Prince passed away very suddenly last Thursday at the age of 57. In a year where we have lost far too many brilliantly talented people, this was a particularly hard one to deal with.
I was fortunate enough to see Prince in concert – something that I am now really grateful for. My two closest friends and I drove down to the United Center in Chicago in 2012. The concert started promptly on time with no opening act – he played for two and a half solid hours, then did 5 encores. And by he, I really mean they – there was a fifteen piece band (seven of which were horns), that Prince conducted throughout the concert, so that if he suddenly felt like changing the playlist, the band went with him. He had a rack of 12 different guitars, and I think he played all of them. He took a short break only once, to change out of his bright yellow high-heeled boots into more comfortable bright yellow high-heeled wedges. He pulled Jennifer Hudson on stage to sing Nothing Compares 2U with him – and yes, while you may know Sinead O’Connor’s version (which is lovely), find a version of Prince singing it – it’s so much more amazing when he sings it. In any case, it remains the best concert I have ever seen, it was amazing to watch him perform, because you could really see how much he loved the music and the fans. My favorite memory from the night is when about halfway through the show went Prince headed over to the piano on stage to play a stripped-down version of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, a woman in the row in front of us screamed, “He’s going to the piano – HE’S GOING TO THE PIANO!” while running up and down the row. Exactly the right reaction.
I can’t tell you when I first loved Prince’s music – he just seemed to always be there and always be amazing. His first album was released in 1978, and he basically released an album a year since then. I was particularly fond of the 1989 Batman soundtrack (tell me you didn’t love Batdance – everyone did). However, when looking at one movie to review in his honor – there is really no other option than Purple Rain.
Released in 1984 and directed by Albert Magnoli, Purple Rain is a semi-autobiographical movie starring Prince. He plays the Kid – or just Kid, and the movie begins as he’s already a pretty established performer in Minneapolis with his band, the Revolution, spending most of his time rehearsing and performing at the First Avenue nightclub (I was also lucky enough to get to go to the First Avenue club one night while visiting some friends in Minneapolis, not when Prince was doing one of his many pop-in performances, though).
The Revolution isn’t quite pulling in the audience like they used to – and a rival band – The Time (headed up by Morris Day) is getting more popular. Morris is even trying to talk the club owner – Billy Sparks – into replacing the Revolution with a girl group he is creating.
Two band members in the Revolution – Lisa and Wendy – have written music that they want the Kid to approve, but he’s more interested in only playing his own music.
He’s also dealing with his parents, and his father routinely abusing his mother. One night, a lovely young woman from New Orleans (Apollonia) comes to the club, wanting to be a singer. She and the Kid start up a romance, but she also finds herself somewhat pulled to Morris, as he has promised her the lead of her own band. She buys the Kid a guitar, but tells him she is joining Morris’s band, and he reacts by hitting her – which causes him to be terrified that he’s turning into his father (also a failed musician). The Revolution has another sketchy show at the First Avenue, while Apollonia’s new group debuts to a great reaction. Billy tells the Kid they have one more chance, but when the Kid gets home - his father shoots himself in the head – severely wounding himself. After his mother accompanies his father to the hospital, Kid has a bit of a breakdown in the house, and stumbles across a pile of music his father wrote. This serves as the wake-up call – and he turns some things around. He decides to use Wendy and Lisa’s songs with some that his father wrote.
The Time has a great set – causing Morris to taunt the Kid – but the Revolution takes the stage, and Kid announces they are going to do a song dedicated to his father, written by Lisa and Wendy, which of course, is Purple Rain. The emotional performance brings down the house, and the Kid runs off the stage at the end, intending to ride off, however, he realizes the crowd is still reacting, so he comes back in - recommits to Apollonia, and brings down the house at the club, with several encores.
The plot is really not that complex and the acting is questionable since there are only three actors in the movie (everyone else is a musician), but let’s be real – that’s not why you’re watching this movie. You’re watching for the music – and for Prince’s sexy motorcycle riding.
- Prince plays the Kid – or a version of Prince, and he’s actually not bad in terms of the acting. In particular, the scenes between the Kid and his father are really touching and well done as the Kid tries to connect to this man who has become a depressed monster.
- Apollonia Kotero plays Apollonia, in a role that was originally supposed to be Vanity playing Vanity. She’s sufficient as a woman who really wants to hit it big – and is a little surprised when she falls for the kid. Also – that bit about her jumping in to not Lake Minnetonka is still hilarious.
- Morris Day plays Morris Day – and Jerome Benton plays Jerome. They are pretty hilarious as rivals, and the “who’s on first” style bit about them determining how to alert one another when Apollonia arrives in the club cracks me up. Prince and Morris were friends in high school and actually had a band called Grand Central prior to Prince starting the Revolution and Morris heading up the Time – both of which were really Prince bands.
- And here's a photo of Morris and Prince in high school - just because.
- Olga Karlatos plays The Kid’s mother, and she does spend most of the movie crying or getting hit. She does seem to love both her son and her husband, but doesn’t really factor into the storyline much. Apparently she had some scenes that were cut out. Clarence Williams III – yes, from the Mod Squad – plays the Kid’s father. He’s very tall and intimidating, and more than a little frightening as a man completely on the edge. There’s never really any extensive background given, we just know he’s a failed musician. Again – the scenes between he and Prince are very good.
- Everyone else in the movie is playing themselves, Billy Sparks is probably the one who gets the most lines. And those are all about telling the Kid to step it up and get his life together.
Overall, the movie is very entertaining, and pretty well put together – yes, some parts are cheesy, but hey – what do you want from 1984? Prince was 25 at the time, and already a seasoned performance veteran. The movie did win an Oscar for Best Original song for Purple Rain, and yes, Graffiti Bridge, which Prince directed, was a semi-sequel. Breaking down the movie - I would say 9% of the movie is the motorcycle riding, 72% of the movie are wonderful musical performances, 6% is the Kid flirting with Apollonia, 6% is him arguing with his father, 3% is him not playing Lisa and Wendy’s music, and 2% is Morris Day and Jerome arguing about what the password is, and 1% is Prince talking to a puppet in a cup – or, listening to a puppet in cup. Seriously.
9 out of 10 – it’s a classic, and if you haven’t seen it in a while, or have never seen it – now is the time to track it down and check it out. All the songs are amazing, and the Purple Rain performance at the end is fantastic.
Bonus - Prince performing at the SuperBowl - in the Purple Rain.