You thought I was going to call this story “Billy Jack Bitch,” didn't you?
I thought about it, but, I don't think that really sheds any light on the, shall we say, “differences of opinion,” between C.J., Minneapolis Star Tribune entertainment columnist and her most divisive discussion topic: Prince.
She has often made critical observations about the artist in her column and the writer-- as well as most Prince fans-- are sure that The Purple One wrote the song “Billy Jack Bitch,” from his 1995 album The Gold Experience, in her honor. The opus depicts its subject--whomever that might be--in a less-than-flattering light. However, he has never publicly confirmed or denied if the song is about her.
C.J. has lived in Minnesota for about 25 years and started writing her column for the Star Tribune in the late 1980s. She also does “Buzz,” an entertainment segment included on KMSP(Fox 9) newscasts, for the last 10 years.
C.J. said she grew up in the “deep south” and her father was one of the first African-Americans to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. She said he was “essentially a poor boy trying to get through school with a wife and two children.” She added that sometimes he had to leave school to go work and he would save money to go back to continue his studies. He later became the first dean of the graduate school at Alabama State University.
She received her bachelor's degree from Bennett College, an all-women's Historically Black College, in North Carolina and a master's degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. Her first newspaper job was in Flint, Mich. and she later landed a reporting gig with her current employer.
C.J. did a telephone interview with “Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s” about two weeks ago where she discussed her column,“Billy Jack Bitch” and some things she likes about Prince:
?: How did you start writing this column? What did you cover before that?
C.J.: (The paper) said they wanted a local column about people and, one day, I looked in the paper and saw they were promoting it as gossip column.
(Before that), I covered everything, but, courts was my favorite thing to cover. Actually, at the time I got this job, I had been banished to covering one of the suburbs, because, I was being punished. That's the truth. Ironically, the editor who banished me no longer works here...
We didn't have many celebrities here in Minnesota back when I started this column and (Prince) lived here at the time. Sometimes, he is not the most well-behaved person and I thought, is anybody telling him the truth? He didn't appreciate that because he is only interested in adulation. I'm kind of a no-nonsense personality myself. I guess, some years later, he reportedly wrote a song about me...
?: How did you initially find out about the song “Billy Jack Bitch”?
C.J.: I was on vacation at the time and I was not the first person to write about it. One of the local news stations had reported (while I was gone) that Prince had written a song about me. This was before Twitter, e-mail and everything, so, I wasn't really connected to the office.
I called to talk to my editor and I was telling him I wasn't sure if I was going to have anything to write about (upon returning). He said, "oh, I think that you'll find something to write about" and he told me about the story...
I got back to town, got a copy of the song and I got the lyrics. I wrote a column about it. (It was) very entertaining. I had a lot of fun with that.
?: Do you think that people sometimes misunderstand you and your column?
C.J.: They most definitely do... One of the most useful elements of my appearances on Fox 9, has been that people can now hear me, so (now) when they read (my column), they don't get as upset as they used to. When I was at the Minnesota State Fair last summer, I was at the Fox 9 booth autographing pictures. This scruffy, older-- I would guess he's kind of conservative-- white man came over to me. He said, “I didn't like you when I read you in the newspaper, but, now that see you on T.V., I get you. You're a smart ass!” And he said he liked me.
A mouthy black women is still something kind of hard for America to deal with. Think about how careful Michelle Obama is. I bet you that the first lady is quite a bit sassier than she lets anybody in the greater public see. I bet you she is a hoot behind closed doors...
A lot of people think that when Black folks have a (public) profile, they should just be grateful. They shouldn't start acting like White folks and be smart asses (laughing). I don't really view myself as (just) a Black person and I don't think about it very much. But, other people remind me all the time that I am... I think I was a white guy in another life, I have to tell you.
?: In one of your columns, you wrote about e-mails you have received saying that you should not criticize Prince, because, he's Black and you're Black. What do you think about that?
C.J.: I don't do “Black for Black's sake.” I don't operate that way. I can't operate that way. I've never operated that way. I believe there's right behavior and there's wrong behavior. After I had gotten out of graduate school and I was working at my first job in Flint, Mich., one of my brothers asked me, “are you going to be a journalist first or a Black person first? I told him I was going to be a journalist first. That was the wrong answer, by the way.
?: Tell me about the time you met Prince.
C.J.: My dear friend Beverly was in town and she was a big Prince fan. She wanted to know where he lived. (Usually), I don't tell people where celebrities live, (because), I don't like to create additional security issues for people. But, I figured she was from out of town, so she wouldn't know where she was.
(We drove up to the gate) and we were hanging out, then I said, “here he comes right now.” He was driving his BMW and he was leaving his property. She got so excited. (We were driving away) and he pulled in right behind us. She was trying to take a photograph of him through the back window of my car. She could barely work the camera, (although) her daddy was a famous photographer...
So, I slowed down even more and I saw through my driver's side mirror that Prince had wrapped his thumbs around his steering wheel and he was using his fingers to essentially tell us to move along... because, he could tell that he had been made.
Then I told her, "if he's going to Paisley Park, he'll make a series of turns,” and he made those turns. When he got to Paisley Park, he pulled onto the property and I thought he had pulled his car into the garage. I parked my car on the street; having been kicked out of Paisley Park once, I didn't dare park my car on his property. We got out of the car and as she's walking over to take a picture of (the building), I realize that his car was hidden... So, he came driving out and pulled out on the street and she was just beside herself. He lowered the window just a little bit, because, the glass was really tinted and he said "no pictures, no pictures."
She said "I'll put the camera behind my back" and I was afraid he was going to flee-- he looked very skittish to me-- so, I took the camera from her and I said "watch, I'll put the camera in the car."
I walked over to the car, so, he could see me. I opened the door and threw the camera in and I said "see, no camera."
I returned to where Prince was talking with my friend Beverly. She was going on and on about what a genius he is and how incredible he is. To tell you the truth, I was kind of standing there rolling my eyes, because, I never heard her gush like that about anybody.
They talked for a very long time, before he noticed me kind of rolling my eyes. He said something about me—I can't remember what question he asked. But, it was a question that prompted me to respond: "You don't know me, but, you know who I am."
He said, "who are you?"
I said "I'm C.J.," to which he said, "Billy!" Then, the little devil proceeded to say "Oh, that song is not about you."
So, if that song's not about me, why is "Billy!" the first thing you say when you find out it's me?
I asked him why he couldn't behave like a normal human being, like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who didn't roll around town with bodyguards, calling additional attention to themselves-- that was back when they still lived here. He told me he wasn't like them. I can't remember all the things (I said), I wrote an article about it...
I thought it was interesting that he said that the song wasn't about me. You know, Prince has worked with a lot of musicians and there are a lot of musicians with whom he does not continue to work. I've been around long enough that I've met one or two of these musicians. One day, I was out covering something at a private recording session and somebody came over to me and said "oh, I know you. Didn't Prince write a song about you?"
I said "yeah, I think he did, but, when I met him, he said he didn't write the song about me." One of the musicians who was at this private recording session turned around and said to me,"it's about you, I was there when he wrote it."
Also, when Prince performed that song out in California a couple of times, he ended it by falling to his knees saying "C.J. Billy Jack Bitch." I had this Prince source who was a member of his inner circle-- clearly someone who has died, because, I haven't heard from this person in a long, long time-- and that person played me a recording of Prince...so, I heard it for myself.
?: What would you say to Prince fans who think you are unfairly targeting him?
C.J.: I do think Prince is a genius, but, I also think he's a bit of a jackass. I don't think he should be held to a standard as though he is a deity. He is far from a perfect person... (But), I don't have a problem saying nice things about Prince. He does lot of things that are a little bit different and I don't mind calling attention to them...
He makes some very poor decisions. I mean, throwing that poor guy's guitar recently? Can you imagine? You can throw your own guitar (but), you don't throw somebody else's guitar. Although, I'm told he has now agreed to pay for it... But, I don't think you should throw it to start with.
?: So, on that note, what do you like about Prince? You said you thought he was a genius.
C.J.: Anybody who can play that many instruments is a genius, no doubt about it.
The one time I met him, he said he thought the reason I wrote negative things about him is that I was one of his old girlfriends-- and this was back when I was actually in shape. But, even when I was in shape, I didn't look like ANY of the women Prince has ever dated. He has spectacular taste in women and there is no day in his life (that) he would've looked at me and thought, “hmmm, I'd like to take her on a date.”
What else can I say about him? He makes some interesting fashion choices. I admire that he's a trendsetter.
He really does think of himself as being a very deep thinker and I am assuming that he must have done a fair amount of reading. He enjoys going on television and yammering with Tavis Smiley, who is a very smart guy. And if you're hanging out with (Smiley), I assume you also get to hang out with Cornel West, another very smart man. I'm sure that they love the idea that they're hanging out with Prince...
(Also) Purple Rain is one of the best albums ever.
?: Why do you still insist on calling Prince "Symbolina"?
C.J.: (I call him that), because, it gets a rise out of you guys (laughing) and I created the name. Other people use it, so, why shouldn't the person who coined it get to use it? I've created about eight names for people and that's one of the best..
?: I know that you do columns on other entertainment luminaries, but, a lot of your stories are about Prince. Why?
C.J.: He's one of the biggest stars from Minnesota. He is an internationally famous musician and he's from Minnesota... When he does something on national TV, and I can get to it first, I write about it.
?: Is there anything that people would be surprised to know about you?
C.J.: I'm an artist and I've painted some pictures of Prince. One of the pictures is called “Billy Jack This,” where I painted Prince with dreadlocks. I have trouble painting people I don't have some affection for. I clearly have some affection for him. I didn't think it was a hairstyle he would ever wear, then he turns up in an afro again! I know one of Prince's former hairdressers and I'm told that nobody does Prince's hair better than he does. I'm told he can do some hair, you hear me?
I had a very good relationship with Prince's brother Duane Nelson... I was very fond of Duane and he liked me... Prince also had a sister named Lorna Nelson. I got along fine with her, she was a nice lady.
?: You said that you were once asked to leave Paisley Park. Can you tell me why?
C.J.: Sharon Sayles Belton, a former mayor of Minneapolis, had a fundraiser out at Paisley Park (in January 2005) and it cost $100 to get in. I thought it would be funny for me to show up (and) one of my editors lived out near Paisley Park. I decided that I did not want to take the chance of driving my car over there, because, my car was kind of distinctive. I dropped my little sports car off at my editor's house, took his minivan and drove over...
I had on a purple dress and some eyeglasses-- which I wore as a disguise-- this was before I had to wear glasses. I sashayed in there and I was amazed that I got past the front door, where they took my $100 bill. I walked through Paisely Park and I was in the audience, enjoying the performance. I'm don't remember how long I was there, but, I was there much longer than I thought I would have been. I was not there for an hour, I think it was more than 30 minutes.
Prince was onstage performing and, all of a sudden, somebody taps me on my right shoulder. He said, “I've been asked to ask you to leave.” I thought it was hysterical. I said, “Well, I'll need my money back,” (and) he took out a $100 bill. (Then), I was escorted off the premises.
It's always more interesting when they kick you out, than when they let you stay. I got a great story and I didn't have to stay there all night long. You can see pretty well from the stage, so, (Prince) might have seen me...
It must have been something I wrote!
?: What are the guidelines for who you can write about in your columns?
C.J.: I can write about anybody with a Minnesota connection if they are here or if someone else is writing about them. These people in New York are constantly sending me e-mails to write about their people, because, they know I have a column. I tell them when their celebrity gets into Minnesota, (then) I can write about them.
?: Do you think that the stories you've written about Prince have raised your notoriety?
C.J.: I think him writing a song about raised my notoriety. If I was Prince, I would have never written a song about me. You just ignore me! It kind of suggests that I have gotten under your skin. I wouldn't give (anybody) that kind of satisfaction. When somebody really annoys me, I don't write about them anymore.
?: What do you enjoy most about being an entertainment columnist?
C.J.: I love observing people, it's always fun. When it comes down to it, if I had my brothers (with me), I wouldn't write about my interactions with celebrities. I'd write about their interactions with other people, because, I think that tells you more. Everybody is on their best behavior when they're talking to me. I also like when someone calls me and tells me about an experience they've had with a celebrity.
?: Who's your favorite singer?
C.J.: Patti Austin! She doesn't need autotune, she has a wicked since of humor and she is one of the greatest impersonators of other singers. She can do Michael Jackson, Michael McDonald, Anita Baker...I actually got to meet her. She performed at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis...But, she is not appreciated to the extent that she should be. I wish she get this Ella Fitzgerald stuff out of her system and go back to doing rhythm and blues...She is a really, really good singer.
?: What's your favorite Prince song?
C.J.: I'm into lyrics, because, I'm a word person. I like songs that tell stories, songs that paint pictures (like) “Purple Rain.” What I understand of it paints a very good picture. I think I understand the imagery of “When Doves Cry,” that's a very emotional song. I like good lyrics and it's hard to do. I could never write a song. But, I know good songwriting when I hear it.
?: Did you have any final thoughts?
C.J.: I find it irritating that Prince doesn't have a sense of history. He tore down that purple house. He tore down that other property. He could take Paisley Park, open it as a museum...He could have that place as a museum standing at all times. Every now and then he could say I'm going to do a performance...and you know that Prince fans from all over the country would pour into the Twin Cities for that. Am I right?
He is missing opportunities to earn money... and also to create a lasting edifice for his legacy. It would be like Graceland. He could open it one day a month and it would constantly be filled with people. They could get their tickets online, only let in 500 people and charge them $50. Do the math..