My Pinup, is concerned with Als’s past selves and past loves, refracted through and tested against the pop icon. The memoir weaves between accounts of and encounters with Prince, as well as two boyfriends ... Much of the writer’s work pulls at the knot of sex, gender, and race. Barring a great rupture, these things can’t be definitively unwound ... My Pinup is at its best when it pursues this disavowed desire [for power]. Als demonstrates throughout that a whiter life, a straighter life, a more religious life, may be anathema to the radical promise of black or queer life, but it has its seductive qualities.
Als writes to reconcile the twin Princes and finds it nearly impossible without the intervention of a third interlocutor, a quieter love. I close this book only to loop it in search of the center of its knot of nerves and detachment. It’s a song, a ballad with aching techno undertones and a popular thread we can all recognize—projecting silence onto the thoughts of the dead and famous, who, when we pin them just right, are interchangeable, the carrion of our most frightening desires, souls we must devour to hide the fear that will otherwise devour us. We appropriate those who we deem pinups so we don’t have to witness what they tell us when we let them speak backstage. Prince is the commodity or pinup who speaks and combats the fantasy with ideas of his own. Als is able to allow that psychic distance between him and his would-be lover here, but Prince can’t quite achieve permission to not be one single being. He’s an idea propelling the culture forward before he’s a man ... I love this tragic, gothic-casual look at the untranslatable ambiguities between love, adoration, and entitlement. Prince is so generous here. He is quiet and takes the blame for being irresistible and impossible to not love, and is quiet when those qualities result in him being denied love and collaboration, and is quiet when he turns into someone he’s not for the sake of a love that wouldn’t have arrived without his music. If we don’t know what love is until we look Prince in the eye and need him forever after, then maybe we’re his pinups and puppets and he’s translating for us an emotion we’ve kept so remote from our conscious minds that he has to go beneath his soul to dig it up. That is the solace of Als’s account of close encounters, his flash of a songbook—that it honors Prince’s commitment to being untranslatable, unsampleable. My Pinup’s eyes are nothing like the sun. Pin Prince to your own limits and they vanish, or to a sound and he goes silent, evacuates the spotlight of your bias. It must have hurt, to have all those pins in him, and Als admits how much it hurt to put them there, and leaves it at that, irreconcilable.
An often cryptically personal text, My Pinup occasionally addresses the late artist directly ... My Pinup is less about what Prince actually was or did than it is about the role of Prince’s image in Als’ emerging identity.