I was on a streetcar on my way to a press screening (as I am want to do from time to time) when the news exploded all over my social media and news feeds.
Prince was gone, at the mere age of 57 and as much as I could be as a lifelong fan…I was (and still am) emotionally gutted.
A creative icon, a musical genius and an inspiration for so many people as no matter what he never stopped creating. It wasn’t always great, but it made us appreciate the moments of pure genius even more then we already did.
The music was epic and made us want to shake our ass as a showman on the level of James Brown and a tireless musician and composer on the level of Lennon/McCartney created moments that transcended genres and generations alike. He actively crossed barriers and broke down genre norms mounting full bands with some of the best female musicians before it was hip or popular to do so, as Shelia E certainly wasn’t bad for a girl. The classic songs were anthemic as you could fill stadiums with fans of all age groups and races coming together in the spirit of having a good time and learning how to be goddamn sexy with one another as we possibly could. He made us move, not only our feet but our creative spirits as well.
As this is a movie site, I can’t help but mention some of my fondest moments in a theatre have been seeing Purple Rain with a full house at the Bloor Cinema (an experience you can revisit as they are playing it yet again this Saturday night) and singing along to some of the anthemic musical numbers throughout the film. As a film, I’ll admit…it’s got problems but Prince had a way of making everything that happened just feel so goddamn epic and that is why it is so beloved to this day. Granted it falls off a little as Under The Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge don’t rank as beloved classics, the hardcore fans still love them but there is always one that seems to get left off the radar.
While Sign O The Times is universally recognized as one of singular greatest albums of all time, people also forget that is quite possibly one of the more underrated concert films of all time, if only because a lot of people have forgotten that it even exists, and it was directed by his Purpleness himself.
Presenting no false anthemic themes or tacked on storytelling, he locks us into the Rotterdam Music Hall and we go head first into the record as he lets the music do the talking. Ironically for a movie that had about ¾ reshot at Paisley Park due to technical issues from the original live performances, it is amazing how genuinely electric it all is.
With the opening number, Prince sets the stage exactly as it should be as the passionate street love story narrative gets set up and he begins to bellow the title track in front of a live audience. Hand raised in the air, he is directing an orchestra of humanity as the prophetic lyrics of this song ring out. Commanding the stage through sheer presence of shredding his guitar and as the entire band comes out in a drum line to start the show, we know that he is playing an anthem for humanity itself as it segues right into Play In The Sunshine as he calls for us to dance like it is going to be the last time, and do it all over again because someway somehow we are all going to have fun.
The man preached love at every turn as he breaks down Little Red Corvette, calls for some Slow Love and reminds us that we Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, he delivers his best on screen performance in a film that is a hybrid of concert and interactive stage musical going on around the band. He’s essentially playing himself and that is where he is the most passionate, going beyond the confused and passionate musings as The Kid in Purple Rain & Graffiti Bridge giving us the truest representation of himself that has ever been seen on screen, as a suave and consummate showman that can command the attention of thousands with a simple guitar note or pelvic thrust. In the 1980’s, this man was the epitome of R&B and Rock N Roll that had been imagined by so many others years earlier.
From a directorial standpoint, it was a master stroke as he kept himself as protagonist while letting so many others in his band shine, he frames every scene with the right emotion every single time and manages to ooze the sex that is dripping off of some of songs without being overtly dirty about it all either as the power of the music always came first.
That has to be the truest about 2/3rds of the way into the film, when the tender moment of Forever In My Life rings through the crowd with an impassioned plea. He isn’t singing to woo someone, he is pleading to be emotionally completed, and he turns into a stadium anthem that is so damn simplistic that you have to marvel at its beauty, not wanting juggle hearts in that three circus of love. It’s his gospel track and it makes me cry tears of joy listening to it now, because I now have no doubt that he will be forever in all of our lives, through this beautiful music that he made.
Others got to shine, like Sheena Easton and the iconic Shelia E as she swapped out with the Purple One to take a few verses It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night while he took over the drum kit with ease. This guy was a musical star who was made for the big screen as he knew the importance of theatrics and as important as it is to have a big and vibrant sound, you’ve got to be able to express that as well.
It’s only available on DVD (and it’s out of print), but Sign O The Times is Prince at the peak of his powers, not just musically but cinematically as well and as the strains of his song The Cross ring through my ears and he says “Don’t die without knowing the Cross”…it’s not about religion but about the power of bearing through and overcoming our problems which is how we truly learn how to love.
Ultimately if you have access to the film, that’s great, if not that’s OK to because as sad as we all are right now, we’re supposed to dance and celebrate the one thing that he always wanted us to. Loving ourselves and one another as much as we possibly can, just like his Royal Purpleness decreed to us all so very long ago.
Hit up Jukebox.com right here, to see my favorite cut from the album and the film.