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Dig If You Will the Picture
Ben Greenman
African American Interest
Arts Entertainment
Biography Autobiography Memoir
Ben Greenman, New York Times bestselling author, contributing writer to the New Yorker, and owner of thousands of recordings of Prince and Prince-related songs,...
Tantor Media, Inc
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Windows Media Audio




Ben Greenman, New York Times bestselling author, contributing writer to the New Yorker, and owner of thousands of recordings of Prince and Prince-related songs, knows intimately that there has never been a rock star as vibrant, mercurial, willfully contrary, experimental, or prolific as Prince. Uniting a diverse audience while remaining singularly himself, Prince was a tireless artist, a musical virtuoso and chameleon, and a pop-culture prophet who shattered traditional ideas of race and gender, rewrote the rules of identity, and redefined the role of sex in pop music.A polymath in his own right who collaborated with George Clinton and Questlove on their celebrated memoirs, Greenman has been listening to and writing about Prince since the mid-eighties. Here, with the passion of an obsessive fan and the skills of a critic, journalist, and novelist, he mines his encyclopedic knowledge of Prince's music to tell both his story and the story of the paradigm-shifting ideas that he communicated to his millions of fans around the world.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Part fan's notes and part cultural criticism, music journalist Greenman's absorbing and entertaining study of Prince and his music compellingly underscores the Purple One's enduring contributions to pop music. After he buys his first Prince album-1999-in 1982, Greenman becomes obsessed with the music, waiting anxiously at the local record store for every new album and discovering that Prince is, among other things, a "jazz-age sweetie, spiritual pilgrim, sexual puppeteer." Greenman chronicles Prince's life from his childhood up through the earliest moments of his career, but and he peers into the sources of Prince's inspiration as well as the many themes that appear constantly in his music, such as sex, virtue and sin, and race and politics. Greenman also considers the reasons that Prince changed his name in 1993-in part as a ploy to retrieve his masters from Warner Brothers-and his frustration with the Internet as a method for delivering his music. Prince's genius is on full display here as Greenman remarks on his prolific music virtuosity, putting out an album once a year, and his obsessive dedication to saving every little scrap of his writing and recording to use again. Greenman's brilliant book celebrates a musician who crammed substance into every corner of his music. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A satisfying portrait, warts included, of the Purple One, one-time heir to the thrones of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix alike.Readers approaching a biography of Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016) are likely to take as a given that the subject was one of the great musical geniuses of history. If they are not, then New Yorker contributor Greenmanthe as-told-to author of Questlove's well-received memoir Mo' Meta Blues (2013), among other nonfiction and fictionis prepared to recite the artist's bona fides: from his breakthrough album of 1980, "Dirty Mind," to the 1989 soundtrack to Batman, Prince "rarely if ever put a foot wrong," and from "1999" to "Sign O' the Times," a period including the definitive "Purple Rain," he was "perfect, the equivalent of Bob Dylan from 1965 to 1969, the Rolling Stones from 1968 to 1972, Talking Heads from 1980 to 1985, or Public Enemy from 1988 to 1991." Big shoes, all those, for the diminutive, sometimes-litigious, and decidedly eccentric artist to fill, but Greenman makes his case at leisureand convincingly. Moreover, he notes, Prince remained an experimenter throughout, one of the great masters of the recording studio who had an archivist's talent for tucking away even the tiniest of musical scraps, for which reason we're likely to have Prince albums well into the future. Sometimes Greenman's enthusiasm melts into diffusiveness, as when he invokes the psychological theory of flow to discuss Prince's creative processes; sometimes it gets a little silly, as when, writing of Prince's household staff, he notes, "a pixie did his laundry and the universe, his will." Still, the author avoids most of the worst clichs of music writing, and it's clear that he knows and appreciates music at large as well as his immediate topic. Likely not the definitive book on Prince, but certainly one that merits attention by fans and students of pop culture alike. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

From his earliest appearances in the Minneapolis club scene dressed in bikini briefs and knee-high boots to opening for the Rolling Stones, on through massive success with Purple Rain (1984) and the superstardom that followed, the artist known as Prince was famous for virtuoso guitar-shredding and falsetto vocals, James Brown dance moves, flamboyant attire, and racy lyrics. Though sensual, singular, and idiosyncratic, Prince didn't come out of a vacuum: he incorporated the influences of Brown, George Clinton, Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and others, borrowing their best qualities and synthesizing them into something truly original. As much a fan boy as an authority, rock journalist Greenman (I Am Brian Wilson, 2016) investigates Prince's development as an artist, his career trajectory, his massive creative output, and his numerous side projects. He sifts through Prince minutiae in an almost savant-like way, parses the lyrics for meaning, decodes the Princified spellings, revealing a mastery of Prince's catalog, including B-sides, bootlegs, concert and television appearances, and unreleased items buried in the vault at Paisley Park. One doesn't have to be a Princeophile to enjoy this celebration of the artist, but it helps.--Segedin, Ben Copyright 2017 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

A fans appreciation takes the musical measure of Prince, the man and symbol. IT'S hard to think of another subject who would require the caveat that Ben Greenman issues early on in his new book, "Dig if You Will the Picture : Funk, Sex, God, and Genius in the Music of Prince." We must remember, Greenman writes, that Prince "arrived on the earth via normal channels rather than descending into our realm from the empyrean plane." If he insists. But for fans of the musician, his death at 57 in 2016 felt, even more than other departures, like a jarring disruption in the workings of the universe. How could all of that energy and brilliance and eccentricity exist one moment and not the next? Where did it go? "Dig if You Will the Picture" isn't a biography. It isn't an annotated discography. It isn't a memoir of fandom. It's a bit of all these things. To this collage-like task, Greenman, a former editor at The New Yorker and the author of several previous books, brings both broad and specific bona fides. Broadly, he's often written about music, and collaborated on books with Questlove, George Clinton and Brian Wilson. Specifically, he's a Prince obsessive. He recounts buying the lascivious early records when he was just a kid in Miami. When "The Black Album" was being famously not released in 1987, Greenman, then a college student at Yale, traveled to New York and paid $100 for a poorly made samizdat copy. Most important, he's clearly listened to every track, from the classics to the swollen output of the aughts, which is more than one might fairly ask even of Prince's biggest fans. Greenman writes in an introduction that his book is not just an "investigation" and "celebration," but "a frustration as well." He means the frustration of trying to capture the experience of Prince's music in words. But it's also difficult to piece together the details of his life. Prince left home when he was a teenager to live with a friend's family, but the events and tenor of his early years mostly elude capture. Since his death, more about his adult life has become known, though often through anecdotes so quirky that they sound like urban legends. What we do know for sure is that Prince was "gifted, restless, virtuosic, relentless, airborne," as Greenman puts it, but that he could also be "dropsical," "fussy" and "incoherent." There was, first and foremost, the "recurring self-indulgence" ("not an uncommon problem among geniuses") and lax quality control as time went on. Greenman looks at those flaws with clear eyes, but he's such an admirer that he can be touchingly over-praiseful as well, particularly when it comes to lyrics. He can make all the comparisons to William Blake he wants (and he does), but many of the lyrics he approvingly quotes just don't scan. Is "I've got to have your face / all up in the place" really a "marvelously compressed" couplet? And if "When two are in love, the falling leaves appear to them like slow-motion rain" is "some of his loveliest natural imagery," then maybe natural imagery wasn't his strongest suit. Competing for the title of his strongest suit - a ridiculously long list of candidates included guitar playing, singing, dancing, arranging and wearing ruffles - was sex. Even in the wolfish world of popular music, no one had written about the subject "with as much enthusiasm and imagination" as Prince did. "He seems to have been straight," Greenman writes. Yes, the way Usain Bolt seems to be fast. Robert Christgau ended a brief review of "Dirty Mind" in 1980 like this: "Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home." prince the raunchy sylph eventually became a Jehovah's Witness who would bowdlerize his more explicit material in concert. The effect was hardly virginal; now he just seemed like a raunchy sylph winking about it. Even early on, though, he expressed a kind of worship of, if not chasteness, then at least a not-just-bedroom variety of commitment. ("I never wanted to be your weekend lover," he sings in "Purple Rain." "I only wanted to be some kind of friend.") He sold "sex without menace," Greenman writes, and even his debauched early songs were "innocently filthy, all tugged-at zippers and hastily rearranged sweaters. They could have come from some alternate-universe production of 'Grease.' " Greenman, on Twitter and elsewhere, can be very funny. He can also be punny. His penchant for wordplay sometimes gets the best of him in this book. ("The album was alive on arrival," he writes of Prince's self-titled 1979 release.) But he's focused and convincing where it counts, on the music, as when he writes of "When Doves Cry": "The horizon line of the song wasn't straight, and psychological tension was everywhere. There was a kind of astringency in the vocals, a choked-up or choked-off quality; it was a song that said plenty but was still mostly filled with what could not be said." Prince made a dizzying number of aesthetic decisions that the less flighty among his fans would have found unforgivably cheesy in anyone else. Perfectly typical was the list of images he sent to guide the cover-art designer for the album "Around the World in a Day." They included "a tearful old woman, a clown juggling the earth, and a ladder ascending to heaven." When he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol for a time, newspapers were at a loss to reproduce it in print. So Prince mailed out hundreds of floppy disks containing the symbol in "multiple resolutions and variations." During his contractual struggles with Warner Brothers, he wrote the word "slave" on his face. The reason he could remain so respected and beloved despite all his goofiness and more serious distractions is a pure tautology: because he was Prince. The stingy Prince that Greenman recounts in a chapter titled "Call the Law" - the stern copyright enforcer who targeted YouTtibe clips and other unauthorized uses of his work, to "no real effect other than to alienate fans" - was difficult to square with the performer who gave of himself so generously in concert and could even be self-deprecatingly funny. (In the 2010 song "Laydown," the diminutive star referred to himself as "the purple Yoda.") Perhaps his attempts to control the internet were a way of overcompensating for having felt powerless against Warner Brothers. Greenman's book is not a straight path, but it doesn't aspire to be. It mostly succeeds on its own terms, as an overview of the talent, the excesses, the adoration. But with the loss of Prince still fresh, the compelling question lingers as to whether he can be written about in a way that's fully and traditionally satisfying; whether anyone - 20, 30 or 40 years from now - will be able to look back and write a life of him that some review might call "magisterial." Certainly he's worthy of one. But the mystery of him - the prodigious one given to him seemingly at birth, and the coy one manufactured by him - might be too profound a barrier. For now we have discerning, still-grieving fans like Greenman, shining light where they can. ? JOHN williams is the daily books editor and a staff writer at The Times.

Library Journal Review

Many authors have tried to assemble the puzzle that is the life and death of Prince; novelist and frequent music-bio cowriter (Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove; I Am Brian Wilson) Greenman has assembled a complete if slightly blurred image. This book is a thorough analysis of the music of Prince/The Symbol and readers (from the casual to the ardent fan) will view the music/performances through the lens of increased insight after reading. Although the biographical information is scant, it is effective in its brevity and foreshadows the making of the megastar whose star burns just as brilliantly after his 2016 death at age 57. Greenman cleverly dispenses slivers of Prince's personal life to whet the appetites of those hungry for biographic information while leading readers to draw their own conclusions about its influence on his music. A fitting homage to the legacy of an artist whose body of work and persona remain a study in contrasts (overt sexuality/social commentary and masculinity draped in lace and heels) that continues to question the "who" and "why" of the man, the mystery and his music. Verdict Greenman's writing is both personal and profound from the equal perspectives of fan and scholar. An excellent addition to the Prince compendium.-Tamela Chambers, Chicago Pub. Schs. © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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