reprinted in ROCK & SOUL * APRIL 1986
THE PRINCE INTERVIEW
By Michael Shore
Prince's next feature film, Under the Cherry Moon -- and the much-anticipated followup to his smash debut, Purple Rain -- should be out in theaters in three or four months. It's even more eagerly awaited because it's also Prince's feature-film directing debut.
Originally, the film was to be directed by Mary Lambert, a premier music-video director who has overseen Madonna's "Borderline" and "Material Girl," Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life," and the Go-Go's "Yes Or No." But in mid-September, about a month or so into the movie's two-month shooting schedule, Lambert abruptly walked off the set and handed the directing reins to His Royal Badness.
Lambert issued a statement which read, in part, "I'm leaving under totally amicable circumstances. It's just become quite apparent that Prince has such a strong vision of what this movie should be, a vision that extends to so many areas of the film, that it makes no sense for me to stand between him and the film anymore. So I'm going off to work on my own feature and letting him finish his."
Lambert's was not the first departure from the set of Under the Cherry Moon. Just days into filming, veteran British actor Terrance Stamp walked off the set, allegedly due to "scheduling conflicts," which may or may not be public relations' diplomacy. In any case, Stamp was replaced in short order by Steven Berkoff, who played the heavies in both Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo. He'll be seen as the father of Prince's love interest in the film.
Under the Cherry Moon is a love story, set in the 1940s and shot in black and white. Word from the set has it that the plot is more or less spelled out in the lyrics to "Condition of the Heart" on Around the World in a Day, which appears to be about a musician falling in love with a woman too rich and worldly for his own lifestyle.
In Under the Cherry Moon, Prince's love interest is a rich girl named Mary Sharon who, according to one cast member, "wears miniskirts and pigtails." Prince plays Christopher, a piano player in a casino-style lounge in a place similar to the French Riviera, where the film was shot. One unconfirmed story was that Prince wanted to shoot some scenes in Monte Carlo but Prince Rainier wouldn't grant permission. Guess he felt one prince on the premises was enough.
While the plot may come from a Prince song, don't expect much Prince music in Under the Cherry Moon. Another unidentified crew member says the Revolution was on the set only to shoot the video for "America," that there's no band music in the film at all, and that the only Prince music in the film is His Royal Badness at the acoustic piano. So there may or may not be soundtrack album. Another crew member confirmed, though, that there is one actual "song," and it's called something like "Snowing in July." You'll recall that when Prince announced he would stop touring late in the Purple Rain tour, one of his cryptic reasons was, "Sometimes it snows in July."
The rest of the cast includes little-known British actress Kristen Scott-Thomas as Mary Sharon; Jerome Benton, Morris Day's former valet in the Time and now a member of the Family, as Prince's "partner"; veteran British actress Francesca Annis as an older woman with whom Prince's character reportedly has an affair; and Victor Spinetti, whose career as a supporting player in rock movies goes all the way back to the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night and Help!
So what'll the movie be like? Your guess is as good as ours or anyone else's at this point. But consider another hot report from one crew member. In order to complete the film on time after he took over from Lambert, Prince shot the remaining scenes in one take.
Maybe that's a good sign. After all, His Royal Badness did all right making records by himself for a long time, and surprised a lot of supposed experts with the success of Purple Rain. Somehow, it's hard to believe Prince is finished surprising us.
Late in 1985, Prince broke his self-imposed silence and spoke to the public for the first time in almost four years. First came an interview for Rolling Stone magazine. Later came an interview for MTV. Prince's agreement to be interviewed took MTV so suddenly that the staff at the cable network were unable to arrange to conduct the interview in person. Consequently, the Music News staff resorted to simply providing a list of questions to be read to Prince by his manager and answered by Prince on videotape. MTV elected to broadcast only parts of the interview. The full interview was then offered to other broadcasters.
The videotaped interview was conducted in France, where Prince was shooting his forthcoming motion picture, Under the Cherry Moon. He first took a break to film the video for America, the third single from the Around the World in a Day LP, before 2,000 kids at the Theatre de la Verdure (translation: Greenery Theatre), which is a huge tent on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Once the video shoot was completed, Prince & the Revolution treated the audience to a 90-minute concert. Afterwards, Prince sat with a few of the young people in attendance and answered the questions prepared by the MTV Music News staff. It marked the first time in his career that Prince had said more than two sentences on TV. Unfortunately, in many cases, he didn't answer the questions posed, as you'll see. Although Prince is very good at many things, his inexperience with interviews shows greatly.
The first and most obvious question is, why have you decided to drop your media guard with the recent Rolling Stone interview and this one for MTV? And why were you so secretive prior to this?
Well, as you can see, I've made a lot of friends here, but I was homesick and I missed America. I guess I just wanted to talk to somebody.
A lot of observers have remarked on your apparent need for control, and only with your two most recent albums, you gave credit to your band for composing, arranging and performing. It seems to us, from what we know of your personal background, that the need for control arose from your childhood and early teen years when you had a total lack of control over your life and were shuttled from home to home. Is this the case? If not, how does the need for control and/or your current, more open stance relate to your music?
I was horrible. To be perfectly honest, I was surrounded by my friends, but nevertheless, we had a difference of opinion in a lot of situations -- musically speaking, that is. A lot had to do with me not being quite sure exactly which direction I wanted to go in. Later on toward the Controversy period, I got a better grip on that. That's when we started to see more and more people participating in recording activities. Boom.
Someone in Minneapolis recently told us that several months ago they were in a studio there when David Rifkin, your sound engineer, walked in. They asked him what he thought of the new Prince album, Around The World In A Day. He said, "It's great, but wait 'til you hear the new album." Apparently, he meant you're already working on a new LP, and that this one would be a strong return to your funk roots. Is this true? Can you elaborate? What will it be called? When will it be due out, and what's the music like?
Don't you like surprises? Guess not. Ah, it is true I record very fast. It goes even quicker now that the girls help me -- the girls, meaning Wendy and Lisa. I don't really think I left my funk roots anywhere along the line. Around The World In A Day is a funky album. Live it's even funkier.
Why did you make the announcement that there'd be no singles or videos from that LP, and then start issuing singles and making videos anyway?
Because I wanted this album to be listened to, judged, critiqued as a whole. It's hard to take a trip and go around the block, and stop when the trip is 400 miles. Dig?
Speaking of singles and videos, your latest is "America." This is one of the most political songs you've ever done. Could you tell us what the song is supposed to say to people? For example, is it straightforwardly patriotic or more complicated than that?
We understand you directed the "America" video, and that you also directed "Raspberry Beret." How do you approach directing a video? Do you consult others in order to keep a certain perspective when directing yourself?
Yes, definitely. When directing myself, I consult Steve (Fargnoli), my manager. On directing other Paisley Park artists, I consult the artists first and foremost. One of the things I try to do with the things I direct -- namely for our acts -- is go for the different, the out-of-the-norm, the avant purple, so to speak. And the thing that's unique about the situation I'm in now with these people is that they all know who they are, and they agree with me when we say the one thing we produce is the alternative. If someone wants to go along for that ride, then cool.
Would you ever like to direct your own movie?
Yes, (very enthusiastically) yes, yes.
Speaking of movies, tell us as much as you can about Under The Cherry Moon.
What's the plot, what kind of characters, what kind of music, how many songs, what can we expect?
It's a French film. It's a black-and-white French film, and ah, she's in it (girlish giggles can be heard). And her name's Emanuelle.
A lot of people were offended by what they saw as sexism in Purple Rain.
Now, wait, wait. I didn't write Purple Rain. Someone else did. And it was a story, a fictional story, and should be perceived that way. Violence is something that happens in everyday life, and we were only telling a story. I wish it was looked at that way, because I don't think anything we did was unnecessary. Sometimes, for the sake of humor, we may've gone overboard. And if that was the case, then I'm sorry, but it was not the intention.
When and how did you first get the idea for Purple Rain? Did you really spend a year or so taking notes in a purple notebook, like some people have said?
Did you ever think Purple Rain, the movie and the album, would be as big as they were?
See this cuff link? Give a brother a break. I don't know.
Speaking of brothers, some have criticized you for selling out to the white rock audience with Purple Rain, and leaving your black listeners behind. How do you respond to that?
Oh, come on, come on! Okay, let's be frank. Can we be frank? If we can't do nothing else, we might as well be frank. Seriously, I was brought up in a black-and-white world and, yes, black and white, night and day, rich and poor. I listened to all kinds of music when I was young, and when I was younger, I always said that one day I would play all kinds of music and not be judged for the color of my skin but the quality of my work, and hopefully I will continue. There are a lot of people out there that understand this, 'cause they support me and my habits, and I support them and theirs.
How do you feel about Jesse Johnson leaving the Time? Have you heard his album, and if so, what do you think of it?
Jesse and Morris and Jerome and Jimmy and Terry had the makings of one of the greatest R&B bands in history. I could be a little pretentious in saying that, but it's truly the way I feel. There's no one that could wreck a house like they could. I was a bit troubled by their demise, but like I said before, it's important that one's happy first and foremost. And, as far as Jesse's record goes, chocolate. You know.
It was obvious from the Purple Rain tour that, with the extended jams on some of these songs, you were paying tribute to James Brown. Would you agree? Who, besides James Brown, were your major musical inspirations and influences? Obviously you were thinking of Hendrix, Clinton and Sly Stone.
James Brown played a big influence in my style. When I was about 10 years old, my stepdad put me on stage with him, and I danced a little bit until the bodyguard took me off. The reason I liked James Brown so much is that, on my way out, I saw some of the finest dancing girls I ever seen in my life. And I think, in that respect, he influenced me by his control over his group. Another big influence was Joni Mitchell. She taught me a lot about color and sound, and to her, I'm very grateful.
In your Rolling Stone interview, you said you were surprised by so many people comparing you to Hendrix because you've always been more into Santana than Hendrix as a guitarist.
A lot has to do with the color of my skin, and that's not where it's at. It really isn't. Hendrix is very good. Fact. There will never be another one like him, and it would be a pity to try. I strive for originality in my work, and hopefully, it'll be perceived that way.
Your father is a musician too. Have you ever, or would you ever, try to get your father's music released on an album?
I did. He co-wrote "Computer Blue," "The Ladder" and several tunes on the new album. He's full of ideas. It'd be wonderful to put out an album on him, but he's a little bit crazier than I am.
You gave Andre Cymone the song, "Dance Electric," for his new album, and we know that you two had some kind of falling out a few years back. When and how did you patch things up?
I saw him in a discotheque one night and grabbed him by his shirt and said, [at this point, Prince reenacts the scene down to the last facial gesture], "Come on, I got this hit. You know I got this hit, don't you? "Dance Electric"? Yeah, it's great. You need it, you need it. no... Hey, come here, don't you play, hey, no, no, no you're not crazy, I'm crazy. I'm the one that's crazy, K? What chu gonna do? You gonna come by? For real? You ain't mad or nothing? So what? Yeah tomorrow. Noon. Cool."
We hear rumors that the Revolution may record an album of its own.
I don't know. It'd be too strange. They're very talented people, but they're (motions with his hands like a spastic hula girl), and together we're (motions with his hands, making them neatly parallel). I'd rather stay here (parallel), than (spastic).
Can you tell us about Paisley Park?
Paisley Park is an alternative. I'm not saying it's greater or better. It's just something else. It's multicolored, and it's very fun.
Can you comment on the incident that occurred after the American Music Awards in January 1985?
We had talked to the people that were doing USA for Africa, and they said it was cool that I gave them a song for the album. It was the best thing for both of us, I think. I'm strongest in a situation where I'm surrounded by people I know. So it's better that I did the music with my friends than going down and participating there. I probably would have just clammed up with so many great people in a room. I'm an admirer of all of the people who participated in that particular outing, and I don't want there to be any hard feelings. As far as the incident concerning the photographer goes, it's on the flip side of "Pop Life." The main thing it says is that we're against hungry children, and our record stands tall. There is just as much hunger back here at home, and we'll do everything we can, but y'all got to understand that a flower that has water will grow and the man misunderstood will go.
Have you changed your mind about touring since you announced the Purple Rain tour would be your last?
No. I don't plan on touring for a while. There are so many other things to do.
Now that Purple Rain has made you such a huge superstar, do you worry about the possibility of a backlash against you?
One thing I'd like to say is that I don't live in a prison. I am not afraid of anything. I haven't built any walls around myself, and I am just like anyone else. I need love and water, and I'm not afraid of a backlash because, like I say, there are people who will support my habits as I have supported theirs. I don't really consider myself a superstar. I live in a small town, and I always will. I can walk around and be me. That's all I want to be, that's all I ever tried to be. I didn't know what was gonna happen. I'm just trying to do my best and if somebody dug it then (kiss, kiss to the camera).
What are your religious beliefs?
I believe in God. There is only one God. And I believe in an afterworld. Hopefully we'll all see it. I have been accused of a lot of things contrary to this, and I just want people to know that I'm very sincere in my beliefs. I pray every night, and I don't ask for much. I just say, "Thank you" all the time.