Sister: Press Rewind – Prince Lyrics Podcast

On Episode 25 of the Press Rewind – Prince Lyrics Podcast, the brave and noble Zachary Hoskins from the Dance/Music/Sex/Romance blog at joins me again to talk about “Sister,” one of the most “WTF” tracks of Prince’s career. This controversial song can be found on Prince’s 3rd album, Dirty Mind.

The goal of each episode of Press Rewind is to:

  • Take a track by track look at the lyrical content of Prince’s discography
  • Discuss my own interpretation of each song’s lyrics along with any guest I may have
  • If submitted, discuss listener’s interpretations of each song’s lyrics

Thank you for joining me on this journey through Prince’s catalog!

8 thoughts on “Sister: Press Rewind – Prince Lyrics Podcast

  1. I have come to your podcast via DMSR, following Zack on his long Prince project. I listened to this podcast on “Sister” and would like to give a viewpoint that I picked up on from Questlove who pointed out that Prince places himself in this song as the victim of incest. You used the word “lark” in describing the feeling and, it would seem, the intention of the song. I do not see it that way at all. His sister is the one in possession of a whip and he is the one screaming and pleading at the end of the song.

    It is difficult to be sympathetic because he says he is 16 and only half a man. We know he was a functioning man (sexually) by 16. He would have gotten more sympathy if he had said he was 13. But for some reason he did not. Prince was very insecure even at 18. I believe this song has to do with incest more of the emotional type. As a 32-year-old, having her own job and a place to live, she was definitely at an advantage.

    I was only 16 but that’s no excuse. Excuse for who? That HE didn’t know better? Often victims feel shame and take the blame.
    He says, “My sister never made love to anyone else but me.” Prince grew up as an emotionally insecure child. He, being the only one, is supposed to make him feel special. It is a form of emotional manipulation That is commonly used in these situations. Prince does seem to understand that incest often causes problems with a person’s sexuality. BTW-emotional abuse also causes sexual problems.

    When he uses the phrase “Incest is everything it’s said to be.” in this abusive context, it throws the listener off balance because it is normally used in a context expressing pleasure. But here, the listener has to ask “What DOES everyone say about incest?” “It’s creepy, dehumanizing and scary!” He does this deliberately to create a dissonance to cause you to “trip on it” and take notice and look at it more closely, to cause you to think.

    And finally, the chorus: Oh sister, don’t put me on the street again! We know that being put out on the street is familiar territory in Prince’s childhood experience even if there is only emotional truth to it. His insecurity is connected to impermanence and lack of control he has over his life situation. He had abandonment issues. He is pleading with his sister to not put him out on the street because he’s been there.

    This, like Purple Rain, is an emotional biopic. This is one of him of feeling vulnerable and controlled by someone who will manipulate for their own (sexual) purpose; taking advantage of him because he has no place else to go.

    When Prince went out east to visit his sister to try to find a recording deal, she took him to someone that she knew. She wanted him to agree to a deal that he was not in favor of. She wanted him out of her place because he was a drain on her. She was his sister, yet she was trying to manipulate him to agree to a situation that was not to his benefit, but to hers: the choice between an unsatisfactory deal or having no place else to go. That is what I think the song is about. He was comparing that vulnerable situation to incest. This song is more about emotion.

    As Prince said, the answers to the questions about his life are all in the music, And I find that to be true over and over again. I often think that Prince was not trying to be enigmatic. Much of his life may have been just too painful for him to express in any other way except in his music. It is the way he communicated. Love to hear if you have any additional thoughts.

    1. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to write out this very thoughtful response to this episode. A song like “Sister” is going to have different meanings to people based on their experience (or lack of) with the topic at hand and while it’s not been documented anywhere that Prince is a victim of incest himself, he absolutely did suffer from abandonment by his biological parents & abuse at the hands of his step-father at a young age, which can easily turn a song that I called a “lark” into a much more meaningful and darker track. The points you bring up about his relationship with his step-sister make sense now that you mention it and the emotional manipulation clearly stuck with him.

      The way Prince sings the song and adds touches of inappropriate humor to the lyrics appear to be a coping mechanism for the song’s protagonist or even a way to allow Prince to even sing the song at all without it being too dark. I have a tendency to not take lyrical content of any artist as too literal but as a result, I sometimes miss insight such as yours. With your permission, I’d like to use your response in a blog post about the song and my episode. If you agree, I can either give you credit or leave it anonymous. Please let me know either way.

  2. Regarding the incomprehensible phrase that you guys couldn’t figure out, I always assumed he was shouting, “Ah Mother-F**, She’s a Mother-F**, can’t you understand?”, which by the way, I laughed out loud the 1st time I heard that.

    1. That makes perfect sense too. It’s a totally laugh out loud lyric on a song with several LOL moments. Thanks for chiming in, I think that’s probably as accurate of a guess as any and it certainly sounds like he could be saying that!

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