Purple

Back in the day, fresh into my twenties, one of my best friends and I went to see Prince. At the time I lived in West Hollywood, and on the corners of La Cienega and Santa Monica there’s a building which has housed numerous businesses. During my WeHo residency, there was a skating rink where Cher went Rollerblading, to Esprit, the clothing store which at the time was popular, and currently I believe there’s a CVS. But years ago there was a club in which not widely known artists performed, although the name of the club escapes me. Prince headlined one evening, and came onto the stage in leg warmers, wearing suspenders but without wearing a shirt, and as I recall he wore shorts. Mais bien sûr, what would a Prince concert be without a guitar. He was insanely unique, and I had experienced nothing like Prince before. We thought he was the Best Thing–ever! At the time there was no way we could see Purple Rain coming. A few days later I went out and bought myself a pair of leg warmers, which was increasingly becoming a chic, although fleeting, L.A. trend. Like ripped jeans (which has now made a comeback!).

I have experienced the brilliant virtuosity of Prince only three times, which in hindsight is forlorn. I remember making this pledge that wherever Prince held a concert in 1999, I’d be there. That impressionable rendition of Prince in the late 70s in West Hollywood was merely a prelude to the evening I took a then-boyfriend to see Prince on Valentine’s Day in San Francisco in the early 80s. The artist had become known, although Purple Rain, the iconic film that would ultimately fame him, had not been released yet. Within a few years though, the film’s title would become his trademark single. The last time I saw Prince perform live was in Oakland. By then, the Artist Formally Known As Prince was a household name and his look was now stylish, more refined; his performances well-produced. He defied mainstream sexuality, which in essence created his sensuous mystique. His persona, at this point, was Huge! Music critics were beginning to refer to him as a genius. That charismatic, elusive quality Prince exuded so naturally can never be duplicated, not in anyone’s lifetime. Prince reinvented the color Purple; he made it an icon. He owned it.

Sitting with a group of people last night, someone asked that we share a favorite Prince Story. For me it was when a group of us went to see Purple Rain when it was released in 1984. I was living in the Bay Area at the time. We were so awed by the music, following the film we dashed to the closest record store, still talking about the film, and bought the soundtrack–albums and cassettes. As with Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” I sang to “Purple Rain” every single morning for months as I commuted to Silicon Valley, where I then worked. Prince, like the quintessence of Michael Jackson, the classy Whitney Houston, and the timeless Natalie Cole that likewise left us too soon, was an imperceptible thread throughout most of my adult life. Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name” comes to mind, because their individual brilliance leaves a subtle impression ‘across my heart’. They played a part in the shaping of my life story. Each influenced my life choices in myriad ways. This might sound ludicrous, perhaps over-the-top, and some sudden epiphany as a result of each of their life stories’ abrupt ending. Yet anyone provocative enough to embolden me with their talent, their indisputable artistry, must, in some indefinable way, have a hand in how I experience the world. Purple Rain had a hand in shaping that time in my life, when I was young, starting to draw images in my mind of how I wanted my life to look like; I was far more tolerate, and had the kind of imagination that could visualize rain streaming from the sky in striking hues of Purple.

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