Thursday, April 21, 2016
Tribute: Prince (1958-2016)
Today, we have lost, unexpectedly and tragically, a pop culture icon.
In my book, Music on Film: Purple Rain (2012), I wrote the following passage regarding Prince (1958-2016):
"...[W]e fade in on a solitary figure standing on stage...The Kid is silhouetted in the dead center of the frame, his hands gripping a guitar.
Fog surrounds this un-moving stranger, a man stationed beneath a haze of red and blue strobe lights...
...this guitar hero simply speaks and the audience holds its collective breath, listening to and absorbing every last word of the monologue...
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life..."
Now, sadly, Prince himself, has left us once more; he has receded into that mist.
But the artist's remarkable legacy is that his words, in that unforgettable moment, were true.
Prince got so many of us -- day-to-day -- through this thing called life.
He did so with his remarkable talent, and his unforgettable music. He did so with his incredible style.
After all, this is a man who did not follow trends, either in music, fashion, or film.
No, Prince invented them.
My site is a film and TV blog primarily, so I will focus the rest of my comments on Prince's remarkable work in that terrain.
On a personal note, Purple Rain is one of my all-time favorite films, and I will never forget experiencing it for the first time at the age of fifteen, in the summer of 1984.
This was the amazing summer of Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Going in, I knew absolutely nothing about Prince, or Minneapolis, or the music scene there. The film, from director Albert Magnoli, absolutely landed me in that world. It was a baptism by fire, and a whole world seemed to open up, right there.
Later, after the movie, I must have played the soundtrack approximately a gazillion times.
The movie was an immersive, unforgettable experience. To me, Purple Rain still captures 1984, and more broadly, the feeling of the mid-1980s.
The film not only gave us a fictionalized version of Prince -- the aforementioned Kid -- it gave us such memorable compositions as "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry," "Darling Nikki" "I Would Die 4 U," "Purple Rain," and of course -- absolute truth in advertising -- "Baby, I'm a Star."
Prince's music was soon everywhere, appearing in TV programming such as Knight Rider and Fame on a regular basis.
Prince had broken through every demographic barrier imaginable. All the travails making the film -- including a meeting in which a studio executive reportedly asked if John Travolta could play Prince -- had been worthwhile. Prince's words, vision, and persona had connected to the culture, to America, to the world, even.
Prince twice attempted to re-capture the cinematic glory of Purple Rain -- which critics Siskel and Ebert both counted among the ten best films in a very competitive year -- but Under the Cherry Moon (1986) and Graffiti Bridge (1990) were generally not as well-loved.
Strictly speaking for myself, I feel that Purple Rain is the closest I ever got to seeing Prince emerge from that mist, and understanding him.
His follow-up movies were fascinating and ambitious, but as far as understanding him, understanding the man, nothing compared to the story of "the Kid."
Prince also became associated, for a time, with a genre hero: Batman. Prince composed many of he songs heard in the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman film of 1989.
Again, I carry powerful memories of that summer -- one of the first, if I recall, that I had both a driver's license and a car -- and listening to Prince's soundtrack over and over again. I loved "Batdance."
We lose Prince at age 57, and I mourn both the man and the years -- decades -- of Prince music we will never get to listen to.
Thank you, Prince, for getting us through this thing called life.