“Way Back Home” – Art Official Age (2014)

Track ten from the 37th Prince album (and latest as of this writing – HitNRun coming soon!) – Art Official Age and last song on side C of the vinyl. Now mock me if you will, but until I actually heard this album and heard him say the words, I had no idea that it was supposed to be pronounced “artificial age”. I thought he was just trying to be artsy and weird. Which I guess he kinda was. This album was released at the same time as Plectrumelectrum, his record with 3rdEyeGirl. Art Official Age has Joshua Welton credited as co-producer. To be specific, the album was “ARRANGED, COMPOSED AND PER4MED BY @3RDEYEGIRL @JOSHUAWORLD”. I think this may be the first time a co-producing credit like that has ever gone on a Prince album. It looks like Josh may be Prince’s new go-to guy.

Art Official Age was released by NPG records and under licence to Warner Brothers (the prodigal son returns!) in September 2014. He’d been putting new songs out online for a while before this and there are a couple of tracks on this record and Plectrumelectrum that had been heard in various incarnations before the album was released. Even a few that didn’t make either album. This album didn’t generate that much online gossip (as I recall) in the Prince-verse. Plectrumelectrum had been spoken about and much anticipated. And 3rdEyeGirl was the new big thing. But no one was really expecting a stand-alone Prince album. At least I wasn’t. And definitely not a sci-fi R&B record with a three-eyed Prince on the cover. The font used on the cover and inside the sleeve for the track listing has a strange way of representing the “A” and “O” in each word (excluding the affirmations). At first I thought the “A” looked like a finger with the circle inside it (like a zero) but then I noticed the “O” with the line through the middle of it (like a one). Ones and zeros. Binary. And only the album and song titles receive this special treatment. Everything else is just regular script. The binary sequence (starting with the cover) is 01000100101100100001011. I don’t know if it means anything (Google didn’t help) but it is likely representative of the artificial age/cage that Prince finds himself in. Someone who was once a pioneer of online distribution and fan interaction has now become a detractor. Even to the point of declaring that the internet is “completely over” (“all these computers… just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you”[1]). The numbers (ones and zeros) hold you back from the real (i.e. not artificial) world, which in Prince’s mind usually means music, sex and god.

The cover of this record is an interesting combination of images and ideas. Obviously the title is referencing the artificiality of the world we live in but in the background we have some floating platinum records. It’s hard to make out which albums they are but they seem to have the flowers on them from the Purple Rain album. Although every vinyl picture I was able to find of Purple Rain has the flowers in the bottom left, not top left. Make of that what you will, it seems clear that the records represent his past and they are behind him. In the foreground we have our hero with his afro-naut helmet in his shiny space suit and three-rimmed glasses. In the reflection of the glasses is a vision of outer space but behind the records is a field of clouds. As though he’s at the edge of the earth’s atmosphere looking out at the universe. The “third eye” is something that has come up a few times in Prince’s career. There’s a song, a band and now an album cover. “The third eye (also known as the inner eye) is a mystical and esoteric concept referring to a speculative invisible eye which provides perception beyond ordinary sight… In some traditions such as Hinduism, the third eye is said to be located around the middle of the forehead, slightly above the junction of the eyebrows.”[2] In his latest incarnation Prince is professing his ability to see what we ordinary folks aren’t able to see with our regular old pairs of regular old eyes. When you open up the cover, on the inside we see what it looks like through Prince’s third eye. The background (his past/earth) becomes binary or digital – artificial.

It’s hard for me to articulate, but somehow this album (and to some extent Plectrumelectrum) feels like a breath of fresh air in the last 10 or so years of Prince’s career. Maybe it has something to do with the four year break between the last album (20TEN) and these two. Maybe he’s reached a new level of comfort with his history, his age and his place in the world. Maybe it’s my own perception. There is definitely some new territory that Prince is covering with this album and he’s tried to wrap it all together in a concept that straddles spirituality and science fiction. I imagine his co-producer had a little to do with it too. Whatever the case may be, this album sounds fresher and more considered than a lot of his latter day career.

This song is really one part of a thematic arc running through the whole album and the arc is held together by the English voiceover lady – Lianne La Havas. She starts in “Clouds” which is track two on the album (side A on the vinyl) but then she doesn’t come back until “affirmation I & II” (seven tracks later – side C on the vinyl) then immediately followed by “Way Back Home” and finishing with “affirmation III”, the last track on the album (side D). Lianne is credited on the record as “Charlotte Ann Telepathy” (her middle name is Charlotte) which, in a similar way to the album title, sounds like “charlatan telepathy” when spoken aloud. Earlier on the album during “Clouds” she says that he’s been asleep for 45 years. So either he’s been “asleep” since 1969 and the summer of love (when he was 11) or he’s waking up 45 years from now in some utopian future (2059) where all the cool characters are English. I’m going to argue that it is both. The songs on the album are themselves nostalgic but the story (the album concept) is futuristic. Inside the album sleeve it says “there used 2 be a time when music was a spiritual healing 4 the body, soul & mind…” The time that he’s referring to is his youth and this song (and a lot of the album) is full of nostalgia and pathos about an earlier, simpler time.  I think that 1969 is right around the time when Prince’s parents split up. It may have happened a little earlier, I’m not 100% sure on the dates, but I think it’s close. Regardless, with this song he’s expressing a longing for the past and a simpler life, and his regret at some of the choices that lead him here. The good old days when musicians were real and the world wasn’t “artificial”. A different age (100% organic!). If I had to guess I’d say that something happened in 1969 that had some impact on young Prince.

While doing the research for this song I came across a movie from 1969 called “Prince”. It’s a Hindi movie about “the story of a Prince who brought about his own downfall so that he may rise as a human being.”[3] I haven’t watched the movie but I’m going to presume that if there was a movie made whose title was the same as my name that I would not only know about it but that I would also have watched it more than once. And perhaps even taken on some ideas and concepts from that movie (and the culture from which it came). Prince finding his way home is him becoming a human being again, not just a collection of platinum records.

Musically, “Way Back Home” starts with a pulsing, ultrasound heartbeat type of sound. It reminds me of “Sex in the Summer” from the Emancipation album, which I believe was the sound of Prince’s unborn child’s heart. On this album the sound represents Prince’s heart beating again after coming out of stasis (45 years in the future) but the echo of that earlier song is there. The pulsing sets the scene behind the opening monologue. There’s the high bell-like sound of the keyboard that introduces Prince’s vocal which starts as a call and response between his singing voice and spoken word. The marching drum beat sounds like a stronger heart beat or a quickening pulse and it comes in on the phrase “trophy wife”. The ding-dong sound of the bells and the drum and the pulsing are all intended to mimic the sounds that our protagonist is hearing as he awakens. The machines that he’s hooked up to are beeping and keeping track of his heartbeat and his vital signs as he awakens and tries to find his way home.

 

Any person or object whatsoever
That requires your attention
Is something that has veered
from its path
And preordained destiny
of total enlightenment

An interesting suggestion that somehow inanimate objects are capable of “enlightenment” but it’s likely that this is some sort of allusion to the circle of death and rebirth. If the destiny of a thing or person is preordained then how is it possible that it could have veered from that path toward enlightenment? Preordained destiny implies that the person or object has no choice but to attain enlightenment (by definition). To suggest that said person or thing has veered suggests that it has free will or has been acted upon by an agent of some kind that had free will. Either way, nothing is then preordained or destined to occur. Furthermore, if that person or thing requires your attention doesn’t that also mean that you yourself Mr Prince have chosen to veer from your path of enlightenment and have been distracted by the shiny objects? (Squirrel!)

Given that they have a preordained destiny to attain enlightenment, then any path they take, no matter how convoluted must lead to enlightenment. However, if they have veered from their path toward enlightenment (and there’s a chance they may not reach their destination), then in no way can it be said that their enlightenment was a preordained destiny.

So everyone’s and everything’s destiny is to attain enlightenment. This is preordained. But some people or objects veer from that destiny. So they are somehow able to avoid their destiny. Which is preordained. But still not certain. But their enlightenment is destined and preordained. But sometimes they veer from the path.

A loop, is a loop, is a loop.

The short introduction to this song specifically is saying that anything that stands out, that isn’t part of the collective, is something that has lost its way. Which is why it has been added to the start of a song called “Way Back Home”. Coming back home is a synonym for “enlightenment”. Prince was lost but now he’s trying to be found.

 

I never wanted a typical life
scripted role, huh…trophy wife
All I ever wanted, was to b left alone
See my beds made up at night
Cuz in my dreams I roam
Just trying to find, trying to find
My way back, back home

He definitely hasn’t had a “typical” life but if all you wanted was to be left alone then choosing a career as an international superstar was probably a bad choice. Prince has always written his own script and made his own choices, regardless of public opinion (or common sense) so he’s definitely lived his life as he chose. The call and response of the first two lines emphasise his desire to not want to live a normal life (whatever that is) but also wanting to truly find love (not just a trophy). Songs where he’s looking for love probably form over half of Prince’s back catalogue, so it’s a theme that he’s covered many times before. And while it’s true that he does shun publicity and the media (or at least purports to), he very clearly doesn’t want to be left alone. If that were true he wouldn’t be seeking love in every other song he writes (or have two ex-wives to boot). But a man can dream and it sounds like in Prince’s dreams he’s astral projecting (roaming) his way back “home”.

 

So many reasons why
There’s so many reasons why
I don’t belong here
But now that I am I
Without fear I am
Gonna conquer with no fear
Until I find my way back home
Until I find my way back home
Find my way back home

So many reasons. Too many reasons. I’m just not going to mention any right now. He doesn’t belong on the spaceship with Charlatan. He doesn’t belong in the “Art Official Age”. He doesn’t belong on Earth. Prince is turning on his third eye and is starting to approach enlightenment; now that he is coming out of his suspended animation, he’s seeing what is really going on in this artificial cage. Or at least that is what he is affirming by claiming that he is going to “conquer with no fear”. But now that “I am I” (I am what I am) he’s realised who he really is and now has the power to conquer (“I know kung fu”). But conquer who exactly?

 

Most people in this world are born dead
But I was born alive
I was born with this dream
With a dream outside my head
That I could find my way back home
My my way way back home

He’s talking here about being spiritually dead or alive, however the way the lyric has been phrased, it does evoke images of miscarriages and still births. Which feels like another echo of “Sex in the Summer” and the child that didn’t survive. What he’s trying to explain here is that he was born with his third eye (his special power) which will allow him to achieve the enlightenment that he requires. His astral projecting spirit is the dream outside of his head that will lead him to enlightenment. Lead him back home.

 

Power to the ones, power to the ones
who could raise a child like me
The path was set
But if u look the truth will set us free
I’ve heard about those happy endings
But it’s still a mystery
Lemme tell u about me
I’m happiest when I can see
My way back home
Can u see my way back home
Can u see my way back home

The drums (heartbeat) stop just before the first line in this verse. This is the memory that stops his heart for a moment. He’s talking about his parents (and the other folks who helped raise him). This song is ultimately a nostalgia trip where Prince is recalling a simpler time in his life when he was young. He had his destiny but… the truth will set him free (he who has ears to hear, let him hear). He will overcome his destiny with his true voice. His singing. His song will show him the way back home.

 

Running time: 3:05

 

 

 

 Addendum

The opening of this song is a spill over from the previous track “affirmation I & II”, which in turn is a continuation of the story from “Clouds”. I don’t think that there’s any way to properly talk about this song without discussing those two earlier tracks and the last track on the album “affirmation III”, which could have easily been called “Way Back Home (reprise)”. Let’s put it all together and see what we can see:

 

Mr. Nelson, Mr. Nelson, can you hear my voice?
Sir, we know you’re a little bit groggy
And you’re probably going to find it hard to speak
But don’t try to talk or process too much now
We just want to let you know that the medication you were given
Has put you in a suspended animation for quite some time
Well, in fact, about 45 years
But where you are now
Is a place that does not require time
That being said, you are completely safe
And we are here to help you

 

“Before you have any interaction with members of the opposite sex
We’re going to have to debrief you thoroughly over the course of the next few sessions.
Today though we’re just going to start off with some simple affirmations that will be automatically induced to your memory temple, which you can upload on to a hard drive and can review at your desire.

Affirmation number one, there are no such words as me or mine.
Words of this nature were introduced into society as a control mechanism which systematically divided the subjects first individually and then as a collective.

“Any person or object whatsoever
That requires your attention
Is something that has veered
from its path
And preordained destiny
of total enlightenment

 

“How are u feeling 2day Mr Nelson?
I trust ur having a quick and enjoyable adjustment period
As u can see, we are communicating telepathically
Which makes things move so much faster here
After u have completed the planned affirmation therapy
u will find this way of interaction far easier
You’ve probably felt many years in ur former life,
that u were separate from not only others, but even yourself.
Now u can see that was never the case
U are actually everything and anything that u can think of.
All of it is U
Remember there really is only one destination, and that place is U
All of it, everything is U.”

There’s a lot that I could bring in here about each song on the album and how it relates to the overall narrative but I’ll just try to touch on a few key points, otherwise I’ll be here for months. The narration starts in “Clouds” but in the opening track “Art Official Cage”, we hear Prince’s muffled cry “Let me go!” and it sounds like he’s being water-boarded. This is the sound of him being captured and put into suspended animation which he then starts to come out of during “Clouds” (45 years later), a song which opens with what sounds like a radio dial searching for a signal – this is Prince searching for the lost memories that the suspended animation has taken from him. I won’t get too deep into that song but sufficed to say that the narration in “Clouds” is the set up for the concept of the album and the story that is to come. The lyrics before this narration are sung by Lianne herself and they talk about life being a stage in this age and how we may be better off in space. Which is where Prince finds himself. Awakening in space (above the “Clouds”). Unable to speak. You can even hear his background vocals mumbling after she says “voice”. But it’s okay because he’s safe with Charlatan Telepathy.

In between “Clouds” and “affirmation I & II” Prince finds himself reliving his past, searching his memories and breaking down his history through the different songs on the album. In “Breakdown” he’s asking, almost begging to be saved (broken down and rebuilt) by the subject of the song. An argument could be made that the subject here is god or so he believes. The rest of the songs are there to represent that breaking down process. Prince’s captors (who he believes are god/heaven) are forcing him to relive the best and worst parts of his history. The electronic manipulation of the vocals in a number of the songs (“Gold Standard”, “U Know”, “Breakfast Can Wait”, Funknroll”) is Prince struggling with the artificial world he is in as he tries to approach enlightenment.

The first “affirmation” track references avoiding women until after he gets a full debrief (how will our hero survive!), which is odd considering that most of the album is songs about women. Or maybe that’s the point. But to go on and say that “there are no such words as me or mine” is a little silly when she’s clearly just said the words. The memories are “induced” into a “memory temple”. Induce is defined as “succeed in persuading or leading (someone) to do something.”[4] Charlatan Telepathy is trying to persuade Prince (via his “memory temple” or astral brain) that the nature of the universe is unity. I find it strange that she tells him he can put his memories on a hard drive for later. A hard drive sounds very “artificial” so it makes a strange kind of sense that his memories of his past – his “artificial” memories will be stored on such a device. Charlatan seems to be working at cross purposes to our hero. If you’re a Star Wars fan then you’ll know that most of the bad guys have English accents and it’s starting to become clear that Charlatan is living up to her name – “A charlatan is a person practising quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception.”[5] It’s the concept of individuality that is at issue here and the last “affirmation” confirms that this is the point of everything that Charlatan has been talking about. You’re not separate. We are all one. Everything is you because you are everything she tells him. Prince has come home. He’s finally made it to “heaven”. With Charlatan.

The whole of the narration is a ruse to deceive our hero. A brain washing exercise. Telling him what he wants to hear. All so that he can be uploaded to the hard drive and become part of the artificial cage. His spirit has been broken down and his resistance is fading. Charlatan appears to have beaten him by the end but the chorus in the last track is still searching for home as everything starts to fade. And the last ten seconds are silent. Game over.

 

 

References:

Art Official Age

The Peach and Black Podcast

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Google

The Mirror

AZ Lyrics

Emancipation

[1] http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/prince—world-exclusive-interview-233220

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_eye

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_%281969_film%29

[4] https://www.google.com.au/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=tzncVaqvMLHu8wfF9aD4Dg#q=induce

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlatan

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