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Posts Tagged ‘Purple Rain’

Highs in the Mideighties

June 25, 2014 | by

Recalling the heyday of Prince and Madonna on the thirtieth anniversary of Purple Rain.

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Twenty-four-hour music television, the brainchild of a TV-spawned pop star, the Monkees’ Michael Nesmith, began broadcasting in August 1981 with the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” MTV was everywhere within eighteen months. If new pop and postpunk had gleefully and rapidly rewritten rules, taking music forward in a constant revolution of purpose and invention, their aftermath was an era of momentum for its own sake. Things got ever shinier, greed and need replaced innovation: conservatism was a force and a problem both outside and within eighties pop.

Two new names appeared in this froth of newness. Both stood out from the crowd, both clearly demanded attention, worship, devotion: Prince and Madonna. These were names that couldn’t have existed at the dawn of modern pop, names that baited royalty and religion.

Both based their sound on electronically processed dance music, allowing them the opportunity to change style from record to record in a way that seemed innovative, one step ahead of the pack, like Dylan or Bowie before them. Both had egos the size of mansions. Both had a new hunger for success, for money. Both used MTV to become stars, and both used movies (Desperately Seeking Susan, Purple Rain) to make the jump from stardom to superstardom. Sex! Religion! Gigolo! Whore! Purple! Cone bra! No one could accuse Prince or Madonna of underplaying their hands. And, eventually, both challenged Michael Jackson’s place at the very top of the pop empire; by the eighties’ end Madonna had (arguably) toppled him in the popularity stakes, and Prince had (certainly) creatively eased past Jackson with the most streamlined, silver-finned R&B of the decade. These were their similarities. In other respects they were quite different.

Prince had first appeared with the itchy falsetto disco of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (no. 11, ’79) and was presented—not least by himself—as a teenage prodigy. He grew up in the largely white city of Minneapolis: “The radio was dead, the discos was dead, the ladies was kind of dead. If I wanted to make some noise, if I wanted to turn anything out, I was gonna have to get something together. Which was what we did. We put together a few bands and turned it into Uptown.”

He wanted to be everybody’s lover and—unlike most disco acts—was quite at home with lyrics about oral sex, incest, and Dorothy Parker. This set him apart. By 1983 he was channeling Sly Stone and the Beach Boys on “Little Red Corvette,” and a year later Newsweek was calling him “the Prince of Hollywood” as Purple Rain—starring Prince as the Kid—grossed $80 million. Read More »

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The Tao of Prince

November 15, 2010 | by

If you’ve felt a frisson in the air lately, it’s probably because Prince has announced a new tour. The sky’s all purple, there are people running everywhere—this is exciting news. As I scrambled to get tickets, I briefly wondered why I was bothering. Sure, in his heyday, Prince had juice enough to light the Erotic City skyline, but today he has only a fraction of that electricity. Graffiti Bridge, 1990's abysmal sequel to Purple Rain, began two decades of high-profile blunders: the notorious name change; tenacious threats of legal action against his fans; last summer’s dismissal of the Internet. With antics like these, Prince should’ve faded long ago from the public consciousness, but his mystique is oddly resilient. Even his failures adhere to some kind of Princely internal logic. What makes him such a strange, potent pop-cultural force?

The answer has something to do, I think, with his elusive persona. The most convincing explanation of Prince is a tautology, something you’d hear from a stoned teenager: Prince is, like, Prince. At the risk of sounding more like a stoned twenty-something, I’ll call him a man of dialectics, a brazen mess of binaries. He’s the living refutation of Lincoln’s “House Divided” address. A house divided against itself can stand, Prince says, and it’s a great place to throw a party. As early as 1981’s “Controversy,” he asked us if he was black or white, straight or gay, God fearing or navel gazing.

By 1984, when Purple Rain came out, Prince was all slashes: black/white, straight/gay, male/female, rock/R&B, voluptuary/ascetic, cocaine/peyote, garish/understated, Hendrix/Little Richard, gothic/ecstatic, authoritarian/anarchist, apocalyptic/Panglossian, hip/square, selfish/selfless. Any thesis about him came bundled with its antithesis. He was so at odds with himself that the odds synthesized into one whole, perplexing person.

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