Like many fans, I remember exactly where I was when I found out Prince had died. I was near the end of a lunch meeting when my phone started moving as if it were possessed by a Bedroom Kandi product. The same thing happened to the person I was meeting with. Given how both our lives can be quickly seized by the news cycle, we just assumed that Beyoncé’s new album had finally been released, only to discover that one of music’s greatest contributors had suddenly passed.
To anyone who works in media, the requests for writers to opine on his life, his music and what each meant that immediately poured in will read as unsurprising. I did write about Prince, but even with that assignment and the others I later turned down, I was adamant about one thing: I would not be diving into certain aspects of Prince’s life, like his reported views on gay marriage.
As a fan, I simply wanted to mourn the impact his music and image had had on me rather than contemplate his politics—the latter of which require a dose of BC powder if you are of a much-more-progressive mind. Nevertheless, the curiosity about the shift is understandable.
In her now infamous 2008 New Yorker piece, “Soup With Prince,” Claire Hoffman recalled the following conversation she had with the musician about interpretations of dogma, writing:
Recently, Prince hosted an executive who works for Philip Anschutz, the Christian businessman whose company owns the Staples Center. “We started talking red and blue,” Prince said. “People with money—money like that—are not affected by the stock market, and they’re not freaking out over anything. They’re just watching. So here’s how it is: You’ve got the Republicans, and basically they want to live according to this.” He pointed to a Bible. “But there’s the problem of interpretation, and you’ve got some churches, some people, basically doing things and saying it comes from here, but it doesn’t. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum you’ve got blue, you’ve got the Democrats, and they’re like, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ Gay marriage, whatever. But neither of them is right.”
When asked about his perspective on social issues—gay marriage, abortion—Prince tapped his Bible and said, “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was like, ‘Enough.’”
An “insider” from Prince’s camp reached out to Perez Hilton (no, I don’t get why either) and claimed that the singer was “very angry” about the depiction, going on to explain:
What His Purpleness actually did was gesture to the Bible and said he follows what it teaches, referring mainly to the parts about loving everyone and refraining from judgment. We’re very angry he was misquoted.
This indirect rebuttal didn’t matter. By then, everyone had long known that Prince had returned to the religion he was raised in and, as a result, became staunchly more conservative. And so, when I was approached, most assumed that I, the gay man and heathen, must have felt something. Eh.
Others certainly did, though, and were sure to address the subject in articles with headlines like “Prince’s Alleged Anti-Gay Stance Is Baffling, for Good Reason” and “Raunchy Prince Was Actually a Conservative Christian Who Reportedly Opposed Gay Marriage.” There were others, such as “Loving Prince, Regardless of His Take on Marriage,” which is where I aligned then and now.
In 2009, Prince spoke with Tavis Smiley and cited his religion to explain why he didn’t vote for Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president:
The reason why is that I’m one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And we’ve never voted. That’s not to say I don’t think … President Obama is a very smart individual, and he seems like he means well. Prophecy is what we all have to go by now.
In 2001, when asked about his faith—notably this idea that he converted—Prince said, “I don’t see it really as a conversion. More, you know, it’s a realization. It’s like Morpheus and Neo in The Matrix.”
As a recovering Catholic, I’m well aware that it’s often easier said than done to break away from the beliefs you are conditioned to accept as ultimate truth. Religion often serves as a refuge—especially if it’s a faith you’re already quite familiar with. Perhaps for Prince, returning to his religion brought him at least some nominal-level greater sense of peace.
Considering the substance abuse that led to Prince’s untimely demise, it is clear that something troubled him. While publications continue to report new details about his addiction and how he covered it, ultimately, my biggest takeaway is that Prince was a man in pain who turned to whatever he could to deal with it. Obviously, that came in the form of opiates, but that might’ve been religion, too.
Yes, his switch from “Darling Nikki” to “I don’t know Nikki, but let me tell you this about Jehovah” is a bit befuddling, but how much does that matter in the overall look at his life? The same goes for this old interview.
There are many people in my life who do not “approve” of my sexuality, but unless they’re directly contributing to the detriment of those like me, be it by votes or monetary support to causes that actively engage in prejudice, they can sit on the stoop of biblical literalism all they want. I don’t think that necessarily makes them bigoted—which Prince was quickly labeled by a few—but small-minded on select issues outside their precious bubbles.
I love my mom, but she and I don’t align on how the Lord sees my libido. Likewise, I love me some Prince, and if he didn’t want me playing “Wonderful Ass” at my wedding reception dedicated to my future first husband, oh, damn, well. I thank them both for what they have done for me and keep it moving.
That said, all we have is one disputed interview from Prince that spoke to his thoughts at the time about marriage equality—a subject he never spoke on again, thus leaving us no real clue as to how he felt about it later on or what he really thought of gay people in general.
Still, regardless of what sparked the social conservatism in his life, as an artist, once you release something to the world, it’s out of your hands. Nothing Prince said in the latter years of his life takes away from what his music, artistry and imagery meant to me as a black man, as a gay man and as someone who deeply loves music. All that change speaks to is that people can be complicated and, unfortunately, not always as willing to see others in their totality the way they expect to be seen.
I have made the choice to give those like Prince more credit than they often give my kind. To do so gives him the respect he deserves while allowing me to appreciate his life and how it bettered mine. Won’t he do it?