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Flashback: on 1984’s Purple Rain

It’s been thirty years as of today, and I still remember that rush of excitement I felt when I first experienced it. Did I catch it on that first weekend? I can’t recall, but I do remember my first attempt to see it failed. It was sold out! Whether that meant I went the next night or the next week…I don’t remember. But I know that I saw it at least twice in the theaters that late summer (possibly three), and that I officially became such a Prince fanatic in 1984, that everyone I know even a little bit, still associates me with the artist. Prince’s music spoke to me. And now it’s been three decades since I first felt “the rain”. Wow.

It was the perfect rollout. “When Doves Cry”, the first hit single from the as-of-then unreleased “Purple Rain” soundtrack album, hit the airwaves in May of 1984–and it was like a bolt of electricity. You heard it everywhere you went, and it seemed that everyone loved it. It was strange. It was unusual. It was awesome. I’d never heard anything like it. Funky, eccentric, and with a complete lack of a bass line, “When Doves Cry” eventually spent 5 straight weeks in the #1 position on the charts, was the top-selling single of its year, and kept Bruce Springsteen’s popular “Dancing in the Dark” from ever reaching the top spot. Take that, “Boss”!

Mouths were watering for the “Purple Rain” album, when it was finally in stores on June 25, 1984. I listened to it incessantly. 9 fantastic songs spread across 44 minutes of incredible pop music. It would spawn four top-10 singles, and another one that reached #25. The “Purple Rain” soundtrack has been certified platinum 13 times over, and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. This was also the summer of Michael Jackson’s massive “Victory Tour” with his brothers, and new album of the same title. The sales of “Victory” couldn’t touch those of “Purple Rain”. I bought “Victory”, plus I saw the Jacksons that July at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. But make no mistake…it was Prince’s season.

The public was now primed for the July 27th, 1984 “Purple Rain” movie debut. How big was it? Well, it cost about 7 million dollars to make, and it grossed about ten times that amount. Those numbers are based on 1984 receipts, so you can easily more than double that number to get an idea of its impact (boxofficemojo says the adjusted gross would be around 166 million). It was the 11th most popular film of 1984, and this was the solstice season of “Ghostbusters”, “Gremlins”, “The Karate Kid” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. Number eleven amongst that company? Nothing to sneeze at. “Purple Rain” also officially became an Academy Award winner at the 1985 ceremony, where it won for Best Original Song Score. Yes, folks…Prince has an Oscar.

The movie’s storyline? It’s mainly a Minneapolis music scene, concert explosion. Semi-autobiographical in nature, Prince plays “The Kid”, a talented, introverted frontman for a band named “The Revolution”. The Kid’s introspective personality causes clashes with his musician team, and makes it difficult for him to form a loving relationship with sexy new prodigy Apollonia (the gorgeous Apollonia Kotero). Much of The Kid’s time is spent facing off against rival band “The Time”, and its super-confident lead singer, Morris Day (who’s charismatic and hilarious in the film–along with sidekick, Jerome Benton). It all comes down to a First Avenue club showdown between the two groups, as both The Kid and Morris both pursue Apollonia, while The Kid’s parents continue a tumultuous marriage, and his lapsed musician father has violent outbursts—and appears ready for a tragic exit.

It’s tough to explain the allure of “Purple Rain” the movie, upon its 1984 release. Then again, it’s not. Almost no one in it can act worth a damn, although Morris Day most likely came the closest (however, Clarence Williams III, as The Kid’s father, was an accomplished thespian, renowned as Linc Hayes from television’s “The Mod Squad”). These guys were all musicians, and it’s during the concert scenes that the film really catches fire. The dialogue is painful at times (it was writer/director Albert Magnoli’s film debut), and there’s a streak of misogyny sprinkled throughout the plot too. But we took all that in stride in 1984, because we all knew that you didn’t really treat woman that way (The Kid backhands Apollonia in one scene, and in another, Jerome Benton tosses a woman into a garbage dumpster!). Hard to fathom now that we considered it “all in fun”! It was uncomfortable then, but you certainly could never brush it off now. But when The Revolution, The Time, Dez Dickerson, and (to a lesser extent) Apollonia 6 take the stage to perform…all was forgiven instantly.

I was 18 years old when “Purple Rain” ruled 1984, and do I sound dramatic when I confess that Prince changed my life? It was a very pivotal time for me, right at that transition into young adulthood. I became so obsessed with all things Prince after that, and though it’s slowed a bit at 48–it’s has never truly stopped. I own just about everything he’s ever recorded, plus I’ve seen him live in concert multiple times. I saw all of Prince’s less successful follow-up films in the theater: “Under the Cherry Moon” in 1986, “Sign o’ the Times” in 1987, and 1990’s “Graffiti Bridge”. I’ve read books about him, and I even have a mint condition copy of a Prince comic book. I own a guitar pick with the famous Prince “symbol” on it–that he actually used! Heck, I’ve got a chain necklace adorned with the very same symbol. There’s three decades of accumulation, and the power of that music and film will never leave me. It’s the 30th anniversary of “Purple Rain”. That number ages me to many, but I believe that it is keeping me young. Maybe there’s a film and/or album that does that for you too. If you’re lucky. May U live 2 see the Dawn!     Grade:  a much more down-to-earth B, but need I say it was an A in 1984?


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