(This past week has been full of well-deserved remembrances about Michael Jackson.
Forgive us as we turn our focus to another pop icon/milestone.)
Read it and weep, people. This summer marks a quarter-century since the release of Purple Rain—both the seminal Prince album and the movie of the same name. While it’s hard to imagine today, this slight man in eyeliner and his nine songs—especially the dramatically explicit Darling Nikki—struck fear in the hearts of parents everywhere, as he managed to subversively educate a generation of teenagers about masturbation, grinding, and Minneapolis.
If you live in New York City, consider yourself lucky, as there are many anniversary showings of Purple Rain on the horizon, starting this very weekend at the venerable Lincoln Center. (What's more American than Purple Rain on 4th of July weekend?) And THE free musical event of the summer will happen in Prospect Park on August 6: the Purple Rain Singalong. If you don’t live here, why not plan your own party? Get out the eyeliner, scare up some purple food, rent the DVD, and invite your friends.
Rather than wax cinematic about the lasting impact of the film (directed by Albert Magnoli—who?), the rousing power of the music, or the mercurial appeal of the man himself, we’ve decided to let the original fans (now "of a certain age") speak for themselves.
Ah, Purple Rain. I was already in love with Prince, thanks to Little Red Corvette and 1999. I had a poster of the Dirty Mind album cover hanging in my room: Prince in underwear and in an evocative pose. My parents hated it; my peers didn’t get it. Then Purple Rain hit, and suddenly I was on to something. All my 14-year-old friends—well, the girls anyway—got it. We all wanted to be Wendy and Lisa and jam with Prince. He was suggestive, he was smart, he was contrarian… he was controversy. My best friend Jen A. and I saw the movie the night it opened in South Jersey, and we pledged to make a pilgrimage to Minnesota to visit Lake Minnetonka, Uptown, and First Avenue. We knew the spin dance move from When Doves Cry video; we knew the hand gestures for I Would Die 4 U; we recited to each other the intro from Let’s Go Crazy. I love Take Me With U even today.
But the song that actually influenced my life was Darling Nikki. Not because you could play it backwards for a secret message from Prince (true!), but because that was the song that started it all: Tipper Gore and the PMRC; record warning labels; Frank Zappa and Dee Snyder and John Denver all testifying before Congress, defending artistic freedom and denouncing censorship. Gore’s outrage at the masturbation reference in Darling Nikki and her skips-a-few-steps conclusion that all records with “questionable” lyrics needed warning labels certainly contributed to the First Amendment/pro-Free Speech viewpoint that came to light in 1984 and continues today. So, to the extent that a Prince song matters, there’s that.
And I did have paisley pants.
My friend Ann S., who sat in front of me in French IV, wore something purple every day for the entire school year. It might have been a sock, those fingerless lace gloves, a hairband, etc. I was very jealous that she achieved this.
Purple Rain was always the last song at middle school dances (that or Stairway to Heaven). I remember dancing with Clay while dreaming of dancing with Chad.
I remember watching Purple Rain with Jennifer M. Without any comment, when the laser disc (!) ended, she hit “play” again. We must have watched it five times in a 24-hour period.
Purple Rain was my first stadium show. I was happy as a pig in you-know-what at that show: Prince— so incredible looking—people singing Purple Rain and waving lighters, me feeling so insider. I couldn’t wait to go to school the next day and tell everyone about it.
Our friend took a chick down to the lake on his motorcycle and his new nickname became Prince. Another friend painted his room purple and they named the family dog Prince.
I sat in the 4th row at the concert. We got lucky because there was a huge line for tickets and they opened up an additional show just as we got to the front of the line. I don't think I understood anything about the movie, but I loved the music.
I was a sophomore at Vassar when Purple Rain reached the height of its popularity. The freshmen of each dorm had to do something in the fall called "serenading": they had to come up with a dorm song and then sing it to the seniors and hope for their approval. My dorm was called Main and the freshmen that year did their song to the tune of Purple Rain: "We love Main, we love Ma a a ain"... I remember sitting out on the dorm steps in the warm fall evening and listening to them sing.
I experienced a real live earthquake in Charlottesville [Virginia] while watching Purple Rain. My friend and I thought it was just the power of the music.
We were suburban girls who didn’t know much. Our friend T. was a little more sophisticated about music and she popped the tape in the car on the way to some keg party, telling us we would be blown away. She then exposed Caty, Kristin and me to her favorite song. The music itself was like nothing I’d ever heard—it was magical—but the lyrics were obscene: “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. She said ‘How’d you like to waste some time,’ and I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind…”
While I was utterly mesmerized by the music and the beat, and could understand why T. loved this ‘Prince’ singer-person, the lyrics disturbed me. What was this “masturbating” business, and who would be doing it—whatever it was—in a hotel lobby?! I asked my friends, and somebody defined the M-word as our feathered hair blew in the wind of T.’s parents’ convertible.
It took me another decade to figure out what the heck Nikki was grinding. Probably Prince, who just made music newer and better than ever before.
My parents wouldn’t let me see it because it was rated R. When it came out on video, my sister rented it for me and I watched it one night when Mom and Dad were out. I thought the sex scenes were really graphic—I wonder if I'd still feel the same way.
I remember big makeout sessions with my 8th grade girlfriend in her room with blue carpet, listening to the soundtrack over and over… Purple Rain is classic stuff—a big part of our youth. Every time I hear those songs it totally takes me back to that time. My kids today listen to Let's Go Crazy to get fired up before baseball and soccer games.
Purple Rain was my first date with a guy named Ben. It was a really hot July and I was stressed out about perspiring too much. I was embarrassed during the sex scene between Apollonia and Prince (I was 15), but then Ben put his arm around me and started playing with my hair. I swear a shiver went down my spine that I will never forget. I was in heaven. I played that soundtrack every night until Ben and I broke up three months later. I didn’t touch it again until I got my first iPod and I just knew the soundtrack had to be a part of my library.
We listened to Purple Rain everyday driving to school in my orange VW: seats covered in lamb wool, smoke oozing through the defrost vent, windows down, singing at the top of our lungs. I couldn't wait to see the movie and I was not disappointed.
I performed a dance routine to When Doves Cry, which meant stopping, playing, rewinding, stopping and playing it approximately 12,000 times in one week. The opening chords still make my hands fly up in the appropriate starting pose.
I was embarrassed and proud in equal measure as my mom professed her adoration for Prince, the movie and the soundtrack. She loves him to this day.
I remember watching Apollonia kiss Prince, and then Wendy kiss Lisa, and wanting to be in love...
I realized Prince had a sense of humor when he asked Apollonia to "purify herself in the water of Lake Minnetonka."
We donned white leather jazz shoes and white ties and fluffed our permed hair for the road trip to the Purple Rain concert in DC in 1985.
I remember sneaking to buy the album at Harmony House in Wonderland Mall and sneaking to watch the VHS movie as a daycamp counselor. I thought Apollonia was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and of course I wanted to BE her. When the inevitable parental discovery came (I still think my sister ratted me out), I managed to talk my mom down from completely getting rid of the album: “If I find a way to destroy just that one song, can I keep the album?” Amazingly, she agreed. I had to paint over Darling Nikki with clear nail polish so I couldn’t play it on the record player. I still have the album, in that very state. Oh, and I have the purple 45 of When Doves Cry with 17 Days on the B side. Jealous? To this day, The Beautiful Ones makes me cry every time I hear it.
Of course, there was the inevitable teasing that came with being named Nikki.
Purple Rain was my first Prince concert. After partying until 4 am, my best friend and I walked over to the Ticketmaster in Grand Central to wait for it to open at 8 am. We were eighth in line, but we were barely able to get decent seats, as the concert (at Nassau Coliseum) sold out in record time. We brought boyfriends to the concert: big mistake. After that concert, we vowed never to bring men with us to a Prince concert again. And so it has been for the last 25 years.
In my high school, you were either a Prince fan or a Boss fan (Born in the USA was out almost simultaneously—I think within a month of Purple Rain). Prince was more of a girl thing.
[Note: BitUSA and PR indeed came out three weeks apart in June 1984.]
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