Saturday, January 14, 2017

And Every Tomorrow

I tell my son, Miles, he is my dream boy -- the boy of my dreams.

His sense of humor is my hope -- where I laugh proud, loud laughter.  Miles' earnestness and diligence in caring for his things feels like eternal validation of my existence.  His quirky, quick-twitch mind and fluid gait feel like DNA at its most unfurled and flourishing magnificence, at it's best and in the flesh and in my own son in my own home.  I love my boy.

But I'll be damned if his hunger for my attention doesn't sometimes grate the nerves above my lip.  Sometimes I have to turn away so he doesn't see it curl when he asks for me to play with him for the twelfth time, like some twelfth night of dawning epiphany that he'll carry around like a log until he sits in some therapists office saying "my dad never wanted to play with me."  The uselessness of that obscurely stream-of-consciousness reference not withstanding, this annoyance has bothered me and driven me to an epiphany of my own.

Why would I feel annoyed about my son wanting to play with me?  I love playing with him.  We have similar playing styles:  Rough and silly and lots of flipping; fart jokes and s#!t-talking and making up games galore.  It is among my most pure joys.  So why the annoyance about something so pleasurable?

Then it dawned on me.  My son is exactly the age I was when my father left.  And, like Miles, I must have been clamoring, feinding, grasping for my father's attention... right as he left our home.  Maybe some child-like part of me, the part that comes out when we play, is a little jealous.  I even caught myself saying to him once, when he complained that we "never get to play" after I told him no once in the midst of two full days of play over christmas break; I caught myself barking at him:  "I never got to play with my dad half as much as we play!"  Epiphany!

Or as we say in the community of people who knew the nineties were the Wayans' decade:  Message!

The story I've always told myself is that when my dad, in his wisdom, sat me down to tell me that he was leaving and why (and I can see the moment as a misty movie even now as I write over 30 years later), is that I didn't cry and didn't say anything.  And I didn't say anything because I didn't want to hurt his feelings.  I was secretly glad my dad was leaving.

I was tired of the fighting, the loud screams thundering through the walls and the icy silences that seemed to last days, weeks, years; that coated holidays and vacations with the bitterness that coats the tongue after you vomit.  I was ready for him to go.  My story was that, while most people talk about 'staying for the kids,' some folks ought to consider leaving for the kids.

At seven, I was relieved dad left.  That was my story.

Now I know different.  If I was like my son, I was devastated when my father left.  His attention was my highest aspiration.  His validation, my deepest desire.  To play with him, the purest joy I could find.  And right at that moment of peak need, he was gone.

I was angry at my dad for a long time.  And it didn't really come out untill I was in my twenties, when I took a most shameful vengeance on him; a vengeance I explain in an earlier post and won't wallow in now.  But even through all that, my 7 year old story stayed the same.  I wasn't mad because I wanted him to stay.  I was mad because he did 'this' when I was 16 or didn't do 'that' while I was in college.  But, at 7, I was glad that he left.  Yeah.

Now I know better.  And thank God in the form of my wife, siblings, step-mom and good friends, I've done some work on myself.  Instead of turning my 7 year old son into my 7 year old self and me into my dad; instead of feeling guilty about the annoyance I feel at his/my longing for my/my dad's attention; instead of responding to this epiphany by being on 24 hour call for his playing urges and never saying 'no' when I need a break; instead of all that, I will sit my boy down, look him in the eyes, and say "I don't want to play 'tornado pillow slam' for the 847th time, Miles.  Let's make a date for tomorrow."

And I can say that because I'll be here tomorrow... and every tomorrow thereafter, even if as only a warm memory of a 7 year old boy and his dad playing tornado pillow slam for the 848th time.

P.S... thanks Jessy, wife of mine and Miles' mom, for encouraging me to think and write this stuff out.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

On the Spectrum of Patriarchy

As a teacher at an elite all boys school where I also coach football, when I heard audio of Donald Trump boasting about weaponizing his wealth and power to violate women without consequence, I immediately felt a pre-exhaustion with the damage control ahead.  Trump essentially told my students, "do what you want to girls because you can."  We teachers have a hard enough time battling the negativity of the misogynist trash-rap on the radio to have a presidential candidate add the legitimacy of the highest public office to the cesspool of sexist mental pollution out there.  

But then, when Donald Trump made the excuse that his rape culture swagger was just "locker room talk," I was deeply disturbed.  I wasn't surprised that he would make this excuse or that he talked about grabbing women's genitals like an unabashed rapist, but I was surprised at how many women seemed to think that men actually talk like this in locker rooms.  Does my wife think I talked like that?  My friends?  No, not me, love.  Not us.
But when I spoke with my wife about it in order to clarify for her that normal men do not assault nor brag about assaulting women, she pointed out that we might still be communicating on a spectrum of patriarchy that bends toward Donald Trump.  The objectification of women that I certainly did partake in is part of the deal.  There's no way around it.  The mythic "strong man" pathos that Trump uses to charge up his throngs of male and female supporters emerges from the myth of patriarchy (male supremacy) itself; a myth that underpins rape culture.  

And as mythic as the narrative that men are superior to women is, the violence of patriarchy is real.  Patriarchy is the social, political, and economic ideology that justify systems of oppression that keep power in the hands of men and out of the hands of women.  Patriarchy is deeply rooted in the pillars of Western civilization, from the Bible to business schools.  And as much as I have learned this intellectually, the American open sore that is Donald Trump has helped me feel how Patriarchy actually works in the world, in real time, and in my own life.  If I'm honest, I have been on a spectrum of patriarchy that includes a vile cesspool of men like Trump and their apologists. 
I grew up under the spell of patriarchy.  I never had a woman head of school or a woman at the head of a church I attended.  I never had a woman mayor, governor, or president.  And though a woman headed my household, I was taught by most of the men in my life that men are better leaders, clearer thinkers, and stronger in every way that really matters.  These beliefs are pervasive and they have devastating impacts in society. 
Michelle Obama makes this crystal clear.  
Growing up as a young man, we had a name for a tall, powerful woman like Michelle Obama.  It wasn't a title of respect or adoration.  It wasn't a name that would have captured her awesome intellect or that would have described her warm soul or wholly dignified spirit.  No.  Growing up, we would have called Michelle Obama a "stallion."  We would have objectified her body with the ridiculous and ironic metaphor of a male horse.  And even if we thought it was complimentary, Michelle Obama now shows how ass-backward this label was (and is).  Back then, I would have ignored the majesty that is Mrs. Obama for being lost in the male privilege to, even if only visually and verbally, possess a woman's body.
But maybe these actions were more about insecurity than power.  Maybe men like Donald Trump, and boys like us, were so intimidated by the female essence that we had to belittle it by minimizing it to a body that we could judge like some show horse.  Maybe we did it because we beleived we could subdue a woman's body, but knew we could never overpower a woman's soul, mind, or spirit.  I wrote a poem about it as a part of a series of verse novels, called the The Misbelief Tree, about mistaken beliefs and how they shape us.  Like to read it?  Here it goes:

Excerpt from The Misbelief Tree p. 49-52
We all paused in awe with slack jaws 
as if we saw the kingdom come.  
In walked a magnificent thing, 
what we used to call a stallion,
stalked by a stuttering battalion of babbling youths. 

Her body flowed in slow motion.  
Breath pet her parted lips.  
Her honey brown legs pressed up on cut pear hips, 
which switched in locomotion 
under her knee high sundress.  
That thin cloth might have been rocked right off 
had she not gripped the hem between her nail tips 
and tugged it down.  
But then how the color hugged her mounds of melon-round bottom 
could turn a pillar of salt into a man 

and make him run back to Sodom as fast as he can.

As she ambled the narrow lane of the aisle,
there was a bit of a hitch in her gait
that seemed to be an apprehension to engage 
the agitated state of males jockeying 
to whip her attention their way.

I wondered when she first felt the heat of men’s eyes 
vying to try her skin as if she were meat.
Was she thirteen, 
curious behind the spurious worry
of an uncle twisting his tongue 
to say “So young. So grown so young?”
Was she eleven,
whisking up a cousin’s concern
as he watched her body
wiggle and whirl in ways that made him squirrel
“come here girl.”
Is she even twenty now
and already somehow a triple crown 
(a trophy of face, breasts, and bottom)
for sporting crowds of loud men
(thirsty, graceless, and prodding)
endowing themselves 
with the right 
to say what they like on sight?

It dawned on me,
the absurdity of calling a woman a male horse,
and the paradox of the fact that it is such an accurate metaphor. 
To men, she is a stallion,
a prized creature
that men dream they can break and hold, 
that they bet they can ride and control,
while the shame burrowed in their souls
cowers at her power 
because they know 
it is greater than they can even perceive
or ever conceive.
Man knows he is weak.
And he knows 
woman knows.
It is time to solve the mental illness of patriarchy and the violence, aggression, and discrimination against women that it promotes, protects, and justifies.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I Only Tweet Haiku: Make Politics Poetry

Fog horn bellow romps.
Many men, they brood, snarl, bark.
Bred fight dogs, panting. 


A world divided needs the poet in you.  The careful, deliberate voice in all of us needs expression now.  And the place where it most needs to be heard is in that often vulgar, vile, vicious vector of all things rash, rushed, and unreasonable:  social media.
You are hereby challenged to write only poetry in social media posts about politics from this point forward.  Be it haiku, rap, nursery rhyme, or some other meticulous mesh of well-meant words, take the time it takes to craft what you communicate to your fellow humans. Write like you have something of value to say.
And why poetry? Because poetry conjures the evocative, layered nature of language to help us suckle meaning from the muddled murk of what we think we believe we think we feel. Poets are to words and thoughts what watchmakers are to gears and levers, forging form and function to help us feel the pulse and rhythm of life beyond our current space and time.  Poetry is a song of Time, a humming hymn of action bowing to progress, to that which is greater than Itself.
Poetry is language evolved. And language is the first human technology. In language, humans converted the energy of grunts and moans into words the way computers convert digits into information.  Language was the Internet before electricity.  It is where we searched stories for meaning, for joy, for truth and understanding.  Language taught fire and taught medicine and taught philosophy.  Language is the driver of human evolution, the all-spark, the engine of human understanding, and the catalyst of human potential.  Language is the mortar of civilization and, as poet Margaret Atwood declares, war is what happens when language fails.
And these days war is the story every day.  Our earth is swollen with the waste of insatiable consumption as we wade through distraction bitter in the bliss of detached connections while the world awaits our fingertips offering a mood switch at every click of clicks from which consequence comes in a blizzard blitz of enticements we can’t resist leaving us desensitized and comfortably numb while death and destruction run amok among our young.  We are in a world of trouble.  And yet, that trouble breeds poetry.
And poetry is a sublimely designed vehicle, a finely tuned engine, and a masterful driver of ideas. And rhyming poetry is particularly effective at this because it is easy on the ears and easier to recall and can bring beauty to pain, empathy in small doses. And poetry offers answers in the questions it poses. And we need more questions pulled from the ashes and the dust, from trouble and the history from which it is thrust.
And we need poetry that rhymes; poetry that has correspondence in the terminal sounds of its composition. Breaking down the meaning of rhyme releases a powerful analogy for what we need in these times of discord and disunity. Rhyme is the correspondence in the terminal sounds of a composition.
And correspondence is a close similarity, connection, or equivalence; something that one thing shares with another.  This could be a value, an experience, or a moment in time.  Correspondence is a point of connection between things.  Yes rhyme is the correspondence in the terminal sounds of a composition and correspondence is a point of connection between things.
And if terminal refers to forming or situated at an end or extremity of something, and also refers to a transportation route or a station along a route, then terminal refers to an ending that serves as the starting point to something else. Terminal means transitional.  And rhyme is the correspondence in the terminal sounds of a composition. 
And if composition is the nature of something's ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up, or, alternately, a composition is a work of music, literature, or art, then composition is the make up of a creation.  And rhyme is the correspondence in the terminals sounds of a composition.  Thus, if after breaking rhyme down we put it back together, rhyme is a point of unity between things in transition as they make up a creation. 
The present rhymes in two directions with its past and its future.  Molecules rhyme in the various forms of matter.  Atoms rhyme in fusion and in fission.  Cells rhyme when they divide in anything that is living.  The artist rhymes the real and the imagined the way the builder rhymes the blueprint with the building.
We all rhyme with some ancestor who wore our faces in black and white, and spoke our voices in the darkest nights, and walked our gait in a day under the same sun, breathing the same oxygen in the breath you took as these words were written.
Rhyme is like that.  Rhyme is, like life, symmetry, balance, and the repletion of repetition.  Life is rhyme.  And any progress in this life must rhyme with the core, timeless needs that all people in all places at all times share:  self-expression, togetherness, purpose.  Progress, as it rhymes what we are with what we could be, progress is rooted in where we are and pulls us forward to where we should be.
And we who want the world to progress have to change our story from only powerfully pointing out what we are against and clearly calling out what’s wrong, to artfully attracting people to what we are for and building the beautiful on what’s right.  We need our politics to become poetry.
And thankfully our planet is round.   So if you walk your mind outside and go down left, all the way to left, as far left as you can go, you can greet your neighborhood Black Blocker with a warm “Anarchism is order, Government is chaos” in the morning.  Alternatively, if you walk your mind right, all the way right, as far right as you can go, you can say “minimum government, maximum freedom” to your friendly neighborhood Libertarian at the end of the day.  And they, being next-door neighbors, can be heard arguing across the narrow alley between them. 
Thankfully we are on a round planet so the extreme left and extreme right can yell at each other from across that dark alley of ideology.  And we can imagine them rhyming slogans back and forth at each other:
“Free Minds will make Free Markets!”
“Property is Theft, Eat the Rich!”
“Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom!”
“Political power comes from the barrel of a gun!”
“If your aren’t Libertarian, you aren’t paying attention!”
“The direction, insurrection.  The solution, revolution!”
And in all that confusion, there is still rhyme, a point of unity between things in transition as they make up a creation.  And in the rhyme there is a radical center, a radical center where white is a color and man is a myth, where we are all people of color, gender unspecific. Where humans are animals, and the planet is us all.  Where religion listens when science calls.  Where science acknowledges its limits.  There is a radical center that holds us together.  And you are there.  And all are welcome.  It is radical in the mathematical sense, meaning at the root.
And the root is clenched to the earth, balled up in twists like the veins in a fist raised for freedom.  And freedom is getting information instead of ideology.  Freedom is learning from it all, from the right to the left, to consider it all then take the best and leave the rest.  We can learn from capitalists about how to catalyze and learn from socialists about how to prioritize.  We can learn from politicians about how to compromise and learn from activists about how to lock eyes on the prize.  In Freedom even perceived enemies have something to teach.  Every heart and mind is within freedom’s reach.  In freedom is the ultimate rhyme.
Rhyme is why your children love the Hip Hop that recycles your favorite songs, and why so many who once loved Dr. Suess grew up to love Hamilton.  Rhyme is for dreamers and I ain’t the only one who believes there’s some reason Lennin sounds like Lennon and the literary Cannon wields a cannon and the only way to set the mind free is to hip hop hibby to the hibby to hip hip a hoppa you don’t stop a rockin to the bang bang boogie till up jumps the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie to be.   Yes even when rhymes are silly, they are, at least, silly.  
And believe it or not, there are those among us who look down on rhyme as childish and simplistic.  The same folks, I suspect, who look down on the insect; the spider perched above in a galaxy of web, spun from it’s own body.  These be the same folks who look down on the lizard whose every skin cell is an individual artist in a symphony of metachrosis; who even look down on the dogs whose love they cherish.  What fools we can be when convinced of our own garish complexity. 
But the most powerful poetry is the simple symbol, especially when it is rhymed with the infinite, divine, purpose of progress.  Every movement for progress has been rooted in simple symbols:  Gandhi in his Khadi at the loom spinning resistance to the British exploitation of an Indian cotton boom; the Zulu marching a dance to freedom; Freedom Riders singing Mississippi terrorism to submission. 
Progress is poetry, each one of us a syllable, a word in a phrase of days done, of days to come, of future people who wish you could see you:  a ménage of hues with treasures of talents and tools; the truth empowered to renew and rejuvenate, who refuse to resuscitate the old ways that confuse and reduce a human being to a gender, class, or race; who redefine politics as we know it as poetry.
And we are what democracy looks like.  We are power to the people.  We are the future in the flesh.  We hold the hands that weave tomorrow.  We think the minds that conceive what’s next.  We dream in color and we’ve come to wake the world up.  We reach out and connect like webs to form networks to keep in touch.  We destroy the constructs that divide us and build bridges of unity.  From every country to every city, we are the world community.  And we must be encouraged because the revolution will be rhymed and it is coming right on time.
So be you in the streets stomping for justice or in power writing policy; be you in schools deconstructing ignorance or as artist creating space for the visionary; whatever you be, be a poet and be encouraged.  If you can speak, speak poetry.   If you tweet, tweet poetry.  Take time to make your work a poem.
And if you can walk, walk a song even if you walk alone.  f all you do is listen, listen for the truth and listen for encouragement for whatever it is you do. Rhyme the history of progress with your every forward breath and make your dream world come true. Lift your little bit of this 7.532 billion and know that we are building a world for our children’s, children’s, children’s children. We are making politics into poetry.

And so you are hereby challenged to write only poetry in social media posts about politics from this point forward. Be it haiku, rap, nursery rhyme, or some other meticulous mesh of well-meant words, take the time it takes to craft what you communicate to your fellow humans. Write like you have something of value to say. Make your politics poetry.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Shadow of the Sun

I told my nephew, multi-instrumentalist Xavier Molina (trumpet, guitar, drums, vocals, keys), I told Xavier that I will only have one tattoo in my life:  a black sun, the shadow of the sun on my shoulder that reminds me that there is always a bigger star with a brighter light so bright that it can make the sun cast a shadow... the shadow of the sun.  He made a song to interpret his understanding of that concept.  I made this visual poem to interpret his song.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Politics is

Politics is 
raw meat in the Colosseum of thought. 
Poets have no business there.  
Political rhetoric is tangled
in crisscrossed veins of ideology, 
matted in dogma’s grey hair.  
Political prizes are big game, 
majestic symbols of freedom,
slaughtered and mounted 
for sport and fame.  
Politics is bloody tough 
when well-done, 
bloody when tender, 
blood-sweet and salty. 
Politics is the amplified grunts 
of cavemen in suits 
holding guns 
with scopes.
Politics is
not for me.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

RIP Afeni Shakur

RIP Afeni Shakur. Met her once and she was every bit as fierce as Tupac. She told a room full of activists that if they didn't find God and use God's love in their work, that they would destroy themselves. She said she saw the Panthers destroy themselves and each other because they didn't work for a love greater than ideology. The room was unreceptive, except for the youth. The teen organizers in the room literally ran up to her like she was a superstar as soon as she got off the stage to lukewarm applause from the adult activists. Van Jones, who was the convener of the event, came on after her and stood up for her truth, reinforcing her by pausing the event until she got a proper show of appreciation from the audience. I walked up to her in the hallway as she was hugging a circle of five or six teens like they were her own children. I said "thank you for Tupac and thank you for telling these fools what they need to hear." She just smiled and gave me a hug. A powerful, wise, warm woman. Tupac's mama. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Lyrical Prince

After Prince died, a young person asked me what was Prince’s best song.  I scoffed out a laugh.  Song?  No way to pick a song.  You can barely pick an album.  There is just too much, too diverse a catalogue of songs in Prince’s creative treasure to pick one of anything.   This is a man who started his first album, 1978s For You, with an acapella arrangement of vocals that no pop star has ever attempted.  Not Michael.  Not Whitney.  Not Stevie.  

I’m not saying Prince is more talented, or better than any of these artists, or that he’s the only one who could do this.  I am saying he’s the only one who would do this.  Because Prince always seemed to give his all from this very beginning, fully trusting his talent and musical instincts.  How can you pick a song or album from an artist who poured his entire being into every song?  You can’t.

But in the spirit of doing the impossible, as Prince seemed to do daily, let’s take a shot at it.  I’m going to propose that the best Album for pure musicality has to be Parade, the soundtrack to Under the Cherry Moon.  The why of that choice will be reserved for some future writing.  But if I’m picking my favorite, all around Prince Album, it is Around the World in a Day.  Both of these albums are masterpieces in my opinion.  But Around the World in A Day reveals so much about Prince and about America while traversing a weird, fantastic, meticulously layered landscape of pop, jazz, funk, R&B, rock, and even gospel.  The album hands America a mirror and says look at yourself you beautiful mess.

Rather than spend a bunch of time trying to speak for Prince.  I’ll use his words to speak for themselves and trust myself as a listener enough to venture interpretations.  Why?  Because Prince is a poet and a storyteller.  And while many will acknowledge him as perhaps among the greatest musicians to ever live, I don’t know enough about music to give him his due there.  But as a poet and storyteller who dreams in colorful words, I wish to give Prince the poet his due.

Track 1:  Around The World in a Day
The song starts with a middle eastern sounding flute, drum, and a guttural scream that sounds like the prototypical woman in childbirth.   Mirroring his “sermon” at the beginning of “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince says:

Lonliness already knows you. 
There ain’t no reason to stay. 
Come here, take my hand, I’ll show you. 
I think I know a better way. 

A Poet’s Translation (with my best imitation Prince swaggitude):  Y’all stay lonely like y’all here to keep lonliness company.  Forget that.  Let’s come together and go around the world to find a better way. 

These lines may well be Prince’s paradox: a manifesto and cry for help.  Prince, the notoriously private life of the party, is pleading with the world to leave lonliness and come with him to find the way to Paisley Park, AKA Freedom.  Which brings us to track number two.

Track 2:  Paisley Park
The song has a very simple bass drum double-beat thumping under circus-like, high pitched pipes that play strange and almost dissonant sounds.  It brings the heart to mind.  The steady beat pushing lifeblood through artery pipes in rhythmic swishes.  This sound sets up as a fantastical background for the lyrics, which explain how Paisley Park, the name of Prince’s real life musical production, performance and party campus in his hometown Minneapolis, Paisley Park is in your heart.  Prince then tells a few stories of the people in Paisley Park.  One of whom is a woman who is unhappy because she hasn’t forgiven someone.

There is a woman who sits all alone by the pier. 
Her husband was naughty and caused his wife so many tears. 
He died without knowing forgiveness and now she is sad. 
Maybe she’ll come to the park and forgive him
and life won’t be so bad in Paisley Park.

The meaning in these very simple lines is profound in its expansiveness.  Not only is the unforgiven man sad for eternity, so is his wife left to suffer the weight of having not forgiven him.  The only balm is forgiveness and without it neither is free to enjoy Paisley Park.  And Paisley Park, as described throughout the song, is Freedom.

Track 3: Condition of the Heart
This song is simply a weird, beautiful, musical movie.  Prince’s singing is strange and ethereal.  But the lyrics are basic storytelling that seem to reveal lots of vulnerability and empathy, traits that the notoriously cocky Prince showed freely.  Check out this self-deprecating line:

There was a dame in London who insisted that he love her,
then left him for a real prince from Arabia.

Here Prince admits being left, and, even though his real name is Prince, feels he isn’t a “real” prince no matter how much money or fame he has.  And this dame, who could tell the difference, leaves him for the bigger fish.

Then there is this line, that both brings an unrequited love from another world in Paris down to his level and raises the woman who is present in his world, a friend maybe, up on the pedestal of his attention that she deserves.  

There is a woman from the ghetto who makes funny faces,
just like Clara Beau. 
How was I to know that she would wear the same cologne
and giggle the same giggle as you do
whenever I would act a fool,
the fool with a condition of the heart?

Prince captures all of the hope and dashed hopes, madness and clarity, boldness and self-loathing that happens in love.  And that’s only in the words.  Once again, the music is a story in itself.  As is the case with track four.

Track 4:  Rasberry Beret
This consummate pop song, which may as well have been written by Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel, is a short story about a dude working in a nowhere job for “Mr. McGhee” who doesn’t like him because he’s “a bit to leisurely.” An exceedingly fine woman walks in wearing a second hand hat.  He engages and gets her on his bike for a ride to “Old Man Johnson’s Farm” (hint hint).  It’s a silly, light pop song for sure, but there are some hidden gems of wordplay and poetry.  Like these:

Overcast days never turn me on
but something about the clouds and her mixed. 
She wasn’t to bright,
but I could tell when she kissed me,
she knew how to get her kicks

What a way to describe a free spirit.  May not be too bright, not overly concerned about the complexities of life and love, but certainly aware of how to get what she wants.
Then there is the barn, love-making scene.  Peak Prince poetics. 

The rain sounds so cool
when it hits the barn roof
And the horses wonder who you are
Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees
You feel like a movie star

Come on now.  That’s strong freedom imagery wrung through the simple pleasure, the simply magnificent performance of sex.  The motifs of simplicity (rain against a roof, the simple wonder of horses) against complexity (weather, the curious look of animals, dubious fame) are woven throughout the song:  the second hand store hat and not needing to wear much more than that, of being watched by haughty horses and not caring, lights flashing to reveal everything and the thunder covering everything like a blanket of sound… all that says freedom beats fame, fun beats propriety and the girl in the raspberry beret, ‘built like she was’ and wet under the rainstorm, is better than the world’s (and Prince’s) supermodels.  

The last interesting twist in the song is in the chorus.  “I think I love her.”  When Prince loves a woman he doesn’t “think” he loves her.  He adores her.  His love is insatiable.  Whereas he “thinks” he loves this little bit of fun.  Hint:  He doesn’t and pays a spiritual price for it later in the album (Temptation).

Track 5:  Tambourine
Listen to the song.  Think about it.  No comment on the meaning.  You who know the song know why.  Listen to the song.  It is funky and fun.  No comment on the meaning, but it’s placement after Rasberry Beret and before America is important.  He doesn’t need the lady in the beret, because he has his magazine and his “tambourine/trampoline.”  But what does he need?  America has something to say about that. 

Track 6:  America
Here Prince goes in on America the Beautiful, which he savages with vicious guitar riffs.  But he saves his most ferocious expression for the lyrics where he exposes the America of “the woman in the one room jungle, monkey cage” and of “the boy who won’t stand for the pledge” and now “lives on a mushroom cloud.”  This song is a prescription for an America enamored with a false vision of its perfection sold by populist politicians.  They sell the American dream and the boogey men in its shadows waiting to turn it into a nightmare.  With this song Prince reminds us that for some of us, America has long been a nightmare and he seeks to wake us up to a dream beyond, a freedom beyond, which is what this whole album speaks to.  And Prince speaks to it clearly in his chorus:

America, America
God shed his grace on thee
America, America
Keep his children Free

Track 7:  Pop Life
One of my favorite Prince songs, because it is as straight-forward as can be with regard to social commentary.  It is so spot on about today, you could forget that it was written 30 years ago.  Listen to this song now and often.   Listen to the lyrics, to the burst of riot or sport that interrupts the choruses towards the end of the song.  This song is, and I hate using this cliché pop term, but it’s so apropos here, this song is everything.  I’ll just point out a few lines:

What’s the matter with your life? 
Is the poverty bringing you down? 
Is the mailman jerking you round? 
Did he put your million dollar check in someone else’s box?”  

We all think we are going to get rich, don’t we?  Isn’t that the American dream?  But are we all just waiting on the proverbial ‘mailman’ to drop luck on us, like he seems to drop it on all our neighbors?  Are we all chasing each other wondering if the other has some hidden advantaged delivered by the ‘mailman’ of fate or circumstance?
Then there’s the chorus:  

Pop life.  Everybody needs a thrill. 
Pop Life.  We all got a space to fill. 
Pop life.  Everybody can’t be on top. 
Life it ain’t real funky,
unless it’s got that pop.

That’s the chorus.  Go put this song in your life now.

Track 8:  The Ladder
The Ladder is a gospel song.  Its vocals and the arrangement sound like Gospel.  Prince’s echoing voice makes him sound like he’s singing and speaking at a stadium revival.  The song is inevitably compared to Purple Rain because of its massive sound, but it has nothing to do with Purple Rain.  The song is gospel, pure and simple.  That’s evident in the chorus.

Everybody’s looking for the answer. 
Everybody wants salvation of the soul. 
What’s the use of having half a story, half a dream. 
You have to climb the steps in between.

Here Prince keys us into what he thinks the “answer” is.  The answer is the walk, the climb from where you are to where you are going.  The destination and starting point are only half the story, half the dream.  And what’s the use of that?  Walk in the question.  And with the last two songs, the question gets complicated.  What do you do when you literally can’t stand Prince’s lyrics? 

The last two songs on this album aren’t just hard to listen to lyrically.  I have not been able to listen to either song all the way through if I’m even paying the slightest attention to the meaning of the lyrics.  To put it mildly, I don’t enjoy the words of either of the last two songs Temptation and On the Couch.  They represent to me all the things people make fun of about Prince.  His turn towards an overbearing morality, his self-indulgence, and his resistance to feedback (because I’m absolutely certain somebody told him that these two songs do not belong on this masterpiece).

But here’s the amazing thing about Prince.  Even where he falls lyrically, the music rises to the occasion.  Both of these songs end up being sonically amazing.  Which makes sense, because both are about sex.  Prince himself admits in a recent Rolling Stone interview that when singing about sex, “It's almost hard to sing now, you can't even sing a word like that and make it sound like anything ... that you want it to. But I can take you out there and hit this guitar for you, and then what you'll hear is sex.” 

Both of the last two songs on this album are sonic sex, and like sex, words are unnecessary.  Prince would have done better trusting his instruments to speak for him on these.  And that brings us back to the core of this whole endeavor:  trust. 

I believe that if Prince’s musical journey, and maybe his life, had a core tension, that tension was about the dynamic energy swirling between points of trust and distrust, freedom and resistance.  Prince didn’t trust gender to contain all of him, but he trusted his own sexuality so much that this straight man felt comfortable dressing and at times acting/singing like a woman.   Prince didn’t seem to trust his musical comrades and so he played every instrument and worked his band to oblivion before shows.  Yet he so trusted his instincts and his players potential that he was able to orchestrate them into complete alignment and near perfection.  Prince didn’t trust us with his inner-most life, but he did pour himself on records with abandon.  Prince didn’t trust the industry, but trusted his fans enough to roll with him through a phase of namelessness and invisibility on the web.  Essentially, for Prince, trust seemed to be the ultimate gift that he reserved for a precious few that had to earn it and keep earning it… and trust was also something that he rained down on the world from a place of high knowing, a cloud of complete freedom to be.  It’s a strange thing, how trust seemed to work in the world of Prince.  However, his lyrics make it plain.  Prince seemed to trust one thing above all:  Freedom.