Purple pain

May 28, 2003 at 12:00 am

Alex Hahn thinks The Artist Once Again Known As Prince is a spoiled, misogynistic, egotistical megalomaniac. But he admires his talent. Really.

Hahn’s dishy new biography of the Purple One, Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince, is his attempt to chart Prince from the days when his music was introducing thousands of suburban teens to topics ranging from mutual masturbation (“Jack U Off”) and blow jobs (“Head”) to the present, when Prince is preaching to the fans he has left about his newfound Jehovah’s Witness faith.

Hahn, a journalist and lawyer operating out of Boston, grew up listening to Prince and had a strong appreciation for his work. But that was back in the ’80s when it was fashionable to admit you were a Prince fan and could boast to your friends that you figured out what he was saying in that mysterious backward-masked message at the end of “Darling Nikki.”

Then Hahn, like many other fans, got pissed off at His Royal Badness during the ’90s, when he started following rap and predictable Boyz II Men-style R&B. Changing his name to that male-female symbol didn’t help much either. And why the hell was he writing “slave” on his cheek that one year?

But when Prince went lawsuit-crazy for the umpteenth time back in 1999, he tried to shut down several Web sites and fanzines that he said were violating his trademarked symbol name and were trading illegal bootlegged music. Hahn worked pro bono to defend Uptown, the most prominent Prince fanzine. He succeeded in reaching a settlement between the magazine and Prince, and the publication continued — albeit with a huge disclaimer sticker on its cover stating that it was not an official Prince product. Duh.

So now Hahn’s really pissed — and he’s channeled that anger and disillusionment into Possessed, bringing his journalistic credentials and the testimonies of several past Prince associates with him. Yet, even though the book is filled with juicer-than-a-ripe-mango gossip, Possessed is quite dispossessing.

Sure, there are some interesting moments. There’s the allegation that Prince entered rehab for cocaine abuse back in the ’90s. There’s the retelling of the legend that Prince’s decision to shelve the infamous Black Album in ’88 was brought on by a bad Ecstasy trip. And the book’s prelude details Prince being rushed to the hospital in 1996 due to an overdose of aspirin and alcohol.

And, yes, dear reader, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Prince’s Sex Life (But Were Too Lazy to Research) is in here too. Apparently, your father was wrong when he saw Prince flouncing around in makeup, heels and lace and called him gay. The guy got more chicks than anyone since Mick Jagger.

This is definitely the National Enquirer-type filler that’s needed to sell biographies nowadays and certainly Prince fans will find the material morbidly fascinating. Yet Hahn comes across not as an objective biographer with a background in journalism, but as an angry, disillusioned ex-fan who rues the day he ever lost sleep anticipating the latest Prince release.

Hahn wrote for the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle prior to becoming a lawyer, but his disregard for accuracy suggests that he needs to retake Journalism 101. He says that the 1993 greatest-hits compilation, The Hits/The B-Sides, doesn’t contain the song “Kiss,” but it does. He refers to a Vanity 6 song as “She’s So Dull,” when the actual title is “He’s So Dull.” He even misspells the names of both actress Kirstie Alley and singer Cyndi Lauper.

When Hahn tries to play music critic, he stumbles as well. While most of Prince’s hardcore following — and believe me, they’re out there — would agree with Hahn that Prince’s music in the ’80s was more experimental, groundbreaking and rebellious than it’s been in subsequent decades, you’d be hard-pressed to find many fans who entirely dismiss albums like Come or The Symbol Album, which Hahn does.

Hahn is correct in one thing: Prince can be a jerk. Scores of former band members, ex-girlfriends, business associates and managers have testified to that. He’s also most likely correct when he blames Prince’s downward spiral on his obsessive need for control and his tendency to treat everyone like crap.

With Possessed, Hahn appears to be a man who admits that Prince is/was a genius. But Hahn’s now selling his CD collection on half.com.

Give me a ring, Alex. I’ll buy ’em.

Jason Webber is a Detroit-based freelance writer. E-mail [email protected].