Note: This is the second of three projected posts on “Purple Rain”: a song of such monumental importance to Prince’s creative arc that I’ve opted to split my analysis into parts. You can–and should–read the first part here.
With Albert Magnoli on board as director, preparations for Prince’s film debut finally began in earnest. The artist’s new rehearsal space on Highway 7 in St. Louis Park, Minnesota became the epicenter for a “flurry of activity from morning ’til night,” recalled Brenda Bennett of side project Vanity 6 (Bellaire 2015). Along with a stage setup and recording console, “the Warehouse” also included a small wardrobe department for Vaughn Terry and Louis Wells: costume designers, best known for their work with Earth, Wind & Fire, who had joined the Prince camp during the 1999 tour and would be instrumental in crafting his iconic Purple Rain-era look.
Soon, Terry and Wells would be joined by another familiar face: tour manager Alan Leeds, whose capable handling of the inter- and intra-band tensions during the latter months of the 1999 tour led to his being rehired to help coordinate the film’s production. “I got a call from [manager Steve] Fargnoli sometime in July, offering me the gig to come to Minneapolis,” Leeds told journalist Alan Light. “And I said, ‘Well, what’s the gig? Are you going back on the road?’ ‘Not right away. We’re going to make a movie first.’ I go, ‘Okay, you need me to come there because you’re making a movie? First of all, I don’t believe you’re making a movie. Second, why do you need me to make a movie? I don’t make movies.’ He said, ‘We got three bands: we got Prince and his guys that you tour managed, we got Morris [Day] and the Time, we got Vanity 6. They’re all in the movie. Everybody’s taking acting lessons, everybody’s taking dance lessons, and everybody’s rehearsing new music. We need an off-road road manager to coordinate all this stuff.’ ‘Okay, Steven–you’re really making a movie? Get the fuck outta here!’” (Light 82-83).
Leeds wasn’t the only one surprised by the sudden increase in scale. As keyboardist Lisa Coleman recalled, “For the longest time, we would talk about [the film] like, ‘We’re gonna make the best cult movie, it’s gonna be cool, we’re just gonna put it out there and see who responds to it.’ Then Al Magnoli came and actually kind of connected with Prince, and Al was the one who was like, ‘If we’re gonna make a movie, why don’t we make it a hit movie? It seems like we’ve got all the parts here. Let’s not just make some artsy movie, just for fun. What do we have to lose?’” (Light 91).
In aiming for a “hit,” however, Prince faced the inevitable temptation to sand away some of his rougher edges. Guitarist Wendy Melvoin, who had been a fan before she joined Prince’s band, recalled being disappointed by the new material at rehearsal: “The songs weren’t as funky to me,” she told Light. “They were pop songs; they were definitely watered down.” Coleman remembered Prince himself poking fun at his newfound populist tendencies: “He would imitate an old granny, like, ‘You could make Granny dance to this one,’ but then I think he was just like, ‘We’re leaning it too far to the granny; we still need danger’” (Light 77).
(1) Black Screen
“SOUND under: MUSIC building in INTENSITY as–”
“Dearly belov’edDraft screenplay for Purple Rain by Albert Magnoli, 1983
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing
William Blinn submitted two drafts of Dreams–the working title for Prince’s feature film debut–in May of 1983. There wouldn’t be a third: Blinn’s main gig as Executive Producer of the Fame TV series had been renewed, and he no longer had time to spare. Still, Prince’s management deemed the script good enough to shop: Bob Cavallo recalled thinking, “It’s a little TV, it’s a little square… but it’s a good idea, and I figured the director will rewrite it anyway” (Light 67).
But therein lay the rub: even with a screenplay in hand, Cavallo still couldn’t find a director. After a few dead ends, an industry contact recommended he see an early cut of Reckless: a steamy youth drama by first-time director James Foley about a romance between a motorcycle-riding rebel (Aidan Quinn) and a cheerleader from the other side of the tracks (Daryl Hannah). “I go to screen this movie and I’m the only one in the theater,” Cavallo recalled to journalist Alan Light. “I see it, I walk out, and a young man comes up to me and says, ‘What did you think?’ I said, ‘Well, I thought it was pretty good, and that’s really all I thought. I thought the editing was good.’ He’s like, ‘Really? Good. I did that’” (Light 67).
When I shared the 1983 Piano Rehearsal post on social media a few weeks ago, I mentioned that March is going to be a “quality-over-quantity month” on the blog. Well, here’s why: This Sunday, March 28, I will be presenting at the latest in De Angela Duff’s series of academic symposia commemorating Prince album anniversaries. This year’s symposium, the aptly-named #1plus1plus1is3, is a three-for-one: celebrating 20 years of 2001’s The Rainbow Children, 30 years of 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls, and 40 years of 1981’s Controversy.
My presentation–on Allen Beaulieu’s infamous Controversy “shower poster”–will be part of a panel featuring Christopher A. Daniel, Steven G Fullwood, and Edgar Kruize, moderated by C. Liegh McInnis. Presenting on other panels and roundtables are longtime friends of the blog Darling Nisi, Harold Pride, Erica Thompson, Laura Tiebert, Karen Turman, and others; there will also be special guest appearances by Rainbow Children cover artist Cbabi Bayoc, Revolution keyboardist Dr. Fink, longtime NPG Records webmaster/art director Sam Jennings, music video director Scott McCullough, recording artist Nicolay, and photographer Afshin Shahidi. I can’t wait to hear from each and every one.
Like last year’s #DM40GB30 symposium, #1plus1plus1is3 is a virtual symposium–so, no masks/vaccines required–and also 100% free (though the organizers do suggest a small donation to the PRN Alumni Foundation). You can register to attend at the link below:
I will, of course, be live-tweeting the event as it happens, and will post a summary of my thoughts early next week. Then, it’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming with what is shaping up to be a very hefty post on “Let’s Go Crazy.” Thank you all for your patience during this quiet month; I hope that the deluge of Prince content coming this weekend, from myself and so many others, will help make up for my radio silence otherwise! Last but not least, thank you to Joseph Swafford for (re-)joining the Patreon last week! There will be plenty more quality and quantity in April.
As I’ve mentioned on this blog at least once before, this month DJ UMB and Edgar Kruize are curating the latest and largest of their excellent series of “Prince Twitter Threads” on–what else–Sign “O” the Times. As of today, we’re officially three-quarters of the way through, and we’ve seen threads by luminaries including Prince biographer Matt Thorne; friends of D / M / S / R Arthur Turnbull, Erica Thompson, and Jason Breininger; and, this past Tuesday, moi.
As you may imagine, the best way to experience a Prince Twitter Thread is on Twitter, using the #PrinceTwitterThread hashtag; half of the fun of these things is the conversations that come out of them (which remind me more than a bit of Q&A sessions after panels at academic conferences, right down to the occasional question-that-is-actually-more-of-a-comment and the brief, exhilirating moment of panic when you realize you now have to defend a perceived hole in your argument). But I realize that not everyone has room in their life for the uniquely 21st-century purgatory that is the bird site, and of those people I am envious; so I’m embedding my thread below for posterity.
If you are a Twitter person (my condolences), there’s still time to jump on board; Side 4 kicks off tomorrow, after what I am confident will be an enlightening thread by Edgar on the Sign “O” the Times tour today. In the meantime, I hope to be right back here by the end of next week with a post on “Cloreen Bacon Skin.”