Author: Ben Greenman
Books that are written about an icon harbors expectations that often exceed reality; infusing an image of a giant with the curiosity and mystery of their journey to stardom. Readers want to get the details that would otherwise remain unknown. Several months ago I wrote a blog about one such icon, and upon completion, which is the case for many writers, I hated every word, punctuation, and idle attempt to be savvy and captivating. I didn’t further edit that blog, opting instead to let it stand as a reminder of where I was, mentally, at that time. In the late 1970’s I was a supersized ( in today’s measurement of girth, that youthful me would be considered ‘average-athletic’) version of most newly minted teenagers. We were a deeply impressionable bunch, wanting to emulate, even ape, our heroes, including, perhaps especially, those in music. So, after a long and sometimes painful journey through the catacombs of disco, elevator rock, and experimental fusion, an unknown enigma emerged and soared upon the airwaves and into our lives, nesting there, incomprehensible, for several decades. And it would be his precocious music that leveled rocky paths– uniting cultures– like disco. The world came to know him as one ironic and terrifically appropriate name: Prince.
Tiny, androgynous, mysterious, and enigmatic, Prince quickly elevated to superhero, and then suddenly he passed. His unexpected death led millions of people to the streets paying homage in song, dance, costumes, and chants. Purple covered the skies. Dig If You Will the Picture, by Ben Greenman, a biography, of sorts, about Prince categorizes in a way that often feels sanitized, the work and life of the artist. It was evident that Greenman had not interviewed Prince and more evident that through independently developed accounts and personal opinions this book was created. It cannot be questions that Greenman is a gifted scribe with tremendous interest in pop culture and icons, but this could be problematic as the book became, in parts, too academic which, although informative, lulled along. Greenman’s comparison of Prince songs to other works, from the literary to the philosophical, shows that he is encyclopedic perhaps beyond necessity. If Dig If You Will the Picture was placed alongside the many books existing and forthcoming (Prince: A Private View; Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions:1983-1984; The Most Beautiful, and several others), it would glow and equally fall short based on its lack of personalization. There were no, or very few, points of passion, humanizing of Price as a person, or surreal effect on his fan base.
Fortunately, there is one thing the Greenman provided in the writing of this book. He allowed those who may not be familiar with Prince (imagine that) an opportunity to know the depth of his genius. His emphasis on Prince as an instrumentalist and determined lyricist, or Prince’s refusal to compromise his sound, look, or passion, illuminates the artist. Fans of Prince should definitely read Dig If You Will the Picture. Many will enjoy its details (I actually did) but expect the unexpected. I wasn’t wowed; I wasn’t disappointed, but I was not prepared for some of the content or the almost scrivener’s style.
Greenman had me reminiscing about nearly forgotten songs, flipping through old disks, and listening to unfamiliar Prince tunes. Pleasantly, I was transported back to Prince’s earlier works and developed a new appreciation for his newer music. I was a college student at the height of many of Prince’s greatest hits, sitting in a friend’s dorm room with a half dozen other guys sipping on the cheapest truth serum we could find and vigorously debating about the symbolic meanings of and hidden messages behind When Dove’s Cry, I Would Die For You, or Darling Nikki, and the yet proven fact that his name, Prince Rogers Nelson, had 6 letters each (666). We’d watch his videos in silence, allowing the serum to work its magic and Prince to work wonders. The book awakened that. In many ways, I am still in that dorm room saying with conviction, Dig If You Will….