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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Solo, Duo
All the talk about Prince's halftime show performance at the Super Bowl yesterday has me revisiting his back catalog, which is something I try to do at least once a year. My friend Steven reminded me of his contribution to a tribute to George Harrison a few years back, in which he turned an ensemble performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" into an extended solo in every sense. Although Prince seems a little disconnected from his fellow players, he makes Harrison's son break into a big smile, which surely matters more than whether he upstages the Traveling Wilburys:
The first time Steven directed me to this clip, I had the distinct impression that Prince was the Barry Bonds of popular music. Bonds has more haters, surely. But the diffidence with which they interact with their colleagues and the self-absorbed virtuosity that stamps their performances makes them seem strikingly similar.

Of course, we aren't supposed to think about professional sports and popular music together. The former is held to a standard of purity that, were it applied to the culture industry, would have resulted in most of the last century's greatest musicians receiving a lifetime ban. The most interesting thing about the Super Bowl these days is that it demonstrates how arbitrary the line between sports and entertainment really is. People watch for the spectacle more than the game. What that gets me thinking, however, to follow through on my earlier analogy, is that we might do well to stop and consider the difference between a Barry Bonds home run from the early 2000s and a Prince guitar solo.

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22 comments or Leave a comment
From: ex_benlinus Date: February 6th, 2007 06:29 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I don't know, man. T.O., Dennis Rodman ---> Mike Tyson ---> Rowdy Roddy Piper ---> K. Fed

On the purity meter, I'd say sports and music biz aren't separated by too many degrees. I wish I had a more current wrestling villain, but you see what I'm trying to say.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 6th, 2007 06:41 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Right, but those are the athletes lambasted for not focusing on the game. T.O. ranks second to Barry in vilification, after all. And Rodman wasn't taken seriously as a player for years before his skills went south. I think making the connection between sports and entertainment is a way for the media to distinguish between who's keeping it real and who's faking the public out.
From: hipsandquips Date: February 6th, 2007 06:34 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
i was not impressed with the majority of prince's halftime show...however, that is one motherfucking guitar solo.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 6th, 2007 06:42 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It wasn't as great as some people have said. But halftime shows are usually doomed to be so awful that it seemed great by comparison. I mean, it's the worst possible context for a concert and he still made people pay attention.
kumaraka From: kumaraka Date: February 6th, 2007 08:38 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Holy shit that rocked!

I happened to turn on the TV during the half time show, and was uncharacteristically mesmerized by it. Usually I focus on the music and remain unaffected by the way the music is peformed.. but something about him playing defiantly against the rain was just pure awesomeness.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 6th, 2007 02:21 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes, it was like he was saying, "I'm not letting these conditions ruin my big moment. Go to hell, rain!"
elf_owl From: elf_owl Date: February 6th, 2007 01:00 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The Traveling Wilburys lend themselves to being upstaged. That clip was quite dull until Prince got going (I really love that song, but it's not particularly full of vim). I would not say, though, that Prince's guitar was weeping particularly "gently."
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 6th, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
From: jsterne Date: February 6th, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

it's the logic of the fields

I think there are a number of different angles here.

Prince is like Bonds in that he's a bit of a recluse and a bit nuts. Both are virtuoso performers and since I watch sports and listen to music to be entertained, I happily forgive that even though the press will not.

The difference now is that Bonds is seen as someone who took drugs to enhance his performance. If Prince is on drugs (didn't he find god?) they're of a categorically different sort.

Granted, all that came AFTER the press already hated Bonds. But then again, Prince was a case-in-point in Tipper Gore's book on teens and sex in rock music. Darling Nikki is so totally quaint compared to what's followed. . . .

I guess I'm saying that those who believe entertainers should be role models have had a field day with both. That's also what I found a bit sickening about all the "black coach" discourse around the SB. What if one of them DIDN'T believe in god or DID curse? Wouldn't that still be ok?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 7th, 2007 05:09 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: it's the logic of the fields

Good point about the black coaches. I realize that the Prince=Barry Bonds argument breaks down in a couple of key places. There have been plenty of other star musicians given to use and abuse of "performance enhancing" substances, but Prince has a clean record. I guess what I meant is that Prince and Bonds project a similar attitude.
flw From: flw Date: February 6th, 2007 02:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

oooh-aaah Alpha! Beta!

What an awesome post! I agree in many particulars, but not in some generals. I mean, I think it is great that you think that way! I think about this topic all the time and it is such a weird thing to think about. First of all, greatest guitarist of all time... Prince. When I am sitting around with other guitarists and they are talking about the great guitarists, I always bring up Prince, and they are always dumb-founded. Prince... he only puts on the guitar to do solos. He puts it on, and does it, and then throws it away. It's so perfect. He just so captures perfectly what that thing is meant to do.

Now, I think this all comes down to the Alphas versus the Betas.

Now, Prince, while he, without question, is the showiest, pea-cockiest, Alpha male supreme, he is kind of an alpha-male drag queen. Because, if you put Prince in the wild, and, not that I would... but, I mean, you put me and Prince in a cage, and Prince isn't coming out. I'd just... Not that I want to think about it, but in the wild, Prince is NOT an Alpha male. He's kind of an Alpha-Male Drag Queen (King?).

And in sports, Alpha males are fine in individual oriented sports like Baseball, which is why I like Barry Bonds (also, he started out playing for Pittsburgh when I was in High School!) but not in team sports like football which is why I DESPISE Terrel Owens. But football must accomadate changes in society. And we are becoming a more individualistic society. At least when compared with say, medieval France. So, football is developing into a two-tiered sport. First there is the battle of the Beta-males in the so-called "unskilled" positions. And layered on top of it is the game of the "skilled" positions. I'd like to make a diagram...

...but, I mean, really...

One one end of the spectrum, we have the ultimate "skill" position, the Quarterback as exemplified by Kordell Stewart. And on the other end of the spectrum we have the ultimate unskilled position, Left Pulling Guard as exemplified by lots and lots of guys whose names we do not know or remember.

I think my point was that in all human endeavors, it is by cooperation between the Alphas (peacocks, wide receivers, guitarists) and the Betas (sparrows, pulling Guards, drummers). Only in simulated, narrative, compressed human endeavors like football and rock music can we afford to elevate the peacocks to such false heights. Because it's fun... for everyone! Who doesn't enjoy seeing Prince solo? Who doesn't enjoy watching Lynn Swann go up for a Bradshaw pass (couldn't deign to use T.O., even as an example)?

I think the failing of T.O. and others is not that they are Alphas in a Beta Game, but rather that they forget about the beta-game, and pretend it doesn't exist. It is insulting. They insult their fellow players. Really!

TO = Home Run Derby = Slam Dunk Contest

I left Basketball out. That game has a whole different set of pseudo-narratives...

Oh, I could yack about this all day!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 7th, 2007 05:15 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: oooh-aaah Alpha! Beta!

I'm glad you liked my entry, but your comment is much more interesting. Seriously! I love this argument so much. You should flesh it out and repost it. I'm thinking about it over and over as I type this.
flw From: flw Date: February 7th, 2007 05:46 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: oooh-aaah Alpha! Beta!

Thank you. I like it myself because it allows me to express something vague that I had been uncomfortable expressing before in racial terms. That can be uncomfortable. Basically, the issue comes up, time and again, of why African Americans are vastly superior in certain sports. The usual racist expression is "sports that involve a ball," and I think the implication is that they are child-like, and so on. Then of course, there is the argument that derives from the notion of the mind/body split. White=mind, Black=body, hence Black people are better at physical things in the racist view of things.

I've never heard anyone make my argument which is that sports are about the most OBJECTIVE measures of human achievement going. If you can run faster, you can run faster, and NO ONE can take it away from you. Period. Since so many other human activities have subjective components, it is almost always possible to attribute success to other factors, and even other people. So, it seems entirely natural.

And the more individualistic a sport is, the more objective it is, and therefore the more African Americans will be drawn to that sport to demonstrate their will to excel. The first sports where Black People excelled were the most objective... boxing, track and field. And when blacks desegregated team sports they did so first as "skill" players. Individuals. Because to excel at a skilled position is an undeniable achievement, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to argue with the numbers. Jackie Robinson hit so and so many home runs and stole this many bases and caught this many fly balls... there's NO DENYING IT, and NO ONE else can take credit.

The same sort of argument applies to black success in music. When you close your eyes there is no denying a superior musician. It is a little more subjective, well it's a lot more subjective... but look at the types of music where black people excel. Again the emphasis is on OBJECTIVE, UNDENIABLE, and INDIVIDUAL. There aren't a lot of black violists or tympani players. But saxophone? that's a whole 'nother story.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 6th, 2007 04:06 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Not Really.

Barry Bonds isn't like Prince, or even Michael Jackson. He is a hybrid of Milli Vanilli and Ike Turner. Tho that's not really fair since those fellas are more likeable. By a lot,
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 7th, 2007 05:11 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Not Really.

I don't agree with you, obviously, but the idea that Barry is "a hybrid of Milli Vanilli and Ike Turner" is pretty awesome from a literary standpoint. So points to you for making your point, which I strenuously dispute, so pleasingly pointed.
masoo From: masoo Date: February 6th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
A couple of things, if I may:

I like the idea of thinking about sports and music together ... think, for instance, of the rise of entrance music for batters at a baseball game, so that whenever I hear "The Next Episode" by Dre, I will forever think of Barry striding to the plate. But I don't think Prince is an exact match for Barry. Prince was never hated the way Barry is. They're both reclusive, which, combined with their great talent, makes them appear arrogant. But Barry's corrosive relationship with the media results in his being villified by a public that only knows him through that media. Prince, on the other hand, manages to mostly avoid that stuff, because he's a bigger recluse, if nothing else.

As for that clip ... someone else mentioned one of my favorite moments, when the song is over and Prince lays out one last high note and then just throws his guitar in the air and walks off stage.

My other favorite moment ... and who knows if it was scripted, it looks spontaneous ... is with a little more than a minute to go, when it appears the song is about done. Prince looks over at Petty and the rest, gestures towards his guitar, and kinda shrugs. Partly he seems to be asking if they want to go for a few more choruses. But ... and he has that smile he gets, the one that's been charming people since the movie Purple Rain ... he also seems to be saying "I could pull this stuff out of my ass all night long if you want." And that's one of the amazing thing about this guy ... he makes it look easy, well, lots of great ones do that, but he does so many things ... plays every instrument, sings falsetto, sings soulful, plays hot-lick guitar, plays psychedelia, makes halftime music with a fucking marching band, makes the most minimalist single of all time in "Kiss," cranks out 4-disc albums ... and he makes all of THAT look easy. You really believe he COULD solo off that song until everyone died. If you listen, each chorus is a different take on the song ... he includes some typical rock guitar solo moves, but he plays lots of varieties, and throws in some jazzy licks while he's at it ... it's one reason the solo is so killer, it isn't boring. Think Paul Gonsalves with Ellington at Newport, when the Duke told him to play as long as he wanted and Gonsalves accomodated his boss by blowing close to 30 choruses, driving the crowd mad and making jazz history. Prince could have played 30 choruses of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

Of course, he would have then released a 3-disc set of remixes, available only through his website ...
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 7th, 2007 06:28 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
As I noted to Jonathan above, I realize that the Prince=Barry argument breaks down after awhile. I was thinking primarily of the attitude they project, their aloof self-confidence.

I need to learn more about that Gonsalves performance at Newport. It gets written about a lot.
masoo From: masoo Date: February 7th, 2007 06:31 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The story of Gonsalves at Newport has about a hundred versions, all of them entertaining ... and apparently quite a few variations in the so-called "live" recording. But really, all that matters is that you listen to it. The guy blows and blows and blows. It's pretty thrilling.
derdriu From: derdriu Date: February 6th, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
So a few scattered thoughts before I run off to a thesis meeting:
1.) I had (as bad as this is) never seen George Harrison's son. It's shocking how much they look alike. Good lord.
2.) That is one HELL of a solo. I am compelled to share this with everyone I know.
3.) While I'm unable to articulate this now, I think there is a definitive link between music and sports as far as "show" is concerned. I remember some incoherent rant at my father one Thanksgiving on this topic. It's one I revisit every so often.
4.) I'm comforted by the notion that someone who actually likes/is into sports sees this. Now I can't blame my ideas on the fact that I've never really been into sports. (Except hockey. Who can turn down watching a good fight on ice?)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 7th, 2007 05:13 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks so much for spreading the word in your own entry! I've been trying to articulate this point for a long time, but the will or the way have failed me until now. As someone else noted to me, professional wrestling is where the line between sports and entertainment has traditionally been most blurry. But every sport has entertainment elements. It's no accident that Prince performed with the Florida A&M marching band which, incidentally, is from a historically black college that rarely gets that sort of exposure.
From: mrpink Date: February 9th, 2007 07:04 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This performance blew me away when it first aired, and it continues to do so with each subsequent viewing. Prince has had his share of duds (especially in the last decade or so), but moments like this just make it all worth it.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 9th, 2007 07:56 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
They do indeed. I think it must be hard for someone that excessively talented to not underperform. Or overrelease.

Thanks for stopping by, BTW.
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