Since that April morning when the world woke up to find out that Prince had ascended to whatever place rock deities go to when their time on Earth has come to an end, there has been a near non-stop world celebration of his life and music. MTV even put aside their cash cow reality programming in favor of showing a full 24 hours of Prince videos. That alone is extremely significant and indicative of his cultural importance because music on MUSIC TELEVISION had become completely obsolete in the early to mid 2000s between a plethora of Road Rules Challenges and the world discovering what a Kardashian is. I feel it is in order to thank MTV for being a beacon for Prince and his fans in that shocking moment…as they should be! (Side note: How is it that MTV can still call its annual award show the Video Music Awards?)
Los Angeles was no different. Since April, I’ve heard of no less than 6 screenings of Purple Rain in town. As it does every summer, Hollywood Forever cemetery, in the heart of old Hollywood, had a full schedule of movies planned for every Saturday night of the season. The moment Prince died, they put Purple Rain on the schedule, and this being Los Angeles, it sold out within minutes…and I did not get a ticket before they were gone.
I knew this screening was going to be special, and I was determined to get in (honestly, Purple Rain is one of my “ship wrecked on a desert island” scenario albums). So I showed up early at the gate to buy one of the very few door tickets available day of show only, and waited with the eager crowd for the gates to open at 7:15 sharp.
We all rushed for the mausoleum lawn where the movie would be projected to stake a sufficient place to view the film. The crowd claimed real estate by throwing down blankets, setting up lawn chairs, and unloading their picnic baskets.
People dressed like Prince, Morris Day, and various members of The Revolution, or wearing some shade of purple clothing roamed around showing off their fandom. It was like “an ocean of violets blooming” lining up at the special alter they had set up for fans to pay respects.
A crowd gathered on the dance floor at the front. Tunes manned by none other than DJ ?uestlove from The Roots, who also introduced the film after the sun had set.
He grabbed the mic and brought out a couple special guests: Dave Chappelle and Wendy from The Revolution. The crowd went insane! Chappelle stayed quiet off to the side as he’s known to do, and Wendy shared a brief anecdote about being 18 years old when the film was shot.
She thanked everyone for attending, the reel rolled and Prince, projected in all his purple paisley glory, appeared on the mausoleum wall larger than life, before 5,000 fans stating the opening prayer of “Let’s Go Crazy”…”Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life!”
As I was heading back to my seat from the dance floor, I was accidentally somewhat ushered into the small crowd of celebrities that had just introduced the film. So I took the opportunity and asked Wendy for a picture. She threw a big smile at me, said yes, and put her arm tightly around my back. For that brief moment, I touched my 1980s childhood, and a montage of some personal Prince moments flickered through my head: from seeing the 1999 video for the fist time on MTV as a kid; discovering the full 1999 album in my big sister’s room when I would secretly go through her records while she was at work; my babysitter, Angela Pfeiffer (estranged niece to Michelle Pfeiffer), slipping me a Memorex tape containing the Purple Rain soundtrack but labeled “Michael Jackson – Thriller” so that my folks didn’t know what I was listening to (Darling Nikki had become controversial news by then); to my desire to one day be purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka; to the time I met the manager of Sunset Sound (the Hollywood studio where Purple Rain was recorded – Studio 3) while researching Janis Joplin, and the story he shared of how he was tasked with installing a bed with purple satin sheets in the studio for Prince should he want to lay down and write at any given moment; to that day in April I walked into work, turned on my computer, launched the internet, and learned that Prince had left this world.
The flash of my camera went off, Wendy let go of me, I transported back to 2016, and my moment of being graced by coolness was over. I went back to my chair, settled in, and joined the rest of the fans for the movie.
Honestly, watching this film with a crowd, it was more like being at a concert, with the same excitement and energy of a live show, just with dramatic bits of dialog in between each number. This being the era of smart phones packed with a Swiss army knife of features, people turned on their flashlights for the film’s emotional “Purple Rain” performance, and waved them in the air through the entire song as if their phones were lighters at a late 70s Rush concert.
By the final number, “Baby I’m A Star”, the entire crowd was on their feet dancing, the venue had lasers shining all over the cemetery, and it was one giant Prince dance party to say goodbye to a legend we never knew, but somehow touched our lives deeply….until the next screening.
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