A quick word on Prince and the Cold War.


A quick word on Prince: today I asked all of my classes if his passing had reverberated with their generation at all. I did have some students that claimed to have been fans (because of their parents) and they were affected by it, but overwhelmingly I got some shoulder shrugs. They all knew who he was, but some indicated they only knew of him from his Super Bowl performance.

That broke my heart a little and made me feel old. But then when I started my lecture for today, I realized about half way through it that it just happened to be a lecture in which I frequently make a Prince reference. The completely random yet fortuitous timing of that got me a little choked up.

What was the lecture? It covers the Cold War in the 70s and 80s, and I have always tried to personalize it by telling my students that I grew up in a time when Cold War tensions were still high and were revved up a bit because of Afghanistan and Reagan’s rhetoric about the “evil empire.”

Just as Cold War tensions had been reflected pop culturally in the bad sci-fi movies of the 50s, and antiwar songs of the 60s, I explain, they were reflected in certain movies and songs that were big iconic hits in the 80s. Of course Rocky IV always naturally comes up, as well as Prince’s 1999.

So today during the lecture I felt it was appropriate to reflect a little more on the song than I usually do, explaining that his point was that if we even made it to 1999, it would be a pretty good reason to party, because “yeah, everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day.” I recalled that as a child of the 70s and a teen of the 80s, I grew up deeply believing/fearing that in fact we would all be destroyed in a nuclear war.

But then Prince came along, made a brilliant, energetic, and downright fun song and video about that fear, turning it into a reason to just live life to the fullest  . . . and dance.

In some ways, I told the class, that kind of defined the 80s.

So there you go, Prince. As a history teacher, effectively and appropriately incorporating you into my history lecture today was the best tribute I could make.



3 thoughts on “A quick word on Prince and the Cold War.

  1. Great stuff, Glenn. I remember hearing Bono (in his typical bombastic but nevertheless apt way) say you could hear the atomic bomb in Elvis Presley’s music. That sentiment has always stayed with me. Fear that everything could go to hell in a second gave popular music a sense of urgency and liberality it didn’t have before the 1950s. With the Cold War escalating in the 1980s, I that all came back but with a sense that we might as well enjoy what we’ve got in case we lose it. 1999 may be the best expression of that feeling (or maybe one of its roots), making it a great place to start if you’re trying to get someone to put themselves in that context.

    Liked by 1 person

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