Prince Gently Spars With Lenny Kravitz on ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Is Alive': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
"Rock 'N' Roll is Alive (And It Lives in Minneapolis)" is said by some to be a response to Lenny Kravitz's "Rock and Roll is Dead." Kravitz, ever the trickster, once indicated that when he wrote "Rock and Roll is Dead," he was being humorous, even ironic, because he actually believed the opposite to be true—he said the music was dead, but what he really meant was that it was alive and thriving. It's like when someone says, "The king is dead; long live the king," only in order to truly mean that, the words long and live need to follow is dead. Kravitz was apparently capable of verbally explaining his humorous/ironic thoughts in interviews, but not successfully turning them into lyrics.
Watch the video for Lenny Kravitz's "Rock and Roll Is Dead"
Prince, on the other hand, understood that there was no place for Kravitzian irony in rock 'n' roll. No art form that yielded the signature phrases "Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom," "Louie Louie, oh no / Sayin' we gotta go" had any business doling out the irony, or for that matter, being called out as lifeless.
"Rock 'n' roll is alive," Prince's chorus stated, "and it lives in Minneapolis!" Over and over again it went, as often as the Crew Cuts went "Sh-boom sh-boom" or the Beatles sang, "Na-na-na-nananana"—there is, after all, joy in repetition, as the artist formerly known as The Artist once posited. But simply repeating it did not make it so—not when Hüsker Dü and the Replacements had bitten the dust and Soul Asylum had set itself adrift on the Winnibigoshish, trailed by a cloud of pulverized gold records and Dave Pirner's split ends.
No, what made the declaration true is when you put the baddest cat alive in front of a straight-up funk band, complete with dancing background singers and live drums. And then you put a guitar in that cat's hands and you let a crowd of people gather 'round the stage and watch him set the whole thing on fire.
"Sure as the land of a thousand lakes is sometimes made of snow," Prince sang, "There'll always be another king 2 die butt-naked on the floor." What does that even mean? Didn't matter. Rock 'n' roll was alive, in spite of what Lenny Kravitz had indicated. And if Kravitz was even slightly offended, he got over it by the time he paid tribute to Prince with a pair of songs at the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Still, rock 'n' roll didn't live in Chicago or New York or even Detroit (where it had resided for a while, in the '60s).
It lived in the head and hands and voice of a 5'2" pipsqueak giant in fuzzy boots and a hoodie (in the video), purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, graced by the twin muses of Joni Mitchell and Patti LaBelle (they were fraternal twins), imbued with Sly Stone's high step and Jimi Hendrix's command of a wordless language.
It lived in that guy. And he lived in Minneapolis.
Long live the Prince.
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