“Prince” giclee print by Dean Russo.
Three heads bob in a swimming pool. One wears goggles, another is trying to avoid getting her hair wet and the third has floppy ears and a black nose. It’s 106 degrees at 7pm in Arizona. The water temperature hovers somewhere between “bath tub” and “hot tub.” Can someone please plop a giant ice cube in here? Our 15-year-old son and I make like the dog and paddle in circles. Pausing to look to the evening sky, he mentions that he’d stayed up until 1:30am, contemplating how this thing called life got started. And, because some of us Tieberts inherited that pesky deep-thinking gene, he’d also contemplated how it might end.
“There are two ways this can go,” he theorized. “One, we shift course and fix climate change, so we can keep living on Earth. Or option two: We find a different planet, somewhere else in the galaxy.”
Our son isn’t the only one dreaming of rocketing away from Planet Earth’s myriad manmade issues. On July 30, the Prince Estate released “Welcome 2 America” (W2A), an album recorded in large part during nine days in March 2010. The album has Prince calling out the looming disaster of climate change, the addictive properties of technology and our unwillingness to make any headway on righting the racial inequality that’s a literal cancer eating away at this country. Patience, once considered virtuous, hasn’t helped: Change takes forever.
The Prince Estate launched its promotional push for W2A by first releasing the title track, “Welcome 2 America,” in April, followed by “Born 2 Die” and “Hot Summer” in succession. It’s a heavy series of songs. Even “Hot Summer” — a song that sounds almost vapid on the surface – has ominous overtones. Sure, it’s a summertime tune, but it bears no relation to 1991’s “Gangster Glam” and its accompanying video with Prince and the New Power Generation frolicking in Minneapolis’ brief but beautiful summertime. Fast forward to 2010, and summer is a season so hot that it evokes fear. From where we sit eleven years after the recording of W2A, it’s hard to do anything except nod along to Prince’s assessment of the abysmal state of our union.
When the album was released on July 30, fans were able to digest the singles in the context of a larger story line. Prince sells hope as well as any musician on the planet, and despite the bleak state of affairs, he can’t leave us alone in a world so cold (or hot). “…Stand Up and B Strong,” “Yes” and “One Day We Will All B Free” are as encouraging as anything Prince has ever recorded, and “When She Comes,” well, that’s one sensual song that has Prince Prince-ing at the highest levels of Princeness.
Of all the songs, it was track four, “1000 Light Years from Here” that had me crying like a baby. Prince sings of escaping America for anywhere but here — including underwater, which he asserts wouldn’t be hard “when you’ve never been a part of the country on dry land.” Maybe I wept because I was imagining that 1000 light years from here is where Prince wound up six years after recording this song. Or maybe it’s the realization that the most cutting critique of America’s social ills is an ardent wish to get the hell out of Dodge, even if it means making like a fish and living under the sea. This country’s ills are enough to make you want to slip into a state of suspended animation for, say, 45 years.