Prince’s ‘Sex in the Summer’ Reveals Fatherhood’s Lost Promise
"Sex in the Summer" is, on its surface, simply another breezy, lightly suggestive turn by Prince. He dotted this track with typically sharp imagery and a winking naughtiness, but its tempo – its very pulse – was actually created out of dashed dreams.
In the period immediately before "Sex in the Summer" arrived on 1996's Emancipation, Prince had suffered the loss of his child, a tragedy which irreparably damaged his marriage to Mayte Garcia. (In fact, at first, they couldn't even admit it had happened at all.) Coming to terms with this track, despite its surface mischievousness, must have been particularly difficult in the period that immediately followed.
Prince had long expressed an overarching desire to become a father, and he threw himself into Mayte's pregnancy with a typically consumptive attention to detail. A portion of his Paisley Park studio was transformed into a nursery during her pregnancy, with every detail overseen by Prince himself. That visceral excitement bled into the sessions being held nearby, as Prince constructed a triple-album declaration of independence after years of battling his now-former record label.
Hear Prince Perform "Sex in the Summer"
Emancipation came to include quite of bit of "sentimental stuff," Prince later admitted, telling Rolling Stone that the prospect of fatherhood had changed him: "You'll definitely hear it in my music." Undoubtedly, he was referring to moments like "Sex in the Summer."
Prince stitched the track together from two sessions, initially using a solo take built around an unreleased song called "Conception," and then concluding with another take featuring a nascent version of the next New Power Generation lineup. Elsewhere, Ramon "Tiki" Fulwood's drum fills memorably recalled those on Funkadelic's 1970 version on "Good Old Music," but there was something else – something far more personal – that came to define "Sex in the Summer": Prince completed the recording by adding a loop of his unborn child's heartbeat from Garcia's ultrasound.
"What we did was take a microphone and place it on Mayte's stomach and move it around with the gel until we got the right spot," Prince said during a 1996 appearance on Oprah. "And then, you know, you start to hear that and then we put the drums around that. That's the baby."
For these eager parents to be, every other element of "Sex in the Summer" tended to recede into the background. "The baby set the groove for this song," Prince told Rolling Stone. "Mayte always smiles when she hears it."
It was clear, back then, that something transformative had happened to Prince, and their son's heartbeat served as its big bang. "It really grounds you," Prince told Oprah Winfrey. "It makes you realize that things you thought were important aren't really. That's what it meant to me."
This sound, and this song, represented a new start, the beginning of something entirely different. But it would soon serve as an awful reminder of how quickly everything changed. Their son, later named Amiir, suffered from Pfeiffer syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which prematurely fuses the of bones in the skull while also creating abnormal limbs.
Doctors told them something was wrong, but the couple were nevertheless unprepared for what happened at Amiir's birth. "I don't know how to describe the look on my husband's face: Pure joy," Garcia wrote in her 2017 memoir The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince. "And then they held the baby up to those harsh lights. The elation on my husband's face turned to pure terror."
Amirr survived just six days. Emancipation was released only a few weeks later, on Nov. 19, 1996. Prince honored previously scheduled promotional stops for the album – including that memorable appearance on Oprah – and then began preparing for the inevitable tour.
The earliest days of this period were spent studiously avoiding the topic of his son's death, or telling outright lies about it. He actually took Winfrey on a tour of the empty nursery, while promising all was right with Amiir. "They stood in the middle of this colorful paradise of toys," Garcia said in her autobiography. "It had everything a perfect nursery needs, except for the only thing a perfect nursery needs."
She later admitted that, at first, they simply couldn't face what had happened. After a subsequent miscarriage, the two split. "I don't think he ever got over it," Garcia later added. "I don't know how anybody can get over it. I know I haven't."
Prince threw himself into his work, as was his habit, but even there he clearly found difficulty in escaping from this pain.
Prince avoided "Sex in the Summer" during the subsequent Jam of the Year tour, held from July 1997 to January 1998. In fact, he never performed it again. Meanwhile, Mayte Garcia said he asked an assistant to burn the entire contents of Amiir's unused nursery.