Rocker Prince, 50, made a rare public appearance on PBS Talkshow “The Tavis Smiley Show” in an interview that aired Monday night. He revealed for the first time that he suffered from epilepsy as a child and claimed that his mother told him he once approached her and said that an angel told him he would no longer be sick. It’s hard to tell from what he says next if he never had another seizure from that point or if that’s just what his mom said to him after he stopped having them.
Prince explained that he chose PBS for the interview because he’s a fan of Smiley and enjoyed his symposium “State of The Black Union,” which featured civil rights advocate Dick Gregory last year. Prince dedicated his new song “Dreamer” to Gregory. (You can see a segment from last year’s talk with Gregory on YouTube, Part One, and Part Two. Here’s Prince performing “Dreamer” on Leno last month.) Prince also mentioned being inspired by the Ken Burns series “Unforgiveable Blackness” about Jack Johnson, who was the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World from 1908-1915.
Tavis: What’d you make of that PBS series? [Unforgiveable Blackness]
Prince: Oh, it was amazing. I’m in sort of celebration mode right now. I’m just thankful to be alive, I’m thankful to have the friends that I do and the teachers that I do, and I’ve spent the last year just playing when I feel like it. And I really look forward to this time in my life.
And I happened to come across that show, “Unforgivable Blackness,” and the story of Jack Johnson just moved me no end. One of the reasons is that he had to deal with seemingly insurmountable odds all the time. If he would knock somebody down, people from the audience would get into the ring and pick him back up (laughter) so they could continue fighting.
And I just related to it on a lot of different – in a lot of different ways. I’ve never spoken about this before, but I was born epileptic and I used to have seizures when I was young. And my mother and father didn’t know what to do or how to handle it, but they did the best they could with what little they had.
And my mother told me one day I walked in to her and said, “Mom, I’m not going to be sick anymore,” and she said, “Why?” And I said, “Because an angel told me so.” Now, I don’t remember saying it – that’s just what she told me. And from that point on, I’ve been having to deal with a lot of things – getting teased a lot in school – and early in my career I tried to compensate for that by being as flashy as I could and as noisy as I could.
And I just looked – again, I look forward to this time in my life when I could reflect back on it and talk to people like yourself, Dr. Cornel West. When you all come over the house and we sit and just talk about heavy things, I just become thankful. I don’t know what else to say other than that.
Prince seems to be in a philosophical and aware place in his life now, but that doesn’t extend to actually getting involved in politics or voting. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness and it sounds like his religion prohibits him from voting or seeing any place for politics without God:
Prince: We’re all indentured servants. When I found out there were eight presidents before George Washington, I wanted to smack somebody. I wanted to know why I was taught otherwise. Just tell me the whole story – I’ll fill in the blanks. But don’t tell me something that you think I’m supposed to know.
Tavis: We’re indentured servants and we’ve got a Black president now?
Prince: Well, I don’t vote. I don’t have nothing to do with it. I got no dog in that race.
Tavis: And for those who would cuss me out and slap me in person if I didn’t ask you why?
Prince: Well, the reason why is because I’m one of Jehovah’s witnesses and we’ve never voted. That’s not to say that I don’t think Barack Obama – President Obama – is a very smart individual and he seems like he means well. Prophecy is what we all have to go by now.
It’s very interesting. I did a sold-out concert in London and we played 21 nights in a row, and all the concerts were sold out. When I would watch television over there and you’d see the United Nations feed – the direct feed from the United Nations – you’d hear them talk a lot about religion. You’d hear the bible mentioned constantly.
This is not what we’re used to in the United States. It’s almost as though there’s no need for god and no need for religion and justice in politics. So there’s supposed to be a separation of church and state over here.
We can’t have a separation of state and morality, though, and songs like “Dreamer” and even “Feel Good,” it’s the same thing.
[From PBS.org ]
Prince is not my favorite artist due to his strong-armed and often illogical pursuit of copyright infringements online. His lawyers once made a woman remove a video from YouTube of her cute baby dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy” playing in the background. That said, it’s brave of him to speak out about his childhood with epilepsy and you can really tell that he’s earnest about his personal search for meaning. I don’t really get how he has a deep interest in civil rights and history without an urge to vote or become involved in politics, but it seems like he can’t reconcile that with his religious beliefs. (Slate has a useful article that explains why Jehovah’s Witnesses remain neutral in politics and usually don’t vote.)
As for the “eight Presidents before George Washington” claim, I googled that as I’ve never heard of it before. It’s not true, although there is a basis for that story, according to Snopes. There were eight total presidents of the Constituional Congress and the Confederation Congress from 1776 – 1789 before the Constitution was adopted and before the US was was considered “a single, unified country out of the thirteen former British colonies.” The office of the President of the United States wasn’t created until the Constitution was ratified, which made George Washington the first President. It’s not like there was some big conspiracy to re-write history and forget the earlier Presidents.
You can watch Prince’s entire interview on World Star Hip Hop.
Here’s Prince on how he got over being teased as a child by finding an outlet in music: