No. 63 / December 1988:
DRAGGIN' THE LINE.... It was just before intermission at Prince's November 6 show at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The band was moving through "Anna Stesia" when Prince stepped to the mike and began preaching forcefully, describing his need to finish the show on a different plane than the sexually-charged first half.
"You know, God isn't going to come down out of the sky and make things right for you You've got to get things ready for Him. You've got to make things right so God will want to come out and play....Now, put your hand over your heart. Look inside yourself. God is in there."
Softly playing a guitar figure of almost unbearable beauty, Prince paused, then said: "Take your hand away. Let him out." Then, almost whispering, "Cross the line, Los Angeles, cross the line."
Prince's lyrics don't give a very clear picture of his conception of God, but the Lovesexy stage show gives definite clues about what he thinks might bring the Almighty out to play. A thoroughly mixed nine- piece band of blacks, whites, and Latins plays to an audience of similar composition that's out of its seats dancing most of the time. The presentation is democratic: due to the theatre-in-the-round staging, by the end of the evening you've seen almost as much of the horn players or singer/dancer Cat as you have of the star. Prince has constructed a show that projects America as its best. Operating in a country of unlimited wealth, he sees no limits and asks his listeners to join him in defining the whole thing as God.
But something stands in the way of allowing the world Prince created at the Sports Arena to take root on the streets of America. It isn't the refusal of people to accept a definition of God, but an all-too-ready acceptance of a bogus definition of the devil. In Los Angeles, the devil is "gangs," a word made so powerful by the media that it blocks all serious discussion of how to use California's wealth to eliminate its poverty. In New York, the devil is "rap," as scattered incidents of violence at rap shows receive the kind of attention normally reserved for the outbreak of war. Many New York area theatres have refused to show the Run-DMC movie Tougher Than Leather and some major venues have threatened to stop booking rap shows. "Gangs" and "rap" are only thinly-veiled code for "black crime," which, as we saw during the recent Presidential election, is rapidly becoming the only item on our social agenda.
Nelson George pointed out in a recent Billboard column that "The real issues behind social unrest in our cities (crack, unemployment, poor education) are disappearing in the rhetorical haze of headline writers." Backing his words with deeds, George, other industry pros, and a group of rappers (including KRS-One, Kool Moe Dee, Public Enemy) have started the Stop the Violence (STV) Movement.
STV will issue a 12 inch record with accompanying booklet designed to "stimulate discussion of teenage criminality and its causes" and to show that rap music is a useful tool for teaching reading and writing. The money raised will go to fund programs dealing with illiteracy and other problems in the inner city.
As George noted, "STV doesn't have any illusions about the impact of one record. It won't change the world." But strong support for STV from radio, retail, educators, and fans can help set the stage for forcing a change in our national definition of the devil. That's the necessary first step in moving toward a world much more like the one Prince created on stage. Let's see if God wants to come out and play.--Lee Ballinger
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