“Game, Blouses!” My little piece ☮ Prince

I’m probably unable to process Prince’s passing with the requisite amount of grief, coming as it does hard on the heels of Merle Haggard’s death. Two of the brightest stars in my musical sky, gone. Poof. Within a couple weeks of each other. I am still stunned.

Well, hell. This week! This month! This year!

It’s been quite a cull of beloved musicians. Can’t recall a year like this. Maybe Fall of 1970, Jimi and Janis, which I only dimly remember. I delivered papers then, the now defunct afternoon daily Minneapolis Star. “Bad news on the doorstep” — I lived that! Weekly body counts in the bottom right hand counter.

I have a sense just about everybody will see Lonnie Mack‘s name on the list of Entertainers Who Died In 2016, and say, “Wait! When did THAT happen?” The day everybody was talking about Prince.

I must get this out of the way first: even though I am a massive fan and have had plenty of opportunities to see Prince, I never went to a show. Hockey rink shows are never ideal, and I probably still would not go out of my way to see anyone in a really big venue like that. But seeing Prince in the First Avenue Main Room! Where Purple Rain was shot! I passed on more than a few chances to see him in that fantastic venue.

To my shame I think I have to put it down to my Midwestern, penny-wise, dollar foolish attitude to spending money. Are you kidding me? They want fifteen bucks for those tickets. Figure in three or four Special Exports and I’ll be laying out thirty bucks for the night.

Yes, I am a garbage fan who never bothered to see Prince perform, but (I maintain) there remains some (pathetic) evanescent connection.

Prince and I were born 10 months and a couple miles apart in South Minneapolis. He went to Bryant, the public junior high school on East 38th Street. I went to Incarnation, a Catholic grade school a mile west on 38th St., on the other side of 35W, the freeway that pretty much separated black and white Minneapolis. I remember Bryant came to Incarnation once for a scrimmage, either in late ’72 or early ’73. The racial situation in Minneapolis was edgy at best, owing mainly to the ignorance of white people. Black Panthers! Rumors of black gangs riding around in cars with machine guns. (This predated Sign ☮ the Times (and crack) by more than a decade but looky! another connection — “high on crack totin’ a machine gun”). Of course our basketball team was nearly all white kids, terrified of black people in general, and more than a little intimidated by our opponents.

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Prince with his Bryant teammates.

In addition to their massive afros, and generally being much taller and/or muscular, I remember all the Bryant players wore boxers under their uniform shorts so they stuck out. A bit of sartorial flair that I had never seen before, or since. I wonder who might have started that trend?

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I was the Big Man on this team, 6′ 2″ and 140 lbs. dripping wet.

I told everyone for years, “I played basketball against Prince.” Now I am not sure I was on the court or if I (Blue team) was watching the Gold Team play Bryant. At any rate, I was there, but not necessarily playing. I did reach out to a couple of old Incarnation classmates on Facebook. My my best grade school pal, now a lawyer, wrote back, in very lawyerly terms, “This is consistent with my recollection”–meaning (I like to think) that we, the Blue team, were in fact the team that scrimmaged Bryant.  But, for what it’s worth, his memory was that we played at their gym, not ours. I also must add that he had no memory of the machine gun rumor, so that might have been my own individual racial panic dream.

Bryant mopped the floor with us of course. The core of their team went on to form a fabled Minneapolis Central team that was undefeated but lost in the region finals to North. I was at THAT game, for sure, at the old Met Center. Johnny Hunter, Pastor and Founder of First Community Recovery Church, had the game of his life.

I always thought Prince didn’t play in high school, but today I entered a few obvious search terms and learned that Prince indeed played at Central, at least up until his sophomore year. Al Nuness, a legendary player in his own right for the Golden Gophers, was Prince’s coach for the sophomore squad. Nuness told the StarTribune Prince was “a darn good basketball player. The problem is he just didn’t grow.”

Basketball’s loss was everyone else’s gain. That seems obvious now.

Over the years I’ve come across more than a few doubters of my modest connection to Prince, and even more who could not believe that the diminutive Prince had ever played competitive basketball, so when the fantastic Chapelle Show Charlie Murphy bit came out, I felt vindicated.

Prince really enjoyed that sketch, apparently.

***

UPDATE: I wasn’t going to go there, to mention the other famous music person of my youth (and in fact of my twenties, when we lived across the street from each other), but I just read what Paul Westerberg wrote about Prince and it makes what just about everything everyone else wrote kind of pointless. Heartfelt, observant, poignant and funny as hell. What you would expect.

The first time I met him was at a urinal at a nightclub in St. Paul. There he was, and I said, “Hey, what’s up?” And he answered, “Life.” One word: “life.” And I can’t say that we went on to be pals. But we did record a lot at Paisley Park, and he became comfortable enough to grace us with his presence, not bejeweled and not dressed up. He’d be wearing maybe his jammies and sweat pants or maybe a pear of jeans and sneakers. He could sort of just hang out. He may have been a little more normal than he would’ve liked people to know. That’s the treasure that we got, to be able to sit in the big atrium where you’re taking a break and Prince shuffles by in his slippers and makes some popcorn in the microwave. My sister’s a disc jockey, and he would pass by and say, “Tell your sister hi for me.” People like to paint him as a reclusive this or that; I think he was genuinely truly, truly shy. But one thing says a lot about him: I was there making a solo record a few years later, and I got a message that said that my friend had just died. I was truly rattled, and the next time I went back into the studio, he had filled it up with balloons. Now I’m gonna cry.

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Paul Westerberg in the 1973 yearbook. All the way on the left.

Winning, losing, and winning while losing

I cringe to paste in this title: Hey, Democrats, stop gloating — your party is imploding right before your eyes, too. Salon gon’ Salon. But I’m pretty much completely down with Steve Almond’s sentiment:

There’s been a gleeful sense of schadenfreude in the coverage churned out by left-leaning outlets in particular. How lovely it has been to watch the conservative movement’s house of cards fall into shambles!

The problem, of course, is that Republicans aren’t the only party facing an historic rift. Over the past two weeks, it’s become increasingly obvious that grassroots liberals are thoroughly disgusted by their own party establishment.

The Republicans no doubt face a brutal convention, in which they must either nominate an unpopular candidate or incur the wrath of the masses by handpicking an establishment figure.

But the Democrats already face a kind of inverse dilemma. Barring a miracle, they will nominate an establishment candidate who is at best tepidly supported, and at worst reviled, by those who have rallied behind her insurgent foe, Bernie Sanders.

Remember, the whole primary season is designed to consolidate support behind the frontrunner. At this point in the race, with only one opponent—an elderly socialist from Vermont with a degree from the Larry David School of Charm — Clinton should be turning her attention to the general election.

Instead, she’s lost eight of nine contests many by a wide margin, and is barely hanging on in her home state, where her opponent is drawing huge and ecstaticcrowds.

Right wing pundits—a sad and desperate lot at the moment — eagerly compareSanders to Trump. The idea here is that the widespread disgust with Washington’s dysfunction has opened the door to outsider demagogues who spout lurid promises.

In fact, Sanders and Trump have about as much in common as George Wallace and Eugene Debs. Sanders isn’t trying to sell steaks or live out some Reality TV fantasy. He entered politics from the tradition of social justice .

The reason he keeps beating Hillary Clinton is because a huge portion of the electorate—particularly young voters—is yearning for the kind of explicit social justice he’s prescribing. To put it bluntly: he’s articulating a moral vision, not an electoral path to the White House.

And that, frankly, is what the Democratic Party used to do, back in the era of the New Deal and the Great Society. It offered as its essential pitch to voters a compassionate and responsive government that sought to combat — or at least mitigate — the corrosive values of a capitalist theocracy.

What does the modern Democratic Party offer? The strategy put forward by Bill Clinton was called “triangulation.” And while it may have worked in an electoral sense, the de facto result was a strategy of appeasement that left Democrats pushing conservative policies: welfare reform, tax cuts, financial deregulation.

Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is essentially theprogram Bob Dole proposed back in 1993. His solution to our suicidal dependence on fossil fuels—cap-and-trade—is yet another recycled Republican idea.

The modern Democratic Party, in other words, has chosen to enable — and in many cases sponsor—policies that have allowed capitalism to act like a giant centrifuge, concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few to the detriment of the many.

 

Not entirely bad news, this implosion. I guess I have my own twisted version of the schadenfreude regarding a party whose leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz carves up legislation to benefit PAYDAY LENDERS–in an election season. Is that party — or the dominant DNC wing — really worth saving?

But I will confess to getting sad in advance at the prospect of Hillary barely surviving Bernie’s challenge, thanks in large part to mastery of the arcane anti-democratic machinery of primaries, caucuses and superdelegates, and limping to the presidency. Where I have every confidence she will be terrible.

But should that happen, I’m hoping to see follow-through with the 80-90 percent of young voters who favor the Sanders view, that there will be progressive candidates winning the seats the Democratic leadership can’t even be bothered to contest, obsessed as they are with the spoils of presidential politics.

Not giving up on Bernie, though. If the Dems REALLY cared about guaranteeing a win for the party in November, he is their guy. If he falls short, it will be a race between two candidates everybody hates.

My optimism is stubborn, though. I hold out high hopes for the Mark Ruffalo/Rosario Dawson ticket in 2020.