The rest is history, and ostensibly the subject of Touré’s I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon. Nobody deserves an in-depth critical study more, and the author of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? ought to be the perfect man for the job. But somewhere along the way this book developed a bad case of buried lede syndrome: “Imagine America as one house on a suburban lane…. Prince…came to the door holding a guitar and an umbrella while concealing a Bible…. And, when America’s guard was down, because we thought we were having a conversation about sex, Prince eased out his Bible and said, let me also tell you about my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”
This would be an interesting foundation to build on, but that isn’t Touré’s style. Those are his closing lines, and they feel almost tacked on. But if you’re going to claim that Prince “eventually unveiled himself as the most important religious artist ever,” don’t wait until Page 149 of a 150-page text to float that notion. You’d better develop it, argue it in some sustained length, give it real context and heft. The “Messiah” question — is Prince testifying for Jesus or trying his cross on for size? — doesn’t arise until two-thirds of the way in: as if all the funky role playing is easier to deal with when it’s about sex rather than religion, because somehow his fusion of orthodoxy and apostasy is just too kinky….
Let us instead suppose that unto Little Richard and Jayne Mansfield, of The Girl Can’t Help It, a mystic love child is born. He grows up to be a prophet, draped in purple and gold. The Holy Ghost courses through him like electricity, and so too a pure pagan sexuality; with his voice and guitar, he reconciles these alternating currents within the same righteous and brazen divinity. “Meet me in another world,” he says. But first baptize thy flesh in the communion of love and the fire of eternal light. Let us find a “new position.” “Let’s go crazy.”