In the late summer of 1984, I saw Purple Rain for the first time. I was 14. Adolescence had arrived, and was about to be taken for quite a spin with Prince Rogers Nelson at the wheel.
Every long time admirer of Prince has their memories. These are some of mine…
- Summer of 1984 (14 years old), driving home from baseball practice with my mom. Passenger side of her Buick Park Avenue. “When Doves Cry” on the radio. Ears perk. “Hmmm,” I think, “here’s something different.”
- Late September 1984, my first viewing of Purple Rain. The experience was so vivid, yet I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember who was with me. Likely my friends Matt W. and/or Chris G. The reason I can’t recall is that I returned to the theater several times in the ensuing weeks to see it again. And again. And again. Watching the movie Purple Rain didn’t just spark my interest in Prince. It ignited several very potent megatons of TNT. It upturned my teenaged midwestern suburban existence. In the coming weeks, my Rod Carew posters would be untacked from the walls, methodically replaced by posters, magazine covers, pins, and photos of Prince (my poor folks – “what is happening to my kid??”). Yep, adolescence had come barreling down the road, ran a red light, and smashed right into this strange purple man from Minneapolis. It was on. I would learn about love, sex, funk, soul, the sacred & profane, but most importantly: tolerance and acceptance for all (“black, white, Puerto Rican everybody just a freakin’ good times…”). Prince opened my mind, and it hasn’t closed since.
- Late ’84: Friday Night Videos premieres a live video of Prince and the Revolution live in Landover, MD. They perform “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star.” Prince commanding that stage in a white lace getup. “Woof! woof! woof! woof woof!, you say it.. woof! woof! woof! woof woof!, any dogs in the house?” That Sheila E. timbales solo…
- The American Music Awards, January ’85. Prince and the Revolution are all over the Lionel Richie-hosted show (“Outrageous!”). Prince’s bodyguard Big Chick escorts him to the stage. “Life is death without adventure.” A kiss for Vanity. Bar none, the very best live performance of “Purple Rain” I’ve seen to this day. Microphone kicked over during guitar solo. Cyndi Lauper going crazy in her front row seat.
- A month later, the Grammys. “I Would Die 4 U” / “Baby I’m a Star.” Fantastic, but anticlimactic after the AMA performance of “Purple Rain” a few weeks earlier.
- Several trips to Mainstream Records in downtown Racine, Wisconsin to grab the newly released 12″ maxi-singles the day they were released. New music! Most of the maxi-singles had an extended version of the A side (“Let’s Go Crazy,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Kiss”); but even better, brand new tunes on the B-side. “17 Days,” “Hello,” “She’s Always in my Hair,” “Love or $”… and I would snatch up the earlier 1999 releases too of course – “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” and “Irresistible Bitch,” possibly my two favorite B-sides.
- Voraciously seeking out all of Prince’s projects and extended Minneapolis family. The Time, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, The Family, Sheila E., Andre Cymone, Jesse Johnson. Top tune of this bunch? Must be “777-9311.”
- Calling into WLUM Milwaukee to request “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” from my DJ crush Alli Ellison.
- In my room 1: Listening to every Prince album straight through, from the first to the latest. From For You through Purple Rain (six albums worth). Then For You through Around the World in a Day. Then For You through Parade. You get the idea.
- In my room 2: “Performing:” A tennis racket with a strap tied to it for my guitar. A putter for my microphone (handy for the James Brown mic tricks). A lot of “Purple Rain” and a lot of “Irresistible Bitch” / “Possessed” / “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” from the Live 85 concert video. My brothers were away at college, so when my folks went out, it was mirror time. Damn if I didn’t nail those splits a time or two.
- In my room 3: Posters of Vanity and Apollonia. 14, 15, 16 years old… Moving on.
- My first live Prince experiences: September 18-19, 1988 at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. Prince was in the round for the Lovesexy tour. My high school sweetheart and I drove the 90 minutes from Racine. On night two we ran out to the loading ramp to watch Prince jump in his limo and speed away before the final notes sounded.
- During college (Colorado College in Colorado Springs) between 1988-1992, there were many trips to Independent Records to pay exorbitant prices for bootleg albums and CD’s. ‘Chocolate Box,’ ‘The Black Album,’ live bootlegs of varying quality. I still have most of them, save for a couple I stupidly sold on eBay for a quick and fruitless cash grab.
- My second set of live shows at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, April 1993 ( I had recently moved to Tempe, AZ). This was Prince’s Act II tour – gun microphone, wavy hair, and police hat with chains covering his face. Before the first show, a nice couple kept buying me tequila shots in a nearby bar – which I kept on not refusing. Not a wise decision. I recall night two much more vividly. Funny how that works.
- A road trip to Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve 1993, triggered by a rumor that Prince would be performing at his Glam Slam nightclub. The result? I can’t even remember if it was just a DJ playing or a random band, but there was no Prince in the house. But hey, I did see Ice-T and Yo-Yo. Wasted trip? Yes.
- 1997: My banner year for live Prince. Five shows + two aftershows! He stopped in Phoenix twice that year – April and October. April’s visit included an aftershow at Tempe’s Electric Ballroom. It was short but sweet, since the club had a curfew they couldn’t break. Prince and the band took over a local band’s gear onstage and played a Santana jam and “The Ride.” I found a live recording of it and posted it here. Later in October, my old pal Chris flew in from Florida, and we road tripped to SoCal for two Jam of the Year shows – at the Hollywood Bowl and Irvine Meadows Ampitheater. Yes, seeing Prince at the Hollywood Bowl was as awesome as it sounds. But the highlight of the month (and Life, perhaps?) came later that month after his Vegas gig at the MGM Arena. Rumors swirled that Prince and the band would be playing an aftershow at a club on the strip called Utopia. I promptly hauled ass to Utopia, where about 150 of us were rewarded in the early hours of October 25th. A Sly Stone cover (popular that year with his relatively new pal Larry Graham along for the tour), “Face Down”, “The Way You Do the Things You Do”, and a personal highlight, “I’ll Take You There.” I was twenty feet away, taking it all in. Pure magic.
- The internet cometh. Prince chat rooms. Newsgroups! I was “ick1999” on alt.music.prince. Mostly a lurker. For the first time, an introduction to a community of like minded Prince lunatics.
- April 2002. Prince’s One Nite Alone tour, and I’m engaged. Our first date was New Year’s Eve just a few months prior. 24 days later, we were engaged to be married. My fiancee Myra was quickly introduced to my Prince obsession up close and personal at the Dodge Theater in Phoenix.
- And then… an 11 year Prince drought! The next, and sadly, my last time seeing Prince live came on May 1st, 2013. Prince was energized, fronting his all-female power trio 3rd Eye Girl at a midsize, intimate venue: the Marquee Theater in Tempe. There I was again, probably 50 feet from the man I’d been listening to and following avidly for almost 30 years. Watching him tear the stage up, ripping through “She’s Always in My Hair” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” Taking me to that familiar place… “in my room”… all of these memories flooding back – the same memories I’ve shared here.
Like most of you, I thought Prince would endure as that strange and wonderful musical genius, always a little bit under the radar, keeping that mysterious low profile. And like you, I was sure we’d be watching him perform well into the future as a sixty-something, a seventy-something, and even beyond. He seemed otherworldly and immune to “time,” didn’t he? Well, that all obviously shattered on that awful morning of April 21st.
Prince is gone. And I think the biggest reason I haven’t typed a word about him all year – my very favorite artist – is that it still doesn’t seem real. Prince dead? Impossible, man. Does not compute. It still just doesn’t quite make sense to me. But gone he is.
The beauty of it all is that his music endures.
I’m 46 now, and still under that purple spell. Always will be. Just as I thought to myself in my room all those years ago.
Prince – “”Just My Imagination” (from the 8-19-1988 aftershow in The Hague, Netherlands)