Touré On Prince: "He Was An Idea...Ideas Don't Really Die"
To celebrate Prince’s impact on humanity, we’re resharing our interview with author and social commentator, Touré, on why the Purple One will never die.
April 21, 2016 began like any other day: breakfast, the masses shuffling into work and engaging in watercooler talk about the previous night’s events. Unbeknownst to us all, we would later learn that the musical legend, Prince Rogers Nelson, passed away. His death rippled throughout the human community, sending shocks of grief to us all as we, the Beautiful Ones, were fraught at the news. A virtual juggernaut of creativity, Prince blended the Saturday night funk fest with the Sunday morning praise sessions, which endeared him to those who were equally searching for an answer to This Thing Called Life. Award-winning author, celebrated journalist and television personality, Touré, was one of those interpreters of Prince’s life and legacy, an apostle of sorts, who wrote eloquently about Prince and his spiritual vision in his book, I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became An Icon.
His investigative look at one of the most private, most enigmatic, most devout performers of our lifetime examined, perhaps for the first time, the pop artist’s works and legacy in a serious religious context. For millions around the world, Prince remains larger than life. The former MSNBC commentator delved deep into Prince’s psyche using the accounts of those close to him such as Eric and Alan Leeds, former girlfriends, and even Bible scholars to frame Prince’s rise from pre-teen homelessness to international superstardom. Touré’s examination of Prince Rogers Nelson took us inside the man’s ideologies and idiosyncrasies, presenting a narrative that found Prince defying traditional categories of race, gender, and sexuality.
By demystifying the man and his music, Touré showed how “The Kid” defined numerous generations. As we celebrate #PrinceDay, the journalist shares generously with Okayplayer, giving us a front row seat on Prince’s rise, as well as stories from his own run-ins with the man outside the margins of the written page. Read on below to find out just how compelling the late icon truly was and don’t forget to share with us your most cherished memories about the Purple One with us on Twitter @Okayplayer.
Okayplayer: Given what we know at the moment about Prince’s passing, I must ask how you are holding up in these few heart-wrenching days?
Touré: It’s been a bit of a blur, y’know? It has just been… tough. There are moments when I am hit with a wave of sadness, but I’m just in sort of a blur. I’ve been talking to folks about this, but it makes me very sad that he was all alone at the end. Y’know, in this elevator where you can only imagine how many hours he might’ve been by himself, and that makes me incredibly sad.
OKP: I understand what you mean. It was a few weeks after reading your book when Prince’s passing was announced. So, here I am ingesting these motifs and thoughts about his work…then he’s gone. And with that comes the conversations about his life. Van Jones with his statement on CNN, Questlove through his Instagram and just fans who were hurt by his withdrawal. You pointed out the symbolism of the elevator in your book, so now at this point does it seem eerie and very surreal that the end of his life would take place in an elevator?
T: Yeah, man, it is very surreal to think about him being in an elevator, dying, when the elevator was a symbol for the devil for him in his songwriting. [The elevator] was the word he used instead of the devil because he wouldn’t have wanted it played on the radio. I’d rather think more about the awesome scope of life that he had lived, y’know? He was functionally homeless at the ages of 12 and 13, and he ends up becoming fantastically well-to-do, entirely through his own will and creation. His extraordinary talent and brilliance, plus his genius-level music education enriched his life to a degree that influenced the world. What an amazing journey!
OKP: There was a part in your book where you wrote about how he would sleep in the band room at his school. His teachers would let him stay there, knowing his situation, and just reveling in the passion he had for the instruments in that room. Before you, yourself, got a chance to be around him — what were your initial thoughts of Prince?
T: I remembered hearing about Prince from the older kids around my way. This was circa Dirty Mind and that was when people really started talking about the guy. If I recall correctly, there were people who were talking about how outrageous a song like “Head” was, but then there were other people who were listening more deeply to what Prince had going on. As a collective, we were all really sort of putting it all together. Like saying to ourselves, “’Head’ is fun, but did you hear ‘Sister’…? That song is amazing.” That song made you wait… it pauses you. You want to know the origin behind the story like, What happened?!
I look at it like Spider-Man, y’know? This is the first story of your mythology, of how this person came to be. In Spider-Man, Peter Parker gets bit by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Man. So, with that in mind, you’re listening to Prince tell you this story of his sister turning him out and then he becomes this hyper-sexual, crazy person. That was a song that caused ripples amongst those who were engaged music listeners.
OKP: Van Jones recently said that Prince was one of the quiet bankrollers of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I wanted to get your thoughts on that, as a fellow servant of the struggle. Of course, Prince had “Baltimore” for Freddie Gray and has championed the black agenda, but why would he want to be a private leader as opposed to letting others know his stance outright?