An Unfortunate Omission

I read Ronin Ro’s biography intently this year.

In fact, I read a lot of Prince-related books this year. In part because he died. In part because after he died, I knew I was going to be stupid enough to make Zappadan (mostly) about Prince somehow (and so here we are).

My recommendation is to start with “The Beat of My Own Drum: A Memoir” by Sheila E. Your jaw will drop at several of the revelations in this breezy read, and I will not spoil many of them for you. But Sheila does put to rest a hazy bit of data for us: Yes, they were an item and, in fact, they were once engaged. But this little book will break your heart a few times and give you a fascinating look at what I consider to be one of the hottest, most iconic music videos of the era, “The Glamorous Life.”

And you will never. See Carlos Santana. The same again.

But, back to “Inside the Music and the Masks.”

Here’s the thing. Ro’s book is excellent at documenting how Prince won us, then lost us, then won us back. But he ignores a lot.

For instance. Page 122. Ro writes:

February 26 at the Shrine Auditorium, Wendy’s father, Mike, onstage in a black tuxedo. Tonight, they’d celebrate the success of a very special performer, he announced.

This is the only thing mentioned in the entire book about Mike Melvoin. Who is not only Wendy Melvoin’s father, but the father also of Susannah Melvoin, Wendy’s twin sister and Prince lady friend and member of his Time spinoff band The Family, and also father of Jonathan Melvoin, also a player on many Prince tunes and touring keyboardist for a little combo called Smashing Pumpkins (sadly, Jonathan died of a heroin overdose in 1995).

Not only was Mike Melvoin the seed provider for those three accomplished musicians, he was an accomplished professional musician in his own right.

He was one of the most sought-after session keyboardists who ever walked. He recorded with with Frank Sinatra, John Lennon, The Jackson 5, Natalie Cole, and The Beach Boys and was considered a member of the not-so-famous group of session musicians who created 95 percent of most of the music you ever heard in the 1960s and 1970s known as The Wrecking Crew.

There is a documentary on Netflix right now called “Sample This,” the story of a song called “Apache” by a group of session musicians called The Incredible Bongo Band that provides a prominent break beat used widely in hip hop (though one might make an argument that the Amen Break is actually more prominent). This film has more Mike Melvoin in it than Ro’s bio.

“He wore a tux and said stuff” is all that Ronin Ro writes of Mike Melvoin. That’s a shame. Explaining the Melvoin kids’ musical pedigree might have offered some context.

But that’s not the worst of it. Ro completely fails to mention one of Prince’s most vital collaborators, Clare Fischer.

Thankfully, Matt Thorne, author of “Prince: The Man and His Music,” exists.

This is a book so thick and densely packed that it sometimes can read as a really crazy fan’s extensive tour log. As a Prince reference it may be valuable. A breezy read it’s not. But it is packed with data. And one of the nicest things it does is to document what I have come to think of as the sweet working relationship between Prince and Fischer.

Herbie Hancock said “I wouldn’t be me without Clare Fischer.” The quote could have just as well been attributed to Prince.

Prince never met Clare Fischer. He was supposed to have met Fischer when they first started working together. Prince was to have sat in as Fischer led his orchestra arrangements. But Prince was called away and could not attend. So Prince sent them a tape and some dots on paper. And Fischer and his son worked out arrangements to go with them and sent them back.

And Prince became terrified that if he had been there he would have micromanaged the process and thus ruined this perfect music he had received. Beautiful orchestra arrangements we first heard utilized on Parade.

Prince had the opportunity to meet Clare Fischer later in his career. He demurred. He had become downright superstitious about Clare Fischer. That’s how important Fischer was to the Belle. And * swapping him in the head one last time * Ronin Ro IGNORES HIM COMPLETELY.

That’s a horrible omission. Sorry, dude.

There’s a Bass Guitar in This

I was sitting in my dorm room at Ohio University pretending to study but probably secretly brooding about some broad or another or about my asshole roommates or my shitty living situation or whatever. It was late afternoon.

This kid on my floor, he was tall and pretty and denied to the ends of the Earth that he was gay. I hope he’s since been able to live it real. He walked in to my room and held the CD in front of my eyes.

It was Prince. As a sprite of some kind. Naked. On a flower.

I bought the tape days later and walked back down to the dorms. I remember clearly the first time I heard “Dance On.”

I don’t know why by now I wasn’t used to Prince blowing my mind up.

Ya know, you would think with the overtly religious themes on the album, you would think Mr. Nonbeliever here would hate the living gravity out of it. But I lived on it. Thrived on it all through a shitty freshman year which ended with me tossed back home missing my friends immensely and a lonesome summer in Lawrence Kansas.

Nonsense. This is a revival I would gladly attend.

What a world this man spun for us. Rain is wet. Sugar is sweet. Clap your hands and stomp your feet.

Everybody. Everybody knows.

When love calls, you gotta go.

If you own the Lovesexy album on CD, you know the annoying thing about it: It’s all one single track. So you don’t get to just skip ahead to “Alphabet Street.”

This used to annoy me a bit.

Not so much anymore.

That is how Lovesexy should be experienced.

As is so often true, it turns out the man was right.

Mrs. Gwynn and Prince

I want to tell you a story about the sweetest thing my Grandma ever did for me.

And she’s bought me cars.

I’ve told you about how I found out about Prince’s time to stop refusing to die. Part two of that story is that the next day, my Dear Old Dad and I were scheduled to drive to Erie County, Pennsylvania, to have a birthday party in her honor.

It’s a three hour drive, so my Dad had to listen to a lot of Prince the whole way over. It’s just where my head was at. I couldn’t have possibly listened to anything else.

We arrived at the house. She had CNN on. And CNN was at Paisley Park.

Please understand. My Grandma had always been an oddly encouraging and simultaneously discouraging influence on me when it came to music. I’ve seen Pete Fountain with her, and Tommy Dorsey’s Thundering Herd. She wanted me to know the music of her era, and due in large part to her influence, I do, and I have an appreciation for it that few people my age might. I don’t consider it music of just her generation, in fact. Music belongs to us all and cuts through generations like a Ginsu.

But pretty much anything created after 1949 was out of bounds for my Grandma. Put on anything contemporary and she’d act like I do when my brother puts on Job for a Cowboy or whatever. I mean I could be playing Chicago and she’d be like what’s with all that screaming and grimacing?

But she wanted to know about Prince.

She asked questions. She put up with me playing his music on the radio as we drove to supper. I asked her what it had felt like when Glen Miller went missing, and she confirmed to me that it was a tremendous loss because they had no idea where the great bandleader had ended up.

I told her this was like that. To me.

She stayed up to watch SNL’s tribute to Prince with me. She wanted to know. She couldn’t bear to hear the music but she wanted to know who this little black man was and why he meant so much to me.

As you might know, a month later, we lost her to heart failure at age 92. I lost Prince, and then I lost her. But she, in one of the most interesting and certainly strange moments in my relationship with her, she offered one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever encountered.

Peace and B wyld, Grandma.

Good Gawd! Good Golly!


Prince’s death in April led to an immediate speculation of the well-being of one Richard Penniman.

Little Richard responded to the notion: “Not only is my family not gathering around me because I’m ill, but I’m still singing. I don’t perform like I used to, but I have my singing voice, I walk around, I had hip surgery a while ago but I’m healthy.”

I couldn’t be happier to hear news than to hear that the Architect is healthy and relatively comfortable. And, as you may know if you’ve read this space at this time of year before, this is the day we wish Little Richard a happy birthday as an adjunct to the lovely Zappadan holiday.

Because Little Richard wrote “Directly from my Heart,” one of the finest pieces of music I have ever heard, and Frank Zappa apparently thought so too, because he chose it to feature Don “Sugarcane” Harris.

In the same story referenced here, William Sobel, Little Richard’s attorney of the past 30 years, has apparently had Prince on his mind, too.

“I just spoke to him today,” Sobel tells Rolling Stone. ” I used to represent Prince and he just engaged me in all kinds of Prince conversations, calling him a ‘creative genius.'”

It’s not hard to imagine the influence Little Richard may have had on Prince. But it’s difficult to document and too easy to assume because they are/were both pretty black dudes who were awesome performers and wore pancake and purple.

But I think there’s one aspect of these performers that I would focus on when considering any influence. It’s not the hair, or being pretty black men, or style choices, or even religious devotion.

It’s an outrageous work ethic.

Listen to a Little Richard tune sometime and observe how hard he works. It’s as if he believes he has to be everything in a song. He’s the entire chorus. He’s the whole of the performance.

And we all know that our man Prince took that aesthetic to heart. “Produced, arranged, composed, and performed by…”

Anyway. Here is the reason for the season. Thanks as always to the Georgia Peach. Happy birthday to Richard Wayne Penniman, the man who first showed every rock performer how it’s done.


2016 sucked.

At least, that was the general consensus on the Internets.

I mean, throw a dart at any year and you will come up with a long list of musical notables who had stopped refusing to die. But 2016, for some reason, seemed particularly heinous.

David Bowie (January 10). Glenn Frey (January 18). Paul Kantner (January 28). Maurice White (Feb. 4). Vanity (Feb. 15). Keith Emerson (March 10). Merle Haggard (April 6). Jimmie Van Zant (April 7). Leon Russell (Nov. 13).

But for me, it didn’t get any worse than April 21. (Or so I thought, but that’s a different story…) Respect to every other musical mind we lost in 2016, but in April 2016, it just went from bad to worse. To the worst. The worst.

I was at work. I emptied myself into the hallway to stretch my legs and view social media. There was this weird news story on my phone about them finding a body at Paisley Park.

Calm down, says me to myself. They didn’t say it was him. Yet.

Four minutes later they’re saying it was him. It was him. It was him.

Prince Rogers Nelson had stopped refusing to die at age 57. It was not the most devastating loss I would face to Grim the Reaper in 2016. But it sure felt like it was.

As I left the office, I told my boss I was “going to go home and watch Purple Rain.” And I did. Twice. And several times after that. And once when it played at the Little Theater. I even watched Graffiti Bridge.

Man, he made horrible films.

But, so did Elvis. And Elvis was still Elvis.

Except for me.

Prince was my Elvis.

I was thinking of about when Prince came into my conciousness. I think I kept seeing the “Controversy” album for sale via some record club I was in. Then I think I heard “Delerious” on the radio one morning. Then there was the video for “1999.” Then I ended up with the 1999 album via another record club. And I didn’t listen to it for a while. And then when I did listen to it, really listened to it, I was blown away by the attention to detail. To the chiming clock and the flute orchestration during “Lady Cab Driver.” To the weird whirring baseline during “All The Critics Love U (In New York).” To the weird inneuendo in “Little Red Corvette.”

(Shortly after his death I could not help but joke:

“Little Red Corvette
This song is not actually about a car
Little Red Corvette
This song is about sexual intercourse actually.”
–Prince’s original draft


Everything. In total. About the album 1999 is great. Still is. That’s the lovely thing about it. It still stands up. Solidly. Even now, 17 years after the arrival of the title’s indicated year.

Yeah, I mean at 1999, I thought I was fairly hooked on Prince and probably had by that time even bought Controversy.

I could not have prepared myself at that time for Purple Rain.

Welcome to Zappadan. It’s purple.

Edinboro December 2016

I am learning how to do Edinboro.

Please understand that Edinboro, Pa. is a rather special place for my family and I. I myself have 48 years of memories here, of some of the happiest times I ever knew. But in 1986, when my Grandpa died, Edinboro changed for everyone because his widow, my dear Granny G, made it her home, which it was from then until she died in May 2016.

So I no longer come here to visit my Granny G (except in spirit of course, which I will discuss in a bit). So this place which once held my childhood wonder with elements such as The Penny Candy Store, bike rides, sandy flip-flops, canoe excursions, and the like, is now… well…

Radiolab recently ran a story about a woman with an odd neurological condition she first noticed when she was a child. From time to time, her sense of place shifted by about 45 degrees. So for her, when this happened, nothing seemed to be in the right place. Wait, let me see if I can find it for ya.

So it feels kind of like that.

Now my theory has been that you leave Rochester Friday night after your shift. But I tried this last night, and it was no fun. First the snow made the road feel like a pool full of ball bearings. So I chickened out and left the thruway at the next exit. And promptly was met with completely stopped traffic.

I do not do well in stopped traffic.

It cleared, and then my GPS got me lost by mistaking Avenue for Road.

I finally got home and had cancelled this trip in my head before I slept. But I woke up this morning and was gung-ho.

Via this, I have concluded the move is to get home from work, go to bed, then get up early and beat feet.

Still learning.

So anyway, I am here, in our quiet lake house. I have some writing to do (Zappadan, don’tcha know). And I brought laundry. And I had a nice lunch and did some antique looking. Picked up some toiletries I had forgotten at the CVS.

Then I went to see the other piece of real estate my family owns here.

I told my Granny G about President-Elect Trump.

I told her I was sorry.

I told her we had tried.

It did not have the necromancing quality I had expected. She did not come to life and claw her way up to demand answers.

I really sort of expected her to. I mean, I even told her Trump had talked to Taiwan.

What a nitwit.

Anyway. Look out, folks. Zappadan is coming!

Purple Zappadan

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Zappadan.

Electric word, Zappadan, it means Dec. 4 – Dec. 21. But I’m here to tell you: There’s something else.

There’s Prince.

A Dude Extraordinaire. He could always bring the Quake. Day or night.

So when you call up that shrink in Cucamonga, you know the one, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, instead of asking how much time you have left, ask WHO ARE THE BRAIN POLICE, baby.

‘Cuz in this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld.

In this life, you’re on your own.

And if the elevator tries to break you down…FREAK OUT!


What on this green growing Earth are you talking about?

I’m talking about Zappadan, man.

I thought Zappadan was for Frank Zappa.

It is. Of course. But this year we lost Prince.

What does Prince have to do with Frank Zappa?

Well, historically, not much. In fact, here’s a tidbit I found on the internets, though I would not vouch 100 percent for its validity:

From Todd Yvega, one of FZs technicians (via Kickstarter):
“One day in the studio, during the course of regular studio banter, the subject of Prince somehow came up. Most of the guys up on their high horses disparaged Prince for his “sex and purple fantasy” image. Frank made his point that he admires Prince simply for being dedicated and a hard worker. I asked Frank if he had met Prince, whereupon he said, “Well I tried, but he ran away!” Naturally that struck me as one hell of a teaser so I asked for elaboration. Frank said he was at an industry event where Prince was in attendance. Frank spotted Prince and decided he’d walk over and introduce himself. But when Prince saw Frank walking toward him, he looked like got scared and just ran away. The way Frank told it gave the impression that he just shrugged it off and thought, “Oh well.”

So they never even met? And you’re going to fete that skinny motherfucker with the high voice on Zappadan? I still don’t get it.

But, look at it this way. Iconoclastic musician. Great facial hair. Hard-working, industrious multi-instrumentalist. Unbelievably prolific, too prolific, in fact, for the music industry to manage. Leader of bands. Producer. Railed against the established industry practices. Multi-genre artist, dabbling heavily in jazz and orchestral composition. Guitar master. Filmmaker.

Which one of these fellas does this describe?

Hum, I guess I can see your point.


That doesn’t mean I have to like it. And I don’t. I don’t like it.

Well, too bad, McFly. You know what I have to say to that?


That’s right. AAAFNRAA. Anything. Anytime. Anywhere. For no reason at all.

Fine. You gonna write about Frank at all, fool?

Well, of course. I have to. I mean, Lady Gaga bought the ranch house, right?


And Dweezil and Ahmet?

At loggerheads.

So shut up already.

I’m using the chicken to measure it.