Saturday, July 25, 2020

Purple Rain

I put off writing about Purple Rain for a long time because I doubted my ability to do it justice. I’ve never been to Minneapolis, I came late to Prince, there are whole albums I’ve never heard. My friend Asa is a superfan and I think his fandom is truly beautiful to behold. Like the Sagrada Familia, it’s ambitious, selfless, and never finished. It’s not just that he “likes Prince,” it’s that he could make a unified theory of everything with Prince at its center but he knows that Prince is, essentially, unknowable. More than any other artist I can name, Prince has a holographic quality that resists authoritative interpretation and more often reflects back the viewer/listener. Rachel describes Prince and the Revolution as her favorite lesbian band and she’s not wrong, you know? Everything I’ve ever read about Prince begins in the first person: who am I to write about Prince, how did I come to Prince, what does Prince mean to me. Prince outwits expertise. And so who am I to write about Prince? A mere music movie blogger. Purple Rain means something special to me and I’m gonna tell you all about it. 

My friend Jamie B. pointed me to a way to watch Purple Rain that remains my primary interpretation, as a movie about Utopic possibilities and psychogeography. The Minneapolis of Prince’s imagination is the funkiest place on planet Earth, a city where everyone has good hair and crazy duds and who’s that strutting across the street, it’s Morris Day and the Time, and wow what’s on every corner, a funky guitar shop. Where’s the CVS? There is no CVS. “If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.” Prince's memorable instruction to "purify yourself in the waters of Lake Winnetonka" resonates with anyone who grew up frequenting some kind of hole or spot, I think of this as a Midwestern thing but everyone knows a place, just some pissy ditch where you're as likely to see god as get bit by a snake, and still you took your favorites there to impress them.  Purple Rain combines the magic of being young with the freedom of being grown. 
It’s not an outsized fantasy of wealth, everyone’s broke, “the Kid” still lives with his parents and his Dad beats his Mom. We’re all just getting by but wow, what if we reimagined cities for their creative potential instead of their capital? Everyone’s window shopping but no one’s buying. It’s beautiful. It’s one of the most creative, communistic, and powerful visions of a Midwestern city I’ve ever seen.

It’s a testament to the enormity and tenacity of Prince’s vision that he made three movies at a time when black artists didn’t get to make movies. Imagine how much better this blog would be if I got to review Pedro Bell’s Parliament/Funkadelic Fantasia or Earth, Wind & Fire’s funk opera. We would have so many better music/film crossovers if not for Hollywood’s preference for white prog rockers with limited imaginations, but we do have Purple Rain, and it’s as much a good movie as a Prince project. Prince plays “the Kid,” he rides a motorcycle, he and everyone he knows hangs out at First Avenue, a nightclub/nexus that is the heartbeat of Prince's Minneapolis. He begins a romance with newcomer Apollonia and tries to keep her away from producer and archrival Morris Day, played with good, goofy energy by Morris Day. At the same time the Kid has to deal with a bunch of fucking trauma inherited from his father while recognizing his own potential for violence. He also has to get over himself enough to see that Wendy & Lisa’s song “Computer Blue” slaps, even if it’s not what you think of when you think of Purple Rain, in time Prince will realize it is one of the best songs on the album. This is an evergreen (everpurple??) movie about both being hurt and perpetuating that hurt, and how the transformative power of rocknroll can show us new ways of thinking, being, and collaborating. Big Emmet Otter energy in this one. 

Prince is exactly as confident as he is talented, this is itself a gift, lots of people with the wrong ratios out there either riding high or feeling bad. I’m loathe to use the word genius but a huge part of his is recognizing talent and elevating other artists, there is no genius that’s not generous, then you’re just fucking Steve Jobs or whatever. What good is a visionary whose vision is not inclusive? If you don’t give “Stand Back” to Stevie Nicks or “I Feel For You” to Chaka Khan, you’re not a genius, you’re a hoarder. So while it’s true that Prince is the center of his own universe it’s a real feel free universe, as in, feel free to come in, hang out, make yourself at home. All the journalists that interview him seem either desperate to please or put off by his supreme self confidence, and when he was alive it gave Prince a reputation as capricious, eccentric, and arrogant. But I think his vibe is just, you know, be yourself, be the best version of yourself, as I am the best version of myself. Why grovel? Why ingratiate yourself to me? Prince does not posit himself as a leader, he’s just a really really good musician, both because of his virtuosity and his openness. You are never acting out of character if you’re versatile, that’s why Prince can cover “Everyday is a Winding Road” and it’s nothing if not on-brand. 

Writing about Prince is a great exercise in realizing your limits; writing in general is a great way to realize your limits and I recommend it. I’m letting go of needing to be right, let alone an authority. In the past when I got useful feedback I was like “better update my Amadeus post to reflect the discourse” but I’m over it. I’ve never felt less clever than I have this summer and it’s been humbling. To engage meaningfully in something means abandoning the need to be a master of it, and this is both a goofy reflection on my music movie blog but also a way to approach artistic practices and civic participation: how can we maximize our talents without also needing to feed our egos? I’m working on it. I just read this book on mushrooms and it reminds me that we are a polyphony of good/bad ideas, learning from each other, growing, searching in the darkness and together lifting up huge chunks of highway asphalt. That said if anyone wants to review Under the Cherry Moon, let me know. Asa is reviewing Graffiti Bridge as we speak and it's gonna be good.

My favorite Prince song always changes but right now it’s a tie between “Paisley Park” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” that outro gets me: “Whatever you heard about me is true/ I change the rules and do what I wanna do/ I'm in love with God, he's the only way/ 'Cuz you and I know we gotta die some day/ If you think I'm crazy, you're probably right/ But I'm gonna have fun every motherfuckin' night/ If you like to fight, you're a double-drag fool/ I'm goin' to another life, how 'bout you.” I don’t really believe in God but I do believe that our vibes outlive us, that our souls atomize and scatter and bloom again as flowers. So every time you see a purple flower, think of Prince, may we all be a little bit more like him.Thanks as always for reading my blog. :-)

No comments:

Post a Comment