If I ever questioned the existence of God during my time in Catholic school, I might have considered one event in the fall of 1984 the miracle that erased all doubts, when my mother granted me permission to go see Purple Rain. The movie had released that summer, music from soundtrack circulated heavily on the radio and MTV, and as I entered the eighth grade it seemed the only goal many of us held beyond graduating and leaving Sacred Heart was seeing this movie. Months after its debut, the film was held over at several theaters in town, and now that we were thirteen and taking a health class surely we were mature enough to sit through an R-rated film with the proper supervision.
A small circle of friends had secured a chaperone and a ride to a twilight show after school. Looking back, I’m still amazed my mother consented. At this point we were still switching from MTV to WGN every time she walked into the den, so the idea that she’d let me watch a movie about Prince, who at the time made (insert Kardashian here) look like Mary Poppins, equated to a pipe dream.
I’d like to write here about how I went to see this movie, still wearing my plaid jumper and crossing my legs tightly and expecting to lose some degree of mind virginity. I’d like to tell you about the urban legends friends concocted about this slice of forbidden purple fruit – like how Prince would perform live shows in the nude and simulate sex acts onstage – and wondering what we’d see in the final cut of this film. How hearing his music for the first time as presented in this movie shaped me into the person I am today.
Well, I didn’t go. Of the four or five girls set to see the movie, I was the only one on the school’s basketball team. Though we’d set a date on which I didn’t have practice, Coach decided to hold an extra one to prepare for an upcoming game. Coach rarely started me, and I suspected he didn’t like me and only kept me on the team to mess with my head. I wanted to blow off practice, but he and my mother laid on the “you made a commitment to the team” guilt trip, and though I went to practice like a good girl he didn’t start me at that game.
Damn, amazing how certain things trigger bad memories. I haven’t reviewed this book yet, and I feel as though I should send the author my therapy bill. You should buy it so he can afford it.
We can argue whether or not Purple Rain remains the pinnacle of Prince’s lengthy career, but in a short period of time when a handful of performers took that step from gold record to legend (Springteen, Madonna, Michael Jackson), Prince seemed destined to fill out that musical Rushmore. In 1984 he simultaneously had the top film, album and single in the nation, and I don’t know if that feat’s been matched. Maybe in the UK with the Spice Girls, but likely not here.
Author Light was one of the few journalists with access to Prince in the 80s and 90s. Though Prince contributed nothing new to this book, Light includes archived sound bytes and new insight from former members of The Revolution, Questlove (who taught a course on Prince’s music at NYU), and others involved in the film’s production. The story of how Purple Rain the film came to be greenlit, and how Prince convinced his entourage of musicians to come into this medium with no acting experience could make for an equally interesting, if not more dramatic, film. When you peel away the aloof exterior (gossip at the time pegged Prince at various points on the egotistic spectrum, from mysterious to cold-as-stone to unprintable) you find a performer determined to work twenty-fours without sleep if it means expanding his reach beyond R&B radio, where record labels seemed content to place him. That he succeeded in negotiating a movie deal in tandem with new music speaks for his determination and savvy, and for the good insight of certain people in the industry.
Light tells the story well in Let’s Go Crazy – it’s not a lengthy book but the cast and crew only had so such time to film. Purple Rain takes much of the focus in this microhistory of the 80s music scene and even clarifies a few misconceptions of Prince’s character (read: the “We Are the World” debacle). I do take off a few points for the instances where Light injects personal bias into the story. Light admits his admiration and fan status, but in a few places the book treads into memoir territory, and that might turn off a few people. Other than that, I liked this book for its nostalgia value (though I feel pangs for reaching an age where I can be nostalgic about anything), and one of these days I’ll get to see the movie on the big screen as intended.