Sunday, March 10, 2013

Prince's 'Pope' as We Await the White Smoke from the Vatican (Video)

With all this talk of the Vatican's papal conclave choosing another Pope in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's departure, along with the rumors of why he retired, the song "Pope" (1993) by Prince (His Royal Purpleness), keeps running through my head. The song is included on his album, "The Hits/the B Sides," a compilation of his early hits.

In particular, I recall the song's chorus, which follows, along with audio of the song itself:
   U can be the President (Kick it)
   I'd rather be the Pope
   (I'd rather be, so help me)
   Yeah, U can be the side effect (Baby);
   I'd rather be the dope
Pope (Album Version)  Be warned: vintage Prince = "offensive" and suggestive language (cussing and sex).

Just in case the embedding didn't work, here's a link.

Much of the song asserts that the Pope has more power than anyone else, even a sitting POTUS. About the latter's office, Prince sings, "What am I supposed 2 do when the President can't get nothing passed?" And throughout the song, he equates himself to the Pope in a way that defines them both. He also repeatedly suggests that the Pope's position comes with not only political power, but also a certain level of sexual prowess.

I've always associated the song's chorus with a reflection on Karl Marx's quote, "Religion . . . is the opium of the masses." Marx scholars say the quote is often taken out of context. Marx was suggesting that religion offers false hope when he likens it to a drug people use to escape pain.

Given that Prince is a Jehovah's witness today and has always been spiritual, I don't think he would agree with Marx's belief that religion only offers false hope. In any case, when he sings, "U can be the side effect; I'd rather be the dope," he is definitely saying the Pope, which stands in here for religion, is a central figure with power. Dope has power; its side effects are incidental, and therefore not the thing that wields power. Prince wants to be the cause, not the effect but the dunamis.

You can read the full lyrics at LyricsDepot; I cannot, however, vouch for the accuracy of transcription there.

If you read this, you may also enjoy watching Prince's recent appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

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