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SONGS ABOUT DOIN' IT

PRINCE WROTE ABOUT SEX. SOMETIMES SERIOUSLY JUST ABOUT SEX, AND THAT WAS GREAT

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I don't know if any Prince song isn't about sex, or at least doesn't contain some secret panel you can access to get to sex. Maybe "Money Doesn't Matter Tonight," sure, but even then that might be Prince reminding you that you're broke, and that's fine, because what you should be worried about is your soul. Your soul, by the way, lost its pants twenty minutes ago, and-- why yes, those are rose petals on the bed. For you. For you.

The rose petals might just be implied, or right around the corner. Not every Prince song was about sex, and not every song he had about sex was just about sex. You can talk about those, sure, especially the ones treading the sex/divinity channel usually highlighted when people write about sex in music.

There are plenty of those, sure.  "Adore" is one, even if it does carve out a clear contractual exception for Prince's car as being the one thing your spiritual passions cannot destroy on this earthly plane. "Saviour," or "When 2 R In Love", or like fifteen other songs toe that line between the bedroom and chapel. A lot of other musicians have done that, but Prince did it best because he was pretty much the best at anything he tried.*

*This is a pattern you'll read a lot about when discussing Prince, right down to stories of this tennis prowess or ability to play instruments you didn't even know he could play.

I don't really care about those song as much I care about the ones about, you know: sex, as in the thing Prince is talking in extremely explicit detail about on "Head," or "Dirty Mind," or "Erotic City," or even "Little Red Corvette." (Hi, remember the time Prince got a song about a lady who had used condoms on her person on the radio during the Reagan administration? You do now.) The songs where sex began first and foremost with the unapologetically physical, and didn't rise too much beyond it, and didn't really need to once the hook came around a second time. The songs that came dangerously close to being educational, like "Darling Nikki," the song that for a generation of young men taught them the startling lesson that women could jack off, too.*

*Southern public school educations made this particularly startling for some more than others.

He could express in a few words not just a desire, but the kind of specific desire you didn't even know there were words for. "If I Was Your Girlfriend" alone has thirty variations on erotic infatuation so personal and accurate they hurt with the pain of instant recognition-- the overexplanation, the anxiety of need, the transformation of boring little activities into fraught little erotic episodes. The inability to resist any of it in the moment, because sex just does that whether you want it to or not, and forces you to have nervous little conversations with yourself.

If I was your girlfriend

Baby can I dress U

I mean, help U pick out your clothes

Before we go out (If I was your girlfriend)

Listen girl, I ain't sayin you're helpless

But sometimes, sometimes

Those are the things that bein' in love's about (sugar)

The other thing about "If I Was Your Girlfriend" is its completely rubbery understanding of gender. Three lines in and I'm not really sure where Prince is on any gender spectrum, or who he's addressing specifically other than someone who excites him a a molecular level, sexually speaking. He's nervous, he's confident, he's talking too much and then maybe not enough, all over the place in a level of honesty about sex and being completely infatuated with someone that I'm not sure many people really ever reach. He's fucked up by sex, and really excited about it, and then discombobulated by it all over again in a universal way I'm not sure you can pin down as either masculine or feminine.

Prince's music that was mostly, exclusively about sex is also brutally honest-- or, depending on your taste, outright obscene. For instance: this is where "Let's Pretend We're Married" starts.

Excuse me but I need a mouth like yours

That's where it starts! It goes downhill or uphill from there, depending on your tastes, but don't for one second deny that some percentage of that feeling describes a very particular and intense and mostly universal moment in life. There's also a line about Marsha in that song that is, by any Human Resources standard, a violation of your company's policies on sexual language in the workplace, but all of it isn't just filth for filth's sake. It's obscenity with purpose, and that purpose is to have mind-altering sex in terms Prince could not make clearer. (Like, on an anatomical level.)

Prince was the one who could not only say this, but make it luminesce with the immediacy of the moment that felt like sex itself. Prince could articulate things about sex that you didn't even know you felt, and then deliver with complete conviction. You didn't know you wanted to be someone's mother and their sister, but you've been there, in the moment when desire loosens all but the last finger's grip on sanity or reason. You may not playfully joke about hearing a girl's dress rip when she sits down, but then insist that was a good thing, but Prince could. He could do that and make it seem outright affectionate.

(For the record: you, whomever you are, should never, ever try this in real life. You are not Prince.)

Prince could do all of this in a song about sex, and still perform one more astonishing leap from the ear to the central nervous system. He could be as immediate as sex itself, and joyful and nervous and as freaky, and do all that for anyone listening regardless of identity.  It's so hard to write about sex without immediately cordoning off a thousand different seating sections of taste and alignment, but Prince did it, and did it with ease. He did it with joy.

A friend and I were talking about Prince yesterday. She said "I think he taught me how to be gay." I wrote back, "That's weird, because I think he taught me how to be straight." Neither of us are wrong, but it goes beyond Prince just being the nation's unofficial sex ed teacher for three decades. It's not just that he wrote about sex in a completely different grammar than anyone else. Prince invented his own, which is the sneakiest way of Prince creeping into every bedroom of everyone who ever listened to his music. Not that anyone's complaining. These rose petals and candles: just like sex, they're for you, lover. For you.