A Sign Of Times Long Past, Now Available For Free

About a decade or so back, give or take, I wrote and recorded a song for a woman I particularly liked at the time. She was not what you would call music-savvy, but when I explained that I played all of the instruments on the song myself she promptly responded with, “Like Prince does.”

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m pretty much just like Prince.” Here’s the funny part, though: I am just like Prince. Not in the sense of being an inhumanly talented and accomplished musical prodigy, of course. Rather, we have both demonstrated an ability to make enemies and foul our own nest for reasons ranging from a manic belief in our artistic integrity to simple mean-spiritedness.

A few weeks ago, for example, I was sent the final PDF of something I’d written for a major print publication — not R&T, I hasten to add. The article had been given to an editor who proceeded to shit all over the thing, introducing borderline obscenity and broken-glass sentence structure even as he tirelessly removed anything that looked like literature from the text. As fate would have it, the writer’s fee for that piece almost perfectly matched up with the overall cost for my Honda Challenge race weekend last month. So I took the money, because I’d be a fool not to, and because there was a certain satisfaction in having my trophies paid for even if I didn’t like the work. Yet you won’t be hearing about this piece on this site, and when I get my copy of the magazine I’ll be throwing it in the trash. It’s not difficult for me to understand why Prince effectively destroyed his career so he could have control of his own music. He didn’t want to see his own name on something that he despised.

Yet just like Prince, there have been times when I would be better off with a little bit of oversight.

I’ve written about how the arrival of the Cloud guitar signified an era where Prince would let his own musical curiosity overwhelm his instinct for writing a decent pop song. The original draft for my Malaysia story included about 2,000 words that could not possibly appear in the magazine under any circumstances, including an explicit description of some time I spent in a shower with a four-foot-eleven Thai girl approximately the same age as my old set of New Balance 991s. When it all got cut, I had a little Prince-esque fit even though I knew perfectly well that there could not be any other outcome. Let’s not even get into the squabble that I’ve had on and off with the owners of a certain automotive website, which in the long run has cost me probably north of $150,000 in lost income and has stuck the readers with a lot of dreck about sea ships and butter knives and five-star press trips.

One of the oddest consequences from Prince’s squabble with Warner Bros. was the scarcity of his concert film, “Sign O’ The Times.” There’s a Blu-Ray out there but in general the movie has been tough to find and tougher to buy ever since the VHS era. Which is a real shame, because it’s an absolute killer. Recorded over a few nights of concerts in Minnesota (which makes sense) and Rotterdam (which, in a way, also makes sense) and then painstakingly re-dubbed at Paisley Park Studios, “Sign O’ The Times” represents Prince at the absolute peak of his powers.

It’s all present and accounted for: the astounding physicality, made more so because Prince was already thirty-nine years old at the time and rendered tragic in retrospect because the pain of performing those moves night after night would eventually lead to the drug regimen that killed him. The setlist is beyond reproach. A few of the tunes that drag a bit on the album of the same name are revealed in semi-live performance to be absolutely thrilling. There’s the choreography, created by and featuring the headline dancing of Catherine Glover.

Last but not least, you have the force of nature known as “Sheila E” who drums the shit out of the whole thing in a variety of unashamedly provocative outfits. Her own multi-talented nature leads to a charming interlude where Prince runs up the stage and takes over for her on the drums so she can rap and sing for a little bit. To see her and “Cat” Glover side by side is to genuinely appreciate just how well Prince arranged his own life during the Eighties.

Not all of the film holds up thirty years later. The interjection of the separately-filmed music video for “U Got The Look” fails to maintain the momentum of the live concert. There’s also a bit of “plot” scattered throughout the film, in which Prince is supposedly engaged in a rivalry with his bodyguard/hype-man, the now-deceased Greg Brooks, for Cat’s affection. The “role” required Brooks to wear a Russian fur hat for the duration of the film, which must have been utterly miserable.

I could go on about the various tracks and vignettes and whatnot, but why take my word for it when you can see it yourself? “Sign O’ The Times” is now available both on Showtime and Amazon Prime Video. It’s unlikely to be there for long, so check it out when you can. I watched it in its entirety over the course of three nights on the elliptical machine. It ends, as many Prince albums and movies do, with the sentence “May U Live 2 See The Dawn.” A fine sentiment, and one that I wish Prince himself had taken more seriously. It’s also a reminder to me that in the end you are judged by what you leave behind, and the fewer impediments I can force on myself in the course of creating my own posterity, the better.

20 Replies to “A Sign Of Times Long Past, Now Available For Free”

  1. everybodyhatesscott

    Why don’t you start your own automotive website where you control 100% of the content (I realize the irony of writing this on your website) and publish everything there? Plenty of people have been following your writing around for years. Would the access to cars completely dry up? Is the side gig money writing for others that good? There are plenty of stories about controversial guys who didn’t toe the pc line who get kicked out of industries and start their own pirate ship and make millions. And you can look forward to everyone accusing you of selling out when you sell it for millions!

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Not to put too fine a point on it, but:

      With my own site, I only get paid in real revenue, which is to say revenue earned by the site.

      With other sites and outlets, I can get paid a percentage of fantasy revenue, which is always far more.

      The amount of money that has been invested into TTAC over the years, for example, far exceeds what it could ever earn. There are more full-timers at TTAC right now than there are full-timers in three major motorcycle publications COMBINED.

      Reply
      • jcain

        What is TTAC’s strategy, at this point? Do they think they can be a better or more popular mainstream car blog than their already-larger and (presumably) better-funded competitors? Seems like TTAC’s differentiation has been eroding for a while.

        Reply
        • JustPassinThru

          I would assume, based on recent articles, the commentariat, and those of us who have been marginalized at TTAC…that they’re banking that the combined readership of those interested in cars, interested in CHANGING cars to “make a difference;” interested in snarking about cars or spouting shibboleths about the evil of cars…combined…is greater than, to use Jack’s example, the total motorcycle readership today.

          Sadly, motorcycle interest is declining. More sadly, there is no apparent limit to those who want to damn cars or force automakers into more government regulation boondoggles.

          Reply
          • silentsod

            Motorcycling isn’t presented as the practical alternative to a car for young folks that they should be.

            Then again we also don’t have mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists in most(?) states which makes me suspect that practicality isn’t a driving force for motorbikes in our culture.

        • tyates

          For a lot of Internet companies, I think the strategy is to trick a bigger company into buying them. And the strategy of the biggest companies is to grow exponentially forever. For Jack I think equity is far more valuable than revenue and hopefully he will get that opportunity.

          Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          It used to do 3x the traffic of AutoGuide on a skeleton budget. Now it’s the farm team for AutoGuide.

          Reply
          • John C.

            Wouldn’t the autoguide reader be more valueable from an ad view than the TTAC reader in it’s early days. That is one area that I am not sure adsense rewards for. It makes me think that a website should have someone selling ads directly on commission.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            TTAC readers may be a bunch of cringe-inducing nutjobs but they are remarkably non-diverse: white, college-educated, financially secure. The demographic is very popular with non-automotive advertisers.

            From an automotive-ad standpoint, obviously TTAC’s old editorial direction was an impediment, which is why they brought in Mr. Stevenson to clean the place up and make it a mirror image of AutoGuide.

          • -Nate

            “but they are remarkably non-diverse: ”

            Interesting .

            I guess I’m white anyway .

            =8-) .

            -Nate

  2. John C.

    One thing I would do if I were you is get copies bound of your articles wherever they appeared, or didn’t. Not so much to sell but as an important part of your family history and legacy. On the edited article you described above, original and edited versions with notations. Later generations of Baruth will read it.

    Reply
  3. JustPassinThru

    Interesting.

    I cut my teeth as a writer…to the extent I have…in writing for a Naval command’s Public Affairs Office. Onboard an aircraft carrier. I had developed a bit of friction with my Division Officer, in the Personnel Office…and meantime I was entertaining myself while on a WestPac by doing articles for the onboard ship’s newspaper. When the Public Affairs Officer invited me to join his staff, and the Personnel Officer saw a chance to be rid of me…it came to be.

    Worked out well, too…for a short time. Until I started testing my leash, as I am wont to do. There was an ugly scene with the Assistant Public Affairs Officer, a Journalist Master Chief…holding one such essay, about our first experience with females deployed on the carrier…and asking me, “What did you hope to accomplish, with this trash?”

    It happens. Our muse, every writer’s muse, every artist’s, has a way of forgetting time/place propriety. And when called to account, the immediate urge is to lash back.

    Reply
    • Dirty Dingus McGee

      I would say that NOBODY likes to have their work criticized. No matter if you’re a writer, welder or tailor. When you put what you feel to be your best into it, and someone has the audacity to criticize it?

      Hammers, tongs and axes come out.

      Reply
      • tyates

        I’ve worked with a few good editors and have been happy to get revisions back from them. Unfortunately there seems to be little correlation between how successful a publication is and how good the editors are.

        Also, I’m more of a writing professional than a professional writer and there’s a big distinction which I bet Jack and others can relate to. Like Jack, when I write I tend to have a specific message that runs counter to prevailing wisdom on a topic, and if you try to mess with that message, yes I’m going to be a “spoilsport”.

        However since I don’t have his “raw talent” – which is what we now call years of hard work and experience mastering a craft because that term makes the rest of us feel better – if someone has another way to present my same message, I’m generally open and appreciative.

        Reply
  4. Bob R

    The comments explain why TTAC has gone downhill so much. I still scan it daily but skip most of the articles saving those signed Baruth. It’s turned into an automotive news site with puff piece vehicle reviews. For the former, there are better sites and for the latter, Alex on Autos or a Baruth test are more informative.

    Best,
    Bob

    Reply
  5. rambo furum

    So the New Balance 991 came out in 2001 and this Malaysia article is dated 2014.
    I guess there is no point in waiting for Oriental girls to grow secondary sexual characteristics that will never come.

    Reply
      • Rick T.

        Channeling your inner Randle Patrick McMurphy?

        “She was fifteen years old, going on thirty-five, Doc, and she told me she was eighteen, she was very willing, I practically had to take to sewing my pants shut. Between you and me, uh, she might have been fifteen…”

        Reply

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