“The sun set in my mind this evening / 4 someone who said they would die 4 me / they sold some more pictures and all my little memories / Chump change just 2 unravel the mystery / But life ain’t no fun without fantasy” – Prince “Old Friends 4 Sale” (Unreleased Version)
Prince probably hates books like Touré’s I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became An Icon. But he certainly must understand why they exist. From day one, Prince’s public persona has been defined by a seemingly endless series of calculated half-truths and flat-out lies. Though he was 20 years old at the time his debut album was released, promotional materials claimed he was only 17. He has stated in many interviews that he was the product of a mixed marriage even though his parents were both ostensibly black. But these dissimulations was all part of a plan – a plan that would make him a cultural icon.
It’s this “plan” that often provides the central motif of I Would Die 4 U. Seemingly every waking moment of Prince’s life was spent working towards superstardom – from purposely assembling bands with musicians of multiple backgrounds and sexual orientations, to using sex as a weapon to sell religion to the masses, to the mythologizing of his own life through music and film.
Touré divides I Would Die 4 U into three sections, each one dedicated to the three themes most prevalent in Prince’s music. The first section is spent exploring how Prince’s troubled relationship with his family informed his rocky relationships with friends and bandmates. These relationships often found their way into Prince’s lyrics and, most notably, in the film that made Prince a superstar: Purple Rain. Next up, Touré digs into the views on sexuality presented in Prince’s music and how they were a reflection of the divide between Generation X attitudes towards sex and their baby boom predecessors. The book closes with a chapter analyzing what Prince has often hinted as the true driving force behind his music – spirituality.
Touré draws many interesting conclusions about Prince’s place in Generation X and how his image and message resonated with a generation of young people forced to face the harsh reality of life after the death of the hippie movement: the looming threat of nuclear war, the AIDS/crack epidemics and increasing divorce rates, to name but a few. But occasionally, his points nearly get lost in attempts to set-up a parallel – as in Touré’s three-page sidebar about the impact of director John Hughes on Generation X.
I Would Die 4 U may be the latest, and probably most high profile, book about Prince in recent years, but it’s hardly the essential read for hardcore fans – especially those who have already read Per Nilsen‘s DanceMusicSexRomance: The First Decade and Alex Hahn‘s Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince. Readers familiar with those two titles may often feel a sense of déjà vu as Touré frequently references them throughout the book.
Where the devoted Prince fanatic might find I Would Die 4 U most meaningful is on the subject of God. In the book’s intriguing and all-too-brief third chapter detailing Prince’s relationship with religion and spirituality, Touré interviews several biblical scholars–one a former classmate of Prince’s–all of whom provide enlightening insight into the spiritual overtones and undertones that permeate his body of work. This section alone deserves its own fleshed out book. Much has already been written about Prince’s troubled family life and views on sexuality. Surprisingly, not nearly as much ink has been devoted to the topic Prince has often considered the key to understanding his work.
I Would Die 4 U is the perfect gateway drug for the person who wants to dig deeper into what made Prince such an irresistible figure in the ’80s, but doesn’t necessarily care for the detailed minutiae contained in other books like Hahn’s or Nilsen’s and especially The Vault, the meticulously researched and out-of-print tome published by the now-defunct fanzine, Uptown Magazine. Regardless of your “skill level” in all-things-purple, we still guarantee that I Would Die 4 U will be a book you may have a hard time putting down.