David Henry Hwang Recalls The Time He Wrote A Song With Prince

"Back in 1980, there was black music, and there was white music. Period. I listened mostly to black artists cuz I imagined most of the white guys would just as soon beat me up as pick up their guitars. Unless they were British, in which case they might not beat me up cuz, I dunno, they had cool accents."

That's how playwright David Henry Hwang describes his then 23-year-old musical taste in an essay for YOMYOMF (a/k/a You Offend ME, You Offend My FAMILY).

The two artists that meant the most to the young playwright who would soon win an Obie for FOB and by the end of the decade would be awarded a Tony for M. BUTTERFLY were David Bowie and Prince, who he discovered that year through his album, "Dirty Mind."

"What WAS this? Kinda R&B, kinda New Wave. Kinda disco, kinda ... punk? How was this guy managing to pull it off? The sound wasn't black, wasn't white, it was BOTH. Or neither. Whatever. It was totally new. And brilliant. So danceable. And ... really nasty. I loved, loved, loved it."

He immediately became a self-described groupie, even after achieving the status where he had quite a few fans himself.

"Imagine my groupie heart in 1989, when I opened PEOPLE Magazine to find a picture of Prince, coming out of M. BUTTERFLY, my Broadway show! Prince goes to Broadway? Who knew? He saw my play! Did he like it? How come no one told me? I could've been there! I could had like a ... casual conversation with him. 'Hey, Prince, how ya doin'?' Do people actually call him 'Prince?'"

He would find out four years later when his agents told him Prince was interested in meeting with him to talk about an idea for a stage musical. After two weeks of waiting, a phone appointment was finally scheduled.

"It's Him. I know that voice! Here I am, a Chinese kid from San Gabriel who grew up wearing coke-bottle bottom glasses and with terrible acne, the antithesis of cool. I'm on the phone. With Prince!"

A quick conversation led to a visit to Prince's penthouse at Manhattan's Riga Royal Hotel.

"There he stands. Prince. But, I mean, really Prince. Like, with the high heels, and the make-up and the purple jacket and - For our meeting, he's donned full Prince drag. Or maybe this is how he hangs around his hotel room all day, who knows?"

"We sit and drink, I dunno, soda water, and he tells me this story based on his own experience. About his relationship with a fan. Which became obsessive and weird - in a sexual way (of course). He wants to do a show about it.'

Hwang, a Tony Award winning Broadway playwright, happily agrees to write a draft on spec, just excited to be working with an artist he idolizes. He's also asked for one more thing. A poem. Something about loss. "The way you feel when you've lost someone you love. And you know they're never coming back. And that, for the rest of your life, you're going to be alone." It would be part of a song that breaks into a spoken word interlude.

A couple of days later he receives an envelope full of cassette tapes of songs for the show and experiences the thrill of being one of the few people to have heard these new Prince songs.

"Interestingly, all the songs include a middle section that fades out. Then the song comes back in. Oh, I get it! That's so they can't be Bootlegged. More Inside Information, Baby!"

He faxes over the poem he wrote and a few days later receives another cassette. It contains a song, "Solo," that incorporates his poem.

"Hey, I've written a song. With Prince. Just like that."

The musical didn't work out and Hwang never saw Prince again, but "Solo" was included on Prince's album, "Come," and was the B-side of the single, "Let It Go."

"I checked the writing credit on the CD case: 'Prince with David Henry Hwang.' No contracts between us, nothing on paper. But he remembered. That we had Worked Together."

Click here for the full essay.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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