The artist formerly known as [Symbol] embodied the traits of the God so deeply I’d suspect he might have been a Neos Dionysos if not for his deep devotion and adherence to the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Still, I’m not the only one to notice these themes in Prince’s work; Katy Waldmam writes in an article for Slate entitled The Surreal, Dionysian Poetry of Prince’s Lyrics:
“All art aspires to the condition of music,” wrote Walter Pater, and Prince’s lyrics are as hot and dreamlike and weird as his sound. Saturated in color, wild with bizarre imagery, they overload the senses and short-circuit the brain. Rolling Stone described the Purple One’s aesthetic as “sensual anarchy,” a phrase that helps capture the intoxicating drive of his poetry. (What if not poetry would you call these lines from “Raspberry Beret”: “Now, overcast days never turned me on/ But something about the clouds and her mixed.”) Prince told us to move and dance and fuck our way to utopia, to grind “until the castle started spinning/ or maybe it was just my brain.”
He was our Dionysus, and his lyrics were full of beasts. “You’re just as soft as a lion tamed,” he crooned. “Take me to the place where your horses run free,” he begged. And he saw in color: red corvettes, pink cashmere, purple rain, purple everything. Prince understood T.S. Eliot’s notion of the objective correlative, the concrete object that stands for a chaotic, vibrant mass of emotions. “She wore a raspberry beret,” he sang, and once it was worn he didn’t say much more.
Pop songs aren’t often surrealist paintings, but Prince knew how to create a hallucinatory scene. His lyrics invite you into an altered state of consciousness: “Dream if you can a courtyard.” “I was dreaming when I wrote this.” Consider that courtyard for a second, “an ocean of violets in bloom,” in which “animals strike curious poses.” Even before the doves start shedding human tears, you’re on a rocket ship to the Martian version of Versailles.
His music (which I listened to on cassette and MTV over and over again) provided some of my first entries to the realm of Dionysos, before I even knew what that was. It hit me hard when Prince died back in 2016, especially hearing about the chronic pain condition that dogged his final days. (For reasons I’m sure I don’t have to explain.) May he find a peace in the beyond which the fentanyl never gave him.