Prince turns 53 today. 53! Try looking for signs. An aging Prince feels like a geometric impossibility. He’s still working, still recording and performing, and while we can debate whether or not his best work is behind him, we cannot debate that his best work still sounds as vivid as it ever did. I can’t begin to encapsulate Prince’s entire career, but I can reduce my appreciation to a single instant, and the instant I keep coming back to is Purple Rain.
I love everything about Purple Rain, and I really recommend seeing it any way you can, at one of LA or New York’s many midnight screenings, or at home with friends. I’ve written about Purple Rain before, and I’d like to look at that piece again today. (That’s what she said.) The following is what I wrote about Purple Rain on June 25th, 2009. That’s right – the day Michael Jackson died.
What a weird, stupid, [for-better-or-worse] memorable day this one was. The only rational place my mind can go to, really, is comedy. Chris Rock has a routine which goes, and I’m paraphrasing up until the punchline, “Remember how back in the ‘eighties, you used to have all those arguments with your friends about who was better, Michael Jackson or Prince? PRINCE WON!”
Chris Rock is something of a prophet, I guess, because today Michael Jackson is dead and Prince celebrates the 25th anniversary of his signature album, Purple Rain.
Seriously, how weird is that? Not that the two were necessarily rivals, but no other individual musicians dominated an era like those two did. In the minds of many, Prince and MJ are forever linked, the same way that the Stones and the Beatles, or Britney and Christina, are. (CHRISTINA WON!) Every force has its equal. In this case, every Thriller has its Purple Rain. So now, on the date of the release of Purple Rain, when I’m all geared up to remember that album in writing, MJ up and dies? What’s happening here? One final shot across the bow from MJ? The universe itself struggling to achieve balance?
I can’t even think about it anymore. My mind is boggled. Let’s recalibrate our dials pointing towards the positive and try to get back to the matter at hand:
Purple Rain is one of the top ten albums of all time. On some days I’d call it the single best. The debate can continue on the other nine, but that tenth slot probably needs to go to Purple Rain. It’s got a unique, singular vision behind it, a vision so intense that it actually laid claim to an entire color of the rainbow. It’s very definitely the greatest strip club record of all time. (Suck on that, Nikki Sixx!) I could back up THAT argument all day, but probably shouldn’t. And besides that, there is nothing I can say about Purple Rain, the album, that hasn’t been said better elsewhere, most likely by ?uestlove.
Meanwhile, Purple Rain, the movie, isn’t on anybody’s top five MOVIES of all time (except maybe Jellybean Johnson’s), but in its own wonderful way, it’s a terrific viewing experience any time of day. You can get the DVD for cheap just about anywhere, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t. It sports the legitimate hilarity of Morris Day, the beauteosity of Appolonia, the scariness of Clarence Williams III, the greatest soundtrack of all time (excepting only The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly), and a truly bizarre self-revelatory performance by Prince which may or may not have anything to do with his actual inner life or personal history. We may never know. Prince don’t talk much.
This month’s SPIN Magazine has a cover story in oral-history format about the making of the movie – pretty much all the critical players are featured, besides the Purple One himself and arch-foe Morris Day. It’s not nearly long enough for me, but it’s still pretty great. Check it out on the newsstands or at www.SPIN.com, where you can also download a free nine-track tribute album which is more than solid.
So maybe this weekend, while you’re listening and re-listening to Thriller on loop, throw some Purple Rain in there, just to liven things up again.
And also, if the elevator tries to break you down, you can always go crazy.