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My Thoughts on Prince

 

I already wrote an obituary for Prince at Screen Rant; you can read that here. Below, just a few disconnected thoughts on the death of the Purple One:

Ever since Prince passed away on Thursday, I’ve discovered that a lot of my Minneapolis friends have Prince stories. They once ran into him somewhere, he randomly popped onstage at a club they were at, or maybe they saw him at an early club gig before Prince was Prince.

I really don’t, though. I never saw him in person or in concert or came in any way close to meeting him. My father represented someone with a legal case that tangentially involved him, the details of which I don’t remember, but he never met him either. Hell, I’ve never even been inside First Avenue.

But I’ve always loved Prince’s music, going back as far as I can remember. He was a staple of the radio, and MTV, both of which I followed obsessively as a kid. And of course, there was always the Minnesota pride angle of it. I’ve written before that in the early ‘80s the Replacements/Husker Du music revolution was going on a few miles from my house, but I was too young to know about it and didn’t even discover the music until I was in my 20s and living in New York. But Prince was different. I appreciated his music, and his larger-than-life persona, even from a very young age.

Which isn’t to say that I totally got it. Even as I saw Prince perform in assless chaps on the Video Music Awards, and listened to the album (“Lovesexy”) where he was naked on the cover, the pure sexuality of his music was certainly not something I grasped when I was that young. Neither was the pure complexity of the songs and genre combinations.

The songs are all great. The public persona, like no one else in history. “Purple Rain” is one of the best music movies of all time- and a clear influence on so many others since- and goes in the Minnesota Movie Holy Trinity along with the Coens’ “Fargo” and “A Serious Man” (Whatever #4 is, it’s a steep drop. “Grumpy Old Men”? “Jingle All the Way”? “Drop Dead Gorgeous”?)

For some reason I always really loved the “Diamonds and Pearls” album, especially the title track. And I’ve always dreamed of writing a book about a financial scandal at a synagogue, called “Thieves in the Temple.” And yes, that Chris Rock joke about how “the only black people in Minnesota are Prince and Kirby Puckett” is funny but highly inaccurate, even now that Prince and Kirby are both gone.

Then there was at the strange fall of 2009. For years I had always joked that Prince should buy the Minnesota Vikings. He was a Minneapolis native, with plenty of money, who favored wearing purple, the NFL wanted more minorities in the ownership ranks and he couldn’t possibly be worse than the Headrick Ten, Red McCombs or the Wilfs. That never happened, but that year, when the Vikings had a contending team with Brett Favre at quarterback, Prince- long a fixture at Timberwolves games but never Vikings ones- started appearing at every game, always on TV. He even wrote the team a new fight song.

Sure, the song (“Purple and Gold”) was terrible, the team never used it again, the Vikings lost yet another NFC Championship Game, and Prince was never seen at a Vikings game after that. But it was one of the team’s most exciting runs ever, made more special for me as my first son Noah was born in the middle of it.

I’ve watched and read the tributes, and listened to the songs on every radio station, just like when Michael Jackson died seven years ago. So I’m especially happy to be heading back to Minnesota on Saturday for Passover- say, is that block party outside First Avenue still going on?

The Brandeis/Hirsi Ali Controversy: Ten Thoughts From an Alum

Brandeis, my alma mater, made news this week when it first awarded, and then rescinded, an honorary degree for the Somali-born author and political activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  Here are a few scattered thoughts on this:

1. Honorary degrees are a sham. They’re completely meaningless. They’re a way for universities to aggrandize themselves and give attention and unearned accolades to a bunch of celebrities that would better be granted to the accomplishment of the graduates themselves. It always particularly upset me that an honorary degree is called “Brandeis University’s highest honor.” Why isn’t Brandeis’ highest honor an actual degree from Brandeis, accomplished through four years of study, rather than a fake certificate, presented by a committee?

2.  The school should have done their homework, and known this would cause a problem which, once again, is taking the focus away from the people who are actually graduating. They put themselves in a position that they’re going to piss off a whole lot of people whether they give the degree, or don’t give it. Just a bungling all around.

3.  Then again, I don’t see how giving or not giving Hirsi Ali the degree is a horrible outrage because, once again, honorary degrees mean nothing.

4. Commencement speaker/honorary degree controversies were a yearly tradition when I was at Brandeis. Usually the problem was that the speaker the school chose wasn’t famous enough. “We pay $30,000 a year!,” I heard students say many times. “Why can’t we have a speaker as cool as the one my friends at Harvard got?” And yes, I know Brandeis now costs a whole lot more than $30,000; that talking point hasn’t been adjusted for inflation.

5.  I read Hirsi Ali’s book years ago, and my opinion of her is mixed. She went through a horrible ordeal in her youth- and her advocacy for women, and against female genital mutilation is greatly admirable.

6. But at the same time, she’s said a whole lot of awful things, including that the West is (or should be) at war with Islam. Take some of the things she’s said, change “Muslim” to “Jew,” and see how that sounds. It probably wouldn’t lead to very many honorary degrees, especially not from Brandeis. She’s also spent a great deal of time telling some of worst elements in American political life everything they want to hear, including this nonsense about “creeping sharia.” Loathsome, warmongering vermin like Bill Kristol, Pamela Geller and John Bolton are huge, huge fans.

7.  In her statement after the decision, Hirsi Ali said that Brandeis was “planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement” and that Brandeis and her critics “simply wanted me to be silenced.” Wrong and wrong. She was never scheduled to be the commencement speaker, and pulling an honorary degree from someone- especially when coupled with an invitation to speak at a later date- is in no way “silencing” them. Once again- criticism and rebuking are not censorship, and they’re not silencing either.

8. The actual commencement speaker is Geoffrey Canada, the school reform activist and charter school founder. What, no lefty backlash against a guy who’s done his share of battle against teacher’s unions? 

9. Brandeis has had a lot of incidents lately in which two of its biggest traditions- left-wing politics and Zionism- have clashed, and this is another. I’ve got a feeling there’s going to be a lot more of that in the future, and it saddens me.

10. Why can’t Brandeis ever make the news for anything positive? Just in the last few years we’ve had the post-Madoff scandal near-selloff of the art collection, the al-Quds controversy, Jehuda Reinharz’s donkey debacle, and now this.

Ann Coulter vs. Me

Big career highlight for me tonight: I’ve had my words twisted in a column by the original conservative Internet troll, Ann Coulter!

Writing in her syndicated column in response to various media reports that that whole Knockout Game thing may have been a tad overblown, the fading diva of the right has this to say about my Phillymag piece on the subject- you know,  the one from three weeks ago:

Similarly, in Philadelphia magazine, Stephen Silver said of two recent knockout attacks in Philadelphia that he wasn’t counting either one as “confirmed cases of the Knockout Game” on the grounds that the puncher said he “was not participating in the Game.”

Let’s go back  to the real column:

Philadelphia police sources told the Daily News in an article published Monday that there has been one — that’s right, one — confirmed case of the Knockout Game in the city among recent assaults, a Fox Chase man. (The suspect in the high-profile Broad Street Puncher case, according to a SEPTA spokeswoman quoted by this website last week, was not participating in the “Game.”)

The first part of the quote is attributed, by me, to Philadelphia police sources, speaking to the Daily News. The second part is attributed to a SEPTA spokeswoman. I didn’t count them as cases of the Knockout Game because the police didn’t either.

If Coulter doesn’t think the police are doing a good enough job of making sure everyone is scared of young black men, her argument should be with them, and not with the “liberal media” or the author (me) who quoted them.

I mean, it’s almost as if the woman who accused 9/11 widows of enjoying their husband’s deaths isn’t interested in fealty to the facts .

Some Recent Writings

I’ve been behind on blogging due to the holidays and general busy-ness, but here are some recent bylines of mine:

My last two Philly Post columns are both about the Eagles: Why the Eagles should sign Chris Kluwe (they didn’t) and why the fight over Donovan McNabb will never end (it should.)

A lot more on EntertainmentTell: a look at the mother on How I Met Your Mother, an update to the “Skyler is a Bitch” issue, some words about the finale of The Office, and something about that awful new “Princesses” show on Bravo. I also reviewed “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “The Hangover Part III” and “Hava Nagila: The Movie.”

I’m also proud to share my first piece for the Good Men Project, about why Roy Halalday didn’t need to apologize for pitching hurt.

Also, I’ll be appearing again on 1520 AM, WCHE, Wednesday at about 1:40 p.m., talking movies with my EntertainmentTell colleague Shawn Kotzen. The stream should work on that website.

And finally, here’s a video of my son Noah playing sports: