records seemed pandering to me, at least to the person I was in the 80s. It seemed to me then that his focus on sex was a cheap way of getting noticed, and that he was capable of better. But I understand now what a significant aspect of his artistic vision it was. Certain artists in more recent times have tried going the same way—Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and Beyoncé, for example—but Prince got there first. And probably best.

Plausibly Related: I have not mentioned it here or on Twitter, although I did post a note on Facebook when it happened: my father-in-law died on April 12. (Today would have been his 80th birthday.) Hal had been in failing health for two or three years, and in a nursing home on Cape Cod for about a year. The Mrs. had just visited him during the first weekend in April, and he went into the hospital for the last time a few days after that. We were on the Cape a couple of weekends ago for a memorial service; at some point this summer, there will be a service in western Iowa, where he will be buried next to Ann’s mother, who died in 1992.

I have written about my father’s collection of polka 45s and my mother’s talents as a piano player. But Ann’s parents didn’t seem to be into music all that much. I never saw a record collection in any of their houses; Ann says they had only a few Christmas albums. When she and her siblings were growing up, her parents listened mostly to classical music or easy listening on the radio, but strictly as background. They weren’t consciously putting on Mozart, or anything like that.

After Hal remarried, he seems to have gotten into music a bit more, most likely influenced by his new spouse. A couple of years ago, as he was divesting himself of possessions he didn’t need or want to keep, we inherited a box of CDs that contained some jazz and several terrific Time-Life easy-listening compilations—Henry Mancini, Mantovani, Roger Williams, and so on. The box also contained Robert Palmer’s 1992 album Ridin’ High, a album of jazz and pop standards.

There is one rock ‘n’ roll story that involves Hal. He had a sister who lived in the Seattle area, and after one visit there, he told us about a friend of his sister’s he had met. The friend said her daughters played in a band.

“I think you might know who they are,” Hal said. “The Wilson sisters.”

We thought about it for a second. “You mean Heart?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

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