Rediscovering Purple Rain

Riding the bus home from school was typically a straight forward experience; getting up early enough to catch it in the morning was a different story, but I digress. There were only a few days that stood out from the rest: first kisses; trying to carry three different saxophones home for winter break, each one larger than the last; and that one long bus ride when I tried to hide my love for Prince. A kid boarded the bus that I had never seen before, probably just going home with a friend to hang out after school. He pounced on the seat two rows up, whirling around to talk to his friend in the seat in front of mine. “Did you know Prince changed his name to a combination of the male and female symbols?!” He was 15 years behind, but it was news to him nonetheless. My ears perked up, eager to share in his excitement, until he said something else: “That’s pretty weird.” I sunk into my seat, wishing the Prince symbol on my beanie would fade into the seat with me, and pressed my forehead against the frosted window.

My passion was often a tragedy during my adolescence.

I turned my hat inside-out to conceal my precious obsession and counted the seconds until I could be free of this judgmental, yellow prison cell. 9th Avenue, two more stops. 8th Avenue, almost there. 6th Avenue, now’s my chance. I shuffled to the front of the bus, preparing for the sprint home. From the safety of my bedroom, I used my computer as a launch pad to explore the expansive universe Prince had created for me to hide in.

Anything I want to be, you can be that and more.
— Prince, Be My Mirror

My peers didn’t understand Prince, but that seemed to be a common theme for us. I found solace in listening to his confidence in interviews, trying to absorb as much as I possibly could. But once you start absorbing energy, it’s hard to stop, and I couldn’t pump the brakes fast enough when I hit a patch of frustration and self-doubt. I rarely swore out loud until after Prince passed, but I was cursing the source of his pain from inside my mind. Who the fuck is making Prince feel this way?! Of course, it was just another interview where he tried to distance himself from the success of Purple Rain, determined to not allow the monster he created to consume and forever define his identity to the world.

He said I can be everything he wants to be, but why won’t the public allow HIM to be who he wants to be? I became a martyr. Someone needed to be on his side, and I had yet to meet anyone else who was willing to share his pain in his battle for continued evolution. From then on, I took his hits off my playlists and was often described by new acquaintances as “the only person [they’ve] ever met who doesn’t like Prince’s 80s music.” This finally changed when I read Duane Tudahl’s new book, Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984.

This book chronologically captures the history behind Prince’s process of recording the stunning creature that is Purple Rain, along with over half a dozen albums for other artists. I realized that my anger was misplaced; there were hundreds of songs recorded during those two years, and those nine songs hardly begged to be chosen for that record. Tudahl writes the history of this time in Prince’s career mostly through quotes from those who worked on these projects with him, adding very little of his own input. The history is documented as history and nothing more; I often caught myself being sucked into each day’s work, forgetting how each song was perceived by the world after its release.

There was definitely a sense that the Purple Rain soundtrack and entire project was noteworthy. We had no idea that this thing was going to sell however many millions of copies that it did. But there was a sense that if they hadn’t noticed Prince before, they would notice him now.
— Susan Rogers

I must admit, reading this quote more than halfway through the book was the first reminder that they were creating something extraordinary; each day’s events simply felt like work. And a ridiculous amount of work, I might add. I always knew that Prince’s recording sessions would often last 16 hours per day several days in a row, but this book gave me a new appreciation for the engineers who would show up hours before Prince to set up and then stay hours after to mix what they just recorded. On top of that, the credit they were granted was always at Prince’s discretion…until now.

Tudahl’s book is the first I’ve read that honors the people, and especially the women, in Prince’s work life as much as it honors Prince. Although he tried to do everything on his own, including playing the saxophone, harp, and oud, the company he kept played a huge role in his inspiration and success, and they needed to finally be acknowledged.

The author allowed Prince’s generosity, independence, and persistence to dwell between the lines and often showcased Prince more as a boss than an artist (one who would financially threaten the musicians around him for not meeting his standards). When other artists asked him for a song, he would immediately comply, pulling something from the vault that fit with their sound or creating something brand new for them, at least until Purple Rain was released. After which he became paranoid about his surroundings, thinking each request was based in money or career advancement rather than actually wanting to create something artistically authentic. As far as persistence goes, Prince was often a one-man-show both in his recording process and in his group of supporters. The creation of When Doves Cry is a prime example of this. When this track was finished, it was one of the sections of the book where Prince’s excitement finally permeated the pages, but the people he played it for that night had only negative feedback. Prince stuck to his own creative instinct, and we all know what happened next.

This book gives us unique insight into Prince’s professional life in a way that other releases have overlooked. Because Prince is music and often described himself as such, his personality, hobbies, and personal endeavors end up seeping through, even when zooming in on the studios he worked in. For instance, Tudahl reveals Prince’s process of writing lyrics, which often resulted in a bed being placed in the middle of his recording space.

All the small details captured in Tudahl’s 20+ years of research allow the reader to live through the experience alongside Prince. For those who already lived through it more than 30 years ago, it is a great opportunity to compare their schedule with Prince’s and relive the feeling of hearing songs for the first time. Connecting to a “classic” in a timely manner this way will provide a gateway for younger generations to understand the genius of Prince that the rest of us have known and experienced for several decades. And for the music students and engineers who may have a more general passion for music, there are more than enough details about the equipment Prince used and his recording methods to allow them to geek out and perhaps find a new appreciation for the artist that we love. Unfortunately for this last group of readers (who may actually be the primary audience for something as detailed and extensive as this book), some information can be hard to follow without prior knowledge of Prince’s career. For instance, Eric Leeds is referenced in a quote by first name only prior to being formally introduced.

There are also minor flaws in the editing of the book involving redundancies and repetition of the stories and quotes used in its 552 pages. While very minuscule, these details create a lack of cohesion throughout the book that could have been remedied fairly easily. However, the downfalls of this book do not take away from the overall impact it had on me as a reader. As someone who is often referred to as a “Prince Encyclopedia,” I have obtained even more knowledge that I can share with the community. I have also gained a newfound appreciation for the Purple Rain Era that has shocked those closest to me. The songs that I used to automatically skip after the first second, I am now hesitating and ultimately allowing them to play, admiring the amount of work that went into each track. I have always known that Prince maintained his passion for the music of this era and was only rebelling against the unintended consequences of its success, but this book has truly ended my self-proclaimed battle with Prince’s commercial releases from Purple Rain.

There is the truth, and then there is everything else.
— Prince

Every book that has been released about Prince since his passing has been based in honesty. From his friends and family, to his former employees, every new release is a personal account of each author’s experience of who Prince was as an artist, a friend, a companion, a boss, and a visionary. But there is a subtle but massively important distinction between honesty and the truth. Duane Tudahl’s book, Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984, is the genesis of a new breed of purple literature. This book is based completely in the truth.

Tudahl is so devoted to presenting the community with an account that is as accurate as it can possibly be that he even points out where he is missing information. The two-year history captured in this book includes hundreds of official records and personal viewpoints in a successful attempt to create accessible documentation of Prince’s work during the Purple Rain era unlike anything else in existence. Because of the cultural relevance of the movie and soundtrack for Purple Rain, it is included in the Library of Congress; Tudahl has crafted a complete historical account that deserves to complement Prince’s work in that same collection.


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