I was listening to Questlove Supreme the other day in my truck. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson likes to mention that he has something like 19 jobs. He’s best known as the drummer from The Roots, the house band on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. I know him as Questlove, the drummer from The Roots, the hip hop band that broke away from the genre and formed their own unique sound using live instrumentation. Questlove, the genius behind albums like Illadelph Halflife, Things Fall Apart, and Phrenology (among others). Questlove, the drummer from the Soultronics, D’Angelo’s touring band in 2000 and the funkiest band I’ve ever heard that didn’t include Prince…or maybe just the funkiest band I’ve ever heard, period. Depends on what day you ask me. Questlove, the drummer and DJ with an encyclopedic knowledge of music and unofficial Prince historian. He’s been a college professor, a New York Times bestselling author, a restauranteur…dude is crazy talented and he doesn’t sleep.
Questlove is also a podcast host, and in this particular case he was interviewing fellow Prince superfan and one of my favorite human beings, Maya Rudolph. This was actually the first episode of QLS and it was recorded on September 7, 2016, just a few months after Prince passed away. I’m not sure that information is relevant since I’m guessing any conversation between Questlove and Maya Rudolph would gravitate toward Prince anyway, but I didn’t want to give you the false impression that they were just talking about this last week or something. They were discussing how they grew up listening to Prince and Questlove said something in passing that struck me. He said something like, “I’m a music man, not a lyrics man.” I’m paraphrasing, but in context I took it to mean that when he’s listening to a song he’s more focused on the music than he is they lyrics. I was alone in my truck at 4:00 in the morning and I practically yelled, “ME TOO!” Especially before I started listening to a lot of Prince. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” with the kids in the car before I realized that he said he wants to fuck the taste out of somebody’s mouth. I just thought Prince was mumbling about some shit. Oops… If the kids noticed they never said anything. So many Prince songs I’ve listened to for years turned in to me saying, “Wait a minute, what did he say? How did I not notice that before?” Not just Prince, but he’s the best at sneaking some nasty shit past me because I’m preoccupied trying to find the beat on a complicated song or listening to what he’s doing with the drum programming or the bass line. The words being sung are actually the last thing I’m usually paying attention to.
That brings us to today’s song, “Way Back Home.” I’ve heard this song at least 100 times, but I’ve never actually focused on the lyrics. When a song comes up on the Daily Prince Song Randomizer one of the first things I do is Google the lyrics to see if I’ve been missing something. I was missing a lot on this one. “Way Back Home” comes near the end of Prince’s wildly underrated 2014 album Art Official Age. Musically it’s a new agey space trip. Lianne La Havas opens the song with a brief spoken word performance in an underuse of divine talent so blatant it borders on criminal. The drums open sounding like a heartbeat or the sound of distant marching. There are trippy, high pitched background vocals weaved in giving it an ethereal feel. The pounding bass drum and rumbling bass line keep the song grounded.
In the midst of the heavenly vibe Prince created with the music, Prince opens up in a way he rarely did.
I never wanted a typical life
Scripted role, huh a trophy wife
All I ever wanted, to be left alone
See my bed’s made up at night
‘Cause in my dreams I roam
Just trying to find, trying to find
My way back, back home
As I’m reading the lyrics to this song for the first time I’m wondering why Prince would be trying to find his way back “home.” My understanding of Prince’s roots lead me to believe that’s not a place Prince would want to revisit. As the song progressed it occurred to me that Prince was not singing about his home on Earth. He’s singing about Heaven and the afterlife again. The song continues…
So many reasons why
There’s so many reasons why
I don’t belong here
But now that I am
Without fear I am
Gonna conquer with no fear
Until I find my way back home
Until I find my way back home
If this song is at all autobiographical and not just some fictional story Prince was trying to tell, this song is quite melancholy. He’s singing about how he wants to be left alone, how he doesn’t belong here and how he can roam in his dreams and I’m thinking that must’ve been a sad existence. Then it occurred to me that if he was truly trying to find his way back home during his time on Earth then he’s there. There’s nothing melancholy about it. Mission accomplished. I can think of few who made more of their time here and now he is where he believed he belonged.
Much of Prince’s mystique comes in the lyrics he’s singing and the way he’s delivering them. Thanks to Prince I don’t sleep on lyrics as much as I used to, but again, somehow this song slipped past me until today. A damn good track and a fascinating look in to Prince’s psyche recorded at the age of 56, less than two years before he found his way home. Rest in peace, Prince.