Most of his obituary will likely gloss over his confounding potpourri of political views—which were no less idiosyncratic than his flamboyant stage presence and oft-puzzling public persona.
The last high-profile political stand of Prince’s long career occurred last May, in the aftermath of the rioting in Baltimore. He released a musical tribute to Charm City, titled “Baltimore,” in response to the death of Freddie Gray, and staged a “Rally 4 Peace” concert at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.
“As a symbolic message of our shared humanity and love for one another, attendees are invited to wear something gray in tribute to all those recently lost in the violence,” a statement read.
The lyrics read:
Nobody got in nobody’s waySo I guess you could sayIt was a good dayAt least a little better than the day in BaltimoreDoes anybody hear us pray?For Michael Brown or Freddie GrayPeace is more than the absence of warAbsence of war.
“Are we gonna see another bloody day?” Prince continued. “We’re tired of cryin’ and people dyin’. Let’s take all the guns away.”
The anti-war (and/or pro-peace) sentiment in his Baltimore tribute is present in some of his other politically tinged work. On his 1981 song “Ronnie, Talk to Russia,” he implores President Reagan to “talk to Russia before it’s too late” and engage in controversial Cold War diplomacy with the Soviets. (Reagan ended up doing just that a few years down the line.)
"Don’t you blow up my world,” Prince urges the Reagan administration near the end of the song.
“The people I know, they been strugglin’, at least it seems that way,” Prince sings on “Ol’ Skool Company,” released in 2010. “Fat cats on Wall Street, they got a bailout. Why somebody else got to wait. 700 billion, but my old neighborhood, ain’t nothin’ changed but the date.”
Prince was a committed Jehovah’s Witness, famously proselytizing door-to-door himself. He was also a staunch vegan and animal rights advocate, and was voted “world’s sexiest vegetarian” in PETA’s annual poll in 2006. The singer-songwriter even railed against the evils of wool production in the liner notes of his album 3121, and closed out the album with the following quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.”
But Prince’s political views weren’t merely limited to the cuddlier elements of social justice, international diplomacy, anti-war attitudes, and animal rights.
He also dabbled in conspiracy theories.
In a 2009 interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS, the legendary musician, seemingly out of nowhere, launched into a monologue about the nefarious “phenomena of chemtrails.” (Chemtrails. Chemtrails!)
“You know, when I was a kid, I used to see these trails in the sky all the time,” he told Smiley. “A jet just went over. And then you started to see a whole bunch of them. And the next thing you know, everybody in your neighborhood was fighting and arguing and you didn’t know why.”
Prince then urged the audience to go out and read what comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory wrote about “the chemtrails.”
(Infowars, the website of America’s leading conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, would quickly wonder on the day of Prince’s death if the “CHEMTRAIL FLU” that the rock star “spoke out against” was what really killed him.)
Furthermore, Prince’s intense devotion to his faith led him to conclusions on social issues—say, gay marriage and abortion—that runs counter to some of his social justice positions, which could fairly be categorized as liberal.
“When asked about his perspective on... gay marriage, abortion... Prince tapped his Bible and said, ‘God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough,’” Prince told The New Yorker in late 2008. (Prince was later furious with the magazine, accusing the publication of misquoting. However, when he was asked about his opinion on same-sex marriage in 2013, he conspicuously dodged the question.)
“So here’s how it is: you’ve got the Republicans, and basically they want to live according to this” he also mentioned during the New Yorker interview, while pointing to a Bible. “But there’s the problem of interpretation, and you’ve got some churches, some people, basically doing things and saying it comes from here, but it doesn’t. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum you’ve got blue, you’ve got the Democrats, and they’re, like, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ Gay marriage, whatever. But neither of them is right.”
Oddly enough, Prince himself occasionally had an effect on national politics. Tipper Gore reportedly launched her infamous crusade against dirty lyrics in popular music after she witnessed her 11-year-old daughter listening to Prince’s “Darling Nikki,” which references masturbation. And on a much milder note, two Democratic congressmen marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Prince and The Revolution's Purple Rain by gleefully battling each other with their acoustic covers of Prince songs.
To his fans and the general public, Prince will be remembered for his musical contribution, not his political leanings. And that’s the way it should be. But at least one animal-rights group is hailing Prince as a hero to their cause.
“Prince was royalty to PETA,” the organization’s senior VP Lisa Lange told The Daily Beast in a statement. “He donated his pro-vegan song ‘Animal Kingdom’ to PETA, [and] partied with us in 2005 at our Millennium Gala … Prince's legacy of compassion and creativity will live on, and he will be sorely missed.”