Sign O the Times

A Hymn of Optimism?

I was thinking about this song the other day, and then it came up as first choice on Spotify, so I couldn’t resist playing the album while I was racking up the old word count. I’ve been thinking about a lot recently since I’ve been reading my mate’s book ‘How to Be Hopeful’ (Bernadette Russell, 2020, Elliot and Thompson). That the world needs more realistic optimism. That my pieces on here are often too long and too miserable. So here’s me with a few thoughts to twiddle that.

So looking back on Sign o the Times by Prince*, two things occurred to me.

Firstly, as a piece of writing, how awesome the words are (aside from the perfect production, but don’t get me started on that).

‘Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling off a church and killed everyone inside…
In September my cousin tried reefer for the very first time
Now he’s doing horse, it’s June…’

Not an ounce of fat on those sentences. I hope to get closer to that one day, but I tend towards waffling. Luckily, I’ve just signed my long-suffering genius of an editor back up to edit Darkest, so hopefully, she’ll beat me into shape.

So what was second? Looking back on those lyrics, from 1997, it did genuinely seem like the world was coming to an end. Aids, Crack, the First Shuttle disaster, the song tells it more eloquently than I can list it and the seeds of the end of the Clinton Presidency were already sown. But look those things from a 21st Century perspective: Aids is still rife in many parts of the world, but there’s now a treatment, Cocaine now has a promising vaccine in development, there is a burgeoning independent space sector, with real sights set high on getting back to the moon and even on to Mars. All things that Prince never knew were coming when he wrote the song. There was still the first black U.S president to inaugurate. No-one could have imagined that in 1997. And yet, and yet-

Even though the song continues in its listy vein, the last lines have the protagonist deciding that now’s as good as any time to get married and have kids, even ending on a throwaway joke at the end. Prince knew then and we know now, that no matter how awful things seem when we’re in the throes of them, it won’t always be like this. There’ll be breaks in the clouds, from time to time.

*what do you mean you’ve never listened to Sign o the Times by Prince? Off with you and remedy that immediately!

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