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Ex-ICP publicist chronicles salvation by Prince in new book
By Gary Graff
firstname.lastname@example.org, @GraffonMusic on Twitte
Posted: Monday, June 7, 2021
See more SOUND CHECK
The late musician Prince is important to many of his fans, no doubt.
But you'd be hard-pressed to find many connections stronger than Jason Webber's.
The Toledo-based writer and publicist — who spent time in the Detroit area working for Insane Clown Posse and also wrote for the Metro Times, among other outlets — recently published his first book, "Purple Bananas." The self-published 202-page volume is a memoir cast within the context of a bond to Prince's music, which helped Webber survive a life filled with rough circumstances, from his youth into adulthood.
"It was very cathartic," says Webber, 45, who's reading excerpts from "Purple Bananas" during this weekend's Princefest, timed to Prince's birthday, June 7, in Henderson, Minn. "I still have a way to go to heal from my childhood, but I'm glad I did the book. This was an important step."
A strong them of "Purple Bananas," in fact, is grief and healing. It chronicles in detail the challenges Webber faced from his adoptive parents, fundamentalist Christians in Oak View, Calif., who he describes as strict and abusive. His teens were tumultuous, and the issues lingered with him into adulthood — including his birth mother rejecting him when he found her.
His life preserver came in the form of regular bursts of music from Minneapolis, as Prince helped Webber free mind, body and soul from the stifling constraints of his life.
"I grew up in a really religious (Southern Baptist) house, where sex was a four-letter word," explains Webber, who now resides in West Toledo with his partner, Shannon, and their 5-year-old daughter, and works as marketing and communications director for the city's Ronald McDonald House. He previously worked for former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, and as a legislative aid to former Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Gary D. Leitzell.
"Prince and his tendency to sing about both sex and God, in the same song sometimes, really fascinated me because I felt the same struggle within myself. I didn't like the fire and brimstone and the threat of constant damnation I was getting from my church and also from my parents. And here's Prince singing about sex and God in the same voice.
"That was really liberating for me. I kinda realized that if there is a God, God gave homo sapiens sex, and it's something that should be celebrated and not feared."
Webber dove into Prince's lyrics "obsessively," devouring each new release and finding community in a network of other devotees — including a romantic relationship with one. Webber saw Prince in concert five times (four in Detroit), and he's visited Prince's Paisley Park compound on a couple of occasions, jumping the fence with Detroit rapper Champtown in 2012 to gain access.
Prince's 1988 song "Anna Stesia" also shook Webber out of a suicidal episode when he was 17.
"I didn't realize until much later just how much Prince's music had an effect on me. At the time I just knew that it WAS having an effect on me," Webber says. "That's what the point of the book is about. It's retracing my steps. It's chronicling his impact in my life from all the way back."
It was Prince's shocking death on April 21, 2016, at age 57 that spurred Webber to write "Purple Bananas."
"When Prince died it totally shook my world to its very foundation," recalls Webber, who was still working for ICP at the time. "He and David Bowie got me through adolescence. First Bowie passed way (in January) and then Prince, so 2016 was a really (bad) year for me.
"I wrote the book basically as a way to exorcise my grief after losing Prince. He'd been there for me since I was a teenager, in some cases saved my life. It was a loss."
And though Webber's memory served him well, "Purple Bananas" wasn't an easy book to write, emotionally. "I'm telling the truth in this book," he notes, "and I say a lot of things about my parents and stuff that was really hard to write about. Writing memoirs ... you really have to dig deep into parts of your life that you are better off forgetting. It makes you dredge all that stuff up."
"Purple Bananas" has struck a chord in the Princeiverse, however. Reviews have been good, and fan feedback has confirmed what Webber already knew — that he isn't the only one who Prince has affected so deeply.
"Prince fans have really latched onto the book. They really like it a lot," he says. "They've all been very supportive and very forward in their praise."
And while he enjoys Prince's music "in a much more casual way" now, Webber's appreciation has not waned. "I still miss him every day," acknowledges the writer, who's working on two more books — one a compendium of his writings, the other a so-far unauthorized account of ICP.
"I still wish he was out there making new music," he says. "Mostly I'm just filled with nostalgia. I'm still in awe of his talents. It still blows me away just how talented he was, a modern-day Mozart. I don't need it the way I did when I was a teenager, but his music is still the soundtrack to my life."
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