You don’t have to own a pair of paisley riding pants and a frilly button-down to appreciate “Purple Rain,” the landmark semi-biographical musical drama starring Prince.
While some of the acting may not have warranted an Academy Award like its music did —many critics rank the soundtrack as one of the all-time greats— the flick still stands center stage as an achievement in rock ‘n’ roll cinema.
The high-energy stage performances by Prince and his band The Revolution remain an exercise in showtime perfection. And Morris Day, Prince’s foil in the film, nearly steals the show as a primping, comedic gigolo frontman with a glide in his step.
If “Purple Rain” still causes you to blush lavender more than 30 years after its release, then a Minneapolis vacay may be in order.
First Avenue & 7th St. Entry
Minneapolis’ answer to the Fillmore, First Avenue has served as the launching pad for a variety of area acts, including The Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du. Yet it's Prince who continues to be its biggest export.
Appropriately enough, First Avenue’s stage was used in the film for live performances featuring Prince and The Revolution as well as The Time. All that air humping during “Darling Nikki” and wing flapping during “The Bird” went down in that very venue. In August 1983, the album version of the song “Purple Rain” was recorded live during a Prince performance.
The club still looks similar to how it does on celluloid. Check its website for upcoming acts, and book your visit around a show. Make sure and grab a First Avenue T-shirt or hoodie at the gift shop.
1st Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minn. 612-332-1775, first-avenue.com.
If you’re looking to make like Apollonia and purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, you can go to the spot where she made her topless splash in the movie. Cedar Lake offers a trio of beaches, a dock for fishing and a place where you can launch a canoe or kayak. Keep in mind Cedar Lake Park will be closed until May 27, 2016 for its special development project.
25875 Juniper Ave. New Prague, Minn. 763-694-7777, threeriversparks.org.
Crystal Court in the IDS Center
Remember when Prince eyes that white guitar with the curvy body through a storefront window? He first saw what fans call "the cloud guitar" on the Skyway level of Crystal Court. For the most part, it still looks as it does in “Purple Rain.” Although you won’t likely find any royal axes for sale, you’ll find retailers including a Banana Republic and a shop shilling Minnesota souvenirs. Grab some sushi, a little fro-yo or a hot cup o’ Starbucks.
80 S. 8th St., Minneapolis, Minn. ids-center.com.
The Ultimate Purple Vacation Playlist
While packing for a Prince-infused vacation, don’t forget to load your iPod with some Minneapolis-related funk rock essentials.
“Purple Rain” by Prince and The Revolution - Go ahead and include the whole thing. It’s flawless from start to finish. While some call Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” the ultimate 1980s disc, we say “Purple Rain” knocks its sequined glove right off. However, make sure and add the dance mix version of “Let’s Go Crazy,” which is heard in the movie. It’s 7:35 of Princely indulgence.
“Nasty Girl” by Vanity Six- Under his Jamie Starr moniker, Prince produced this saucy dance track. Originally slated to play the female lead in “Purple Rain,” lead singer Vanity left Prince’s stable before filming and was replaced by Apollonia Kotero.
“Cool,” “The Bird,” “Jungle Love” by The Time - This trifecta of awesome captures the best of Morris Day and The Time in a nutshell. Originally put together by Prince as an outlet for some of his funkier material, The Time proved to be a platform for Day’s personality to run rampant. “Cool’s” 10 minutes of elongated funk make it dance floor ready. “Jungle Love” encapsulates the Minneapolis sound in a pop song package. And “The Bird,” recorded live, captures The Time in their prime.
“The Glamorous Life,” “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E. - Another one of Prince’s proteges, Sheila E. brought an impressive percussive pedigree to the table. She’s the daughter of famed drummer Pete Escovedo. Through the Prince filter, her amazing drumming paired well with sexy songwriting and her breathy vocals. The latter tune features Prince singing an uncredited co-lead.
Matt Fink Q&A
Not only did Matt “Doctor” Fink hold down a keyboard spot in Prince’s band from 1979 to 1991 and co-wrote iconic tunes with the Purple One, he wore his trademark stage scrubs in “Purple Rain.” Fink even delivered an oft-quoted line in the film. Today, he leads the Purple Xperience, a touring tribute to the heyday of Prince and The Revolution.
Q.: You began playing music live as a teenager, and then you teamed up with Prince in 1978. So how did that come about?
A.: At that time, I was playing in another group in Minneapolis around 1977. And Bobby “Z” Rivkin knew me, because we both went to the same high school together. One night he came out to see the band I was playing with at the time. He had Prince’s first demo tape with him. And he invited me to the car to listen to the songs. He wanted me to be aware of who Prince was. And I said, “Wow. This is very impressive. Who is this guy?” He explained to me who he was. I said, “Who’s the band playing with him?” He told me, “It’s not a band. It’s all him in the studio.” Of course, my jaw dropped. I asked, “How old is he?” And Bobby told me he was the same age as I was at the time, which was 19. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” He said, “No.” I said, “How do you know him?” He told me he was working as an assistant to Prince’s manager at the time. So I told him to keep me in the loop, and that I was interested in meeting Prince someday. I said, “If he decides to ever put a band together, let me know.” His management was trying to get him a record deal. …A good year later, once Prince got a record deal with Warner Bros., I called Bobby and Prince’s management to see if I could get an audition to join the group. Unfortunately at that point, they had already put the band together and had filled the keyboard slots. About six months later, the male keyboardist left the group, and Prince started putting his feelers out for another keyboard player. So that’s when I had the opportunity to audition, and he hired me after that.
Q.: What was your first impression of Prince?
A.: He was extremely bright and had a great sense of humor. The interesting thing is, we were from the same generation and born the same year. We had the same experiences growing up. So we got along very well. It was a really good experience working with him.
Q.: We all hear those stories of Prince’s eccentric artistic behavior. What was the dynamic like with him in the studio?
A.: Obviously, it was his talent that procured the record contract. Really, the majority of the creative side was on him. Although, he did come to people in the group for some input and he was always open to creative ideas and songwriting ideas. He really liked to work with the band and just jam a lot and listen to what we were doing that way. If a musical idea popped up that he liked, he would possibly run with it and create a song around it. But as far as melody and lyrics were concerned, it was always coming from him. He was really not open to working with others on that side of the songwriting process. …My co-writes were always musical ideas that he latched on to, and he would write the melodies and lyrics to those and create the songs.
Q.: Of course, things went nuts when “Purple Rain,” both the album and movie, were released. What was your life like at that moment?
A.: It changed everybody’s lives, because you get to that point where everyone on the planet knows who you are. So going out in public can be interesting. While were on the Purple Rain tour in Atlanta, I’ll never forget something that happened. Bruce Springsteen was on tour at the same time. He was walking around the Omni mall (what is now CNN Center), and myself and some the rest of the band ran into him. He was kind of incognito wearing and old, ratty trench coat. He hadn’t shaved and wasn’t easily recognizable, but we recognized him. I said, “How are you?” He said, “Great.” Bruce had to take off, but the rest of the Revolution and I —Prince wasn’t with us— went to have lunch in one of the restaurants there. We were sitting in the restaurant and somebody recognized us. Somehow the word got out we were there in the mall. Next thing you know, the entire entrance of the restaurant was covered with hundreds of people and we couldn’t get out. We had to sneak out through the kitchen through the employee’s entrance to get away, because it was getting scary.
Morris Day Q&A
As frontman for The Time, Morris Day’s cackling laugh and fancy footwork became as synonymous as his singing. And being able to chew up scenery and take attention away from Prince on the big screen ain’t no small feat. Today, Day continues to tour, write and record. He fronts a touring group called Morris Day and The Time, as well as the original incarnation of The Time, now known as The Original 7ven. The latter released a reunion album in 2011.
Q.: So what’s the difference between your onstage persona and the real Morris Day?
A.: The onstage image is a culmination of everything energized and shrunk down to an hour-and-fifteen-minute package. ...I like to think that that side of me is the up side and the side that likes to have a good time. ...But of course as with anybody, there’s all the personal facets and other sides. A lot of people get disappointed when they see me in public because I’m not sliding sideways into the room and doing “The Bird.” That’s the person they want to see. They don’t want to see a person who’s got something on their mind and on a mission to get the car serviced.
Q.: Could you ever have imagined that “Purple Rain” would be remembered as an ’80s pop culture classic?
A.: It was such an innocent effort on everybody’s part. Prince was like, “We’re going to make a movie.” And everybody was like, “OK.” He started lining up acting classes and dancing classes. ...And I got kicked out of acting classes for always cutting up just like back in my school days when I’d get kicked out of class for the same kind of thing. And it turned out that that kind of cutting up is what worked for me in the film. So that was kind of my revenge to the acting teacher who kicked me out of class.
Q.: How did your life change after the movie?
A.: For us it was just a complete life-changing experience from the way people treated us. You hear that probably a lot from musicians who get a hit record. In a town like Minneapolis where nobody knew who you were and you were broke and everything costed you money, all of a sudden everybody’s letting you in for free and giving you free drinks. And when you finally have a little money in your pocket, you don’t need free stuff anymore. Then everybody’s trying to give you free stuff. We had hundreds of extras on the movie. I did alright meeting women, but I had to work to get a girl interested. Then all of a sudden we walked past all of the extras and folks are going crazy. The whole game just kind of flipped overnight from the start of the movie to the finish of the movie when it took off and was a hit. Then all of a sudden our songs are all over pop radio around the clock. The whole thing was a life-changing experience.
Q.: Looking back would you have done anything differently?
A.: Had I known it was going to be a big hit, I would have asked for more money. I didn’t get paid much. And most of the money I got paid, I ended up paying my band in salary to keep them. So I think contractually I would’ve definitely done some things differently, but other than that it was a good time and just a segment of my life. I’m an individual who believes things go as they should go. And I think I’m on a course, and I feel like there’s still great things to come.