Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain (1984, Warner Brothers)
Sorry, no pictures, Prince is really possessive of his music and image. I know that Prince has better albums, but probably not albums with more cultural impact. And probably not albums that had more impact on me.
By my junior year of High School, I was one of the least popular people in my school.
As a Freshman I played drums in a punk band with a bunch of Seniors - this got me into the fashion and attitude, but after the rest of the band graduated, I was left all alone - alone with odd hair and very unique musical tastes.
I was lucky to grow up with a Father who was a jazz drummer - I was surrounded by music my entire life and (despite my choice to focus on roots music) I could appreciate musical talent and skill.
Sometime during my Sophomore and Junior years I met my friend Paul.
Paul was equally unpopular and equally odd.
Paul dressed in an androgynous style (popularized by 80’s artists like Boy George)...And, Oklahoma, where I lived at the time, did not exactly embrace androgyny or Culture Club.
So, ipso-facto, everybody in Oklahoma thought Paul was gay (he wasn’t - not that it mattered) and that I was crazy (maybe they were right).
Paul and I became fast friends.
Paul Introduces Me To His Purple Majesty
One of Paul’s favorite artists (no pun intended) was Prince.
He turned me on to the albums 1999 and Dirty Mind - I was blown away by Prince’s almost insane and complex mix of Funk, R&B, Jazz.
I was also blown away by his bizarre spirituality.
Even more interesting to me, as a pubescent teen, was his visceral internal conflict between faith and his seemingly near pornographic desires for dirty sex.
I was certainly internally struggling with sexual desire too...And, while I was not as conflicted or as concerned with my eternal soul...I was hearing what he was putting down.
My desire was as strong as his...and probably as conflicted (even if it was conflicted because I was too terrified to ask anyone out).
This was about the time both the Movie and Album “Purple Rain” were released - and they hit us like a tsunami.
There was an odd mysticism to Prince - he seemed introverted but not like a dork - more like he held some mystical secrets to the Funk but was unable to communicate it to non-believers.
I mean who could play all those instruments, hit all those notes, and get Appolonia K. naked in the waters of Lake Minnetonka (well, not actually in Lake Minnetonka) but at the same time could barely speak in complete sentences (and rarely participate in interviews)?
In reality, at this age, the idea that anyone would casually get naked and jump in a lake was pretty crazy to me.
See my other posts to see how I feel about this stuff now, but then I was a kid.
Can Punk Kids Embrace Prince
Technically, as a punk rock kid, I was supposed to hate Prince (I mean the Replacements famously floated many of his records down the river). But, I always loved him.
I know, even today, that this is a betrayal…..But, there were some really punk things about him.
He was clearly the apex of DIY - I mean he seemed to make his own clothes, his own guitars, and run his own empire of people and bands. Many of the people in his movies were clearly his friends and business associates. There was a homemade quality to Purple Rain that made it seem almost charming and silly (in much the same way The Ramones were both serious and silly). And, Prince seemed to include every kind of person in his bands and the crowd scenes seemed crazy diverse in a way that you rarely saw in the 80's. His parties seemed like parties you would want to be at.
Most important, no matter what kind of music I liked, ‘the kid’ could play - I still think he is one of the cleanest but passionate guitar players I have ever heard. Sure, you might never hear three words out of the guy, and half of his lyrics are almost mentally indecipherable, but his playing and vocalizations are so full of feeling.
You may not have known what he was saying, but you knew whatever it was, he really meant it.
I remember going to the Record Store (a building that used to sell songs grouped together by artists called albums) and buying the single for the song “When Doves Cry” on Purple Vinyl.
I remember listening to it for days wondering all the time wondering if somehow I would hurt the purple vinyl by playing it.
I loved the movie too - I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Jerome Benton and Morris Day doing their urban version of the classic ‘Who’s on First’ bit originated by Abbott and Costello.
I felt for Wendy and Lisa and wondered if working with Prince was really that hard (turns out it was).
I was fascinated by Brown Mark and Fink - why did they dress like that? Why did Fink drum standing up and wear puffy shirts?
And why was there a keyboard player called Doctor who only wore scrubs?
It was all so bizarre.
I remember wondering about his relationship to the other bands in real life like the Time and Dez and the Modernaires (Dez et al appeared in the movie singing their non-hit ‘I want to be a Modernaire).
I also wondered what the heck happened to Vanity and how Prince knew Appolonia.
That Crazy Solo
In particular I remember the song Purple Rain….I mean holy shit.
You can like Prince or hate Prince but you have to be blown away by that song.
To this day, I have no idea why he was lost in the purple rain...but, holy shit that song is/was epic.
I spent the whole decade of the 80's looking down on songs like this - but, in this case I just had to bow down (the guitar solo at the end is one of the best things Prince has ever done).
I guess Purple Rain is the exception that proved the rule for me?
And BTW, Prince is an amazing guitarist, his fingering is impossibly smooth..and that solo really showed off his emotional but clean playing.
Prince Vs MJ
Oddly enough, I never remember giving two shits about Michael Jackson (Well...strike that, he did do a live performance of Man in the Mirror at some awards show once that was pretty powerful).
For the most part, he just never touched my life in the same way as Prince.
I know it doesn't matter - it is not a competition..but everyone always compares them...I don't get it.
They both could dance, but Prince could play, write, and sing.
Prince didn’t just play - he could shred multiple instruments and had a crazy vocal range.
I mean even in the 80’s, people would talk about Prince having a secret vault full of unrecorded songs. .I am pretty sure that MJ couldn’t write music and was, at best, a serviceable singer (after Off the Wall) - the battle just wasn’t even close.
In fact, Prince was so good that he even wrote hit songs for other artists (Sinead O’Connor).
In fact, I am still very confused about how MJ became the King of Pop in the face of Prince.
I mean Prince was really bizarre - but so was Michael.
It all mad, and still makes, no sense to me - Prince had more talent in one purple ruffle than MJ had in his whole skinny strange ass...but, Michael was the King? Why?
I know people will go crazy on me for this one, but it is what I feel.
Anyway, there have been a ton of amazing Prince albums - but, for me, Purple Rain was kind of the key cultural moment for me with Prince.
In retrospect, I think my love for Prince during this period had to do with him being a symbol of real diversity.
Prince looked like some kind of miniature alien creature possessed with a battery that never quit and an inability to talk outside of while playing his music.
He wore clothes nobody else would wear and played truly absurd-looking guitars (really well).
His concerts looked like they had a little bit of every kind of person in attendance.
He wrote lyrics in a strange metaphorical language that nobody else really understood (every teen understands this).
He seemed really conflicted (just like I was).
The movie presented him as having a father who was a talented musician but was difficult to reach (very much like my own father)....
He seemed like he did not always play well with others and like he was very introverted (also very much like me at the time)....
Now, I never ended a movie by shooting mysterious purple liquid from an ejaculated guitar neck….But, I still felt connected to his craziness.
And, he seemed to have some other problems teens could relate to....
I mean I can't even start to explain experiencing Darling Nikki at that age.
So much strangeness, that was awesome but nuts...
What the heck was computer blue about? I had absolutely no idea but I knew I liked it.
And who doesn't remember the intro to Let's Go Crazy (or Morris Day mocking it at the end of the movie and then looking like he realized how wrong he was to do so).
At the end of the day, Purple Rain is still a great album full of great songs, Prince is an icon, and he can really play and sing…..Drop the Mic (with apologies to The Replacements).
Since I can't push Prince albums...I will push one of his fave bands instead:
What Happened To Paul
Paul and I were best friends through high school and remained friends through most of college.
At some point, he moved to San Francisco and I have only heard from him twice since.
The first time he sent me a chain letter (you know pass it on or you will die or something like that).
The second time, we saw each other for about 15 minutes at his parents house.
Never heard from him since.
But, I loved that guy, he was cool in a way people rarely were at that age.
What did you think of Prince? What do you think of Prince now? Did you love Purple Rain or hate it? Let me know, leave a comment!