Mentions — December 3, 2012, 4:05 pm

Controversy

On the matter of conscious v. conscience in Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U”

Definitive evidence?

We were pleased recently to find, in the course of our usually disconsolate midnight googlings, a discussion in the fan forums at Prince.org of Hilton Als’s memoir “I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love: A paean 2 Prince,” which appears in the current issue of the magazine.

Though the contributors to the thread seem mostly to support the idea of reading Als’s piece, a conclusion we applaud, there is one small point on which we would like to weigh in. A user calling herself Genesia writes:

Lord…get the lyrics right. It’s
I’m your conscienceI am love.

Later, she adds:

[I]f it’s a paean to Prince (as claimed), you’d have to think it was a quotation of the lyrics. I think [Als] just got it wrong.

Genesia, author of some 21,774 Prince.org posts, is partially correct. The Artist’s manuscript draft of “I Would Die 4 U,” the source song of the lyric in question, quite clearly renders the line as “I’m your conscience, I am love.” But at some point between Prince’s composition of the song and its appearance on Purple Rain, the lyric changed. The album’s liner notes — along with the perhaps slightly less authoritative adaptation for piano, voice, and guitar published by Hal Leonard — give the version Als quotes in his title, “I am your conscious, I am love.” Prince’s articulation of the line in the recording of “I Would Die 4 U,” far from resolving the Als–Genesia debate, begets only further confusion:

conscious v. conscience

It was decided in the final days of the December production cycle — after many hours spent discussing the Princely syllabication of the phrase “not cha body” and the degrees of skew necessary to make the pictographic title of the Love Symbol Album appear italicized (answer: 11) — that the idiosyncratic and uncontracted version of the lyric resonated best with Als’s essay, and that the liner notes could reasonably be treated as definitive. Perhaps can tell us whether we were mistaken — though there must, we imagine, be a private joy in allowing the question to linger.

Share
Single Page

More from Harper’s Magazine:

Memento Mori September 2, 2014, 5:33 pm

Charles Bowden (1945–2014)

Mentions July 16, 2014, 7:00 pm

“The End of Retirement” on MSNBC

Watch Jessica Bruder on MSNBC’s The Cycle

Official Business June 25, 2014, 8:00 am

Garry Winogrand at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A retrospective exhibition from June 27 to September 21 in New York City

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

  • r212

    Liner notes? Manuscript draft? Good lord – just listen to the damn song! It’s clear as day that he sings “conscience.” THAT was the basis for my comment. (I had never seen the lyrics in Prince’s hand.)

    Yes, I am Genesia at prince.org.

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
Post
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Article
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
Criticism
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

 
“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today