Hi, everyone! As promised/threatened a few times recently, I’ve been doing some thinking about how to improve my Patreon content, and this is my first solution: A monthly video update where I can communicate with you all a little more informally than through the standard blog posts and podcasts. As I say in the video, this is an experiment, and I’m open to your feedback. If you don’t care for it, I’m happy to go back to the drawing board; but if you do like this, I’ll plan on it becoming a regular thing. Please let me know what you think–and, if you’re a patron, watch out for an audio version on the private podcast feed!
Production on Purple Rain officially wrapped in late December 1983; but as the film’s chief composer as well as its star, Prince remained on call through the post-production phase. Just about a month after the end of shooting, his services were once again required: Director Albert Magnoli wanted a song for the sequence where the Kid and Apollonia ride through rural Henderson, Minnesota on his motorcycle. So, at Sunset Sound on January 22, 1984, Prince started work on “Take Me with U.”
Already? Are you kidding me? Even more than usual, this anniversary really snuck up on me, and, fair warning, you’ve caught me in a philosophical mood. So let’s get the cold, factual analysis out of the way first.
I’m actually pleasantly surprised to look back at my progress since our last anniversary post: a total of 15 proper song posts to last year’s 12, plus one bonus post on “Hot Summer.” Technically, that’s only about half my pure output from 2020-2021; but it was more focused on the actual “mission” of this project, which was my main goal. I’m happy to say that I finished two “chapters” this year:
I also technically doubled my podcast output from the previous year–which is, to be fair, slightly less impressive when you consider that last year I only managed one:
40 Years of The Time: A Conversation with Darling Nisi and Harold Pride
All the Critics Love U: A Conversation with Jack Riedy, Author of Electric Word Life
Okay, now here comes the philosophical part, so feel free to check out. Every year, I say that I’m no longer sweating my progress (or lack thereof), and every year I (mostly) mean it; but I’d also be lying if I said that I don’t occasionally feel like a funky Sisyphus rolling a (purple) rock up the hill. No sane person commits to writing an extensive mini-essay about every Prince song ever released (and some not released); if 2016 me had had the foresight to think through the scope beyond, “well, Chris O’Leary did Bowie in about seven years, so I should be able to do Prince in 10, right?”, we would not be having this conversation today. For better or worse, I made the decision to launch this blog with my signature cocktail of impulsiveness, all-or-nothing thinking, and complete disregard for quaint notions like “practicality” and “audience.”
Put in those terms, D / M / S / R has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. The audience I’ve built here is the largest and most dedicated of any project I’ve ever done. I’ve made friends from around the world I never would have met otherwise. I’m pretty sure Jill Jones liked one of my tweets. I’m living the dream! But as I look forward to a third year stranded in the Purple Rain era (“Baby I’m a Star” was published in July 2020!), it can be hard to remember that.
I don’t bring all this up to throw myself a pity party, or even to fish for validation, but just for the sake of transparency. I also want to share my intended path forward. The obvious answer is “pick up the pace,” and I really am trying to do just that. But I’m also highly resistant to the mindset that quality critical writing is just “content” that can be manufactured and pushed out on a rigid schedule. To set some internal goals for myself, I’ve looked ahead and determined that if I put out roughly one song post every two weeks, I’ll be finished with Purple Rain by the end of March. The specific song order is still subject to change, but as a bonus, my projected schedule also has me posting “Another Lonely Christmas” in mid-December, and you know I can’t resist a good holiday tie-in. Can I make this happen? Frankly, I have no idea! But I’m going to try.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m still spending almost three years on the Purple Rain era alone–and that’s being generous and counting Around the World in a Day as its own “era.” At this rate, Sign “O” the Times could easily be a five-year project. In my first year-in-review post five years ago(!), I jokingly projected an end date of 2036. I think it’s time to formally say that that is an optimistic estimate. And obviously, in a project of this scope, there’s always the danger that I might never finish at all; sometimes I feel a little like Sufjan Stevens, “promising” 50 concept albums about each of the U.S. states and then throwing in the towel after two.
I know a lot of people would tell me, yes, you dumbass, of course you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Just pack it in and write a fucking book. Or at least adjust your scope! Literally no one asked you to do this! And I’m not gonna lie, those thoughts have crossed my mind, many times, in the last few years. But whenever I think about changing course, it feels like a defeat. Part of what attracts me to this project is its sheer, absurd scope. Lots of folks, talented ones, have done amazing, ambitious, discography-spanning Prince projects; but no one else is arrogant or self-destructive enough to do this. If I wanted to do something reasonable and achievable, I would have shopped some sample chapters to an agent. Or learned to code.
In conclusion, here is my promise: I’m going to keep doing this until I no longer have the passion for it, whether that’s tomorrow (don’t worry, it won’t be tomorrow), in 2036, or on my deathbed. I will keep experimenting and trying to find a pace that is sustainable, but won’t lead to me spending a full decade on Emancipation. I will, at minimum, get us out of fucking Purple Rain as fast as I possibly can. And I hope that you’ll keep reading. In the weeks and months to come, I will be putting out some fun stuff, including a new, hopefully low-effort idea that should (fingers crossed) breathe some life into my Patreon offerings. Moments of self-doubt aside, I’m feeling inspired and grateful to be part of such a warm, gracious, and generous community. Thanks for reading, and see you soon!
At the beginning of 1984, Prince had a lot of proverbial balls in the air: not only his big-screen debut and accompanying album, but also spinoff projects by the Time, Apollonia 6, Jill Jones, and, soon, Sheila E. Most artists would consider this more than enough to juggle; Prince, however, was not most artists. On January 20, the day after completing the Time’s Ice Cream Castle, he was already at work on a new song for yet another protégée, Scots pop-rock belter Sheena Easton.
The widening gulf between Prince and Morris Day only continued to grow during shooting for Purple Rain–a kind of accidental method acting technique for two old friends cast as bitter rivals. “Prince and I didn’t have to re-create the competitive fire between us,” Day writes in his 2019 memoir. “It was boiling hot. Even when he saw that he needed my humor for the film to work, he stayed on my ass for being a minute late. In one instance when I came on set behind schedule he was beside himself. He actually shoved me. I was about to lay him out when [Time drummer] Jellybean [Johnson] grabbed me just as [bodyguard] Big Chick [Huntsberry] grabbed Prince. The last thing this picture needed was two stars with black eyes” (Day 88).
While it may sound grandiose for Day to describe himself and Prince as equal “stars” of the film, he kind of has a point. Upon Purple Rain’s release in mid-1984, the critical buzz was that Day had stolen the show: The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, for example, touted him as a “full-fledged young comedian” who “suggests a Richard Pryor without the genius and the complications” (Kael 1984). As a matter of fact, he did have at least some of the complications: In his memoir, Day credits a non-negligible part of his performance to his mounting cocaine addiction. “I’m not advocating drug use for singers or actors,” he writes. “That shit will kill you–and it damn near killed me. But I do have to report that in that dead of winter in 1983, I used my altered state to slip into a role that was both me and not me” (Day 88).