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I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon

by Chris Sosa
Contributor
Tuesday Mar 19, 2013
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Prince is perhaps the most enigmatic figure in the landscape of popular culture. From his early days as an eccentric underground R&B sensation to eventual worldwide status as a rock icon, the Purple One marked his career with a weirdness that was cathartic and accessible.

Cultural critic Touré attempts to dig beneath the facade in "I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon." The book is not a biography by any means, rather a textual criticism of Prince’s work. As a thesis, it’s a compelling and controversial one. Many critics have attempted to articulate the sexual and religious meaning of Prince’s music. But arguably none have done so with this much assurance.

The confidence would seem deserved if the author paid more attention to the subject and less to his own musings on culture at large. While Touré’s analysis of baby boomers is interesting, people are not picking up a book about Prince to be given an undergraduate crash course on a subject never convincingly tied to the book’s subject.

Perhaps the indulgence would be forgivable if the content were airtight. But it isn’t. While Touré attempts to make strong points about chronology and order, he undercuts himself with elementary mistakes. The most glaring inaccuracy comes when he claims "Uptown" answers a question posed by "Controversy" earlier in the album. The problem: These songs are not on the same album.

Touré does best when reporting, as his prose has an engaging flair. The narrative about his own experience with Prince is insightful and by far the most compelling element of this book. That his account contains such consistency with other personal accounts of Prince helps to build a stronger composite of his character. This insight is also valuable because Touré is letting us in on an experience only he had.

When it comes down to the facts, "I Would Die 4 U" often lets other Prince literature do too much footwork. Alex Hahn’s stellar "Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince" is quoted the most often, and for good reason. Hahn displayed all the patience and restraint Touré seems too self-assured to have exercised.

That Hahn’s work is quoted so often highlights another issue: Prince’s reported homophobia isn’t addressed even once in Touré’s work, even though he talks at extreme length on sexuality. The omission is incredibly glaring and seems dishonest, since Hahn described it thoroughly. That Touré would also be unaware of the multiple reports from varied sources on the subject just isn’t possible.

Despite the many flaws, Touré presents a compelling thesis in the end. It’s a conclusion so controversial, many fans will be angered. But a thorough examination of Prince’s catalog could be seen to validate his claims on what Prince is trying to say in his music and artistry. Unfortunately, Touré doesn’t do enough work on his own to make the claims more than interesting musings.

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