Purple Rain. Albert Magnoli. 1984.
I must have been all of 13 years old when I first saw Purple Rain. I still remember being simultaneously seduced and repulsed by a sexuality that i could not easily fathom. It wasn’t androgynous - as between two genders, but rather polygynous- as if all the possible ways of being man/woman/homo/hetero and everything in between were all flowing easily through his persona and his music. With eyeliner and jewellery, leather and lace, with a voice that went from a wail to a growl, a come-hither warmth to a piercing falsetto, he confused me. i wasn’t used to men like this- with a masculinity so devoid of brute force. A masculinity of playfulness, humour, tenderness, insecurity and fear. A masculinity that does not shun these but is instead born out of these. This is a sexuality that emerges through and within these. This is not the sexuality of a David Bowie, whose otherworldly personae couched his gender bending in science fiction; or Madonna whose self-aware manipulation of images was never ever intimately sexual- although she did play with the image of the ‘boy-toy’ often enough. Prince was different. His was a sexuality that was neither esoteric, nor did it seem to be merely a pose. His sexuality was a free, polymorphic one. Unashamed and celebratory. To the adolescent boy that i was, this was frightening. Yet, I remember i loved him- sneakily and a little guiltily, until i was old enough to embrace him and all he represented for me, who I was and wanted to be.
Once upon a time, I played Purple Rain on repeat on the tape recorder by my bed, scrawled down the lyrics on a notebook and saw the film on a bad VHS copy from our local video store, fascinated by the man and in love with the music. We saw it again today and heard the music- the ballads; ‘The Beautiful Ones’ that starts gentle and delicate and rises up to a crescendo of longing; ‘Darling Nikki’s nasty sarcasm and desperate scream; the love songs ‘Take Me With U’ romantic and breezy, ‘When Doves Cry’ darker and deeper with that soaring chorus; the funky dance sing alongs ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and ‘Baby, I’m a Star’ , the rock workouts and guitar riffs of ’Computer Blue’ and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’; and that incredible title track - wailing wondrous thing that it is. the narrative interludes merely provide a framework of dark basements, nightclubs and broken homes against which this awe inspiring music plays.
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