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Listen to my podcast about the history of beloved pieces of American culture.


“Love City” is a show that will explore the life story of our favorite cultural items. A show that will ask what are the things we love and why do we love them and who are the major influencers who led these things to cultural prominence.

Love City Episode One: Notes

00:14 That’s the HamilTones, proteges of Anthony Hamilton. They sang live at an NYU panel I did on Prince, a panel that included Questlove, Spike Lee and Alan Light who wrote a book about Prince and mentored me long ago when I was an intern at Rolling Stone.

00:15 I was happy that Anthony and the HamilTones did Adore and that they let me start the show with it because Adore is one of my top 5 favorite Prince songs. Incredibly well-written. When the angels are watching them make love and crying? That kills me. What an image. I tried to fill out my top five best written Prince songs and I found I could not narrow it down to five. I could not subtract any from this list: Sister. Let’s Go Crazy. International Lover. Sometimes It Snows In April. Darling Nikki. If I Was Your Girlfriend. Another Lonely Christmas. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore. When Doves Cry. Nothin Compares 2 U. How do I narrow down from that???

00:56 I was at work on this episode months before Prince died. It was meant as a further exploration into the man, a study I started with my book I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became An Icon. At the moment the news of his death began seeping out I was giving a speech in Michigan. When I came off the stage a woman told me he had died and I looked at her in shock. I think I’m still in shock. I’m definitely still numb. I loved Prince. He’s been part of my life since I was a kid. I remember loving him as early as the time when the song “Controversy” was hot so I was already a Prince fan when he exploded in 1984 with Purple Rain. But the moment I knew I was a true Prince fan was when I was in high school, in my room, reading Rolling Stone magazine’s review of Around the World In A Day, which was not positive, and I was confused. Because I loved that album. Everyone loved Purple Rain, but true fans also loved Around the World In A Day. An album of great beauty and a quirky vision and a smaller scope. It was peculiar and I loved it. Pop Life?!? But in the 80s I loved everything Prince did. Except for Batman. But that’s another story.

1:19 I remember one Prince after show in the mid-90s at Club USA, a huge space in Times Square run by legendary nightclub owner Peter Gatien. USA was hot. Prince went on at about 2:30am. Did a few songs and rocked the place. Same thing he did all over the world. Put on a killer concert, then show up at some much smaller spot, and do an amazing, intimate set there. Body don’t wanna quit, gotta get another hit.

1:28 That night at SOB’s when Prince, Questlove and D’Angelo played together, vamping through Brown Sugar, was everything.

2:18 My Prince book is the result of a series of lectures I gave about Prince at Harvard. That came about after I interviewed Skip Gates for my book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means To Be Black Now. Gates invited to give a series of lectures on culture the following year. I said I could be happy spending a year thinking about Prince and obsessively listening to his songs. So I dove into the relationship between Prince and Gen X. Because Prince himself may have been a late Boomer but he was a seminal Gen X hero. Delivering the Harvard lectures was a thrill and an honor. Part one is here: watch?v=61z39DLwOAg

The first night I was there I started writing a piece about a Black boy who had recently been killed. I struggled with what to say, then threw out that failed first start and started anew. This time it all came together quickly. Far faster than words ever do for me. In about 15 minutes I had written what would become one of the most popular pieces I’ve ever done about Trayvon Martin and what Black parents should tell their children, “How to Talk to Young Black Boys About Trayvon Martin.

2:25 I always thought I’d see Prince again. The last time was so nonchalant. He was in a VIP space at BB King’s, waiting for a concert. I say space because it was just a cordoned off little area. He was married to Manuela Testolini then. I remember my wife talking to her as I chatted with him for a moment. Wish I could remember about what but it was… normal. The moment felt normal. I said wassup, he remembered me, and we kicked it for a few moments. He didn’t speak with the flowery Shakespearean affect that he had when I interviewed him. He was just… cool.

5:10 When Dez says Prince talked about them as a “multi-cultural Rolling Stones,” I think that really means—a Black band that’s badass and derives a lot of energy from having a big frontman and a charismatic #2 on guitar. He’s referring to that band structure, not the white-boys-who-made-blues thing that is the Stones.

5:29 The thing about when Prince says he has a “dirty mind” is that he says he has it “whenever I’m around you.” The character in the song is spurred to sexual thoughts by a specific woman. So it seems like he’s making a declaration of his own nastiness, but really, it’s a love song. He’s saying, I get hot for you. I Love This Prince Performance

5:53 When Prince opened up for the Stones it was largely a disaster. 80s Stones fans were not ready for this tiny Black guy in leg warmers and high heels. At a show in California the audience threw things, like bottles of Jack Daniels. The band fled the stage. Prince got in his limo and went straight to the airport and flew back to Minneapolis. Mick and Keith called him and begged him to come back for the next show. He came back and this time the audience threw even more stuff. And Prince and them ran offstage again.

6:17 Susan Rogers is one of the most extraordinary thinkers on the subject of music I’ve ever met. She was Prince’s engineer on Purple Rain, Around the World In A Day, Parade, and Sign O the Times. She’s now a professor at the Berklee School of Music. She told me this story which she told at a private goodbye ceremony in Minneapolis. “The year would’ve it around 85 maybe 84 and we are working at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. I had to leave the control room because I was buying a house and I told Prince I need one minute for this call. I came back and said I’m buying a condominium on Lake Harriet and I needed to talk to the realtor. Prince called in Gilbert, his valet, and said a few words to him and Gilbert left and half an hour later Gilbert came back in the room with a bottle of champagne and Prince said when I was a kid I used to dream that I lived in on a house on Lake Harriet and now I have people working for me who own a house on Lake Harriet. And we clinked glasses. It was so great. It was one of those moments where you look at each other and you say our dreams have come true. A victory for me represented a victory for him to because he made that possible.”

6:43 Prince told some stories about being abused by his stepfather, stories his mother denied, but no matter what happened he could not get along in his mother’s house and he left. He asked Bernadette Anderson, mother of his friend Andre Anderson, later Andre Cymone, if he could live with them. Bernadette already had six kids so one more was fine. So Prince grew up living in her basement.

13:38 It may be difficult to explain how incredibly influential MTV was in the 80s when it was primarily about delivering music videos. It was one of the most important cultural influencers for young people. It was the channel for the entire generation. It reshaped popular music entirely by rewarding artists who knew how to be visually interesting, whether or not their music was good. It made some artists think more about their visual presentation than their sound.

15:42 Lots of people were afraid to risk money on a multimillion dollar film starring Prince at a time when he was not (yet) a big artist and his overt sexuality made it unclear if he could get to a mass level. The project was shopped to Indigo films which was owned by Jim Brown and Richard Pryor. Brown believed in the movie and wanted to buy it, but Pryor wanted to pass. There’s more insidery tidbits like that on Wendy and Lisa’s website.

17:45 Wendy Melvoin comes from a great California music family—her father was Mike Melvoin a legendary studio musician who recorded with Frank Sinatra,John Lennon, The Jackson 5, Natalie Cole, Tom Waits, The Beach Boys, Phil Spector and many more. Wendy’s sister Susannah is a singer with The Family. And her brother Jonathan played keyboards with the Smashing Pumpkins.

19:22 We used Purple Rain here because those opening chords of the song were written by Wendy. She says the song was a truly collaborative effort. On her site she says, “Prince came in with the melody and the words and an “idea” of what the verses would be like. She played the opening chords, and everyone in The Revolution chipped in from there.” Wendy and Lisa Little Known Facts

24:11 I love how nonchalant Susan Rogers is here about adapting to a totally inhumane schedule. If she weren’t talking about making music that she loved, the detail of how long and hard she had to work would sound downright horrifying.

25:57 Jim Jones was the messianic cult leader who had hundreds of people in a virtual trance. He led over 900 people to commit mass suicide, including 300 children, by commanding them to drink cyanide-laced water. It’s an insane story. I still remember, from my childhood, seeing the cover of Time Magazine with just a barrel of purplish water and people laying dead as far as the eye could see and the words “Cult of Death.” The title of my book of essays Never Drank the Kool-Aid was a play on the term “drinking the kool-aid” which derived from what people said after the deaths of the followers of Jim Jones.

26:18 It should come as no surprise that eventually, in a story about someone’s rise to power in the 1980s movie business, there would come a point where Mike Ovitz would enter the tale, even if only briefly. In the 80s Ovitz was the most powerful agent in Hollywood. In a 2011 Vanity Fair story Kim Masters wrote, “The town attributes so much power to [Ovitz] and, for the most part, stands in such fear of him that he almost seems like a creature of fiction.” That story about Ovitz is awesome.

28:26 I’m not a musical-hater! I’m just recognizing that it’s a controversial tactic but I love Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Chicago and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and South Park.

28:33 Bill Blinn titled the first draft of the Purple Rain script “Dreams.” Prince insisted that purple be in the title.

28:40 I loved Fame. watch?v=2COKt6DqSaQ

37:10 Elizabeth Taylor loved Van Cleef & Arpels.

37:58 He’s writing a script that would become Under the Cherry Moon.

38:11 Hotel de Crillon, one of the nicest old hotels in Paris. It’s currently under renovation.

38:32 Like Prince and Susannah, I proposed to my wife in Paris at a spot with a view of the Arc de Triomphe.

39:15 I wonder why she couldn’t star in Under the Cherry Moon and also be his wife. Why did he ask her to let go of one critical role at the moment when he gave her another one?

46:07 The keyboardist who played with us was Morris Hayes who was part of the New Power Generation. At a Prince memorial in LA Hayes told the crowd that when the band did a show in a band member’s home town Prince would arrange to have that band member give a huge donation, like a million dollar donation, to their high school and made it appear to have come from them. For more about that memorial, read my report for Rolling Stone.