Fresh Friday: Remembering Prince Through “Purple Rain” and…”Batman”?

(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

It was a somber afternoon today, as it was announced legendary musical artist Prince died today in his home at age 57. While this is obviously a huge blow to music community, as well as his legions of fans, this also hits me a bit personally. I have always been sort of a closet Prince fan of sorts. I had three of his “Greatest Hits” albums that I acquired for free from one of my uncles while I was in high school (I convinced him to give it to me as a gift before he put it out for a garage sale), and I used to jam to them sometimes during my morning commute to school. The Dave Chappelle “Prince Playing Basketball against Charlie Murphy” skit remains my favorite Chappelle’s Show skit over time, even trumping the more famous and popular Rick James and Charlie Murphy one. And when I first moved to Kansas City, the first concert I went to was a Prince cover concert at the Uptown Theater. So, this unfortunate passing of Prince, such an influential artist in the RnB and even Hip-Hop community, really has swirled up all kinds of thoughts and feelings of nostalgia in me.

So here are a couple of Prince Songs/Music videos that I am posting on this blog in honor of the legendary, though somewhat eccentric (the Carlos Boozer subletting story remains one of my favorite “WTF” stories of Prince) artist.

“Purple Rain Live at the American Music Awards”

I really wasn’t alive when the “Purple Rain” bonanza hit: the song, the film, all of it. That was really before my time, but that didn’t stop my cousins from familiarizing me with this greatness in my early years. Whenever I hung out with my cousins, there were really five things they exposed me to on a regular basis: Hip Hop, Video Games, Professional Wrestling, Van Damme Movies and Purple Rain (all very typical 90’s young Pinoy things when you think about it). I must have seen Purple Rain 4-6 times before I was the age of 13 (though my parents never knew it) and it became a regular part of my watching rotation ever since then. Even one of my exes and I bonded because we both had fond memories of Prince and his father scenes in “Purple Rain.” (Though in reality, that proved to be one of the “only” bonding moments we had in our relationship…hence why we are no longer together; but big ups to her for her love of “Purple Rain.”)

If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out on something glorious. Yes, it is a bit over the top, but for it’s time, it really was revolutionary, the first kind of Black “Rock Opera” of sorts that really broke down barriers from the typical White “Musical” we were all kind of used to (“Grease”, “Xanadu” etc). The songs were awesome, Prince was unabashedly raw and passionate in his portrayal of himself, and the story put an urban spin on a tale that was relatively reserved for white, blue-eyed leads. Purple Rain was the Jazz Singer, but blacker, cooler, better music, and supercharged to the point where you almost felt the cast was hopped up on something before each and every take. As a young Filipino trying to figure himself out, Purple Rain didn’t just open the door of my curiosity into the world of RnB and later, Hip Hop, it kicked it open and splintered the doors in true “Prince” fashion.

But the song “Purple Rain” is amazing to listen to even after all these years, especially when you watch “live” versions of it on YouTube. This video embedded on this blog is from the American Music Awards in 1985, but it is similar to other performances posted online: Prince just kills it, letting it all out in his performance, putting his trademark emotion, heart and passion into every word of every verse of the six-minute song. Prince was a weird cat at times. My most recent memories of him (i.e. memories I experienced personally in the moment) when he was in the limelight was in my teenage years when he changed his name to “the Artist formerly known as Prince” and he was more known for his weirdness as well as his ambiguous sexuality and preference than his music. (In reality, it probably would not be such a big deal now, but in the 90’s, with the AIDS epidemic still sort of a fiery topic among people, this really was a huge topic of gossip discussion, not to mention a somewhat confusing issue at the time for a pre-teen like myself). Despite that whirlwind phase though, Prince will always be “Purple Rain” to me, even if I didn’t live in the moment like my older cousins did. The song above and everything related to it, will always be one of my more lasting memories of him as time passes after his death.

The Batman Soundtrack and “Partyman”

While my cousins introduced me to Prince and “Purple Rain”, Prince’s contribution to the Batman soundtrack is where I really went into depth into Prince and truly appreciated who he was. As a kid, Batman was my favorite superhero hands down, no questions asked. I had a ton of Batman comics, I watched the Batman Animated Show regularly, and the first Batman movie remains sacred to me to this day. Even with the release of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, I still prefer Tim Burton’s original “Batman” from 1989. I love Michael Keaton as Batman for his more subdued performance of the Caped Crusader (in comparison to the “changing voice” Christian Bale). Jack Nicholson’s slapstick version of the Joker struck more of a chord with me than the more popular Heath Ledger version (on repeated viewings, it becomes harder to see why Ledger won the award for best supporting actor; he did a fine job, but I just liked Nicholson’s more “comic” version more). And as a kid, I had serious hots for Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, and any role she has been in has involved me saying “But I liked her better as Vicki, the babe photographer who covered the Corto Maltese crisis.” Even some scenes that Nolan and Burton sort of shared favored the 1989 version more, with the most poignant and obvious comparison being when Batman in a vehicle is charging at Joker, only to result in Joker somehow veering Batman off course.

Here is the Nolan version:

Pretty cool. Pretty intense for sure. But here is the Burton version:

Oh fuck. I need a cigarette or something. There’s no question that the Burton version is better by leaps and bounds. I mean, he draws a gun with a long-ass barrel out of his damn pants and knocks out the Batwing with one shot which ends him back a couple of feet. Even Nolan knew he couldn’t match that kind of shit. So amazing.

But greatness of the Batman movie aside, it wasn’t until college where I really dug into the 1989 Batman even further (mostly due to the release of the Dark Knight my junior year) and discovered the soundtrack and realized how many Prince songs there was on it. Yes, Prince was the main artist on the Batman soundtrack. Yes, Batman, a comic book hero, and Prince was the featured artist. And in true Prince fashion, he did his share of music videos to help promote the movie including the much maligned, but cult-favorite “Batdance” and the video I posted above, “Partyman” which is featured in the movie.

And how is it featured? Well, the song comes on  after Joke gasses and kills everyone in a museum except for Vicki (whom he sends a gift of a gas mask before he does the act) and before he sits down for a dinner convo with her, he proceeds to jack up all the paintings in the museum with “Partyman” in the background. Take a gander:

And if that scene isn’t enough, the music video to the song is classic Prince: strong music with a good, classic Prince beat, and an utterly fucking nuts scene highlighted with true, passionate, typical Prince theatrics.

“Purple Rain” will always be his main legacy in the world of music and film. But his underrated contributions to Batman in a way that will never replicated again. Superhero movies take themselves too seriously these days, and in no way, shape or form would studios give that kind of creative freedom to complement a film like they did in Batman in 1989. Thankfully, if anything, Prince only helped add to the long lasting legacy of Burton’s Batman with his music and music video artistry.

So if “Purple Rain” is exhibit A of Prince’s contribution to film, then Batman should be a close exhibit B.

Or at least in my mind anyways.

Rest in Peace Prince. The music world misses you already.

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