Discover more from Beyond Belief
Into the Light
The Secret Chord Podcast on Prince
This episode explores the concept of the existence of spiritual light and truth, even in seemingly profane places. Click here to listen.
Hello folks, and welcome to episode 40 of the Secret Chord Podcast. I am excited to share with you today the music of one of the great artists of all time. He's known as Prince, although his given name is Prince Rogers Nelson, and he was born on June 7th, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was a singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, dancer, actor, and filmmaker. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest musicians of his generation. He was a multi-instrumentalist who played most of the instruments on his albums and was considered a guitar virtuoso by many.
Check out his solo on While My Guitar Gently weeps at the 2004 Tribute to George Harrison. Amazing. He was famous for his eclectic work across multiple genres, his flamboyant persona, and his wide vocal range, which included a far-reaching falsetto and a lot of high-pitched screams. On a personal note, my family got MTV when I was in sixth grade, and I had never seen anything like this in my life, and I remember this guy came on wearing this crazy purple outfit, and the video was Little Red Corvette. Literally six o'clock in the morning, I ran in, I woke up, my parents put on MTV, and I said, look at this guy.
I couldn't believe it. He changed my life, and his music is still changing my life. Prince was also known for his prolific output releasing 39 albums during his life with a vast array of unreleased projects left in a vault in his home after his death. It's believed that the vault contains dozens of fully produced albums with over 50 music videos that he never released.
Along with various other media, he released hundreds of songs both under his name and multiple pseudonyms during his life, as well as writing songs that were made famous by other musicians, such as Nothing compares to you by Sinead O'Connor and Manic Monday by the Bangles. Estimates of the complete number of songs written by Prince range anywhere from 500 to more than a thousand. After disbanding his group The Revolution, prince released the critically acclaimed double album Sign of the Times in 1987, great album, and in the midst of a contractual dispute with Warner Brothers in 1993, he changed his stage name to the unpronounceable symbol known to fans as the “love symbol,” and he was sometimes referred to as the artist, formerly known as Prince or Simply the Artist.
He signed with Arista records back in 1998 and began referring to himself by his own name again in 2000. Prince has sold over 130 million records worldwide, ranking him among the bestselling artists of all time. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2016. Rolling Stone placed prints among its list of both the 100 greatest artists of all time and the 100 greatest songwriters of all time. He's also ranked on the top 100 artists of all time by Billboard. So let's start off with a little Diddy spiritual song called The Way Back Home. This is off his 37th album, Art Official Age, which was released in 2014. This is Way Back Home by the Great Prince.
So Prince's innovative music integrated a wide variety of styles, including funk, R&B, rock, NuWave, soul synth, pop, psychedelia, pop, industrial, and hip hop. He also pioneered what's known as the Minneapolis Sound, a funk rock subgenre that emerged in the late 1970s and basically uses synthesizers instead of horns. This is a bit of a slow and funky electronica with classic Prince High pitched gospel vocals with an almost mechanical minimalist backing but pretty backing vocals. He says, “most people in this world are born dead, but I was born alive. I was born with this dream, with a dream outside my head that I could find my way back home.”
I wish I could ask him what he meant by that, but I'm guessing that he believes that it's possible to simply sleepwalk through life, that it's possible to be physically alive but spiritually dead. Those who are at least searching for the way back home are a reference to the higher plane or spiritual world and are alive like it says in the book of Deuteronomy. But you who cling to God, you are all alive today from this vantage point. The metaphysical represents true life, and the material ultimately is death itself.
There's a website that I found called The Iconic Prince, which I urge you to check out, and in speaking about his music, the writer says, “a talent like Prince doesn't happen by accident. He was an unrivaled musical genius. His flamboyant style distracted many people from his underlying skill. He could write amazing songs, play every instrument on his albums, and perform like James Brown, Jimmy Hendrix, sly in the Family Stone, and Little Richard combined. He was born talented and then worked relentlessly to make the most of his gifts. In Prince, we caught a glimpse of the creative power of God as it flows through human hands. We heard sounds and felt things that were not of this earth.” Great description. So let's take another step in this exploration.
Prince signed a recording contract with Warner Brothers records at the age of 19. In 1984, he and his backup band, the Revolution, released his sixth album Purple Rain, which was also the soundtrack to his hugely successful film acting debut. At the same time, it quickly became his most commercially successful record, spending 24 consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard 200; The film also won the Academy Award for best original song score, the final film to receive that award. I remember this time very well. Prince was all over the place. The radio, MTV, it was great. Now let's hear a song off that album, purple Rain. This is “Let's Go Crazy” again by The Great Prince.
Now this song is notable for opening with a funeral-like organ solo with Prince giving the eulogy for this “thing called life.” The song Climaxes with a distinctive drum machine pattern and then features a heavy guitar outro, electronic drums, bass, and waring synthesizer, and a climactic drum outro. The song's Percussion was programmed with a Linn LM-1 drum machine, an instrument frequently used in many of Prince's songs. The song is also known for its two guitar solos, both performed by Prince and common to much of prince's writing. The song is Thought to be an exhortation to follow religious ethics, with the “Delevator” of the lyrics being a metaphor for Satan, De-Elevator, the thing that brings you down.
In terms of his spirituality, the iconicPrince@wordpress.com writes again; it seems that Prince simply didn't recognize boundaries, whether it was the way he melded the grit and groove of traditionally African-American musical styles with the bravado of White Rock or the way he invoked biblical images and Christian references while celebrating unbridled and frequently ambiguous sexuality. He seemed not to care if others thought that such things belong together. While it's clear that, at least in his first few decades of creative output, Prince was no advocate of anything resembling a traditional theological understanding or self-discipline, holiness, or chastity, there's no way to see his music as inherently secular. Prince was endeavoring to marry the unseen with the scene, the ecstasy of the Spirit, with the ecstasy of the flesh. He wanted it both ways, sacred and profane,
According to his former guitarist Des Dickerson, “the band had a lot of spiritual discussions in no small part due to the fact that what we were presenting musically and visually was so extreme. It led to soul searching. What is truth? I wish I had a transcript of our conversations. It was a major part of the experience.”
And now, let's get to the main theme of this podcast and, in my opinion, to one of Prince's most overtly spiritual songs. This is Off his album Chaos and Disorder from 1996. This is “Into the Light” by The great Prince.
I just love that tune. This tune has a great deep-sounding piano part that gives way to a more upbeat R&B song with a great horn and guitar solo. As always, the backup vocals are perfect and have a little Middle Eastern twinge to them. The song has a very abrupt ending that I can't really explain, but who am I to question Prince's musical choices? According to his guitarist Des Dickerson, again, he thought he was privy to spiritual truth. He felt responsible to share, not overtly evangelical but is there if you dive deep into his lyrics; the lights referred to things that he knew that others weren't exposed to. I never asked him to elaborate.”
He writes, “from out of the darkness before there was time, there came a sound that enters the mind through a door that's deep in your soul through every pour of your body. It goes and in a light too bright to behold in a truth more shiny than gold. And as sure as this candle burns, every soul must return into the light.” Well, can a song get any more spiritual than this? The opening of the Book of Genesis talks about the darkness on the face of the deep. And by the way, according to some, there was, at that time, no time.
The first thing that God creates is, of course, the light. But considering that the Sun, moon, and stars were not yet created or at least visible until the fourth day, what exactly is this light? We understand that this is talking about a spiritual light, a light of goodness and beauty. Or, as Prince says, one containing a truth more shiny than gold. This light is the ultimate root of every human soul and one which all of humanity desires to experience. They already do this through art, nature and music, other people, and many other ways. He says, “as sure as this candle burns,” which is a metaphor for the soul, “every soul must return into the light,” back to the place where it came from.
So as some know, I've spent a decent amount of time reading about near-death experiences, and I decided to pop over to one of my favorite websites for this, which is run by a radiation oncologist named Dr. Jeffrey Long.
And I read an account by a guy named Brandon, who had a near-death experience six years ago. This is what he said. “The light was pouring out love in all directions, and the love it poured out was love that had no bounds. There was no judgment for what I did to get there. There was just endless, pure, bright love. I quickly realized that the light was love itself, the manifestation of love. It was, was perfect love that loves without conditions, without judgment, and without bounds. It was the perfect kind of love.”
We all look for love itself, and there you have it, the light which is love, the light of goodness and justice of artists and poets and babies and musicians like Prince. And though he's no longer with us, here's wishing him peace in the light that he's now in. These are my thoughts about the Great Prince, his music, and his spirituality. Hope you've enjoyed considering them with me, and as always, I look forward to being back next week with the new Musician, new music, and new ideas. Thank you for listening.