147: The Undertaker

The Voice (1993) / The Undertaker (1995)
Mavis Staples was briefly married to an undertaker in her youth, which may be the reason Prince gifted her this song. The Undertaker’s lyrics warn against gun violence and crack cocaine – cautionary words which Mavis performs with her usual aplomb. But, as good as it is, we’re not here for that. She brings the soul but in Prince’s 1995 recording grows something immeasurable and powerful. A force that is both subterranean and super-celestial, and lies growling in the bass for six minutes before exploding from Prince’s guitar in an unleashed storm of raw, white-hot rage. The slow build and release is cleansing. A soul enema. And for a while afterwards our emotions are much closer to the surface. Colours are more colourful. Joy surfaces more readily. I was at a funeral yesterday, my first in a very long time, and what struck me were the extremes of emotion on show. Tears I expected but they were punctuated by moments of jubilation as family members who hadn’t seen each other for decades reunited. And even more memorable were the moments of hilarity. People siloed in personal grief during the service connected again in laughter as the coffin left to the sound of the departed’s favourite song: Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell. Something similar happened when we arrived and our silent solemnity was ruptured by the car radio playing Pharell’s Happy. No other artform has the ability to instantly flip your emotions like music. And no other artform works as well as a reservoir for memory. Goodbye Denise. You taught me who David Bowie was and you’ll forever live on in my heart and in his songs. I hope you’re there with him now, pulling wheelies with Prince on his purple Hondamatic.