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Ephemera, 1983

Father’s Song

Director Albert Magnoli liked to call Purple Rain an “emotional biography” of Prince: An impressionistic mélange of the star’s pet themes, anxieties, and obsessions, true to its subject in spirit if not in every detail. And of all the themes, anxieties, and obsessions Prince brought to the film, none loomed larger than his father, John L. Nelson.

John Lewis Nelson was born on June 29, 1916 in Cotton Valley, Webster Parish, Louisiana, the youngest child of farmers Clarence Allen and Carrie Nelson (née Jenkins). Not long after his birth, John’s parents divorced; the reason, according to biographers Alex Hahn and Laura Tiebert, was because Clarence had become involved with another woman (Hahn 2017 50). By the 1920 census, writes historian Kristen Zschomler, Carrie was remarried to a man named Charles Ikner and living in Webster Parish with three-year-old John and his siblings: James (born 1915), Ruby (born 1908), Olivia (born 1904), and Gertrude (born 1903) (Zschomler 9). By 1930, she was widowed, and had traveled north with Gertrude, Ruby, and their husbands and children to a rented home in Southside Minneapolis, near where Olivia had settled with her husband, Edward Mason Lewis. The now-teenaged John likely followed between 1930 and 1935 (10).

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Uncategorized

#1plus1plus1is3: Controversy Presentation and Panel

Late last month, De Angela Duff uploaded the presentation I delivered at her #1plus1plus1is3 virtual symposium back in March. I had the privilege of sharing the Controversy panel with Christopher A. Daniel, Steven G Fullwood, Edgar Kruize, and moderator C. Liegh McInnis. My paper, “I Wish We All Were Nude: Allen Beaulieu’s Infamous ‘Shower Poster’ as Aesthetic Linchpin and Artifact,” was definitely the silliest of the four, so my thanks once again to De Angela for her indulgence.

One quick correction, which came up in the chat at the symposium: While Allen Beaulieu was involved in the Controversy poster shoot, the actual image that made it onto the poster was taken by none other than Lisa Coleman! So, Lisa, if you ever want to come on my podcast and spend an entire hour talking about nothing but this photo, consider this your open invitation.

If you can’t get enough of me and my pandemic hair, below is the Q&A I did with Christopher, Steven, Edgar, and C. Liegh:

Finally, I’d like to share a few of my favorite presentations from the symposium. It isn’t an exhaustive list–my real recommendation is that you watch every video on De Angela’s channel!–but if you’re looking for a good place to start, you can’t go wrong with these.

Erica Thompson on the influence of Christian values (and Prince’s dad) on The Rainbow Children:

Robert Loss on work and racial capitalism in The Rainbow Children (and also the infamous “Avalanche”):

KaNisa Williams’ audiovisually stimulating exegesis of The Rainbow Children/One Nite Alone era:

My favorite “discovery” of the symposium, Melay Araya, on the Diamonds and Pearls videos’ place in Prince’s canon as a filmmaker:

Kamilah Cummings on Diamonds and Pearls and the “myth of colorblindness” in Prince’s work:

Harold Pride on “Gett Off” as Prince’s “quintessential maxi single”:

And, last but not least, the aforementioned C. Liegh McInnis on the lyrics of Diamonds and Pearls, which had us reconsidering, of all things, the poetic merits of “Jughead”:

In short, the symposium was an absolute joy, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. I’m already counting the days until next year’s “Triple Threat” symposium on 1999, What Time is It?, and Vanity 6!

(Edit: I posted too soon and didn’t include this great recap video De Angela posted on Monday! It captures so much of the fun we all had that weekend. See you again at #TripleThreat40!)

Categories
Purple Rain, 1984

Purple Rain (Verse 1)

Note: I was just over 1,800 words into the post you’re about to read when I finally admitted defeat; there is, quite simply, no way that I can fit everything I have to say about “Purple Rain” into a single, digestible piece of writing. So, in the grand tradition of my “Controversy” three-parter from 2018, I’m splitting it into chapters. The first, and likely longest, will talk about the song’s composition; the second will go into detail about its debut performance at First Avenue on August 3, 1983; and the third will delve into the final recording that appears on the Purple Rain album and film. There will probably also be a coda of some kind discussing the song’s impressive (and ongoing) afterlife. Basically, just think of July 2021 as my unofficial “Purple Rain” month–and, for the next several weeks, sit back and let me guide u through the purple rain.

It’s a sweltering August night at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. Prince and his band have just returned to the stage for the first encore of their benefit show for the Minnesota Dance Theatre: the local dance company and school, located just up the street at 6th and Hennepin, where the musicians have been taking dance and movement classes to prepare for their imminent feature film debut. Moments earlier, MDT founder and artistic director Loyce Houlton thanked Prince with a hug, declaring, “We don’t have a ‘Prince’ in Minnesota, we have a king.” Before that, Prince had run the group through a fierce 10-song set: sprinkling a handful of crowd-pleasers amongst the largely new material, and ending with the biggest crowd-pleaser of all, his Number 6 pop hit “Little Red Corvette.”

No one in the sold-out crowd of around 1,500 recognizes the chords that now ring out from the darkened stage. Even the film’s director, Albert Magnoli, hasn’t heard the song before; it wasn’t among the tapes he’d reviewed to prepare for his draft of the screenplay. But the chords–played by 19-year-old guitarist Wendy Melvoin, in her first public performance with Prince–are immediately attention-grabbing: rich and colorful and uniquely voiced, somewhere between Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell.

A spotlight shines on Wendy as she continues to play, her purple Rickenbacker 330 echoed by her partner Lisa Coleman playing the same progression on electric piano. Prince begins to solo around the edges of the progression; he paces the stage, walking out to the edge of the crowd as he plays, then slings his “Madcat” Telecaster around his back and makes his way to the microphone at center stage. He holds the mic for an instant and backs away, as if suddenly overwhelmed. Then, he steps back to the mic and begins to sing: “I never meant 2 cause u any sorrow…”

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Purple Rain, 1984

I Would Die 4 U

Having sold Bob Cavallo on his vision for the film that would become Purple Rain, Albert Magnoli’s next task was to fly to Minnesota and plead his case to the movie’s star. From the moment he arrived, however, he faced resistance from an unlikely source: “Steve Fargnoli, one of Prince’s managers, met me when I got off the plane,” Magnoli recalled to Rolling Stone’s David Browne. Claiming that they had already made a commitment to William Blinn’s version of the script, “Steve said, ‘Kid–that story you told Bob? I don’t want to hear a word of it. You’re here to tow the line’” (Browne 2016).

Undeterred, when Prince showed up that night to discuss the film, Magnoli gave him the same pitch he’d given to Cavallo–this time, adding a new wrinkle: “Suddenly I saw the violence, the dysfunctional relationship with his mother, his father as a musician writing music and hiding it in a box.” Prince, surprised, sent away Fargnoli and his bodyguard, “Big Chick” Huntsberry, and took the director for a drive outside the city in his BMW. “I realized later we were driving to a cornfield and it was totally dark because there were no lights,” Magnoli recalled. “He was quiet and I was quiet. He asked me, ‘Do you know me?’ I said no. ‘Do you know my music?’ I said, ‘Just “1999.”’ And he said, ‘Then how is it that you essentially tell me my story without knowing me?’” (Browne 2016).

Categories
Ephemera, 1983

Cloreen Bacon Skin (Tricky)

The sessions for the Time’s third album began during an especially fraught period in their relationship with Prince. On March 21, 1983, just over a week before recording commenced at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, Prince left the band off the bill at New York’s Radio City Music Hall–an apparently calculated move to keep the spotlight on himself, and off his protégés. A week later, he’d repeat the snub at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheatre. Meanwhile, keyboardist Jimmy Jam and bassist Terry Lewis were on thin ice after missing their flight for a March 24 show in San Antonio. Once Prince discovered the reason for their absence–an unsanctioned Atlanta studio date producing the S.O.S. Band–it would spell the end of their tenure in the group.

Yet, even amidst all this interpersonal strife, there was still room for a little levity. And so it was that, on March 27–just one day before the Universal Amphitheatre show–Prince and the group’s frontman/studio drummer Morris Day cut “Cloreen Bacon Skin”: an improvised, 15-minute funk groove-cum-comedy sketch with a surprisingly long afterlife in the former’s body of work.