For ten days in October of 1986, a peach and black veil hung over Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. Prince had broken up the Revolution one month prior to recording what remains some of his most conceptually intriguing music: an 8-song thrill-ride of doom called “Camille.”
Prince and his engineer Susan Rogers began experimenting with pitched-up vocals, giving Prince’s voice a higher, otherworldly, androgynous sound. Eight of the tracks Prince recorded using this technique were compiled on an album to be released in January of 1987, ushering in a new year with an intriguing concept- a Prince album with absolutely no mention of Prince, presented as the work of Camille, a mysterious and wildly funky, if dangerous, female artist. Perhaps his way of bypassing any more “Prince-Girl” protégés, Prince intended for “Camille” to appear as an autonomous female artist, with no mention of his name anywhere near the album.
The rarest of the rare—an advance pressing of the unreleased “Camille” recently sold for $58,787.
A force of nature; neither boy nor girl
Prince had begun referring to his impulsive female alter ego as Camille, possibly a reference to the 1985 film “Mystère Alexina“, in which the intersex protagonist also used Camille as a pseudonym. While androgyny and aliases were nothing new for Prince, his creation of a seemingly fully formed alter-ego, one of the opposite gender, was something of a rebirth. Camille had taken root within Prince to such an extent that a film was being considered to compliment the album. The film’s initial concept was to feature Prince playing both himself and the evil Camille, with the shocking revelation that both characters were the same person suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder. This fascinating concept wasn’t developed past the ideation phase, but it wasn’t the end of Camille in film. In fact, Camille was soon resurrected as the villain in early versions of the “Graffiti Bridge” script. Mere weeks before its scheduled release, the “Camille” album was cancelled under mysterious circumstances. Did Prince change his mind, or did Warner Brothers hesitate due to the brazen concept?
No matter. Like all good villains, Camille survived to vex us all with the Lovesexy-era track “Scarlet Pussy,” and as the antagonist responsible for the “Black Album,” a record Prince attributed to evil Camille’s even-more-evil alter ego Spooky Electric. Interestingly, Prince changed Camille’s gender at will; she was originally conceived as a female, for her album and film appearances. Prince performed as Camille himself during shows on the “Lovesexy” tour, during “Bob George” from the then-unreleased “Black Album.” He also referred to Camille as a boy in the “Lovesexy” tour program. Camille was a weapon, a toy gun Prince used whenever he was feeling naughty, and she could be a boy or a girl.
He also referred to Camille as a boy in the “Lovesexy” tour program. Camille was a weapon, a toy gun Prince used whenever he was feeling naughty, and she could be a boy or a girl.— Yves Navant
If you’re visiting this website you might know all of this. So, let’s shift gears in this Shockadelicar to discuss why “Camille” may be one of Prince’s bravest, most punk-rock undertakings. Now, I say “punk rock” because punk is the most rebellious scene in music. Prince dabbled in every conceivable genre (including punk, thanks to Dez Dickerson) and wore punk pins and metal studs on his Controversy-era jacket. But, aesthetically, Camille was Prince at his most defiant. Punk rock. Some of Prince’s more conservative or religious fans may be unsettled by the following, but if the sky looks blue, if everyone is telling you the sky is blue, and if someone is writing songs about the sky being blue… the sky is probably blue.
Prince made no secret of his fascination with gender. On camera, he told Oprah Winfrey that another female persona lived inside of him, and he wasn’t bothered. Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, possibly two of Prince’s closest and most trusted confidants, referred to Prince as a “fancy lesbian”, meaning he loved women, but he also loved their attire, perfume and makeup. The Camille persona and the album attributed to her are the ultimate expressions of Prince’s duality of gender.
Does this mean Prince was queer?
Prince came from an environment that would not have accepted a heterosexual man wearing heels, makeup and lace. Yet, he refused to be confined in the prison of toxic masculinity, he would never be shackled to Jordans, baseball caps, or basketball clothing. His art and music allowed him opportunities to express androgyny through lyrics and his own appearance. Prince was not, he could not be limited by antiquated ideas of gender. He was this divine, advanced alien that came to our world to make music and to make us all dance. Any inner conflict he experienced regarding faith and sexuality, masculinity and femininity, was on full display for us in song lyrics and performances. Prince threw Molotov cocktails of gender confusion to unsettle the norm, and that is the essence of Camille. The girl must be a witch, and that witch lived inside Prince’s mind.
Prince threw Molotov cocktails of gender confusion to unsettle the norm, and that is the essence of Camille.— Yves Navant
Everyone calm down. I know this is intense. Was Prince homosexual? Nope. Did Prince fetishize gender, femininity, and women’s clothing? God, yes. And he became a legend doing so.
Will we ever swim in a sea of perfect peach and black funk? Jack White’s Third Man Records recently announced an official release for the “Camille” album, but no further details have emerged. Is this just another one of her tricks? I mean, the girl is a witch.
Possessed- the Rise and Fall of Prince – Hahn, Alex.
Edited by Michelle Bredeson. Billboard Books, an imprint of Watson-Guptill Publications, 2003, pgs. 111, 114, 117, 121, 192
The Revolution Will Be Harmonized – Walters, Barry.
April 16, 2009. Out.com
Prince on Oprah – The Oprah Winfrey Show.
CBS. November 20th, 1996. Chicago, Illinois