Bloomsbury Popular Music-I’m Your Messiah and You’re the Reason Why: Para-Religiosity in the Fa
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Religion and Popular Music
Religion and Popular Music

Andreas Häger

Andreas Häger is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2018

Subjects

Artists:

Prince

Peer-Reviewed:

Yes

Periods:

1980s

Related Content

I’m Your Messiah and You’re the Reason Why: Para-Religiosity in the Fandom around Prince

DOI: 10.5040/9781350001596.ch-008
Page Range: 107–120

Within the fan culture of late pop icon Prince, religious narratives seem to involve diverse contradictions. While joining in faith and devotion for their fan object Prince, fans tended to be known for harsh criticism which even included practices of hate, coming close to what Jenkins calls “aca-fandom.”[1] Even though the Prince fan community can be understood as long-term or even life-course fans, their worship practices vary from religious practices in other popular music fandoms, and I would like to examine these differences in this chapter.

Fandom and religion

Bickerdike turns to the theories of Matt Hills and Henry Jenkins to examine the relationship between fandom and religion as having been incited by “faith, personal taste and applicable societal norms differing from each individual.”[2] In becoming a fan, diverse aspects of social norms and personal motivations and beliefs connect and eventually cling to an object featuring the needed characteristics the fan is aiming to fulfill. This fulfillment of needs tends to offer a religious understanding, even though the individual fan may refuse to believe this. However, fandom and fan practice, especially if understood in community terms, are abstract categories of collective practice, just like religion.[3] Similar practices such as gathering, the meaning of certain symbols, collective singing, certain dress practices, and the collection and sharing of associated goods resemble proceedings within different religious communities. In this dimension Hills perceives religion as offering a “template model for fandom practices” as both are “centered around acts of devotion.”[4] In comparing fandom with religion I would argue that fandom is not the simple replacement of religion but a para-religious and secular practice in a world centered around the fulfillment of individual needs.[5] According to Cavicchi’s study on Springsteen fans,[6] fandom contains diverse parallels to religious practices, especially in the “development of a close attachment to an unobtainable Other, a kind of moral orientation, a daily life devoted to the inspiration and a community based on a shared assumption of devotion.”[7] Bickerdike[8] continues this notion in perceiving the spiritual practices within fandom communities by focusing on an object which is designed in physical unreachability but nevertheless always available with a similar array of believers. She focuses on what I would like to call the “metaphysical” aspects of fandom being mediated by the work cooperation of the artist, which even transcends his or her physical existence, and the mediated narrative. I would divide this into the media-narrative which is a part of the fans’ knowledge and what I would call personal-narrative featuring diverse emotional experiences the fan has had with the fan object over time, including physical encounters, face to face interactions, co-existence in the same space and time (e.g. concerts), individual emotional states concerning the artist’s work and even dreams about or associated with their fan object. This mediated narrative combined with the importance of collective practice influences the fan’s dimension of devotion. Rojek argues that, in contrast to religion, “celebrity culture is only a cluster of human relationships in which mutual passion typically operates without physical interaction.”[9] Fandom seems to involve physical and metaphysical dimensions which seem to be different to dimensions and practices offered in religious communities. But they also share extensive features, such as a definition of canon and non-canon within community; both expressions of belief encourage massive amounts of community, both own special/sacred places of worship, and both change the devotees/fans’ approach to life in general, which I will examine in the following research.

To examine the individual practices of fan worship I conducted an interview-based research with European Prince fans, which offered a closer look into personal practices of fan faith and community practices. First one has to understand that the fan culture around Prince features special characteristics which are influenced by the artist’s antipathy against mainstream media discourse by the beginning of the 1990s. Most of the interviewed fans became fans during Prince’s mainstream success “Purple Rain”[10] in the early 80s. Being in their adolescence, these new fans experienced an attraction because of the artist’s anti-normative ideas, dressing practices, and behavior, which allowed a new understanding of normativity, especially because most of them grew up in middle-class environments: “He was so different from anyone I have ever seen, his shows were eye-opening” (Hannah, 46).[11] “There was no one who could just walk in a room, wearing high heels and still being the worst of all” (Mark, 51). To gain a better understanding of the different aspects of their fan/worship practices, the participants were interviewed via an online video-chat with open questions to allow them to explain their personal motivations and developments over time. Since most of them started their fandom in the 80s, Prince was at the height of his career. He often referred to religious topics which allude to some kind of self-construction as a messianic figure, a narrative that was later continued by a majority of the interviewees for an average course of thirty-five years. The selected interview participants are all from Europe, feature an analogous social background, and are part of Prince’s most solid fan group since the beginning of his career, since he mainly focused on Europe within the last twenty years with concerts or releases. So the participants of my study had the possibility to experience physical and metaphysical dimensions of their fandom and to share wide knowledge of their fan culture canon and para-religious practices. This study derives from participant observation, since I have been part of the fandom for over ten years, which separates my own fandom practice from my participants because of the duration. In this case study I sought to explore the contradictory relationship many fans established to their fan object over the course of their fandom. Moreover I will focus on the physical and metaphysical dimension of fandom practice and on the sacredness of object-associated places and pilgrimage. In the end I will consider the fans’ para-religious practices before and after his death in April 2016, and conclude the dimension of fan devotion transcending the life of the fan object.

Fandom, worship, and narrative

In the beginning of the 1980s, when “Purple Rain” was released, Prince was at the height of his success. He designed his stage persona to become an ambiguous figure, keeping his age, his gender, and his sexual orientation a mystery. Even though his shows used to be a mixture of sexually explicit lyrics, dance moves, and idioms, he always used to refer to God, even wearing a cross, depicting himself as a Christian. This combination of Christian motifs and sexual connotations irritated many potential recipients and invited a huge media hype around his persona. His fans, young adults in this time, soaked in his anti-normative ideas on how to combine religious practices and sexual fantasies in stage performances. His textual approaches to topics of sex and faith formed a different understanding of religious practices for many of his young fans: “Why hate your body, your desire? He taught me how to love my body, it is God-given” (Clare, 44). This revaluation offered a different ingress to the dimension of fandom practices: “For us he was the epitome of a new world, a spiritual leader” (Markus, 43). By ending concerts with songs like “The Love We Make,” featuring a sexual connoted reading as well as religious motifs, was meant to reconcile the dimension of religious practices, obeying God. Following the idol’s (Prince’s) rules of love and peace and joining a movement designed for creating a more peaceful world: “Sacred is the prayer that asks 4 nothing, while seeking 2 give thanks 4 every breath we take, Blessed are we inside this prayer, 4 in the new world, we will be there.”[12] Narratives in dreaming about a new joint world in which human beings would continue to strive for peace and togetherness built a major part of every concert experience. At the end of a 1989 concert in Dortmund, part of the LoveSexy tour, one can hear the crowd reciting the song’s lyrics: “Love is God, God is love, girls and boys love God above.”[13] The joint experience of religiously connoted songs and quotations led many fans to a new understanding of Christian terms. They felt affected by the combination of believing in a higher force while simultaneously believing in the prophet being Prince. When asked how this connection between religious terms and sexuality was received by his fans, many of them “see both as intertwined to understand the whole picture of life, things that are missing in religion” (Harry, 41). This combination showed its influence on the recipients by adding to their own ideas or even going beyond them to open up new dimensions:“Well, sex was created by God as the highest expression of love and God is Love so it really goes hand in hand, that’s what I understand and the meaning I get” (Donnie, 48).

In addition, sexually connoted songs on albums, such as, for example, the famous “Darling Nikki”[14] which deals with a promiscuous woman dragging the male persona into sexual intercourse, to which he gladly consents, end with the sound of rain. Touré[15] argues that the sound of rain or water which is used at the end or directly after a song with sexual content, signifies an act of purification and thus a dedication to God and the admission of sins:

To be honest, there is a paradox between both (religion/sexuality) where Prince is concerned. It seemed as if he had freedom within himself to behave in a very sexual way, and then to redeem his sin, he would have praise to God and declare his love for him. As an onlooker, this gave me a kind of comfort in that this person I have chosen to follow so closely has license to be naughty because at the end of it all, he devotes himself to God. That made me less guilty as a consumer with the product I was buying into (Raymond, 55).

The different approaches to the combination of religion and sexuality formed a fan culture that became highly diverse concerning personal identities but also in the way of interpreting the artist’s testimony. The religious dimension of fandom increased when the fandom narrative engaged with the para-religious depiction of the artist himself, reaching its peak by the mid-1990s when Prince changed his name into an unpronounceable symbol to regain his independence as an artist. The glyph merged ancient symbols for man and woman, creating a combination of female and male sign with a musical note. Mitch Monson, who designed the symbol logo, explained: “Like a human body, it’s asymmetrical, imperfect. Lastly, the symbol also evokes a cross. It’s impossible to know the depths of Prince’s intentions, but the Love Symbol swiftly harmonizes ideas often in conflict—man vs. woman, sex vs. religion.”[16] With the harmonization and the acceptance of everybody who was part of this one sign, it became the religious symbol for his fan community even after his death. The artist’s self-depiction was read as being somehow messianic, a reason for many fans to take up the symbol and to use it in the course of their everyday fan practices, for example by wearing it as a necklace, or even having it scratched into their skin as tattoos. Wearing a Prince symbol defines a fan as belonging to the canon-knowing community and differentiates him or her from outsiders or regular fans. The knowledge they share also combines the respect for their para-religious leader and his wishes even when they contradict with fan’s desires. Even though many fans continuously perceive him as their messiah or some form of spiritual leader since the beginning of their fandom, they experience a conflict between their own religion, for example Christianity, and understanding Prince as their messiah. This evokes two sides to Prince: Prince as the physical existence, the private person, and Prince as the stage persona, the owner of his artistic work and rights. For popular music fan cultures, using the artist’s work for fan creativity seems a natural practice to show one’s adoration, if given to the fan object or made available exclusively within the culture. Creating associated art work, covering songs, or writing fan fiction seems to belong to many different fan culture canons. Within the fan culture around Prince this has always been a controversial issue. The artist’s approach was to give his fans less opportunity to buy merchandise, and at the same time forbidding them to create their own to honor him, posting videos on video channels like YouTube, filming at concerts, or even sharing pictures online. If fans tried to express their adoration in one of the enumerated forms, he used to sue them, a controversy that problematized the relationship between fans and the artist. In the last twenty years, this has greatly affected the fan community canon, because it divided fans into certain groups: those who respected his wishes and reduced their acts of devotion to fit his demand, and those who used to get into fights with him again and again:

Once I was visiting Paisley Park, I met him there and we had a talk, he wanted to know how many bootlegs I owned and if I would give them back to him. I explained to him that I bought a lot and that I did it to express my love for him and that I will never let go of them. He turned away and I was escorted by his guards (Raymond, 55).

The quoted fan did not end his fandom at the doormat of Paisley Park, but continued like others who were sued on copyright issues and had to pay hundreds of dollars, a no-go for many fan communities. Respecting the artist and his rights is still one of the highest rules in fandom practice, but nevertheless getting into fights with him seemed to be equally important: “Now that he’s gone, I will not post any more videos to YouTube—I don’t see any sense to that anymore” (Frank, 47).

To tackle the sensitive area of his artistic rights seemed to be a way of getting in contact with their messiah, even in making him mad. It was a way to gain his attention which seemed to be worth the effort, money, and sometimes even pain. The results of the interviews show that this form of possible interaction and attention was ended by his death, and in this way doesn’t need to be continued as the fan culture transformed into private space practice, which I will later on examine in more detail.

Even wearing the symbol, which he used to wear or use as stage decor, used to be a controversial topic in the fan-star interrelation. Even though for many fans the symbol was a highly para-religiously connoted sign, symbolizing their membership of the community and their devotion to Prince, fans had to turn to their own creative surroundings because of a lack of suitable manufactured jewelry by the artist himself. “I don’t wear a cross, I wear a Prince symbol” (Martin, 45).

Fans used the symbol to identify each other and to situate themselves within the fandom hierarchy. Wearing the symbol means (even today) believing in the freedom of the artist’s rights (even if there sometimes a contradictory issue), believing in the unity of the fan culture, while preferring the term fam, an acronym for family, over the term fan, which is considered as fanatic, and believing in the protection of the artist’s property and his “love4oneanother” ethics, which have always been part of concerts and other gatherings. The religious dimension of the “Love4oneanother”[17] focus derives from the idea of Christian altruism; the topic was used by the artist to refer to the focus of his work in the late 1990s, in which he entitled a charity organization and a music video anthology with this name. For fans “Love4oneanother” has always been a part of their shared ethical canon, meaning to respect and to include the diversity of people gathering in the fandom around Prince. Even though this ethics always seemed to be in the foreground for many fans, it was perhaps suspended concerning concert experiences.

Fandom and metaphysical physicality

Many fans described their fandom as being majorly structured around live performances/concerts of the artist. Since the lack of mainstream media marketing led to unstructured tour schedules creating last-minute ticket sales and show notices, fans had to adapt to these practices to keep track of the artist’s career. The metaphysical concert experience is understood as the most desirable artefact for fans in the culture; “collecting” these nonrecurring moments was of high importance for fans and for the fandom hierarchy. To situate oneself in the structure of fandom, the amount of concert experiences and the specifics of time, venue, duration, and set lists was important. Because of the short-term notice of concerts within the last fifteen years, fans had to organize their lives around fandom to participate regularly; this also included assigning concert participation a priority in one’s personal life. “If he announced a concert for the next day, I called sick to work and left in the early morning hours right after I secured my tickets, everybody at home was informed. It was a life, always on call for him!” (Tim, 39).

Even family and job responsibilities had to step aside in order to focus exclusively on the participation opportunities of the fandom. In the context of my study I even talked to interviewees who told me that everyone at work knew about their priorities, and that they were allowed time off to attend concerts or even associated events. Since concerts were sold out within few minutes, fans did not have much time to reconsider their possibilities. “It just had to work—and it always did, somehow” (Maria, 41).

Being able to participate in concerts did not solely affect the fan interrelation, but was an expression of adoration for the artist. Since fans traveled for long distances (across Europe) to witness as many concerts as possible regardless of social responsibilities and even financial or health issues, I wanted to understand the effect these concerts had on them, as a single individual, in their interrelation with other fans and with the artist. Even though a front-row phenomenon seems to exist in most popular music fan cultures it appears to be gainful to revisit the motives behind the attraction of the first row, considering its physical and metaphysical dimension.

Prince had always constructed his persona in terms of a certain unreachability, giving few interviews, not signing autographs or interacting with fans. In their identification process with an idol, we know from Fritzsche’s[18] study of popular music culture that fans tend to seek a certain proximity to their fan object. This seems to be the need to transgress the metaphysical relation and to create a physical reality of interrelation and coexistence. During the concert, the fan object, which only exists in the fan’s mind in daily life experience, reveals itself as a physical human being. The experience of this physical coexistence adds to the connection between fan and fan object. In the moment in which the artist comes to the stage, the mediated narrative becomes a tangible materiality. In comparison with religious practices, the concert hall offers a space for community gatherings, in which people can sing and consume song narratives together. The mediated power of community is organized by the preacher, the God, the artist giving his teachings to the devotees, the fans: “Whenever I feel like I need answers in my life—I always return to what he taught me!” (Nadina, 41).

Another comparable element can be seen in the physical distance between the “holy” and the “devotee”; the stage can be understood as some form of altar for the mass. The holiness of the concert makes it appear unreachable. The fans are located on a lower level or on higher levels (seating) but with even more distance. Considering the standing places before the stage, this seems to symbolize the separation between the space of the “holy” and the space reserved for the “devotee.” The space which is indicated between the stage/altar and the standing level/prayer benches separates the physical from the metaphysical. The fan object represents itself as unreachable and in this way it retains its metaphysical dimension. In the studied fan culture I witnessed situations in which the border was suspended and fans were welcomed on stage, but even at the same level fans stayed at a certain distance, which had not been discussed before accessing the stage. It was clear that physical contact was prohibited, so that fans who transgressed this border did not receive recognition in their community but were criticized or even expelled. The metaphysical element was also strengthened by the fans’ wish to get as close a look at the stage border as possible, which was mostly described as aiming to “feel his energy” (Paul, 46); “ experience his aura” (Tina, 44); or “to be showered with his light” (Mark, 51).

Expressions like these emphasize the metaphysical dimension of front-row experiences. The willingness to feel a certain metaphysical connection between the artist and the fan seemed to be the ambition for concert participation for many fans for a timeline lasting over decades. During the event, the metaphysical relation, the mediated narrative, the fan’s unfulfilled wishes and fantasies cling together with the fact of physical coexistence, which evoke the possibility of a physical interaction. The dimension of this physicality also features metaphysical components that are charged with a para-religious significance, so that having the ability to transgress the border between physical and metaphysical by actual interpersonal contact involves a connection between the metaphysical longing and the actual encounter on this physical level. A simple touch of hands can be connoted as an act of blessing, which the fan/devotee receives from the metaphysical relation to the fan object: “When his hand touched mine—I felt like struck by lightning” (Mathis, 41).

Another dimension—Paisley Park

This interrelation of metaphysical and physical levels can also be examined by focusing on places of interaction from concert venues to associated places but especially when focusing on fans’ relation to Paisley Park, Prince’s studio complex built in 1988, and also his home during the last years. Deriving from the idea of metaphysical connotation I would like to focus on Paisley Park’s physical connotations for the fans and its metaphysical relation, comparing the connotations of pre-death and post-death of the artist.

Considering fandom in connection with faith and religious practice raises the issue of a physical place for community gatherings. Since concert venues are highly temporary, another space is needed to express community, faith practices, and metaphysical focus. Paisley Park was built by Prince in Chanhassen, a suburban area of Minneapolis, in 1988, and designed by the architecture company BOTO Design from California. It contains two live music venues, rehearsal studios, archives, and private spaces. It has always been partly open to the public and for other musicians, using it as a recording studio, but it has also served as a space for small concerts, dance parties, and fan gatherings organized by Prince. Within the last years (2012–16) Paisley Park was intensively used for dance parties, which were organized and announced at short-term notice by the artist himself. In the early 2000s fans were invited for celebrations of different albums and projects, which were released at the time or have remained unreleased. In January 2016 he kicked off his “Spotlight, Piano and a Microphone”-tour in this venue, his home. Precisely four months after the concert he was found dead in the elevator.

Paisley Park has always given his stardom a stable, highly visible anchor in the physical world, and allowed fans to physically and metaphysically visit the idea of Paisley Park as it was described in the 1985 same-titled song “Paisley Park” which was featured on the record Around the World in a Day, his follow-up album after his mainstream success Purple Rain. With the phrases “There is a park that is known, 4 the face it attracts” and “the smile on their faces/it speaks of profound inner peace” shows that Paisley Park, in which these colorful people, the fans, share “a lifetime lease,” opens up a religious dimension. The metaphysical dimension is understood in focusing on the lyrics, which say: “Admission is easy, just say you believe and come to this place in your heart. Paisley Park is in your heart.”[19] Believing in the metaphysical narrative of an imaginary world in which everyone is accepted in their diverse individualities, the narrative of Paisley Park includes freedom of social rules and normativity: “Come 2 the park/And play with us/There aren’t any rules/.”[20] In Paisley Park, the idiom of believing in the transcendental place of Paisley Park affects the perception of Paisley Park even today. Fans that were able to visit the Park when Prince was still alive described the experience as life-changing: “There is no place like Paisley Park, you feel so welcomed and it’s just like paradise” (Joan, 50).

The metaphor of Paisley Park comes to life in the tangible materiality of the building itself, containing all song, stardom, and fandom narratives. The materiality of Paisley Park structures the immaterial narratives and feelings combined in fandom practices. Even if never actually visited, the reality of Paisley Park as a building allows fans a place to go, a place to turn to, if they feel lost in the world. This way Paisley Park combines both dimensions, the church where the devotees come together to seek closure to the “holy” and to regain strength in commune singing and blessing (through performance), and the community center where groups of fans have the ability to practice their fandom together in an open space, which is seen as protected from other influences. “Being at Paisley Park was kind of being in a hide-out to me. I never wanted to return to normal life” (Claudia, 38).

Considering the notion of escapism, Paisley Park served as an immaterial and material anchor for the fans. Being in Paisley Park, being able to walk through the same entrance and to visit the same rooms gave fans the ability to become part of a narrative, fictional universe. Being a guest at Paisley Park also meant to follow the rules of the house, which for example excluded any kind of photography or recording. Taking photographs was normally prohibited, just as in a religious space. Fans were used to the rules, so they even corrected each other, if there was a case of violation of any rule. Comparing Hills’s statements on Elvis and Graceland,[21] one could understand Paisley Park as follows: With Paisley Park “the significance of [in this case Prince]—something which would otherwise tend to be free-floating, and incidental to the process of signification—can be contained or ‘anchored’ in a visible, physical and public fashion.”

That Paisley Park shares physical and metaphysical dimensions has also been discussed by Unsie Zuege, a journalist working for the Chanhassen Villager, a local paper in Prince’s hometown. In a text published in April 2016, just before Prince’s sudden death,[22] she explains how Paisley Park made it to the “Final Four” in the “Tournament of Fictional Places”—even though it was the only actual place on the list (featuring, for example, Hogwarts as well). In the end, Paisley Park won.[23]

In considering Paisley Park as a fictional place the journalists of the Chanhassen Villager draw their attention to the fact that Prince had written a song entitled “Paisley Park” in 1985 which constituted Paisley Park as an imaginary place above its physical existence.

Since after the death of Prince, Paisley Park in its imaginary components gained my attention, I decided to interview the journalist Unsie Zuege via email. She explained her understanding of Paisley Park as follows:

My view is that Paisley Park is a state of mind, outlined so well in its song lyrics. A place where everyone belongs, and there is love and peace. And if that place could exist, we’d all choose to live there. And, yet, it does exist, and is now available to the public and to all his fans around the world. They can come to the physical Paisley Park, made of mortar and stone, so to speak, and visit it, and imagine how Prince saw his world. It is a magical, artful and spiritual space that Prince created to enhance his creative energy and focus on his work. No distractions. Just surrounded by everything he loved; the space was designed so that where ever Prince was in Paisley Park, when the muse hit him, he could plug in his guitar or electric piano in any room—any room in the building—and record whatever crossed his mind, anytime of night or day.[24]

Zuege’s text shows that Paisley Park was understood as both the physical place, the building, and the metaphysical dimension mediated in the song lyrics but also in a lot of fan narratives and discourses. The importance of Paisley Park was that it was highly stable, and over the years it was a place to turn to for fans: “Sometimes, I just wish I could hop on a plane, go to Paisley Park—and never return” (Barbara, 41).

That Prince died at Paisley Park serves as a form of consolation for many fans, which is also a reference to a song’s narrative. In “Let’s Go Crazy,” one of Prince’s most frequently performed songs, the lyrics are as follows: “Never let the elevator bring U down/Oh no/Punch a higher floor.”[25] In fan culture, there seems to be a connection between the song’s narrative and the physical happenings concerning the death of their idol. The “punching of a higher floor” seems to involve the notion that Paisley Park is seen as closer to a holy dimension than any other place within the culture. This narrative seems to be continued by the family’s decision to put Prince’s ashes on display in Paisley Park. The urn was custom-designed as a miniature model of the actual building, including details from both exterior and interior (e.g. a purple piano). The decision to put his urn on display became a highly controversial issue within the fan culture: “I feel glad that he’s home” (Anna, 41); “Putting an urn on display is so tasteless, he was such a private person” (Tom, 48); “He is where he belongs and all of us have the chance to pay a visit” (Maria, 38).

Considering the connection with religious practices, it can be said that many churches and spiritual places of community contain the remains of their spiritual or religious leaders, which are also a place of remembrance. Knowing that Elvis has been buried close to Graceland allows fans to remain in “physical” contact with the descended. Having Prince buried in a miniature of his own house strengthens the significance of Paisley Park for the community. Paisley Park now functions as the epitome of a re-envisioned past coming to life. Death, especially under these circumstances, allows the re-telling of the para-religious narrative and reinforces the meaning of Paisley Park for the community. Fans are now able to book tours through Paisley Park, which makes fan pilgrimage easier to arrange than at any time previously. I would like to draw a parallel to Elvis and Graceland, in saying that Paisley Park “has had a significant and largely unacknowledged impact on the shape of his stardom and especially for his fan community, which echoes the importance of a real time space.”[26]

Conclusion

In engaging with the idea of a para-religious structure in the fandom around Prince, one has to revisit the fact that many fans have been long-term fans for the course of over thirty years. Since fandom memberships have stayed very stable over the years, fans have been able to highly adapt to the artist’s demands, ethics, and religious significations. They grew and they changed with him and developed a shared canon, so that now after his decease they express their responsibility for his legacy and the given respect for his property, terms in which they criticize the company running Paisley Park for caring less about his property after some fans climbed a piano during a tour. The dimension of criticism resembled the desecration of religious artefacts.

Even though Prince no longer is physically reachable, all interviewed fans addressed the topic of life guidance. Especially after his decease, many of the participants felt like he “transcended into another dimension” still giving advice and closure in times of emotional trouble. Focusing on the para-religious narrative, Prince fans seem to engage closely with the idea of the metaphysical. The metaphysical importance of particular places of coexistence with their fan objects (like concert venues, clubs, and also Paisley Park itself) will continue for years to come. Also these places will always carry a certain significance in the individual fan narrative. The relation to associated places and objects already is and will be highlighted the more that time passes. For the fan culture, their metaphysical relation to Prince who guided them through a diversity of life decisions, plans, and experiences, will stay intact, and for some this dimension will overlap with the other over the course of time, preserving an ideal figure constructed for their individual needs of worship. For some fans, after his decease the textual world of his songs appears even more linked to the mediated fan narratives, some combining it with the trope of self-fulfilling destiny in which song lyrics gain a tangible reality in the occurrences around April 21, 2016:

He died in April, like in the words of “Sometimes it Snows in April” in which he is mourning his imaginary friend Tracy, which used to be the family name of his character in the movie Under the Cherry Moon.[27] In the night of his decease there was a full red (cherry) moon over his hometown and a rainbow the next day, just like it can be found on the cover of Around the World in a Day. I am sure that destiny fulfilled itself with him tweeting a few days before his death answering the health concerns of his fans with “Wait a few days before U waste any prayers” (Maria, 46).

Touching upon the connection of happenings and song narratives, I would like to end this article with a quote by another participant, summing up religiously connoted meanings and song narratives, reminiscing the words to the song “Let’s Go Crazy”: “I would like to believe he did not die in this elevator—he just punched a higher floor” (Paul, 46).



[1] Following Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (New York: Routledge, 1992), being an aca-fan describes hating and loving the same fandom object, building a relation which deepens the connection to the fandom object. In the matter of Prince fans, this assumption follows the stance that Prince did not always treat his fans in a positive fashion and and thereby refuted fandom practices and the pleasures of fandom.

[2] Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, The Secular Religion of Fandom (London: Sage, 2015), 14.

[3] Mark Duffet, Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture (New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2003), 515.

[4] Matt Hills, Fan Cultures (New York: Routledge, 2002), 118.

[5] The term para-religiosity” is similar to “neoreligiosity” used by Hills in Fan Cultures. In his plenary lecture at the conference, “Holy Crap! Intersections of the Popular and the Sacred in Youth Cultures” in August 2014 in Helsinki, Finland, Hills used the term “para-religiosity.”

[6] Daniel Cavicchi, Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning among Springsteen Fans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

[7] Cavicchi, Tramps Like Us, 186.

[8] Bickerdike, The Secular Religion of Fandom, 23.

[9] Chris Rojek, Celebrity (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), 191.

[10] Prince, “Purple Rain,” Purple Rain (Warner Brothers, 1984).

[11] Interviewee names have been changed to protect anonymity.

[12] Prince, “The Love We Make,” Emancipation (EMI, 1996).

[13] Prince, Lovesexy ’88 (Dortmund Live) [DVD] (Eye Records, 2016).

[14] Prince, “Darling Nikki,” Purple Rain (Warner Brothers, 1984).

[15] Touré, I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon (Washington, DC: Atria Books, 2013), 46.

[16] Margaret Rhodes, “The Fascinating Story of Prince’s Iconic Symbol,” Wired, April 2016, at https://www.wired.com/2016/04/designers-came-princes-love-symbol-one-night/ (accessed November 1, 2016).

[17] Love4oneanother was a charity organization founded by Prince in the mid-90s.

[18] Bettina Fritzsche, Pop Fans. Studie einer Mädchenkultur (Opladen: VS Verlag, 2003), 143.

[19] Prince, “Paisley Park,” Around the World in a Day (Warner Brothers, 1985).

[20] Prince, “Paisley Park.”

[21] Hills, Fan Cultures, 154.

[23] Tournament of Fictional Places. http://b.hpb.com/places/ (accessed April 12, 2017).

[24] Email from Unsie Zuege, October 22, 2016.

[25] Prince, “Let’s Go Crazy,” Purple Rain (Warner Brothers, 1984).

[26] Gilbert Rodman, Elvis after Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend (New York: Routledge, 1996), 99.

[27] Under the Cherry Moon [Film], directed by Prince (Warner Brothers, 1986).