Friday 29 April 2016

purple rain: an introduction to prince

"it's time we all reach out for something new" - prince, purple rain (1984)

like most of my musical heroes, i discovered prince through my mother. though she has never been a massive fan of the purple one himself, i remember watching the music video for purple rain obsessively after she told me about it. time passed and i forgot about prince for a while, occasionally listening to the aforementioned track when i was in the right emotional head-space (which is hardly ever, as i tear up every time i hear it). 

my only other experience with prince was one day last year when i was working at the charity shop i volunteered at. whilst in the back tagging items ready to be sold, a song came on the radio (magic, if you're wondering, aka the only thing that got me through shifts that seemed to last a lifetime)which i'd never heard before. i was hooked, and it stayed in my head all day. it was only when i got home and googled it that i discovered it was raspberry beret. but prince's unwillingness to share his music on youtube and spotify made it near-on impossible for me to listen to the song, and it's with a heavy heart that i say i forgot about it after that day.

and then last thursday, everything changed. it's hard to believe that it's only been a week since prince's death, but in that time it's safe to say i've fallen head over heels in love with him, something i feel odd admitting seeing as he's now no longer with us. it truly took me by surprise, much like all the other celebrity deaths we've had this year. just when i was still grieving for the loss of david bowie, one of my favourite comedians victoria wood passed away, and then just days later we lost prince. the timing couldn't have been worse; as "her royal slyness" turned ninety, the one royal who has truly made an impact on people's lives was taken from us. it was the shock of it all; i was aimlessly scrolling through facebook when i saw a pitchfork article at the top of my feed announcing that prince had been found dead at his paisley park estate. 

my reaction took me by surprise. though i was only ever a fan of the track purple rain, the news hit me hard and i felt a dull ache in my chest as the outpourings of love for the icon were cast out over social media. as always, other people have managed to sum up what he meant to people in ways i could only dream of, but it's not often that the passing of someone i never knew personally affects me like this.

this one hit me hard because despite not being familiar with his back catalogue, i always admired prince's dedication to his work, and his determination to remain an independent artist even throughout his contractual battle with warner bros in the 1990s. much like bowie, he remained true to his own creative vision and was a hugely inspirational figure for so many people struggling with gender (i'm not a woman/i'm not a man/i am something that you'll never understand, he famously sang in i would die 4 u) and sexuality issues, and the way he wrote about women is something many male musicians still haven't quite managed to match. for me, this tumblr post perfectly sums up prince's impact on society, and this quote, from a now deleted post: "the most purple thing we can do is to be wholly ourselves, even if doing that thing is a little scarier or a little harder." 

of course, he wasn't perfect, none of us are, but his contributions to the world of music will never be overshadowed by a few dodgy comments he made a couple of years ago. the fact that he released thirty-nine albums throughout his lengthy career says it all, and it's going to take me a while to get through the whole lot, hence why this post is merely an introduction to his royal purpleness and the tracks that i've fallen in love with in the week since his passing. 

it all started with a tribute programme that was shown on VH1 the saturday after he died, which i began watching only to discover it was nearly two hours long. the few tracks i saw however, had such an impact on me and ignited a brand new spark of obsession within me
(move over matt healy).  

if i remember rightly, the first video they showed was for u got the look, from his 1987 double album, sign o' the times. i mean it when i say that i'd never seen anything like it before. the only image i had of prince up until that point was his high-intensity, emotional rendition of purple rain, so seeing him strut about the stage in his snow-white (hopefully faux) fur coat was a whole new experience. what i enjoy about prince is the way he writes about women, seen in the line i never seen a pretty girl look so tough, baby, which perfectly illustrates the fact that women aren't just made to stand around and look good, though if you want to take a whole hour (or more, in my case), just to make up your face, that's fine with him too. 

the next song, and the one that made me realise i was in this for the long haul, was cream. the video is like a film in itself, and instantly made me want to be a part of prince's glamorous entourage, who make a dramatic entrance just as the song starts. he was all about excess, something that seems to be lost in our current musical climate which is big on minimal sounds (think wet and the japanese house, both of whom i love, but sometimes i just need something more, and prince has certainly filled that void). i've watched this video an embarrassing amount of times, mainly because of how good he looks. i've always had crushes on men who err on the more feminine side of things, including bowie and much to the horror of my friends, boy george, and prince certainly fits that criteria. 

my favourite ever prince look, however, is a toss up between raspberry beret, another video played in this tribute programme, and one of his earliest TV performances on american bandstand, which can be found here. and besides, not many men (gay, straight or otherwise) can rock a pair of gold disco pants like he can. i also love his shyness when answering the questions put to him by dick clark; it's reassuring to know that even prince got nervous sometimes when he was starting out. the video for raspberry beret, aside from being one of prince's best looks (that cloud-print suit is what dreams are made of), is just pure joy, and i will be forever envious of the dancers who got to star in it. 

i don't actually remember the video for little red corvette in the programme, but after seeing people describe it as one of their favourite songs of his, i listened to it and haven't really stopped since. the lyrics speak of a girl who believes in making out once, preferring to love 'em and leave 'em fast, which is pretty much my own attitude to relationships of late. but as he went on to say, it was saturday night, i guess that makes it alright. it's a world away from the heartbreak of purple rain, but i love the idea of this girl who is much too fast for someone like prince, and his struggle to get her to stick around. after all, we always want what we can't have. 

fast forward to last night, and i decided to watch the film purple rain for the first time, and of course it had the same emotional effect on me as the rest the songs i've heard from him so far. i have the shortest attention span known to man, so any film that can make me pay attention for more than ten minutes at a time is a sign of true quality, and purple rain was definitely one of them. it only has three stars on IMDB, for reasons i simply cannot understand, but it definitely gets five out of five from me. i think part of the reason it held my attention for so long was because of the songs interspersed throughout the (rather dramatic) story. 

aside from title track purple rain (we'll get to that in a minute), i also fell in love with when doves cry and i would die 4 u, which closes the film. if like me, you have a short attention span, please for the love of god watch the last ten minutes, and try to remain seated if you can (i just about managed). again, it is just pure, unadulterated joy, and makes me want to dance around my room wearing this new dress i just bought, a purchase i'd like to think prince would be proud of. 

when doves cry might be catchy but also perfectly captures the conflict that prince's character - simply known as "the kid" - feels throughout the film. desperate not to end up like his abusive father, he tries to break away from his family, but by the end they all manage to come together despite all the heartbreak (i won't ruin it though, you'll have to watch it for yourself to find out more). also the all-black ensemble he wears by the lake is everything to me. 

and finally, it all starts and ends with purple rain. as i said before, it's impossible for me to listen to this song without at least tearing up. there's just something about his voice, and i can almost feel the emotions he's singing about myself. prince is a rarity in music because he's one of the few male musicians who isn't afraid to be emotional and be vulnerable, something i wish we saw more of in modern day music, though my beloved matt healy is doing his part to change the face of pop music, and that for me starts with people not being afraid to lay their heart on the line.

i know, i know, times are changing, he sings in the bridge, and maybe he's right. maybe it's time we all reached out for something new, as he put it himself, though whatever we do, it's safe to say that his legacy will live on through it. 

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