Sometimes there are just these strange, lucid moments of utter clarity and perfection. These are the moments that we all live for, no matter what you do, what your talent is, how much money you have or where you live. Clarity is beautiful. The past week I’ve been obsessed with a Prince song called “Way Back Home.” It’s a song off of ART OFFICIAL AGE, which like most of Prince’s later work, has been completely dismissed.
I get it, I really do. Prince had some rough times when it comes to official releases. He had issues with his identity on every level, from his sexual, spiritual, artistic and even personal identity. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen an artist be as truly conflicted as he was. He struggled with religious convictions from the mid-80’s forward, before he finally became a Jehovah’s Witness and his whole outlook changed.
A good portion of his career was spent alternating between running away from and attempting to recapture the song Purple Rain. In a way, it was a work that was simply so many things to so many people that everyone wanted him to recreate it for the rest of his life, while he would go through phases where he rejected that and other times when he yearned to be loved again and would try to create a new Purple Rain.
Listening to ART OFFICIAL AGE it’s pretty clear that by the time that 2014 came around he was starting to feel more comfortable with his identity, or he was at least comfortable speaking about it. While PLECTRUMELECTRUM with 3rdEyeGirl was Prince enjoying himself through some of the best guitar rock imaginable alongside the talented backing band, ART OFFICIAL AGE was Prince reaching out to the world and making himself more vulnerable than perhaps he ever has been.
While ART OFFICIAL AGE is nowhere near his best album, it features a suite of songs that I find it impossible to ignore. Without anything else to call it, I’ll call it his “affirmations.” That’s what my playlist on Tidal is named.
There are four tracks that just fall short of twelve minutes, featuring British singers Lianne La Havas and Delilah (La Havas on Clouds and affirmation I & II, Delilah on Way Back Home, both on affirmation III). In a way, it feels like Prince is doing what he always did throughout his career by lambasting the commoners for their ways. It starts with Clouds.
“When life’s a stage, in this brand new age
How do we engage?
Bullying just for fun
No wonder there’s so many guns
Maybe we’re better off in space”
Life is sort of a stage. The song ponders if there is value in a slight romantic gesture if its done in private and not on a “stage,” such as an Instagram, Twitter or Facebook post. If the world can’t see it, did it really happen? Prince, is all of his, well, Prince-ness then has Lianne act as a voice speaking to him about being put in suspended animation and revived 45 years later in a time without all of the superficiality.
Interestingly enough, the next time we hear Lianne she warns him of what he’ll have to do to interact with women again. Affirmation #1 is “There are no such words as me or mine.” They are explained as control mechanisms created by mankind for essentially enslavement. The song bleeds over into Way Back Home, which was actually released by Warner Bros. as a single.
Take a second to process that, because this was his return to Warner Bros. and he selected a song that was not only not much of a catchy pop or funk song, it wasn’t a ballad and the song felt like the most honest that we’ve heard him talk in ages. It’s a threadbare song in many respects, with the only constants being a waning kick drum, a seven note (alternates between six) melody in F minor on guitar and a background whooshing. There are other parts of the composition, such as a cameo from his famous drum machine, a bit of a synth here and there, but what makes this song powerful are the words and delivery.
Delilah’s vocal-fried delivery of the chorus add another voice to what is otherwise a stark appeal to the listener, explaining his struggles with being who he is, dealing with expectations — both internal and external — and how he’s failed. My god, he talks about how he failed without ever saying it, but this song is about him picking himself up, about not letting failure define him.
The last song, affirmation III, is him being forgiven amidst the ending of this strange, four-track sci-fi arc where Prince gains telepathy powers. In fact, he accepts who he is.
“You’ve probably felt many years in your former life, u were separate from not only only others, but even yourself.
Now u can see that was never the case
U are actually everything and anything that u can think of.
All of it is U”
As a writer, all of this strikes a major chord with me and just reminds me of how devastating of a loss his death was. Famous people — people that I don’t know — die all of the time. I can enjoy their work still, appreciate it, but usually without the accompanying pangs of defeat and sorrow that came this time around. Growing up I always had a deep connection with music, to the point where I’d search out music that understood where I was and what I was feeling. I’d express myself through the lyrics, finding power and strength through them.
I’ve always seeked sadder, darker music. In a way, it’s just a reflection of how I’ve lived. Part of being a writer is wanting to express yourself to the world, to be able to just tear out a part of your essence, put it onto the page and show it off to the world. It’s being able to finally do this after feeling like being unable to properly do it any other way for so long. Prince was always different. His music could be sad, it could be fun, it could be deep, it could be surface or downright insane.
But that is what art has always been for me; it has been an outlet. Other people’s art has been inspiration, it has told me that I’m not alone. Yes, I think differently sometimes, I get depressed, I get upset and I turn inward to try to figure it all out. This four-song arc is, simply stated, exactly what I was looking for right now. In part it’s because I see myself in these lyrics. I am searching, I am dealing with a lot of these same thoughts, insecurities and the inner turmoil.
I’m trying to find exactly what my voice should be. I’ve done a lot of things for the sake of being “commercial” and to make money, but the reality is that isn’t why I write. I don’t write to make money, although I do make a living as a writer right now and couldn’t be more proud. I’m writing because I want to say something, I want to have an impact on someone else and I want to let people inside. I never wanted all of the bullshit that comes with being “successful” — although I’d gladly accept it — I just always wanted people to know me. At the same time, I have always found solace in my self. Writing is a way to simply get all of this out of me, at the end of the day, I really just want to be left alone to be me.
Not always, but sometimes, that is all that I want. I get it. I absolutely, 1,000% get it.
When I find myself having a difficult time dealing with other people — with trying to express myself to them only to be unable to find that common ground to start from — I turn inward. Not everyone is going to understand me, nor is everyone going to get or like me. That will always hurt and I’ll always try, but at the end of the day, while I’m in no way going to compare myself with anyone else, put myself anywhere near anyone else’s level, I’m different. I think differently, act differently, want different things.
Things are going extremely well right now, with us just a few weeks out from the pending birth of our twin boys. I have a new job writing for Uproxx’s front page — which is fantastic — and I’m currently juggling between a few different book projects. I’m not sure how I feel about them yet, but one is out to readers, another is just starting while another is forming itself in my mind. If any of these are actually what I want to express to the world is another question, but I’ll get there.
I need to go easier on myself. Even Prince had his misses. Some people aren’t meant to only release limited, solely genius work. It’s a mythos built up by a few exceptional people and not a standard to hold other people to.
All-in-all I should be proud. I’ve taken myself for the misshapen peg that I am and found a way to make it all work. I’ve done it on my own terms.
“I never wanted a typical life
Scripted role, huh a trophy wife
All I ever wanted, to be left alone
See my bed’s made up at night
‘Cause in my dreams I roam
Just trying to find, trying to find
My way back, back home
So many reasons why
There’s so many reasons why
I don’t belong here
But now that I am I
Without fear I am
Gonna conquer with no fear
Until I find my way back home
Until I find my way back home
(Find my way back home)
Most people in this world (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 (outside my head)
That I could find my way back home
My, my, way way back home
Is this the way? (Is this the way?)
Power to the ones who could raise a child like me
The path was set
But if you look the truth will set us free
I’ve heard about those happy endings
But it’s still a mystery
Lemme tell you about me
I’m happiest when I can see
My way back home
Can you see
My way back, my way back home”