46: When Eye Lay My Hands On U

Internet download (2001) / The Chocolate Invasion (2004)
In the midst of Prince’s conversion to his new faith, he wrote When Eye Lay My Hands On U, a song that viciously rejects the idea of an eternal afterlife by describing sex as “the only forever we’ll both obtain, the only joy in this forsaken game”. This blasphemy (which he belatedly attempts to cover up with a “god forbid” disclaimer the second time around) is a cathartic counter-attack of raw sexual energy, the bark of a wild dog refusing to be leashed, and is why Prince warns us in the opening line that his message is “not meant for transmission”. Welcome to his long dark night of the soul where a challenger for the title of one true God steps forth as the primordial Eros – not the nuetered Eros of later poetry, the mischievous son of Aphrodite whom the Roman’s renamed Cupid, but the awesome elemental power that the Greek poet Hesiod described as the most beautiful of all the deathless gods. This divine loosener of limbs enters the arena and teases X-rated lyrics out of Prince, causing him to spin a tale of foreplay that culminates in an homage to the Santana song Europa. This results in what may be the most sensual guitar-playing he has ever committed to tape, but behind the sensuality lies a violent clash of swords. Prince once said he doesn’t feel sexy when he plays guitar, he feels angry. Here we hear him furiously shredding his sexual frustration with every sinew of his body, resisting being ordained by Eros’s intoxicating power, and in the process creating a tender tabernacle for his new Lord to step into. By the end, a defeated Eros crawls back into his demoted role as chubby cherub of the Renaissance and an ashamed Prince buries this profane lapse of lust in a place that only NPG Music Club members could access – first as a download, and then three years later on a compilation which, to date, still hasn’t seen a physical release. In 2009, with the battle for his soul comfortably behind him, Prince relaxed his view that the song’s message “should only be accessed in the privacy of your mind” and began performing it live, most memorably as the opener to his Montreaux appearances, where he skips over the blasphemous line in the first show, but in his second appearance summons the courage to scream it to the sky. The crowd melts when his seduction reaches its apex, the point where his fingers reach the cap stone and the Santana solo is unleashed to mark the explosion of ecstasy, but to those listening carefully they may hear, behind its bars, the beautiful torturous screams of a banished god.