TMO Short Take: This Column Has Nothing To Do With Prince, Or With Macs

In [writing], my first desire has always been to interest the listener; if I donit interest him, he will soon stop being a listener. But I have never been eager that he should think as I think, but only that he should think. I hope that he will agree with me, but, if he does not, I shall be well content if he will examine his own beliefs in the light of what I say. The only kind of person who really "offends" me, to use Somerset Maughamis word, is the person with the shut mind who refuses even to think about what is said to him, the person who deliberately misunderstands, the person who substitutes parrot cries for thought, and, worst of all, the person who criticises a writer without ever having read a word of his books. I hope that I have always [written] in order to stimulate and to awaken, and never to indoctrinate and stifle.
from William Barclayis A Spiritual Autobiography
(ON AN AIR FLIGHT BETWEEN MIAMI AND MINNEAPOLIS) -- As a 30-something music lover, I have an on-again, off-again relationship with the Prince Formerly Known as the Artist. Iive written about my musician-listener relationship elsewhere on the "Mac Web." Right now, Iim listening to some selections from this Artistis newest album.

As a result, Iim once more standing between "off again" and "on again" today, because "The Rainbow Children" isnit what I expected, and probably isnit what I wanted.

Other than two James-Brown-funky songs -- "The Everlasting Now" and "The Work, Part 1" -- I really donit care too much for the blatant, born-again Jehovahis Witnessing in his lyrics. Iim sure there are other fans of his wondering also what the hell is going on with his latest musical direction. Nevertheless, in spite of the preachy lyrics, the music still attests to his, as one reviewer puts it, his "ingeniously bizarre song writing sensibility."

For the uninitiated, Prince is the diminutive wunderkind from Minneapolis who burst onto the music scene circa 1978 at age 17 and single-handedly defined a sound and showmanship second to none of his contemporaries. His claim to fame is that ever since Day One, this one-man band (he plays at least 27 instruments) has written, produced and performed damned-near every song on damned-near every one of his albums. Better than that, on nearly every song, he has played damned-near every instrument and has sung damned-near every vocal.

His other claim to fame is that he combined sexuality (thong underwear, high heels and liberal use of mascara) and salvation (heis written some of the most hauntingly beautiful Christian songs) -- wrapped in trend-setting fusions of funk, rock, blues, jazz, and rap -- plus any other music style that his Muse dictates him to incorporate. His singular vision and control-freakish influence midwifed the "Minneapolis sound" that dominated "cross-over" music during the 1980s, paving the way for Twin Cities golden-touch producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (they are responsible for hit songs and albums ascribed to Janet Jackson, Maria Carey, and a nigh-innumerable list of others).

By now, Iim sure that some TMO readers -- especially the more vocally critical and "playa hatini" members of my readership cult -- have stopped reading at this point, because so far, nothing I have said has anything to do with Macs, a common complaint I get about my writing.

This time, theyire right.

You see, Iim sitting here on the plane, iPod in hand, fuming over the fact that I feel cheated by Prince. I expected a certain type of music from him over the years, based on past albums. But now, he comes out with this spiritual mumbo jumbo. Some readers feel that way about me and my writing.

This is a "Mac" Web site. I typically write about Mac-related topics. Iim "supposed" to write about Mac-related topics. So, when I bring some tangential idea into a Mac Observer discussion, there is a minor hue and cry from those who feel cheated (how can someone feel cheated by a "free" offering continually amazes me).
Iim feeling similarly cheated today.

Prince failed me. I expected funky. I got funky, but there was some sermonizing in the mix. So I complain. At this point, I see that Prince and I share one common creative trait: Even though we have fans who regularly follow our work, our fan base has turned into a collective purist. They want us to draw only within the proverbial lines, to stay in the box, so to speak.

"Why in the hell do you use those quotes that have nothing to do with your subject matter?" "Why must you emphasize your blackness so much?"

My biggest complaint about Prince is that after his 1984 pinnacle of fame (Purple Rain), his music began to go into all of these weird -- in my mind -- experimental directions. For example, one album, "Around the World in a Day," took on a Middle Eastern air which worked quite well. Others, however, just did not move me. Each was an obvious exploratory move of a true artist. I respected it, but didnit get it.

I mean, up to 1984, every album was a solid collection of songs that had structure, theme, and logic to it. Some of those post-1984 had the same, but the content frustrated me. This man appeared to be writing songs that only he could listen to. What is up with those experiential, unconventional beats -- you expect me to dance to that?

I didnit understand the guy until I started this writing gig.

For the last few years, Iive been writing Mac-related columns -- again, the Mac-related part is arguable in many readersi minds. They feel that any deviation from things Macintosh, no matter how minor or trivial, breaks some inviolate, unwritten contract between writer and reader.

I beg to differ.

Todayis writer has a multi-faceted responsibility to the reader. By the way, there is stark difference between a writer and a reporter. I am a writer, while most people on the Mac Web are reporters. But I digress...

Now, where was I... Oh, yes. A writer and his responsibility. A writer -- not a reporter, mind you -- should entertain. A writer -- not a reporter -- should challenge. Hell, a writer should be the catalyst for an occasional bar fight -- or flame war, at least. What he should not be is predictable. A writeris job is to make the reader think, to make the reader question and look again at his beliefs, to make the reader re-examine his or her views from time to time. In order to do this, a writer should be willing to risk exposing his flaws, his warts, his humanity, which is part and parcel of (publicly) re-examining his beliefs. That is what I try to do. I risk falling on my face every time I write, but that is intentional. Iim not always a "safe" guy.

Let me go even further -- a reporter writes news stories which are just the facts, at least they are supposed to be. A writer writes opinions, columns and editorials, which are full of opinion, sprinkled with facts and interpretations of facts. I hope this clears up some of my more persistent flamers. Iim digressing again. Forgive me...

For me, being human and being humane in my writing is more important than getting readers to like and agree with me, which is the result of the safe, predictable fare offered elsewhere -- no offense intended to my fellow writers.

If I could dream a world, Iid dream a Mac Web site that grows beyond being merely a Mac Web site. How about a site, like Salon, where there is technology, but there is also art, commentary and other written observations of humanity.

One day, I hope that Mac Web sites will mature beyond the point where they are just "Mac" Web sites. Iid like to live in that world.

Sorry, for letting you down and not writing about anything Macintosh. I promise that the next column wonit be about Prince. But it may not be about the Mac, either.

Then again, maybe it will.

Rodney O. Lain is full of it. When heis not trying to justify writing about whatever flits across his feeble brain, Rodney writes his iBrotha column for The Mac Observer, as well as the occasional editorial. Rodney lives in Minnesota, where he is an IT supervisor for The Man at a Fortune 50 company.