Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain
by Alan Light
Hard as it is to believe, it’s been 30 years since a diminutive Mid-westerner trod upon the stage of the First Avenue club in Minneapolis clad in a trench coat and with the words Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…, launched a musical and culture maelstrom that still reverberates today. The performer was Prince, and his 1984 movie and album Purple Rain is the subject of this fascinating book by former Rolling Stone and Vibe editor Alan Light.
Prince wasn’t a house-hold name before Purple Rain, although he was becoming a critics favorite with songs such as “Little Red Corvette” and “1999”, but he was poised for stardom. Working almost entirely by himself, he had released a few albums prior, but in 1984 he formed The Revolution, his backing band and began to see himself bigger- a movie star. He was right. The movie was a shock- despite it’s woeful script and wooden dialogue, viewers were captivated by Prince, cast upon the worlds stage, full of sexual menace and funk, performing his unique brew of R+B, pop and blistering rock and roll. Madonna might have lit the fuse with her up-front eroticism displayed via MTV, but at the core she played music for dance clubs, whereas Prince wanted it all. From the rev’d up “Let’s Go Crazy” to the majestic pop of “The Beautiful Ones” to the jaw-dropping creation “When Doves Cry”, Prince in 1984 was hitting on all cylinders, a moment frozen in time on Purple Rain.
Light gives us the behind the scenes craziness that came with the creation of the film, including the the strained relationship between Prince and his co-star Morris Day, whose scene-stealing performance as “the Kid’s” (Prince’s character in the film) chief rival contained more than a bit of truth. 1984 was a pivotal year for music- it was the year of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., but in some ways Purple Rain was a bigger deal, sociologically, for it’s blurring of the lines between rock and funk, as well as his unabashedly sexual creation that broke down the traditional male artist persona. As Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin recounts, Prince confused a lot of America- “Some tiny black guy in lingerie rocking out”- and his attempts to spread his name among white audiences (such as opening for the Rolling Stones in the early ’80s) were met with some venomous, racist reactions, but when 1984 drew to a close, Prince and Purple Rain were a smash among all types, or as Prince would sing- “Black, white, Puerto Rican, everybody just a-freakin’”. It’s been 30 years since the debut of Purple Rain, and while the movie itself doesn’t hold up particularly well as a story (the films serious issues, such as domestic abuse and “the Kid’s” horrid treatment of the women in his life are painful to watch 30 years later), the movie’s musical numbers are still as captivating and breathtaking as they were all those years ago. Let’s Go Crazy indeed.