Prince, Black History Month and The Spoken Word

by Lee Christian

Prince, Black History Month and The Spoken Word by Lee Christian

I have been a Prince fan since I was 8 and first heard Let’s Go Crazy, with its ear grabbing pyrotechnic guitar ending. Since then, I’ve learned from him, copied him and even just ended up doing the same things as him by osmosis or naturally. His work ethic, energy and diversity are three touchstones of my own ‘career’ and I have many strange ethereal intangible links to prince and ‘signs’ attached to many of my fondest moments in music so far that it’s almost as if he’s been a musical guardian angel since his passing in 2016 – an event that hit me so bad that I bought a streaming package, set up a little shrine on screen and DJ’d for 3 days straight, so fans had a place to hang, and I had some way of expressing my own sense of loss and gratitude for him voluminous output and inspiring presence in my own life. My phone went off non-stop that first day, I was associated with him so much by my circle of friends, they were checking that I was ok!

Listen to the track while reading the text.

Nearly ten years ago now, I read a book called The Lyrics of Prince by C. Liegh McInnis that my partner had bought me at great expense, as it was from an indie publisher and came from America, and was simultaneously blown away & addicted to it for weeks. There’s only a few books about a single artist or band that I have read by that point, despite a voracious appetite for rock biographies, that I ever felt gave proper context and history to the artist and their creations (Everybody Dance – Chic And The Politics Of Disco by Daryl Easlea and Perry Farrell -The Saga Of A Hypester by Dave Thompson spring to mind). Imagine how blown away I was by a book that not only dove really deep into every Prince lyric but also provided a huge historical context of the many meanings and symbolism (something we all know ‘The Artist formerly known as’ to have been very into) behind every lyric plus personal context of both Prince and the Author too. I would happily sit for hours in a field nearby my flat, listening through the albums I felt I knew like the back of my hand, learning and seeing/hearing things in a whole new light. Making a particularly big impression was the arc of The Black Album through Lovesexy, Batman and Graffiti Bridge, all about Prince’s battle for his own soul and the tug of war between good & evil, God & The Devil, Camille & Spooky electric, Batman & the Joker and The Kid & Morris Day… suffice to say it’s great rare book that I highly recommend.

I did recommend it too… when the first lockdown of 2020 happened, I lost my job and immediately poured my time and effort into creating a magazine style YouTube show Covideo Breakdown – essentially a morning show with a huge variety of things one could do during the lockdown for health & entertainment during the surreal pandemic onset. I had one episode that fell around Prince’s birthday, I reviewed the book and sent it to the author so he knew it was out there and still being talked about/loved. C. Liegh was far more thankful and gracious than I expected anyone to be, and before long I was emailing either in reply to something in one of his newsletters or to ask him to mention in it something released on my newly revived indie label Quickfix Recordings, which he supportively did many times.

Long had he told me of his wariness toward spoken word put to music – the blend of the two never quite to his taste. In fact, he once was talking with Prince himself about the aforementioned book when Prince asked him if he ever wanted to put his words to music to which C. Liegh replied with a distinct lack of interest and enthusiasm for that situation, only realizing later that he might have just turned down a collaboration with his hero, the man himself! However, when I heard McInnis perform his poem ‘Black Man’ (originally published in The Black Book of Linguistic Liberation via Psychedelic Literature Publishing) for the Docks Monthly Poetry Reading (based in San Francisco) in October 2021 – I immediately knew I needed to put it to music. I have long been a fan of the form, working with John Peel favorites Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia… and doing spoken word charity releases Refuge For Homeless Prose Vol 1 and Vol 2 with Richard Ramage & Ben Conway respectively.

I also saw the poem as being inspirational and educational in the same way as when I first heard ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ by Gil Scott Heron or ‘Coded Language’ and other early Saul Williams works, so went about trying to make a piece of music that would not only continue that conversation but also please C. Liegh enough to allow/release it. To my surprise and joy, he did like it and agreed to shelve it and let me release it on a planned future album of mine. Except for the fact that an album cycle is long and since my new album Pandemoria’s Box (a blog/story for another day) was due out soon and realistically going to be promoted for most of 2023, it might not see the light of day until a year or more later. Then suddenly it dawned on me that this track was perfect for Black History Month USA – not a minute too soon, as we had just entered February. So I prioritized mixing it in whatever spare time I had and sent the mixes – to get some feedback – to my friends and fellow Quickfix alumni Ben VanBuskirk from Blackout Orchestra and Kellindo Parker – himself having a Prince connection not just in having guested with prince and supported him with Janelle Monae, but also with his uncle being sax legend Maceo, who worked with Prince a lot, including a few nights I saw him on his 21 nights at the O2 in London and the aftershows at the Indigo club in 2007.

A bit of artwork and a lot of concerted effort later and ‘Black Man’ by C. Liegh McInnis ft. Lee Christian has been available since new music Friday 17th February via Quickfix Recordings on Bandcamp to download, with all monies going to the author’s charity of choice, Jackson State University’s Creative Writing Fund and to stream on SoundCloud. It will eventually stream, but we wanted it to first have a chance to earn some money for its good cause before it’s effectively free to hear everywhere. To say that I’m pleased is an understatement, and to know that I completed work Prince never got to is even more satisfying. I have him to thank for the hook-up after all! <+)o


Quickfix Recordings
C. Liegh McInnis, Psychedelic Literature Inc

Artist’s Note
Bath, UK
Alternative, Electronic, Experimental, Spoken Word
Prince, Black History Month, C. Liegh McInnis

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