Prince Mourns a Drug-Related Loss With ‘The Love We Make’
When the Smashing Pumpkins hit the road to promote their wildly popular Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness LP, they took a secret weapon with them — and although most fans in the audience had no idea who Jonathan Melvoin was, his death partway through the tour had a long-lasting impact that deeply affected a surprising number of artists, including Prince.
The Melvoin connection might have been noticed only by fans given to poring over liner notes, but it ran deep. The brother of Prince confederates Susannah and Wendy Melvoin, Jonathan was a musical prodigy in his own right, and filtered through various Paisley Park-affiliated works while he was still in his early 20s, contributing to the side project the Family as well as Prince's 1985 album Around the World in a Day. The siblings had filtered out of his musical orbit by the time of Jonathan Melvoin's passing in 1996, but the loss still seemed to shake Prince.
Reportedly described by the Artist as a track written to "speak to the spirit of a friend lost to drugs," and described in the liner notes to 1996's Emancipation LP as "written 4 a lost friend," the song "The Love We Make" is widely believed to — and seems all but certain to — have been written for Melvoin, whose heroin overdose on the road with the Pumpkins cut short a potentially brilliant career. Just 34 at the time of his death, he'd continue to touch a number of lives in death; pop star Sarah McLachlan subsequently had a career-defining hit with the Melvoin-inspired "Angel," and his sisters eulogized him with their own song, "Jonathan." (Prince and his band would later cover "Angel" at their concerts, with Shelby J. taking lead vocals.)
Without naming him outright, Prince condemned the epidemic that led to Melvoin's death. "The Love We Make" serves up a series of lyrical reminders that escaping reality with seductive short-term comforts can only lead to a dead end — and then gets straight to the point with the refrain, which repeats "Put down the needle, put down the spoon / Put down the needle, put down the spoon."
Of course, avoiding drugs — or shaking the habit once it's been acquired — isn't always as easy as a song, as Prince himself sadly discovered later in life. The fact that his own death was intertwined with illicit opiate use adds a sad postscript to the story of "The Love We Make," one that definitely wasn't lost on Jonathan's sister Wendy.
"I have a deep empathy and compassion for the pain he was in, yes. And do I understand how something tragic like that could happen? Yes. I lost my brother to something similar. And I have many friends that have had serious problems with physical pain and, oops, something happens, right? So that part I understand," she told Rolling Stone. "But when I reminisce or become nostalgic or sentimental, that brick wall of absolutism hits me smack in the face, and it's an incredibly painful feeling. When you think about the fact that someone is never going to be on your doorstep again, it's ridiculous."