- November 22, 2011
Prince Rogers Nelson has been a carefully engineered enigma since he first hit our collective in 1979 on American Bandstand. Well, maybe not all of us were watching that particular programme but it marked one of his first TV experiences and the main reason there are so few actual interviews with the miniscule musical maestro. He dried up.
If you were expecting this BBC4 documentary to be packed full of exclusive interviews with the man himself, spilling the beans on various personal misdemeanours and swearing to be sisters for life on a pinkie swear, you are in for a disappointment. If you were after a comprehensive examination of the artist’s professional life from start to present day, then you’re barking up the right tree. Which is why it’s a good idea to start with that American Bandstand interview.
Pepe Willie, Prince’s one-time mentor and friend, kicks off proceedings by relaying his exchange with Prince after the fateful mono-syllabic interview
on national television. It was the moment that Prince realised he couldn’t control that one aspect of his environment. And so he stopped engaging in it. No more interviews, ever.
Other insights come from his former girlfriend and singer Jill Jones, Revolution keyboardist Sheila E, plus industry and musical friends from home town Minneapolis and record label Warner Brothers. The one major impression they all deliver is an incredible respect for the man and his work. Reclusive, Howard Hughes-style life, eccentric – sure. Dedicated and pioneering within music – absolutely.
As well as a profile on Prince himself, as his music spans three decades of music industry change and social evolution, it’s fascinating to see his part in this wider landscape. From being one of the first acts to attract both black and white audiences, to his role in the development of the ‘Parental Guidance’ label, right through to his use of MTV pretty much from its first inception.
Admittedly, there really isn’t enough criticism of Prince for this to feel balanced, even from the Warner Brothers bod whose attitude towards the whole ‘slave’ debacle (when Prince wrote this on his face and changed his name to an androgenous ‘symbol’ in protest at his treatment by the record company) was pretty much that of a good-natured ex-wife. You know, it didn’t work out but we had a good run and sometimes these things don’t.
Spanning funk, rock, hip-hop, psychedelia, rap, pop and many hybrids, if nothing else this serves as a reminder to dig out those old records again from his Purple Highness. However, this is more than that. Rather a great trip through some of the most splendid music of the late 20th century with the people that forged the paths. Groovy.
Prince: A Purple Reign, BBC4, Friday 25 November 2011