I don’t think Purple Rain is the best Prince album – in my mind that spot is reserved for Sign O’ The Times. For me though, it is his most important. Not so much because it made him a superstar, but because it changed my views on what music and art can and should be.
I still recall the first time I heard When Doves Cry. A song that would still sound weird as hell were it released today (seriously, there’s no bass in it!). My mom was taking me somewhere, the opening guitar riff burst forth from the radio, followed by a stomp on your chest drum machine beat, and a growling elfin pop genius who would open up his voice over a killer keyboard hook and sing about all the pain in his life. My only thought was “what the hell is this?”
I still don’t know.
I didn’t even know if I liked it or not. It was too new. Too undiscovered. I halfway wanted my mom to pull the car over the way one might if they were listening to coverage of Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the Moon.
The movie came out later that summer, and I recall lying three times to the theater operator — explaining that the parents of my 13-year-old self knew I was going to an R rated movie. I don’t even know why they asked. It’s not like I brought a note from home. They certainly didn’t ask for one.
But I digress. For whatever faults the film may have as a movie (in some ways it’s a very long music video, and some thematic elements have not aged well), I knew sitting their in my seat that I had never seen anything like him.
Singing, dancing, playing, and even acting (the camera loved him, he had one hell of a presence, and a lot of potential had he committed to the profession fully). I remember thinking he made it feel like anything was possible. It seemed as if there was nothing he could not do.
It changed my view on just about everything. In ways I’m still becoming aware of. In a sense, he became the bar for me when it came to evaluating the artistic endeavors of others. A terribly high one, but that’s how it is. “That’s good, but it ain’t Prince.” As if anything else could ever be.
It’s been 35 years since I first heard When Doves Cry and saw the film it was attached to. As I implied earlier, he was the most talented person I’d ever seen up to that point in my life. Sitting here typing this out now, I can say with great comfort, not a damn thing has changed.