Context — April 21, 2016, 3:13 pm

I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love

A paean 2 Prince

Dick jokes, ass jokes, black-women-versus-white-women jokes, Taliban jokes, Whitney Houston jokes, more sex jokes, and then, finally, the best joke of all, because it plays like a confession telegraphed directly out of the comedian’s subconscious. From Jamie Foxx’s 2002 television stand-up special, I Might Need Security: “Hollywood is freaky . . . You get the chance to meet all your, you know, your favorite stars when you’re in Hollywood. And I met Prince . . . the man, you know what I’m sayin’?” Applause.

Jamie Foxx, dressed in a blue shirt with a satin sheen and dark trousers, traverses the stage, a pin spot following him as he follows his thoughts. “I’m not no fag,” he continues, almost bashfully. “But uh. I mean, he’s cute, he pretty . . . I just ain’t never seen no man that look like that. Just dainty and shit.” Beat. Hangdog expression. “I couldn’t look at him in his eyes.” Because “this little pretty bitch . . . came out with a little ice-skating outfit on, you know? With the boots sewn into the shit. And I’m like, That’s nice . . . I’m not gay. I’m just saying that’s nice.” More existential shrugging of the shoulders, turning away from the audience, embarrassment and confusion as Foxx’s desire attaches itself to a different, or rather unexpected, form. This is America, after all, where for sex to be sex it needs to be shaming. He flashes his goofy overbite. “I know you thinking—you thinking I’m gay,” Foxx says, more to his own heart and mind, perhaps, than to anyone in the audience. “I’m just saying I challenge any dude in here not to look in his eyes and feel some kind of shit . . . ’Cause he was pretty. He looked like a deer or something, or a fawn . . . I shouldn’t even be telling you this shit.” More laughter from the audience, more abashment from Foxx.

Then Foxx recalls how Prince started “talking with that shit”—adding a little audio to his distinctive visuals. Prince’s speaking voice—which Foxx’s audience may or may not know from a thousand and one uncandid interviews on VH1 and the like, or an awards show, or something—belies his slight frame: it’s deep and steady with few inflections. In any case, Foxx is spot-on when he imitates it. Foxx as Prince, utterly cool: “So how’s everything going?” Foxx as himself, his eyes downcast: “You know . . .” As Prince: “I heard you and LL [Cool J, the rapper who co-starred with Foxx in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday (1999)] got into it . . . What do you think Jesus would have done in that situation?” Foxx, again as himself: “I don’t know. Knuckle up.” Laughter. And then, shaking off his Prince impersonation: “I glanced in his eyes once.” After a while, defiantly: “Okay, yeah. Okay, I was a fag for two seconds. But I wasn’t on the bottom of the shit, I was on top, don’t get it twisted . . . I’d have fucked the shit out of that motherfucker. That troubled me though, man . . . When I left, the security guard knew something was wrong with me. He was like, ‘What’s up playa? . . . You looked in his eyes, didn’t you?’ ” Foxx admits, sheepishly, that he did. He is so confused. Freeing his mind—will his ass follow? And then what? Will he be a fag, forever desperate to stare up into Prince’s slightly-lighter-than-the-color-of-Mercurochrome prettiness? Then Foxx asks the security guard if he’s ever looked into Prince’s eyes.

And one thinks, Looking into Prince’s eyes must be like looking at the world. Or, more specifically, the world of one black man loving another. How freaky is that? And who’s on top in that kind of mind fuck? (Probably Prince, given that he’s capable of articulating this basic truth, as he does in his 1992 song “Sexy M.F.”: “In a word or 2—it’s u I wanna do/ No, not cha body, yo mind you fool.”) In any case, as Foxx moves away from Prince’s world, the maestro’s security guard answers in the affirmative; he’s looked into Prince’s eyes as well. Foxx asks him what happened after that. And the guard—another brother in love, but, unlike Foxx, okay with it—says, as if the whole thing is the most natural exchange in the world: “I’ve been fucking him for two years now.”

Read the full essay here.

Share
Single Page

More from Hilton Als:

From the June 2014 issue

Islands

Commentary December 12, 2012, 4:33 pm

New Power Generation

Why I write about Prince

From the December 2012 issue

I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love

A paean 2 Prince

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2019

Gimme Shelter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Body Language

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Trash, Rock, Destroy

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Make Way for Tomorrow

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Red Dot

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Gimme Shelter·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I.

That year, the year of the Ghost Ship fire, I lived in a shack. I’d found the place just as September’s Indian summer was giving way to a wet October. There was no plumbing or running water to wash my hands or brush my teeth before sleep. Electricity came from an extension cord that snaked through a yard of coyote mint and monkey flower and up into a hole I’d drilled in my floorboards. The structure was smaller than a cell at San Quentin—a tiny house or a huge coffin, depending on how you looked at it—four by eight and ten feet tall, so cramped it fit little but a mattress, my suit jackets and ties, a space heater, some novels, and the mason jar I peed in.

The exterior of my hermitage was washed the color of runny egg yolk. Two redwood French doors with plexiglass windows hung cockeyed from creaky hinges at the entrance, and a combination lock provided meager security against intruders. White beadboard capped the roof, its brim shading a front porch set on cinder blocks.

After living on the East Coast for eight years, I’d recently left New York City to take a job at an investigative reporting magazine in San Francisco. If it seems odd that I was a fully employed editor who lived in a thirty-two-square-foot shack, that’s precisely the point: my situation was evidence of how distorted the Bay Area housing market had become, the brutality inflicted upon the poor now trickling up to everyone but the super-rich. The problem was nationwide, although, as Californians tend to do, they’d taken this trend to an extreme. Across the state, a quarter of all apartment dwellers spent half of their incomes on rent. Nearly half of the country’s unsheltered homeless population lived in California, even while the state had the highest concentration of billionaires in the nation. In the Bay Area, including West Oakland, where my shack was located, the crisis was most acute. Tent cities had sprung up along the sidewalks, swarming with capitalism’s refugees. Telegraph, Mission, Market, Grant: every bridge and overpass had become someone’s roof.

Article
Body Language·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I am eight years old, sitting in my childhood kitchen, ready to watch one of the home videos my father has made. The videotape still exists somewhere, so somewhere she still is, that girl on the screen: hair that tangles, freckles across her nose that in time will spread across one side of her forehead. A body that can throw a baseball the way her father has shown her. A body in which bones and hormones lie in wait, ready to bloom into the wide hips her mother has given her. A body that has scars: the scars over her lungs and heart from the scalpel that saved her when she was a baby, the invisible scars left by a man who touched her when she was young. A body is a record or a body is freedom or a body is a battleground. Already, at eight, she knows it to be all three.

But somebody has slipped. The school is putting on the musical South Pacific, and there are not enough roles for the girls, and she is as tall as or taller than the boys, and so they have done what is unthinkable in this striving 1980s town, in this place where the men do the driving and the women make their mouths into perfect Os to apply lipstick in the rearview. For the musical, they have made her a boy.

No, she thinks. They have allowed her to be a boy.

Article
Trash, Rock, Destroy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes lives in a nondescript modern building in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. I know it well: it has a Bricorama—like a French Home Depot—on the ground floor, where we sometimes had cause to shop back when we lived in the neighborhood. The people who work there seemed to hate their jobs more than most; they were often absent from the sales floor. In the elevator to Despentes’s apartment, I marvel that while I was trying to get someone to help me find bathroom grout she was right upstairs, with her partner, Tania, a Spanish tattoo artist who goes by the name La Rata, like someone out of one of Despentes’s novels.

In an email before our meeting, Despentes asked that we not do a photo shoot. “There are so many images available already,” she explained. Much had been written about her, too. A Google search yielded page after page: profiles, interviews, reviews, bits and bobs—she read from Pasolini at a concert with Béatrice Dalle; someone accused her of plagiarizing a translation; a teacher in Switzerland was fired for teaching her work. The week I met her, she appeared in the culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles in conversation with the rapper-turned-actor JoeyStarr. The woman is simply always in the news.

Article
Burning Down the House·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Discussed in this essay:

Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright, by Paul Hendrickson. Knopf. 624 pages. $35.

Frank Lloyd Wright isn’t just the greatest of all American architects. He has so eclipsed the competition that he can sometimes seem the only one. Who are his potential rivals? Henry Hobson Richardson, that Gilded Age starchitect in monumental stone? Louis Sullivan, lyric poet of the office building and Wright’s own Chicago mentor, best known for his dictum that form follows function? “Yes,” Wright corrected him with typical one-upmanship, “but more important now, form and function are one.” For architects with the misfortune to follow him, Wright is seen as having created the standards by which they are judged. If we know the name Frank Gehry, it’s probably because he designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, in 1997. And Gehry’s deconstructed ship of titanium and glass would be unimaginable if Wright hadn’t built his own astonishing Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue some forty years earlier.

Article
The Red Dot·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

That night at the window, looking out at the street full of snow, big flakes falling through the streetlight, I listened to what Anna was saying. She was speaking of a man named Karl. We both knew him as a casual acquaintance—thin and lanky like Ichabod Crane, with long hair—operating a restaurant down in the village whimsically called the Gist Mill, with wood paneling, a large painting of an old gristmill on a river on one wall, tin ceilings, and a row of teller cages from its previous life as a bank. Karl used to run along the river, starting at his apartment in town and turning back about two miles down the path. He had been going through the divorce—this was a couple of years ago, of course, Anna said—and was trying to run through his pain.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

Shortly after the Regional Council of Veneto, in Italy, voted against climate-change legislation, its chambers were flooded.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Jesus Plus Nothing

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

Subscribe Today