One for Friday: Ani Difranco, “When You Were Mine”

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Though I grew up when Prince was at the height of his chart-dominating powers, I came to Purple One’s music late. It was my own fault. I listened to that melange of inverted pop, fiery funk, rafter-rattling rock, and provocatively challenging lyrics and I couldn’t find my entryway. I even remember standing in a record store holding vinyl copies of both Sign o’ the Times and Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones, mulling which one to purchase, only to have a friend essentially tell me I wasn’t ready for Prince’s double album masterwork. He was right. (By now, I own it; on two different formats.) Even as I struggled to connect, I understood I was missing out on a singular talent, a iconoclastic musical genius. I always knew it was me, not him.

If there was a fracture in my resistance, it was formed by cover versions of Prince’s songs. It wasn’t simply that these were usually somewhat safer in their presentation, though that surely soothed my staid Midwestern reticence (Prince lived only one state over, so, once again, it was me not him), my overt anxiousness in embracing the ribaldry different. At a time when I when longed to hear just about every song stripped down to an acoustic version to better understand the undergirding melody and the emotional poetry of the words, hearing a Prince effort apart from the hurricane of additional creativity he brought to each recording or live performance gave me a helpful view of the anatomy of his talent. The pliability of the songs spoke to their soundness. Before I could be dazzled by his showmanship, I needed to see the delicate craftsman.

I’m not sure how many covers of Prince songs I have in my digital collection. Dozens, maybe? The reworked versions of “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” alone could fill a month of Fridays. I settled on Ani Difranco’s take on “When You Were Mine” because her approach to artistic independence represented the freedom from corporate control which Prince sought, briefly setting aside his name in favor of a symbol and writing the word “SLAVE” on his cheek. I also like the fact that it was recorded live in Minneapolis, a city Prince never left, in part, he said, because it was so cold there it kept the bad people out. And this cover is plainly beautiful. By the time I heard this version, I was a complete Prince convert, but the way this performance bores into the core of the song is a good example of what I once sought, what I once needed, in my own journey with the brilliant man’s music.

Listen or download –> Ani Difranco, “When You Were Mine”

(Disclaimer: To the best of my knowledge, this track has never been released commercially, although Righteous Babe Records has engaged in a fairly robust “official bootleg” series, so I could be quite incorrect. It’s also worth noting that Prince vigorously defended his copyrights, but I believe cover versions proliferate enough that they fall somewhat outside that guardianship. I will admit, though, that knowledge of his strong preferences kept me from posting this cover previously. Even more so than in most cases with this weekly feature, I mean this act of sharing as humble tribute, with no fiscal harm intended. I will gladly and promptly remove the track from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request. Also, I don’t believe the above picture actually corresponds with the timing of the performance. But, you know, Ani’s hair looks a little purple in it.)

(Addendum!: I would be remiss if I didn’t add a reminder that music from both the artist posted and the artist being celebrated is readily available at your favorite local, independently-owned record store. Buy it there. Not online, not at a box store. At the local place. I’m confident Prince would agree.

Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day.)

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