The first thing I think of when Prince comes to mind is asking my 6th grade music teacher if we could sing “Darling Nikki” in class. She was taking suggestions for contemporary pop songs to include in an upcoming concert, and that was my only idea. Her response? “If I can find the sheet music, maybe.” My classmates giggled. Our teacher may or may not have known who Prince was—it was 1984 and err’body had to know him!—but she clearly did not know what “Darling Nikki” was!
I knew a girl named Nikki
I guess you could say she was a sex fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
masturbating with a magazine
That would have perked up the ears of all the bored, white suburban parents in the audience!
Of course, a lot of what appealed to us in elementary school about His Purple Highness was that he sang some dirty shit. I’m not saying everyone really understood what the hell he was singing about, but we knew it was naughty. I always fancied myself a worldly woman when it came to sexual matters; I had watched Benny Hill and Richard Pryor and Porky’s on a regular basis since before I was ten, so yeah, I knew what was up. And I couldn’t believe my mother wouldn’t take me to see Purple Rain at the movies!
Despite not having seen the movie until at least a year or two after it was released, I had read about how kind of autobiographical it was and had played the album at least a hundred times and seen his videos, so I felt like I knew everything I needed to know. But I wanted to see Prince getting freaky with the ladies! But it was not to be, at least not in 1984.
Purple Rain is one of those brilliant soundtracks, like Saturday Night Fever and Superfly, that are solid and can stand alone as albums without being associated with a movie. Since my generation was the first to have MTV we saw songs at the same time as we heard them, so Prince’s videos were little movies that showcased him as a performer and what we imagined he was as a man. “When Doves Cry” is the first Prince video that impressed me. It starts with Prince in a room with nothing but flowers scattered around the floor, a freestanding white sink, and a steamy bathtub out of which he seductively emerges while singing. Male rock stars didn’t get naked for the camera back then, and Prince’s tiny fine brown frame, dripping wet and wearing only a long, gold chain with a cross on it was quite a spectacle in its day! And don’t even get me started on his fierce motherfuckin’ Jheri curl…
I lived to watch the snippets from the movie when he and Apollonia were making out! So very sexy. And as feminine as he could dress, none of the girls I knew ever questioned his masculinity. He was hot! I loved Boy George, but I never thought he was hot. Prince, on the other hand, was in his own league of sexiness. I was a dedicated Michael Jackson fan, so he was always my first choice when it came to bangin’ a celebrity; rather, I wanted to marry Michael Jackson. Prince was just a fuck buddy.
Another great scene in the video is when the keyboard player (dressed in scrubs and sporting an oh-so-stylish mullet—the white man’s Jheri curl!) is standing in that white room, and the door flies open, much to his surprise, only to allow a single white dove to fly through! Brilliant.
And this is where the video gets even more 80’s and cheesy and awesome. Prince and his Revolution are performing in said white room with a spiral staircase, where Prince is spotted wearing what can only be described as a gay matador pimp ensemble. But he still looks fine as hell! I have no idea what the special effect is called that they use here, but whatever it is, I love it. It reminds me of when you would make paper cut-outs in school to create snowflakes or something, like with folded paper that you open up after cutting to reveal a garland with multiples of the same design. You see everyone in the Revolution in duplicate, then maybe only half of them, but it’s the same side of them twice, and then Prince disappears into himself—it was some fucking crazy shit! It’s like Wendy and Lisa kept making out with themselves. I still am fascinated by that part of the video. And to make this shit even more 80’s specific, in the background of that white room is this huge Nagel-like drawing of a woman’s face, which, as we all remember, is the closing shot of the video as a tear falls from her eye. Don’t cry!
Every song on Purple Rain is genius and necessary. I remember playing it on my record player (which was my mom’s from the 60s and 70s) in the basement, which my middle sister and I considered our “apartment.” I would play this album on Saturdays while we cleaned, singing along to “Baby I’m A Star,” knowing that someday, I would be just as big as Prince and Michael Jackson and Madonna, bigger, in fact, than all three of them combined!
Hey look me over
tell me do you like what you see
hey I ain’t got no money
but honey I’m rich on personality…
baby I’m a star
might not know it now
baby I’m a, baby I’m a star
I don’t wanna stop until I reach the top
I absolutely wanted to be a star! I have always loved all kinds of music, and my sister and I used to love Barbara Mandrell’s TV show back in the day, so I wanted to have a country group with my sisters, too! I would, of course, be the lead singer and write all the songs and design our matching outfits. In fourth grade I also decided to have a rock group with my friends, and I would, of course, be the lead singer and keyboard player and write all the songs and design our sweet outfits, and we would all live in a big house together. I would eventually have had to branch out on my own because I had become such an amazing superstar.
So Prince helped me imagine what my life was going to be like someday when I hit the big time. But Purple Rain is not only a great memory of my childhood; it is simply a brilliant record. Prince is a stone cold genius, and nobody can argue otherwise. Yes, he’s a weird dude, but I think he operates on a whole different plane than the rest of us. He has lots of spiritual and metaphysical and sensual aspects to his being, so many levels, and he’s so much deeper than most of us. I remember once at work about a year ago one of my managers asked our general manager, who is gay, if he would be too intimidated to sleep with Prince, and he said yes. We all kind of felt that we may not be able to live up to his standards of freakiness and eroticism. There is an aura about Prince that makes him appear otherworldly, anachronistic, not quite human. He is sex, he is music, he is light. Prince can do no wrong. Change your name into a symbol or a hieroglyphic or sign language, dude—it’s your world! We’re just here to admire and worship you.