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:

Official Business March 17, 2015, 4:01 am

Radio Hustle

Listen to the broadcast version of “American Hustle,” Alexandra Starr’s story, for the April 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine, about how elite youth basketball exploits African athletes.

Official Business January 8, 2015, 3:57 pm

The Art of Outrage

We defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish its cartoons—and our right to critique them.

Memento Mori September 2, 2014, 5:33 pm

Charles Bowden (1945–2014)

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Amount the town of Rolfe, Iowa, will pay anyone who builds a home there:

$1,200

Ancient Egyptians worshiped some dwarves as gods.

In Italy, a judge ordered that a man who paid for sex with a 15-year-old girl must buy her 30 feminist-themed books, including The Diary of Anne Frank and the poems of Emily Dickinson.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today