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Emil Amok!

On Prince, the Global Filipino and his Filipino-ness

/ 08:26 PM April 25, 2016
Prince_at_Coachella

The late Prince at Coachella. WIKIPEDIA

As we wait for the memorial services, I still can’t get over the death of the global music star Prince.

It’s started my own rediscovery of him. Hard not to do with the flood of remembrances that have come in recent days. But it’s only an annoyance if you aren’t a Prince fan.

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And who isn’t?

Still, how many times have people remembered Prince was part Filipino?

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When Carver County (Minnesota) Sheriff Jim Olson spoke Friday before the media about Prince’s autopsy, Olson revealed he was the same age as the deceased star.

He looked at least 20 years older than Prince. He could have used some Filipino blood himself.

The autopsy will reveal many things once all tests were done.

But there shouldn’t be any question about what I like to call the Filipino-ness of Prince.

When I called my good friend, the University of Maryland-Baltimore professor, Theo Gonzalves, an American Studies scholar and a specialist in Filipino American artists and performers, he was, of course, despondent about the loss of Prince.

Then he sent me a story by journalist Chris Salewicz who extensively interviewed the star for England’s New Musical Express that was published in The Guardian in 1981.

In the article, Prince talked about being the third youngest in a family of four brothers and sisters. “There was a lot of illegitimacy–different fathers, different mothers.”

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And then the article continues with this passage:

“Prince’s father, who obviously christened him as he did because he knew he’d need to learn how to fight, was an Italian-Filipino leader of a mid-west pro jazz band. He left his son’s black mother when the boy was eleven.

“That’s when I first started playing music,” Prince says. “He left the piano behind when he left us behind. I wasn’t allowed to touch it when he still lived with us.”

His father was John Lewis Nelson, from Louisiana originally, who went by a stage name that branded his band, Prince Rogers Trio.

But the Filipino part was there. How much? Less than half. An eighth? A sixteenth?

Enough for a syncopated note and some funky DNA.

Enough to have that unmistakable sense of je ne sais pinoy—but that thing that only a Filipino knows.

We can always tell.

It may not be enough to qualify him to vote in the upcoming Filipino election.

But there’s no doubt.

By his blood and by his beat, Prince was a global Filipino

I first discovered Prince in the late ‘70s with his initial big hit, “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” And because all his songs were about sex and lust, it was perfect for the era just before AIDS and STDs, SnapChat and Tinder.

Safe sex? That was something you did naked in a vault.

What I missed about Prince was the God part.

If I wasn’t so taken by the beat, and actually listened to the words, I would have gotten a sense of his god-ness in his third album, 1981’s “Controversy.”

Mind you this was three years before the full-blown unleashing of the pop hurricane known as “Purple Rain.”

But just in “Controversy”’s title track you get the full sense of the sublime yet to come.

It was the full package of sex, lust, gender, race.

“Am I black or white?” Prince sings at the start.

I guess he couldn’t rhyme with Filipino.

But then there’s the God part, including in the original, the full “Lord’s Prayer.”

Maybe that’s the Filipino part?

When it comes to rock and pop, I’ve always discounted the lyrics especially for Prince.

What makes Prince so unmistakably Prince is that beat and rhythm. That’s the pulse of the Prince experience. The words may as well be Webster’s. But when it’s comes all together, you get the taste of his pop genius that makes him the funk Mozart of our time.

As you mourn, when you get tired of listening to “Purple Rain,” play the original “Controversy,” to get a sense of the joy. It even comes with a prayer.

And keep in mind the Filipino parts.

“Controversy”

I just can’t believe all the things people say
Controversy
Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?
Controversy
Do I believe in god, do I believe in me?
Controversy
Controversy
Controversy
I can’t understand human curiosity
Controversy
Was it good for you, was I what you wanted me to be?
Controversy
Do you get high, does your daddy cry?
Controversy
Controversy
Controversy

Do I believe in god, do I believe in me?
Some people want to die so they can be free
I said life is just a game, we’re all just the same, do you want to play?
Yeah, oh yeah
Controversy
Controversy
Controversy
Controversy
Controversy
Controversy

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever
Controversy
Controversy
Controversy
Controversy
Love him, love him baby
Controversy
Controversy
Controversy
Oh yeah, yeah, controversy
Controversy, oh yeah
Controversy

Listen
People call me rude, I wish we all were nude
I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules
People call me rude, I wish we all were nude
I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules
People call me rude, I wish we all were nude
I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules
People call me rude, I wish we all were nude
I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules
Ah, yee hoo
He he, yeah, controversy
Oh yeah, controversy

Do I believe in god, do I believe in me?
Let me tell ya
Some people want to die so they can be free
I said life is just a game, we’re all just the same
Don’t ya want to play?
Ooh, ooh
Ooh, controversy
Ooh, ooh
Ooh, controversy
Ooh, ooh
Ooh, controversy
Ooh ooh
Controversy

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator. Follow at http://www.twitter.com/emilamok, http://www.amok.com

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TAGS: Chris Salewicz, controversy, John Lewis Nelson, Prince, Prince as Filipino, Prince Rogers Nelson, Prince Rogers Trio, Purple Rain, Sheriff Jim Olson, The Lord’s Prayer
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