Artist kept the faith to make music that was both raunchy and religious

By Michelle Boorstein

Prince performs in concert circa 1985 in Los Angeles, California. Photo / Getty Images
Prince performs in concert circa 1985 in Los Angeles, California. Photo / Getty Images

With the death of Prince, you may see a strange mix on your Facebook feed of sex and religion.

That's because perhaps one of the raunchiest, steamiest pop culture figures in the past quarter-century was a conservative Christian.

Religious and spiritual themes ran through a huge amount of his work, including this tiny sampling of lyrics: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life," he intoned, pastor-like, in Let's Go Crazy. "If God one day struck me blind, your beauty I'll still see," from Adore. "We all have our problems, some are big, some are small. Soon all of our problems, y'all, will be taken by the cross," from The Cross.

Prince even appeared on a lot of playlists created for the US visits of Pope Benedict (2008) and Pope Francis (2015) - yes, playlists for pope trips exist!

That's because of his classic The Pope, which included this line: "You can be the president, I'd rather be the pope. You can be the side effect, I'd rather be the dope." (Then a few unpublishable words.)

Raised a Seventh Day Adventist, Prince later became a Jehovah's Witness, and the story of his conversion became public in a rather remarkable way.

The Guardian wrote in 2004: "A newspaper in his hometown reported how a married couple had answered their door to find Prince proffering a copy of the Watchtower.

"Though they were orthodox Jews, and it was Yom Kippur, they were also Prince fans. They welcomed him into the house."

My colleague Justin Moyer wrote about Prince last year, when His Purpleness announced he'd play in Baltimore to honour Freddie Gray, who died in the city last year after being in police custody.

Here's Moyer on Prince's faith and how the singer apparently intended his intense, bawdy expressions of sexuality to be linked to the worship of God. This excerpt begins with Prince talking in 2009 with Tavis Smiley, and explaining why he - Prince - didn't vote for Barack Obama, the first black President: "The reason why is that I'm one of the Jehovah's Witnesses," Prince said.

"And we've never voted. That's not to say I don't think ... President Obama is a very smart individual and he seems like he means well. Prophecy is what we all have to go by now."

Indeed, though Prince is famous for writhing around naked in purple bathrooms and writing songs with titles like Sexy MF, religion - okay, "prophecy" - has guided much of his music. For every filthy song like Darling Nikki, it seems, there is a track like The Cross. The Purple One's religiosity became even more apparent after he turned to Jesus in 2001. "I don't see it really as a conversion," he said. "More, you know, it's a realisation. It's like Morpheus and Neo in The Matrix."

Then there was the time Prince came out against gay marriage. In a New Yorker profile in 2008, he slighted Republicans and Democrats - "neither of them is getting it right," he said - but singled out same-sex marriage as part of the Democrats' notion that "You can do whatever you want".

"God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out," he told the magazine. "He was, like, 'Enough'."

Perez Hilton later quoted "a Prince source" as denying the New Yorker depiction of the interview.

If the idea seems bonkers that the man who shrieked with unbridled sexual energy in the intro of When Doves Cry is actually a prude, well, maybe it's not.

"Prince intended sexuality to be linked to the worship of God, and he filled his music with classic Christian messages," the author Toure wrote in 2013 in I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon, "meaning Prince was sexual but, ultimately, very conservative."

- Washington Post

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