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.