Our Holy Trinity of Pop Has Lost Another Jewel

Prince Has Joined Michael In Heaven. I Have Few Words Right Now. RIP.
Prince Has Joined Michael In Heaven. I Have Few Words Right Now. RIP.

You can’t be an MJ fan without having also been touched by the genius of Prince. For my generation, those of us who were so devastated when we lost our dear and magical Michael, the lone consolation was that we still had Prince. I still remember the heat of that fan based rivalry which dominated most of the 80’s. I still remember going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum and noting the irony of both Michael’s “We Are the World” jacket and Prince’s “Purple Rain” coat being displayed side by side-the temptation to play up their rivalry, it seems, could never be resisted. Thriller and Purple Rain were the two biggest albums to come out of the 80’s; no one could touch this royal pair-the King and the Prince. No one ever will. They were the two most beautiful and talented men to come out of my generation. The world for me has once again grown just another degree colder. Part of me smiles through tears at the thought that Michael must be saying, “Oh no, does this mean I gotta compete with this guy again?” Another part of me says no, they are embracing as only brothers in Heaven can.

As a tribute, I will repost again in a few days my two part series on Michael and Prince.

For now, I wish to put aside all of the rivalry nonsense and extend my heartfelt prayers and condolences to his family and fans who are now having to go through what we went though in 2009. I will write more when I can better articulate my thoughts on this. Right now it is just too soon. I want to just sit and listen to “Purple Rain” for awhile.

37 thoughts on “Our Holy Trinity of Pop Has Lost Another Jewel”

  1. My heart goes out to Prince fans. I wasn’t even a huge fan but I got teary hearing the news. Our pain is their pain. We know it only too well. The world just seems to get darker and darker since Michael left….

  2. A dark cloud has passed over our planet, once again. Still in shock from the news of another amazing legend… ‘Gone Too Soon’ :'(
    Rest In Peace ~ Prince

  3. I am sad and shocked about Prince’s sudden death and recognize his wonderful talents and achievements, yet can’t help but notice how the media headlines are going all out to celebrate him in contrast to when MJ died. I just read in WaPo that Prince is “our single greatest pop star” and there are articles about how Prince ‘broke all the rules about what Amrican black men should be” (Guardian article). How come MJ didn’t get these headlines? We all know he didn’t.

    1. I have noticed that, just as with David Bowie when he passed, there is a lot more media emphasis on his artistry. And just as with Bowie, even his eccentricities are regarded and forgiven as merely products of his artistry, whereas most of the media headlines when Michael died were still spinning him as “Wacko Jacko” who just now happened to be deceased. Michael’s death still greatly eclipsed Prince’s in terms of sheer media coverage, and I am sure that some of those articles did focus on his artistry, but it always seemed in a kind of back handed snarky way, never failing to remind readers-usually-that they considered his artistic peak to be the Thriller years and that everything had been pretty much downhill since then. It was always, it seemed, more about the angle of “the tragedy” of Michael’s life rather than celebrating the artistry. And most would always feel the need to throw in needless references to cosmetic surgery, “skin bleaching” or the allegations, as if all of the above should be the true focus of his life and legacy.

      I guess in a way Michael’s death-and the mourning of it-was always bound to be more controversial because he was a more controversial figure in life. Sadly, the allegations tainted many peoples’ perceptions of him. I wish it were not so, but that is the reality. But even with the more positive pieces on Prince, I am still seeing a lot of the same old hateful , typical troll comments being left by the ignorants.

      On a purely emotional level, I still think there was a more genuine global outpouring of grief when Michael died. He was with us for so long, from the time of his childhood, and had touched so many people across the world on so many levels. And he transcended the generations in a way that I think Prince has not. My students, for example, all know who Michael Jackson is when we talk about him. They may not know a lot about him, necessarily, but they know the name and they know the music. It instantly hits that chord of collective recognition. But the other day when I apologized about feeling distracted because I had just heard that Prince had died, I only got a lot of blank looks. Still, I’m sure a lot of them know the songs-EVERYBODY knows 1999, Let’s Get Crazy, etc-but as an icon, I’m not sure that he has remained as relevant for kids today. But it is something I would need to research further before drawing foregone conclusions-those are just my raw observations. Obviously, for my generation, he was and remains an icon.

      I never like to turn these things into a competition, or comparison of “Who’s death got bigger/less controversial coverage” etc etc but I know sometimes it is inevitable to have those feelings. Prince and Michael were often competitors in life; it’s no surprise they should remain so in death. But I understand the reactions. The man has just died, and the world needs time to grieve and to process it. We are witnessing that process now. Part of that process is celebrating his greatness and what he accomplished. But it does bother me that I have already seen more than a couple of articles playing up his rivalry with Michael Jackson and always, it seems, making Michael come off as somehow second bested by Prince, with the insinuation being that Prince was the superior artist. That is a disturbing trend and misconception that needs to be righted. Personally, I see no reason for the comparisons. They have done the same thing to Michael vs. Elvis; Michael vs the Beatles, etc. It should be enough to be able to appreciate all great artists for their own uniqueness and talent.

  4. Prince was a true musical genius who changed the world with his music. All though he and Michael might have had a rivalry it was all done in good taste.
    They are both in a better place together, hopefully making heavenly music in heaven.

  5. The news shocked me because they came as very unexpected. When I first saw a headline about “Fatality at Paisley Park” I didn’t assume it was Prince. That place is huge so it could be anyone. Then TMZ said it was Prince and shortly thereafter his publicist confirmed it as well. I heard about his flu scare and the emergency plane landing a week before but I didn’t think much of it then. I know the flu can get nasty but I thought if you are a millionaire in a first world country in 2016 you get the best treatment there is and he would be alright. And he gave a show the Saturday after the emergency landing, so I thought he was alright. Of course, we do not know yet if the flu was actually the cause of death or something else.

    Prince is my second favourite aritst after MJ. I liked his music, I have a lot of his albums (though not all 40, LOL) although it doesn’t quite stir the same emotions in me as Michael’s music. But Prince’s genius is obvious and he is one of the all time greats.

    As for their different treatment by the media. Well, Michael has never been a media’s darling (to express it mildly) so it is kind of expected. I kind of take pride in the fact that MJ became and remained so loved by so many people all around the world in spite of the media and not because of them. Funny, because he is supposedly more mainstream than Prince, but then the mainstream media never supported him as much as they did Prince. On the contrary. This intrigues me actually, because to me while being considered mainstream MJ is actually very anti-establishment (a media is a big part of the establishment). Yet people kept loving him no matter what trash the media threw at him. I think it irks the media a lot that they did not have that power over him that they could completely tear him down like they wanted (although of course they caused a lot of harm). That’s an achievement in itself IMO and speaks for MJ’ artistic legacy, because I don’t think there is anyone else whose career whould have survived all that crap and hostility and propaganda in the media – and that includes Prince. The media trying to talk up Prince by bashing MJ is nothing new. They have been trying this since the 80s and it never worked and won’t now either. People will keep loving MJ as always and the media should focus on how to actually honor Prince for what he has done not try to create silly teenage level stan wars between two deceased celebrities. IMO that’s more disrespectful to Prince at the end of the day because when people cannot talk about him without bringing up MJ it means MJ IS still the measure that Prince is measured to. When MJ died no one talked about Prince.

    I have also seen an article already trying to create a competition between their Estates, saying Prince’s would be more valuable than MJ’s because he supposedly has some 2000 unreleased songs. Well, I don’t think the number of songs in itself determines an Estate’s value – it’s rather the marketability of those songs. Already while they were alive Prince released a LOT more music than MJ (39 albums vs. MJ’s 6.5) but that did not make him sell more records. Here am I already being dragged in into this silly stuff, but I just felt some kind of way about that article. It was not enough to say “Prince has 2000 unreleased songs and this will make his Estate very valuable”, no, once again they had to compare it to MJ’s Estate. We know already that Prince was a more profilic songwriter, he wrote a lot more songs, but that’s just one part of the equation. We also know that MJ was a lot more popular and a lot more global than him.

    Oh, and the news of Prince’s death were only a couple of hours old when Nancy Disgrace made comparations about their deaths and how Prince was a lot more respectable person than MJ because he did not die of drug overdose. It would be interesting to see what she would say if the autopsy report said otherwise. It’s disgusting to me anyway how the US media stigmatizes people with medicine dependency issues or with issues that MJ had, ie. that he took a drug out of desperation for sleep – as if it is the same as taking heroine or cocaine. If Prince had pain and took painkillers and they made him dependent or overdose that won’t suddenly turn him into a bad person. People who never had such issues with pain or insomnia judge way too easily.

    But we know what this is about – about the media’s hate for MJ and not about Prince at all, and this actually makes the whole thing more disrespectful to Prince than anything.

    1. Another thing that Nancy Disgrace said was that “Prince was normal, he was like us, unlike MJ”. Her supposed remembering of Prince was full of digs at MJ. I am actually proud of MJ NOT belonging to a group that Nancy Disgrace would refer to as “one of us”. And I don’t think being described as “normal” is much of a compliment to an artist either.

  6. 3 years ago Prince looked younger than ever and we, the audience could not keep up with his energy. And we were saying how grateful we were that we still had him.
    Sadly It did not last long.
    What really hit home was Stevie Wonders emotional response , a dejavu of summer 2009.
    Its heartbreaking that both Prince and Michael , loved by millions, were all alone in their last hours with noone to hold them. Bowie his family were blessed to be by his side.

    Saturday was Prince night on tv. Tonight we have a big tribute concert like we had for Michael with a great line up, but I feel too numb to go and ticket were sold out in seconds. I wIll be watching the livestream .
    I take comfort that his Princes legacy will live on like all the greats who went before him. 35 years after Bob Marley died, we still have a tribute here every year on may 11th.

    As for the rivalry ,I do not understand the pitching of a loss against another, at a time when people are in mourning. Its a silly competition and in appropriate. Both men were mortal beings , both were artists in their own right, incomparable , yet with alot in common. Why not just enjoy and be thankful for what they contributed to the world. We will never in our lifetime see this greatness again.
    And people waste to much time on the likes of Nancy Grace . Only MiJ fans take her seriously.

    I hope that Prince made provisions in his will how his leagcy should be handled, That his mu-sic, the creative freedom he fought so hard for, the authenticity of his intellectual property , his assets and everything he stood for and built with his incredible hard work will be respec-ted by whoever will run his estates.
    I hope the heirs will keep Paisley Park as it is and open it for fans/ music lovers to visit. Like Elvis’ Graceland and Bob Marleys Nine Mile and Hope Road homes.

    Rest softly on purple clouds dear Prince. Your legacy continues.

    And to close with a LOL, see Prince kicking Kim Kardashian off his stage

  7. Regarding the media’s treatment of him, I just read on Prince.org that the UK tabloids are already trashing him today. It didn’t take long…

  8. I’ve been following different media coverage (from online blogs and magazines, not the TV). There, I haven’t found much in the way of comparison between Prince and MJ.

    But I find it noteworthy how many contradictions are present in the reporting. It’s true, as Raven and others have noted, that Michael was the more controversial of the two in life (notwithstanding Prince’s song “controversy”)—so it stands to reason Prince’s passing should bring forth so much coverage that is laudatory in an unproblematic way.

    But Prince is being lauded by those who want “respectability,” *as well as* those who firmly celebrate “weirdness” and “difference.” I can say more about why both Bowie and Prince are celebrated for a kind of “weirdness” that many of their fans felt gave them permission to take pride in their own weirdness. Michael seems to fall outside these parameters altogether: neither respectable, nor weird enough…. or at least not weird in the “right” way.

    1. Or MJ instead of “not weird enough” MJ was actually “too weird”. Apparently he was even weird for Prince:

      “ALAN LEEDS: Quincy Jones organized a lunch that brought Michael and Prince together. At one point, they asked him to be a part of We All The World, but Prince respectfully declined and offered to give them a song [“4 The Tears In Your Eyes”]. All I remember Prince talking about afterwards is that he thought Michael was a little bit weird. And this is coming from a guy who wore high heels and pajamas to nightclubs [laughs].”

      http://www.vibe.com/2011/06/michael-jackson-vs-prince-oral-history/

      I think why people are more comfortable with Bowie’s or Prince’s weirdness is because in their cases they feel there is a line between the image and the actual person. The weird persona is celebrated as long as it is not real… They are doing this or that on stage, in videos etc. but then they go home and are being “normal”. Date many beautiful women as “normal, hot blooded rock stars are supposed to do” etc. MJ, on the other hand, was not transparent to many people in that regard – which caused a distrust in him.

      BTW, even though Prince is seen as a gender-bender and did play on racial and sexual ambiguity in his art, I don’t think the Prince fandom is actually that progressive. I have seen lots of homophobia on Prince.org and they don’t accept any opinion that Prince might have been gay or bisexual even though he actually deliberately played on sexual and gender ambiguity in his songs (unlike MJ) – eg. “am I black or white, am I straight or gay?”, his whole Camilla alter ego etc. As for race, this is interesting too, because at the beginning of his career Prince tried to make the impression he was biracial (eg. in Purple Rain he had a white woman play his mother), yet no one ever called him a self-hater and no one ever said he did not want to be black. Definitely not to the extent that MJ is accused of it.

      And then there is of course the difference in their status and fame. Since MJ was more famous and more popular than either Bowie or Prince, this made him a bigger target too.

      1. Interesting discussion. It really begs the whole question of how much “weirdness” is considered “too weird?” Where does it blur from being avant-garde cool to just plain wacky in the eyes of the establishment? Prince was definitely anything but “one of us” as per Nancy Disgrace’s comment. If anything, Michael always struck me as the much more accessible and approachable of the two (but then that is just going on my perceptions).

  9. It’s a complex discussion, for sure. I think in many ways it’s about the boundary between the public persona and the private person, as Suzy said. With Michael, much of the public was never sure where one left off and the other began.

    In a way, Michael was already set up to be *potentially* “weird,” because he had been a child star. The narrative, though not written in stone, was already drawn in advance with a dotted line: child stars are by definition “weird,” and their lives usually end in tragedy.

    The “weirdness” was a matter of who these men addressed as their primary audience. Many or even most young people, the world over, can identify with weirdness as an affirmation of their own sense of being a misfit—-and figures like Prince and Bowie show how misfithood can be transformed into rebellion and transgression: something that’s empowering. So they became role models for that segment of the public.

    Michael, on the other hand, strove (and to an extent succeeded) in appealing to *everybody*. But in becoming “all things to all people,” he was torn apart by competing demands. It may be true that his audience was larger than the others; but being less targeted, it made him more vulnerable to criticism when it seemed that his offstage behavior (initially, his changing appearance and his childlike demeanor) became “too weird.”

  10. In the end, I think, Bowie’s and Prince’s performances of androgyny (or gender fluidity, etc.) were both more focused and more contained. (That these men were romantically linked with specific women also made their personae more “safe” and acceptable to the curious public, no matter what their “outrageous,” or over-the-top lyrics or public statements seemed to imply.)

    Michael Jackson had no such fall-back, and was left exposed. Importantly, too, he often didn’t seem to *own* his non-binary performances of gender, or —he didn’t seem to affirm it in the ways that Bowie and Prince did, and in fact seemed hurt by any reference to any “weirdness,” instead of wearing it proudly.

    In the end, artists will (and should) do what they do, and write the lyrics they want to write. But the overtness of Prince’s lyrics (“am I straight or am I gay?”) and Bowie’s public statement about his (semi-fictional) gay identity (as early as 1974), actually seemed to *help* them. The public wants to be able to identify an *intention*, or a story, behind the artist’s work: then they can describe them as “bold” and “fearless,” as they did with Bowie and Prince. They were “knowing” artists, and “knowingness”—a degree of self-consciousness about what they were doing—hit the right note.

    By contrast, Michael didn’t provide such footholds, and seemed timorous and noncommittal . His commitment to a childlike persona indicated a level of naiveté that made people uncomfortable.

    Whereas Prince and Bowie could lead audiences on a journey and bring them back (more or less safely) to wherever “home” may be, Michael Jackson seemed to transport the audience to another place, but leaving them….. where, exactly?

    1. I agree with everything you said. To his credit, I think we saw many indications that Michael was attempting artistically to make the move towards “ownership” of his “weirdness”or to quote David Crosby, letting his “freak flag fly.” We certainly saw those strides with Ghosts, Is It Scary, Threatened and other works where he seriously challenged our perceptions of him and our own views of what constitutes “normalcy” vs being “the beast you visualized.” But I think it was always bound to be a bigger challenge for him than for stars like Bowie and Prince whose entire careers had been built out of being artists on the fringe. For Michael, whose entire early success had been built on his childhood and Motown fame, it wasn’t as easy to digest the idea of him evolving into that kind of artist. And then there were the critics who, no matter what he did, seemed to equate every artistic statement he made with his simply being whiny or paranoid-the equivalent of a child throwing a tantrum, rather than the output of a serious artist. He had been pigeonholed early on as a “song and dance man” who churned out great, catchy dance grooves and soulful ballads. It seemed that no matter what he did-or how great some of his mature work was-people simply didn’t want him to evolve into another “Bowie-esque” or “Prince-esque” type of artist. However, I do think that if it hadn’t been for two very serious issues that stymied his career’s progress in the 2000’s-the feud with Sony and the Arvizo trial-he might have made much more progressive steps in that direction. Maybe. Although as I have said many times, I think what Michael really wanted was to somehow be many artists to many people-a philanthropist capable of writing great, epic songs to heal the world, a hugely commercial selling mainstream artist, and yet with the luxury to flirt with avant garde themes that could, at times, be totally at odds with the first two ambitions, as these are not necessarily copacetic aims. Both Bowie and Prince put out TONS of albums compared to Michael’s six studio albums, but that means they also had a lot of self indulgent albums that didn’t necessarily translate into tons of sales. That was considered acceptable for them because they were considered “serious” artists but God forbid that Michael should put out an album that did anything less than quad triple platinum-if he did, he was going to be raked over the coals, and he knew it. The difference is that some artists can be very comfortable with that; they can just say, “Screw the media and screw the industry; I’m going to make the album I want to make and people can either love it or leave it.” I don’t think Michael ever really had that kind of luxury of pure artistic indulgence, partly because of his own competitive streak, but also because he was simply never going to be forgiven for that type of self indulgence. Critics already labeled his every artistic move as the work of a “megalomaniac” and those attacks only got worse every time he upped the ante’ by giving us more challenging work.

      1. I think this is quite true, Raven. At the highest echelons of renown, I imagine there’s always a hazard of being typecast. Given his training, there’s little chance that Michael would want to relinquish the desire to be “everything to everybody.” In fact, I wonder whether (or in what form), he had even passed through the kind of adolescent rebellion that might’ve enabled him to sense who his more select audience might be.

        Our perception of artists’ success may stem from the point of view we’ve developed out of our own experience. As an experimental filmmaker, for instance, I can expect to garner an audience of about ten souls (on a good day), earn precisely no money, and actually lose my shirt. So, I’d say that for artists “on the fringe,”both Prince and Bowie were already HUGELY popular and commercially successful.

        And as to what critics and the media would say about Michael, had he ventured out of the position of reigning champion; whether he would ever have been “forgiven.” Well, I guess a risk is a risk, and he might have taken it. He’d have had to go for broke.

        If it resulted in a flop, it’s likely he’d still be able to maintain a loyal following. Eventually he might’ve succeeded in redefining and repositioning himself.

        But who knows? In the end, Prince could only be himself by *being* himself, taking his kinds of risks, and doing amazing work. And for his part, Michael Jackson could best be himself by having hit after hit, remaining in the #1 spot, by doing the amazing work he did.

        What still baffles and amazes me, is that more than anyone, Michael actually came the *closest* to doing the humanly impossible: being “all things to all people.” (I can’t imagine any other artist in history who succeeded so well at that kind of *universal* appeal—-nor, I believe, can it ever happen again.) Though he couldn’t have known it in advance, it cost him dearly. Plus, being “all things to all people” is *precisely* the reason why his legacy is so hotly contested, even—or especially—among his fans, as so many scramble to proclaim the veracity of *their* Michael Jackson over other people’s versions of the man and his art.

  11. “Weird” has different meanings to different people. To most people it has a negative connotation as in strange, unnatural. Some take it as a bagde of honour and then there are snobs who think it ubercool because it gives them a sense of uniquenes. Michael did not think of it as a compliment. He wanted to get rid of the weird label especially after the allegations.
    As Al Sharpton said “There was nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with but he dealt with it.”
    Whatever the parameters, “weird” does not scratch the surface of what these men were, meant and will continue to mean , culturally for their art/music, lifestyle, fashion, socially for the race discourse and the gender one for those with an interest , (music-) business wise and on a personal level to the people who knew, loved and worked with them.
    Just as the label “popartist” does not do them justice.

    Now the shock of Princes death is wearing off, we are starting to realise the impact of it all. All the plans he still had, the amazing piano and microphone concerts of which he did only one. The autobiography which would hopefully put to rest many of the myths and insinuations – or not. But I alo think of Judith Hill who for the second time lost a mentor, sponsor and probably a friend. Let alone the question, what happened to him and why we loose so many of our greats for reasons that could have been prevented, provided we dont know Princes cause of death yet.

    There are as many opinions on their life, art, race and gender experience and how each of them affected us as there are admirers , so its best to speak for oneself .
    If there is one thing for which they can be compared, it is that both artists had moved on from the (staged?) ‘weirdnes’ mytic , supposed gender bending and all the labels people need to feel connected to them. Both were obviously going for a simpler life without popstar hype and hoopla. With their experience they didnot need it anymore, except to keep creating as they were artists till the end. Michaels basic need was to have a roof over his head for him and his children, not to be anyones posterboy. Bowie did that a long time ago and it didnt hurt him. I loved that one of Princes last photos is him cycling around on his own

    I wished they had had a longer life to fullfill the ambitions they still had. Im sure they were not ready to go yet

    1. I agree. Both of them were living much simpler, scaled back lives in their last years, although Michael had never really been indulgent by most pop star standards. Still, the opulence and grandeur of Neverland was a far cry from the last days where he was just trying to keep a roof over his family’s head.

      I was just thinking about the Geraldo interview with Michael and some of the comments Michael made then. It was very interesting because I don’t think anyone had ever brought it up before, but Geraldo was commenting on how Michael didn’t have any bling. And it was so true. We never saw Michael wearing a lot of bling like so many male pop artists do these days. Even though his outfits could be quite grandiose, he was never much on wearing gold or jewelry of any kind. And unlike most successful musicians, he didn’t display his awards or gold records in his home. I was reading an article today where it mentioned Prince having his awards and gold records on display at Paisley Park but that it was only for the fans because “they expected to see them,” adding that it was something he personally did not care for. Prince had gone through his youthful phase with all of the bling, but had toned down considerably in his more mature years, and had aged very gracefully (we should all be able to look that good at 57 lol!).

    2. I completely agree, Sina. Clearly, neither term (“pop artist” or “weird”) will ever do justice to the complex, multidimensional personalities and achievements of either Michael or Prince. (Neither will descriptors like “genius” or “biggest-selling” come anywhere close; although a lot of people don’t seem to have any problem attaching such terms to either of these men.)

      And of course what I posted is just my opinion. Which is why I wrote, “I think” several times—if that were necessary.

  12. Lets put to rest the myth that Prince had a white woman play his mother in an alledged autobiographical movie ( Purple rain) because he wanted to be seen as biracial, Anyone who knows something about Princes life woud have noticed that the film hardly resembles his life.

    http://princetext.tripod.com/i_mtv85.html

    MTV (1985) reprinted in ROCK & SOUL * APRIL 1986 THE PRINCE INTERVIEW
    Mr. Purple Discusses His Movies, His Music, His Musicians And More, More, More.
    By Michael Shore

    A lot of people were offended by what they saw as sexism in Purple Rain.
    :”Now, wait, wait. I didn’t write Purple Rain. Someone else did. And it was a story, a fictional story, and should be perceived that way. Violence is something that happens in everyday life, and we were only telling a story. I wish it was looked at that way, because I don’t think anything we did was unnecessary. Sometimes, for the sake of humor, we may’ve gone overboard. And if that was the case, then I’m sorry, but it was not the intention.”

    When and how did you first get the idea for Purple Rain? Did you really spend a year or so taking notes in a purple notebook, like some people have said?
    “Yes.”

    Did you ever think Purple Rain, the movie and the album, would be as big as they were?
    ” See this cuff link? Give a brother a break. I don’t know.”

    Speaking of brothers, some have criticized you for selling out to the white rock audience with Purple Rain, and leaving your black listeners behind. How do you respond to that?
    ” Oh, come on, come on! Okay, let’s be frank. Can we be frank? If we can’t do nothing else, we might as well be frank. Seriously, I was brought up in a black-and-white world and, yes, black and white, night and day, rich and poor. I listened to all kinds of music when I was young, and when I was younger, I always said that one day I would play all kinds of music and not be judged for the color of my skin but the quality of my work, and hopefully I will continue. There are a lot of people out there that understand this, ’cause they support me and my habits, and I support them and theirs.”

    Michael had similar accusations thrown at him , eg he was accused of having a white boy play him as a child . Even his eclectic music and appreciation for different genres , which he has in common with Prince , were criticized .

    1. Great find! There is an urban myth (I don’t know if there is any truth to it) that Michael walked out on “Purple Rain” because he didn’t like the way Prince treated women in the film. I think because Prince became so identified with the movie, people naturally assumed he wrote it or that it somehow reflected his values. I would rather prefer to think the story is a myth because I like to think I can credit Michael with enough intelligence to appreciate that art doesn’t always imitate life. Even in the context of the film, it is very clear that Prince’s character The Kid is simply repeating the cycle of domestic violence he has learned from his parents. The character eventually has to search his soul and arrive at redemption. Albeit that redemptive arc is highly compressed, but it is there, culminating in his performance of “Purple Rain.”

      1. “ I like to think I can credit Michael with enough intelligence to appreciate that art doesn’t always imitate life”

        Michael understood that very well . Already in Moonwalk he asserted that his songs are not or dont need to be autobiographical because an artist uses his imagination. Which is true because if artists, authors, filmmakers. musicians etc could only create what they experienced we would not have all the great works that have enriched our culture like Shakespeares. Michael loved magic , he understood the art of make believe and from a young age was very interested in acting and film.

    2. I didn’t say PR was autobiographical. I said a white woman played his mother which is true. What anyone thinks of it is up to a personal opinion.

      (That kid in the Pepsi ad with MJ is not white though. I know there are rumours that Wade Robson was a stand-in or body double and there are pics both of Robson and a black kid at the set of the commercial. I don’t know how the commercial was created with what kind of contribution from Robson but the fact is that in the final ad MJ as a child is not portrayed as a white kid. Which is the bottom line, not with whose contribution the ad was made.)

      1. Here is an article from Rolling Stone in 1981.

        “I grew up on the borderline,” Prince says after the show. “I had a bunch of white friends, and I had a bunch of black friends. I never grew up in any one particular culture.” The son of a half-black father and an Italian mother who divorced when he was seven, Prince pretty much raised himself from the age of twelve, when he formed his first band. ”

        http://princetext.tripod.com/i_stone81.html

        Now, of course this is Rolling Stone saying it, not directly Prince but I heard the suggestion that he was mixed, “Italian” etc. and the emphasis on that part of his heritage was planted by his PR at the time. I don’t know if it is true, so I’d be grateful for any additional info. Until this day there are Prince fans who swear up and down that Prince was more Italian than black – I have seen that with my own eyes the other day.

        1. I think the emphasis on Prince as biracial was much more prominent in the early part of his career, and the logic of it was most likely PR spin in order to “sell” him to a larger crossover demographic.

          1. When I first read about Prince, he was described as the son of a black Army sergeant father and a German opera singer mother. On another fan site, he is quoted as claiming that it was his father who was Italian. Prince never bothered to correct any article that described him as biracial – not that he was obligated to do so – but he was well-aware that racial ambiguity is a commercial asset for a black artist, and he pressed his light skin advantage.

            Purple Rain was essentially a “tragic mulatto” story, a much – beloved American theme, with the unusual twist that the mulatto hero was male instead of female. James and El DeBarge were actual tragic mulattoes, but as the abusive parent in that family was their white father instead of a “villainous” black man, their biracial status was almost unknown to the public in their heyday.

  13. Artistry aside, I don’t think there is any comparison between the two.

    Reverend Al Sharpton
    Eulogy for Michael Jackson
    delivered 7 July 2009, Los Angeles, California

    “All over the world today, people are gathered in love vigils to celebrate the life of a man that taught the world how to love.

    People may be wondering why there’s such an emotional outburst. But you would have to understand the journey of Michael to understand what he meant to all of us. For these that sit here as the Jackson family — a mother and father with nine children that rose from a working class family in Gary, Indiana — they had nothing but a dream. No one believed in those days that these kind of dreams could come true. But they kept on believing and Michael never let the world turn him around from his dreams.

    I first met Michael around 1970 — Black Expo, Chicago, Illinois — Reverend Jesse Jackson, who stood by this family till now, and from that day as a cute kid to this moment, he never gave up dreaming. It was that dream that changed culture all over the world. When Michael started, it was a different world. But because Michael kept going, because he didn’t accept limitations, because he refused to let people decide his boundaries, he opened up the whole world.

    In the music world, he put on one glove, pulled his pants up and broke down the color curtain where now our videos are shown and magazines put us on the cover. It was Michael Jackson that brought Blacks and Whites and Asians and Latinos together. It was Michael Jackson that made us sing, “We are the World” and feed the hungry long before Live Aid.

    Because Michael Jackson kept going, he created a comfort level where people that felt they were separate became interconnected with his music. And it was that comfort level that kids from Japan and Ghana and France and Iowa and Pennsylvania got comfortable enough with each other till later it wasn’t strange to us to watch Oprah on television. It wasn’t strange to watch Tiger Woods golf. Those young kids grew up from being teenage, comfortable fans of Michael to being 40 years old and being comfortable to vote for a person of color to be the President of the United States of America.

    Michael did that. Michael made us love each other. Michael taught us to stand with each other. There are those that like to dig around mess. But millions around the world — we’re going to uphold his message. It’s not about mess. It’s about his love message. As you climb up steep mountains, sometime[s] you scar your knee. Sometime[s] you break your skin. But don’t focus on the scars; focus on the journey. Michael beat ‘em. Michael rose to the top. He out-sang his cynics. He out-danced his doubters. He out-performed the pessimists. Every time he got knocked down, he got back up. Every time you counted him out, he came back in. Michael never stopped Michael never stopped. Michael never stopped.

    I want to [s]ay to Mrs. Jackson and Joe Jackson, his sisters and brothers: We thank you for giving us someone that taught us love, someone that taught us hope. We want to thank you because we know it was your dream too.

    We know that your heart is broken. I know you have some comfort from the letter from the President of the United States and Nelson Mandela. But this was your child. This was your brother. This was your cousin. Nothing will fill your hearts’ loss. But I hope the love that people are showing will make you know he didn’t live in vain. And I want his three children to know: Wasn’t nothing strange about your Daddy. It was strange what your Daddy had to deal with. But he dealt with it —
    He dealt with it anyway.
    He dealt with it for us.

    So some came today, Mrs. Jackson, to say goodbye to Michael.
    I came to say, thank you:

    Thank you — because you never stopped.
    Thank you — because you never gave up.
    Thank you — ’cause you never gave out.
    Thank you — ’cause you tore down our divisions.
    Thank you — because you eradicated barriers.
    Thank you ’cause you gave us hope.

    Thank you Michael. Thank you Michael. Thank you Michael.”

    1. Al Sharpton’s speech is wonderful. That is one of those classic eulogy speeches where you just stand back in awe because you know nothing can top it.

      I’ve been struggling with this for the past few days as I have been revising my old two part series on Michael and Prince and also writing an article for another, general entertainment publication on the passing of Prince (which, of course, will include some MJ references). We say there is no reason to compare them, yet there is a reason why this fan-based and media driven rivalry existed and became so intense at times, and there is also a reason why the passing of Prince has struck such a chord among the MJ fanbase, just as when Whitney passed. I think it is more of a generational thing. We see these people as being the icons of our generation and every time one of them leaves us, it’s a reminder of our own mortality. As far as comparisons go, I think the entertainment world is certainly big enough to embrace them both for the unique talents they were, and there should be no need to have to compare them. Yet in some ways, these kinds of “rivalries” between two top competing artists are inevitable. In the 60’s, it was between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and it was exactly the same dynamic at work that drove the Prince/MJ comparisons (with the exception of the racial element, of course, which is a huge factor with Prince and MJ). It was the same dynamic in the sense that here were two bands from the same working class background, who got their start playing the same music, who were friends that respected each others’ artistry immensely, and yet were set up by the media and their management as competitors. Fans developed their allegiances based on personal music tastes, preferences, and loyalties, but sometimes those allegiances could evolve over time (for example, a lot of clean-cut kids who started out as Beatles fans switched to the Stones as they grew more rebellious and/or troubled; switching to being a Stones fan was the equivalent of “going to the dark side.”). And, just as with Prince and Michael, the Beatles and the Stones were friends who nevertheless kept a keenly competitive eye on the others’ every move, both inspiring the other to push harder and further. If The Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper” then the Stones released “Their Satanic Majesties Request.”

      Initially in the 80’s, the Michael Jackson/Prince “rivalry” seemed roughly divided along the same lines. You had Michael, who was practically American royalty by that time who could do no wrong (once he broke through MTV’s resistance) and then there was this bizarre, up and coming “new kid on the block” who was singing freaky songs about sex and the end of time. But it still goes deeper than that. There were many artists in the 80’s who were hugely successful and had similar styles. I don’t recall anyone, for example, arguing whether Bruce Springsteen was “better” than John Cougar Mellencamp. We just accepted that they were two different artists who topped the charts with similar songs about life in rural America. In the case of Michael and Prince, I’ve often believed there was a darker agenda based on race-that somehow there could only be room at the top for one enormously commercial selling black artist, and if there were two on the horizon, then it must become a competition for which one is “better” or “more real” or “more genuine” or who conformed more to the snobbish tastes of the rock elite. Prince in many ways conformed more to the stereotypical “rock god” image and was seen more as a kind of second coming of Jimi Hendrix, another black artist who had found wide acceptance among the rock elite (though, ironically, he, too, had to earn that respect in a field where he had been early on pegged as an exotic novelty act). This seemed to be the true basis of all the “Who is better” comparisons in the 80’s.

      While I don’t have an issue with personal preferences, I do have issues when I see articles highlighting this “rivalry” by perpetuating the usual ignorant myths about Michael. I have seen a few really good pieces that pay tribute to both of them in a fair and balanced way, but they have been disturbingly few and far between-another reason I’ve been working so hard to get my own article completed while this is still a timely story.

  14. Simba says,
    “Purple Rain was essentially a “tragic mulatto” story, a much – beloved American theme, with the unusual twist that the mulatto hero was male instead of female. James and El DeBarge were actual tragic mulattoes, but as the abusive parent in that family was their white father instead of a “villainous” black man, their biracial status was almost unknown to the public in their heyday.”

    It’s interesting to think of Purple Rain as a “tragic mulatta/o story”; I haven’t read any commentary, or come across any conversation, in which the film was characterized that way. Maybe there’s something in it.

    As I understand the “tragic mulatto/mulatta” figure, though, the man or woman in question is tragic because they attempt to pass as white, and ultimately find themselves fitting in nowhere: torn between two worlds, and ill-at-ease or abused by both of them. My nearest film reference is Douglas Sirk’s 1959 film, “Imitation of Life,” which is essentially a remake of the 1934 film by the same title—which I haven’t seen. Here’s some information I found about the stereotype, originally described by critic Donald Bogle:

    “Mulattoes, Half-Breeds, and Hapas”: Multiracial Representation in the Movies

    by Greg Pak – MFA, Filmmaker, Editor, Asianamericanfilm.com

    Another recurring stereotype is the “Tragic Mulatto,” a typically female character who tries to pass for white but finds disaster when her non-white heritage is revealed. Donald Bogle tracks “Tragic Mulattoes” from the “The Debt” (1912) to “Imitation of Life” (1934), “Pinky” (1949), and African-American director Carl Franklin’s “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995). Filmmakers typically use the “Tragic Mulatto” to critique racism by inspiring pity. But a pitiful character seldom becomes a fully formed protagonist. Bogle writes that Peola, the “Tragic Mulatto” of “Imitation of Life,” “became a character in search of a movie.” Although Peola’s rejection of her black mother gives the movie its deepest drama, Peola is a secondary player; her story only exists to give the white protagonist an emotional life lesson, and thus the film never lets her escape from the “Tragic Mulatto” stereotype.”

    Read here:
    http://www.pbs.org/mattersofrace/essays/essay4_mulattoes.html

    In Purple Rain, though, it seems that Prince plays a character (“The Kid”) who is far from the “tragic mulatto”—at least in the classic sense. At no point in the film does he seem to be trying to pass as “white”; either in his musical, familiar, or sexual life. His tragedy (which he manages to overcome) is of different nature. By sheer force of will, it seems, he manages to escape two dire fates that await him. The pattern of domestic violence at his parents’ house (where his father batters his mother), *and* the frustrated musical ambitions of his father.

    I have to assume that the spectacle of a black man beating a white woman was not that objectionable to him—in fact, he co-wrote the script. Why do you think he included this element of the story? Was he pandering to the bigotry of a white audience, I wonder?

  15. Further, you say, Simba:
    “Prince never bothered to correct any article that described him as biracial – not that he was obligated to do so – but he was well-aware that racial ambiguity is a commercial asset for a black artist, and he pressed his light skin advantage.”

    Again, I’m not so sure exactly what exactly Prince *did* (or didn’t do) to “press his light skin advantage”; although it’s true that his song lyrics often spoke to the blurring of all kinds of lines. In “Controversy”:

    I just can’t believe all the things people say, controversy

    Am I Black or White? Am I straight or gay?
    Controversy
    
Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me?
    Controversy
    
Controversy, controversy


    I can’t understand human curiosity, controversy
    
Was it good for you? Was I what you wanted me to be? Controversy
    
Do you get high? Does your daddy cry?
    Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me?
    
Some people wanna die so they can be free
    
I said life is just a game, we’re all just the same


    Do you wanna play?


    Being “all the same,” or the idea that race is ultimately of no consequence, was also a theme in a lot of MJ’s lyrics, from “Can You Feel It” to “Black or White.”

  16. Nina Y F says, “As I understand the “tragic mulatto/mulatta” figure, though, the man or woman in question is tragic because they attempt to pass as white, and ultimately find themselves fitting in nowhere: torn between two worlds, and ill-at-ease or abused by both of them.”

    Actually mulattoes, tragic or otherwise, ceased to be a separate racial category about one hundred years ago, when the US government dropped the term from the census. They recognized that mulattoes, quadroons (one-quarter black), and octoroons (one-eighth black), were all considered equally black The black American community has always included them, which is why blonde, blue-eyed Rachel Dolezal was able to pass herself off as a black woman. From my point of view, as written by whites, mulatto characters were considered tragic not because they didn’t fit in with blacks or whites, but because they tried to pass as white and were found out, like Julie Laverne in Showboat.

    In Purple Rain, as conceived and portrayed by Prince, the Kid isn’t trying to pass as white. He’s trying to pass himself off as biracial. Prince was being cute when he sang, “Am I black or white?”. Who ever asked that question? He was light-skinned, but not that light-skinned!

    “I have to assume that the spectacle of a black man beating a white woman was not that objectionable to him—in fact, he co-wrote the script. Why do you think he included this element of the story? Was he pandering to the bigotry of a white audience, I wonder?”

    In the film, the white mother is a cipher. She only exists to be abused by her brutish black husband. Maybe Prince and his collaborators believed it would intensify the reaction from the mostly white audience, a lá Birth of a Nation.

    As for Prince’s light skin advantage, white America favors black performers who have a white parent. Prince was light enough to make the biracial identity plausible. He got brownie points (pardon the pun) from rock writers for not being completely black, so he just went with it.

    A lot of black music fans, a LOT, were troubled by the colorism on display in Purple Rain. For example, except for a couple of night club servers and patrons, there are no black people in the Kid’s audience; there are no obviously black women with speaking parts; dark-skinned Jerome Benton is portrayed as an old timey body servant of light-skinned Morris Day. The casting in Purple Rain, and his music videos, did not indicate that Prince felt that race was of no consequence, or that people were “all the same”. There are black music fans who were ambivalent about Prince because of this. Of course now that he has passed on, all is forgiven.

  17. Raven says “Prince in many ways conformed more to the stereotypical “rock god” image and was seen more as a kind of second coming of Jimi Hendrix.”
    This is true for the rock God part, but his music is actually not your typical rock, It was a fusion of rock, funk, jazz, soul, R&B and rap. And interestingly Prince by his own admission felt more connection to Santana’s than to Hendrix’ style.

    Nina Y F says “In Purple Rain, though, it seems that Prince plays a character (“The Kid”) who is far from the “tragic mulatto”—at least in the classic sense. At no point in the film does he seem to be trying to pass as “white”; either in his musical, familiar, or sexual life. His tragedy (which he manages to overcome) is of different nature. By sheer force of will, it seems, he manages to escape two dire fates that await him” .-Nina
    I agree with this. The movie is not at all about race or race relations or I must be missing something. The protagonist could be replaced by someone of any other race or ethnicity and the story and theme would still be the same. And isnt there a saying that black people come in many colours? So the mother character for all we know could be a ‘lightskinned” black woman.

    I think it makes a lot of sense to compare the two men , but to pitch them against each other to make one or the other look bad does not do justice to either. Both have the same experiences but reacted to it in a different way.
    People seem to forget that Prince had a rough start and got a lot of hostility at a time when Michael was still the public and media darling.
    Alledgedy “pretending” to be“bi racial did not prevent him as a support act for the Rolling Stones to be chased off the stage by a bigoted mob,
    Prince did not care ( apparantly) what was said or written about him, so in the end there was no point for the media to keep going after him, not because he was “bi racial”
    Many lies were told about Michael by the media, which he never corrected or responded to, and I do not blame him.
    Its hypocritical to hold it against Prince for not reacting when he was portrayed as bi racial, which was incorrect, but not a crime.
    Much more than Prince, it was Michael who sadly had to die for the public opinion about him to change for the good and to be embraced again. Spike Lee literally said it. Even among African Americans, some still call him a selfhater.
    Raven has a point that people do not like to see two black men dominate the music scene, one in a genre that is white male dominated and the oter on such a huge global scale that it will never again happen in our lifetime.

    1. “This is true for the rock God part, but his music is actually not your typical rock, It was a fusion of rock, funk, jazz, soul, R&B and rap. And interestingly Prince by his own admission felt more connection to Santana’s than to Hendrix’ style.”

      That’s true although maybe it’s just me but I always saw a lot of Jimi Hendrix’s spirit in Prince. Hendrix’s music was also quite eclectic, especially from the time of Electric Ladyland when he was much more free to do the kind of music he wanted. I can listen to something like Hendrix’s “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” and I can hear a lot of the same soulfulness of “Purple Rain.” And, of course, they shared the same colorful style and taste in exotic, funky outfits (so maybe on a visual level I associate them a lot). But his actual playing probably did owe more to Santana, which makes sense. I can definitely hear it.

Leave a Reply