New releases in New Zealand, 2 July 1989
Batdance – Prince
“They take the surface very seriously. The package is the substance. That is at the heart of their sense of beauty.”
Donald Richie on the Japanese
For a long time the movie theatre with the greatest feeling of faded-80s-class-grotty-90s-grunge in Wellington was The Regent. It was the theatre no one went to anymore, built on the second floor of a small shopping mall no one went to anymore. It was supposed to be a series of boutique shops, a flight of wide steps up a mirrored staircase to a movie foyer with gold handrails and red velvet curtains, and a fine dining restaurant. What it became was a series of vacant shops and a worn out, chipped and faded foyer of B-movies. A friend of mine was assaulted on the back stairs there. Another worked in the only functioning shop on the ground floor and arrived one day to find it had been robbed and a big shit deposited in the middle of the floor. The shop was called Mindgames, but the message of the shit was pretty straightforward.
One B-movie offered at The Regent was Graffiti Bridge. It seemed like the poster advertising it was up in that foyer for years but that the movie itself may have never played.
I have a long standing lack of interest in superheroes that stretches back to Batman (1989). It might be because when I was a kid superhero movies were dumb. There was Batman on TV which people now regard as a cult classic but at the time I just thought was silly, and there were some creaky Superman movies. Superpowers seem like a lame plot device, and who the hell was Batman anyway: a rich man who likes cosplay?
Who were my superheroes? By 1989 they were probably people like Prince. Later on they would be Jim Morrison, Grunge bands, and Marlon Brando. I wrote a poem for Sixth Form English that said: “my heroes always die at the end”. I wrote that in 1988. It was a prescient read on Grunge that’s for sure. My favourite movies for a very long time were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Gallipoli. They end almost identically. On the Waterfront‘s end is a muted victory. Viva Zapata? Back to everyone dies at the end.
The main thing I like about Batman now is Birdman.
And Batdance of course.
I parted company with Prince for 25 years after Batdance. I’m glad we made up at the end though. Just before he died.
In 2016 I went to Auckland with a friend to see Prince. It was eye-wateringly expensive. I had reservations about the cost right up to the moment when the lights came up on the stage and there was a silhouette of Prince with a giant-ass afro, and a cane and the crowd went crazy. My thought? “Fuck, yeah!” I mean, it was fucking Prince, and once the silhouette vanished it was really him – sashaying around the stage in a slinky suit soaking in the applause with an attitude that seemed to be humbly saying: “mmhm, that’s right, I am pretty fricken awesome: clap mofos”. The audience clapped. I clapped. I imagined it was similar to – but not as spiritual – a Catholic meeting the Pope. Actually, scratch that: it was just as spiritual.
Purple Rain had first melted my mind in 1985 when I was 12. From 1985 to 2016 was 31 years. The last album I had bought by him was Lovesexy in 1989. I loved the song Batdance. Then we drifted apart. I was never into the Come, Diamonds and Pearls stuff, and even though he would occasionally do something like Sexy M.F. or Black Sweat, he really seemed to be adrift in bloated albums, slow jams and soulless not very funky funk workouts. Thankfully in 2014 there was Art Official Age. Not even some chipmunk vocals and lasers could spoil a good album album. He was calling me home. (Yes, me.)
There were many moments in the concert that were amazing. U Got The Look was one of the highlights. I always felt kind of so-so about that song, but he turned it into a dirty, honky-tonk, funk grind which went on and on being amazing. Something In the Water sounded beautiful on piano. I suppose the moment of greatest emotional impact was Purple Rain. Even though it was just a truncated version as he was riffing through some of his greatest hits, it was the other moment – after his initial arrival – when I thought: “I cannot actually believe I am here and this is happening.” I don’t know how many times I played air guitar to that song in the 80s but it was a lot. It was a powerful feeling. The opening notes punching though my 43 year old exterior and gripping me by my 12 year old heart.
This story ends with him dying of course. All my heroes die at the end.
He was in Auckland in February 2016, and died in April.
What was he? A serious surface? A packaging of substance? It was always a mistake looking for hidden depths in a Prince song. The song Purple Rain is a great example. It hints at meaning. The music says a lot more than the words, but music of course talks in “feel” only. So you are left with an evocative sound onto which a million thoughts can be projected. Prince was mostly only direct and clear when he was talking about sex. Otherwise, good luck trying to read something profound. Let’s Go Crazy? We get the vibe – let’s party – but as for the lyrics? When the Doves Cry? What is that sounds like doves crying and what the fuck does a dove crying sound like anyway?
On the latest posthumous release Originals, there is a great piece of fluff called Make Up. The music is frantic and cold. The vocal cold and clipped. A list of make up applied; a look constructed. You can dance to it. It feels like it is maybe saying something. The delivery and tension seems to point at meaning. And then away. A beautiful surface.
Definitely a kind of genius.
New releases in New Zealand, 2 July 1989
- Funky Cold Medina – Tone Loc
- Batdance – Prince
- Forever Your Girl – Paula Abdul
- Manchild – Neneh Cherry
- Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
- Can You Keep A Secret – Brother Beyond
- Halleluiah Man – Love and Money
- Room To Move – Animotion
- Help – Bananarama