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The Purple Wave

The morning of March 17, 1985 was a Sunday.  Because of that we had to wait an extra-long time for the K Bus to take us to downtown Miami and our destination, the Omni Mall.  It was about 9 am but it was already hot as we stood out on Washington Boulevard and 10th Street.  My sister Mary, her friends Marina and Melba and I were going to meet our friend Johnny Pagan at Mother’s Records to buy concert tickets.  We were full of anticipation and dread, fearing they might sell out by the time we got in line.

Thirty minutes later the K let us out at NE 15th Street.  There was a sign outside that said “Line forms behind mall” so we walked the half block to Biscayne.  Yup, there was a line alright…. We crossed the Boulevard and got to the back of the line near NE 15th Street, across from the Omni Hotel and parking garage.  Our timing was really good because Johnny was already there, a couple of spots up.  We quietly scooted up.

Omni after Metromover moved in

Omni after Metromover moved in

There was a Burger King next to the hotel so I went and got us breakfast.  The mall opened at ten but that didn’t make a lot of difference because the tickets we were looking for didn’t go on sale until noon.  Several people in line were wearing purple garb and a few even had frilly 18th Century looking pirate shirts on.  Seeing the pirate shirts made me wonder if Georges Jeanty was nearby.  Georges was Miami Beach High’s resident artist and he would the following year be doing the artwork for the Senior Yearbook.  He and Johnny were serious fans, Mary and I had kind of jumped on the fan bandwagon with the release of the latest album the previous June.

It all started in May of ’84, to be precise, with the release of the single “When Doves Cry.”  Prince, who I remembered from a couple of years before with the hits “1999” and “Little Red Corvette,” now operated under the moniker ” Prince and the Revolution.”  He and the band looked kind of revolutionary too; I could see this from the constant airplay Doves was already getting on MTV.  They looked like New Wave French Revolutionaries, transported from 1789 or thereabouts.

It was an intriguing look, but the sound was great too.  The whole package together was like nothing I’d ever seen or heard before and Mary and her friends Melba and Marina joined me in instant fandom.  We didn’t need to buy the single, we just watched as MTV played it every half hour.  The video finally knocked Bruce Springsteen off the ad nauseam playlist for the channel (though I had really liked “Born in the USA” too).

We couldn’t wait to hear more, any other single and especially the album “Purple Rain.”  The “Purple Rain” album was released June 25th, I ran over to Woolworth’s on Lincoln Road to buy the cassette.  What a look, what beautiful artwork!  What strange writing, the 4’s and the U’s (“I Would Die 4 U”).  He was so different from Madonna and Mister Mister and stuff like that they played on Y-100 and WSHE, not to mention MTV.  Being a Prince fan felt like being in a cult and we all said “sign me up!”

Weekends I’d trudge (I always remember myself ‘trudging’ in South Florida’s heat) over to the 10th Street Beach and play the album over and over on my Walkman.  The guitar solos, the weirdly sensual lyrics (“Darling Nikki”), the nonstop energy made me feel I was getting away with something.  I’d have the Walkman turned up so high every once in a while I’d look up to see if anyone was overhearing this awesomeness.  With ‘season’ (as locals called the tourist months of the winter) over and the fact that South Beach was not exactly popular yet; there were few people around.

At school Johnny Pagan sat in front of me in history class.  I was talking to him one morning about the awesomeness of Prince and he just wheeled around and said “Owww-wah!”  That’s the Prince scream used to punctuate several of his songs, most notably “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” from the “1999” album.  It turned out Johnny was quite the Prince fan; he had seen him years before at Madison Square Garden in New York during the “Dirty Mind” tour.

While our teacher droned on unawares, Johnny described how Prince came out on stage on a four poster bed and humped it ecstatically during the opening number.  He said it was one of the best shows he’d ever seen and that it inspired him to see his act two more times later on.  He then exclaimed “Owww-wa!” and turned back around to face the front of the class.  Johnny was almost giggly when talking about Prince, as he did several times in the coming weeks before school ended.   And every time his comments were punctuated by “Owww-wa!”   This all sounded like dynamite stuff, I wondered if I’d ever get to see this guy live!

By the time the album came out I was aware there was also a movie on the way.  I couldn’t believe it; this kept getting better and better!  Mary’s friends Melba and Marina were in love with Prince, but nothing could shake David Lee Roth’s hold on my little sister.  I remember all of us in Flamingo Park one day talking about the upcoming movie and our plans to leave our little jobs early if we had to, to catch a bus and then a matinee at the Omni 6 if it became necessary.

If you were around anywhere in 1984 you knew it was really the summer of Prince.

In Mr. Austin’s art class I was nursing a broken arm and had to do all of my work with my left hand (I had to write all my papers in longhand that way too).  I struggled along at first and then discovered I was ambidextrous and could usually draw better with my left hand.  But with either hand I was not as good as Georges Jeanty, a tall, quiet Haitian kid who was in my class.  One day I saw him wearing tight leather pants and with his hair done up just like Prince in the “When Doves Cry” video.  He kind of looked like a member of the Revolution.  His drawing talent and silence made him kind of unapproachable to many in class and now the feeling was only magnified.  I tried to get him to talk about Prince, to entertain me the way Johnny Pagan did, but he was whispery quiet and monosyllabic.  I realized later he wasn’t being a dick; he was just emulating his strange and furtive hero Prince, whose utterances were indeed rare and enigmatic.

A few weeks later he showed up at school wearing a white Prince shirt, or blouse, it could more accurately be called.  Now he was starting to look like a one foot taller version of the Purple One Himself and Beach High was all a-whisper.  I was a shy and self-conscious kid and I wondered if I could pull off such a look.  I really wanted one of those shirts, to see if wearing it would transform me, if only slightly.  I asked him where he got it.  Where else but at the Omni?  To me and mine in those days, I guess all roads led to the Omni.

The Omni Mall on Biscayne and NE 15th had two floors, a carousel and a multiplex theater.  I had excitedly dragged my mom and sister there the previous year to see “Return of the Jedi.”  When the offerings at the Lincoln Theater on Lincoln Road were not to my liking, a trip on the K Bus to the Omni was the only way to go. Not only movies, but many clothing shops and a food court could be found there.  It also had a record store I really liked called Mother’s Records and Tapes.  It had a hippy interior, with the walls covered with shag carpet.  They had a Ticketmaster and sold tickets to concerts all over the region.  I always bee-lined for the cassette tapes.  I loved the vaguely fruity smell of the cassette inserts when they were opened for the very first time.

See! Even Jerry couldn't pull it off.

See! Even Jerry couldn’t pull it off.

Georges told me the location of the store on the second floor, and indeed there they were!  The price of $30 was a little high if you asked me but the clincher was the realization that Mary, Melba and Marina would surely laugh at me.  I walked out of there empty handed, but always wondering what if.  And anyway I could be content with my “Magnum PI” Hawaiian shirt that I wore almost constantly.

Friday July 27th, Purple Rain was released to theaters nationwide.  The Lincoln Theater was showing Friday the 13th Part Whatever so the M’s (as my sister and her friends called themselves) and I planned on the Omni.

As it was summer we didn’t have to worry about school so we caught the bus to catch the noon show.  There was a line of people outside the Omni 6 waiting to get inside.  I’d only recently learned that this was not a concert movie; it was a movie with a story, like a movie movie.  I was undeterred; actually I was even more enthusiastic.  The film itself was thrilling; we collectively ignored not only the overt misogyny, but the bad acting and wince inducing pacing.  When Prince and the Revolution (or even the Time) took the stage for scenes at Minneapolis’ First Avenue and 7th Street Entry, all else was ignored and the movie took off into the stratosphere.

The excitement of the live performances made us not even bat an eye when Morris Day and Jerome threw a woman into a dumpster, or when Prince made Apollonia purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.  It was just cool and overall it was unlike anything we had ever seen.  Of course I don’t need to tell you the movie was also a runaway hit.  We were all abuzz on the way home, trying to remember Morris’ funniest lines from the picture and emulating his laugh.

When I heard Johnny doing the same the next day at his job on Lincoln Road I knew he’d seen it too (knowing him, an even earlier showing).  By the start of my senior year in September a purple wave had washed over Miami Beach Senior High, home of the Hi-Tides.  Georges Jeanty was no longer alone in his dress and those climbing Prince-fan numbers were competing with the lacy-gloveleted and flowy-hair-ribboned Madonna fans.

The only thing left to do the rest of 1984 was watch Prince rule the charts and wait for his US Tour to find its way to Miami.  And find its way it finally did, the very last show was in Miami on April 7th, 1985 at the Orange Bowl.

This is what we stared at while waiting for the mall to open

This is what we stared at while waiting for the mall to open

And that’s how when March 17th finally arrived I found myself sweltering in line on Biscayne Boulevard behind the Omni, listening to Johnny’s occasional “Owww-wa!” to tittering laughter.  The mall opened and they let us in, but although we now had air conditioning we had to stand on the steps leading up to the second floor.  Mother’s was open and they sectioned off the line so they could try to also have a regular business day.  Finally, word went down the line that the Ticketmaster machine was clicking away.  We slowly inched forward.  Johnny was popping out of his skin by the time the fuzzy façade of Mother’s came into view.

After fretting that every printed ticket would be followed by the cry “Sold out!” (I knew they were selling tickets at a lot of different places), my turn finally came.  I handed over my $19 cash (ticket and Ticketmaster charge) and received a ticket that said, “Miami Purple Bowl – Wear something purple – April 7th, 1985 Prince and the Revolution with special guest Sheila E.”

Yeah baby we were in!

And Sheila E was going to be there!  She was, as was referred to in Prince-Talk, one of his “protégés,” like Apollonia 6 and the band The Family.  She had a big hit the previous summer with the single “Glamorous Life.”  We looked forward to what we knew would be a fun show.omni4

Surprisingly, April 7 came pretty quick; I guess that was the easy part after worrying so long the show would be sold out.  In the meantime I bought Prince’s entire back catalog on cassette and loved it all.  That evening my mom drove us to the Orange Bowl for Prince’s last stop on the 1984-85 Tour.  Purple clad people with hair on one side swept back filed into the huge stadium, which had been host to several Super Bowls.  Also, there were the Miami Hurricanes games I had attended with my friend Jeff Gottlieb just a few months before; now the place really looked different.

30 years old, hardly worn.

30 years old, hardly worn.

As the letter ‘v’ is near the end of the alphabet I knew that the “Section V” printed on my ticket couldn’t be good news; and indeed we hiked up into the far reaches of the Orange Bowl.  It got dark quickly so the lighst came on and Sheila E started a good percussive heavy set.  There was a wait and then a white banner depicting the eyes from the beginning of the “When Doves Cry” video was lowered.  The Revolution came on, then Prince.  He was tiny, and with us so high up he was a little purple dancing dot.  Still, the show was fantastic, anyone could see from any distance the talent this man had.  It was immense.  What a show.  On the way out I bought a souvenir shirt that I still have to this day.

A few weeks later my senior year ended and our yearbook came out, to no one’s surprise the illustrated figures, done by Georges, were all were dressed like Prince.

It took a while but Prince mania slowly died down, not only for me and my friends but I guess for the rest of the country too.  Two weeks later I was back in line at Mother’s, this time we were all waiting to buy Prince’s new psychedelia tinged album “Around the World in a Day.”   I opened the cassette and gave it a good whiff on the way out of the store.  The single “Raspberry Beret” had been released and MTV showed it every half hour for a day or two.  The M’s and I caught the “World Premiere” at Melba’s house.  We endlessly debated what the cough at the beginning of the video could have possibly meant.

Prince’s vice grip on pop culture was finally weakened and then broken with the release of the film “Under the Cherry Moon” in July of 1986.  Of course the M’s and I were in line the first day for the first screening, this time at the Omni 10 (there had been a remodel).  This is a movie I couldn’t even pretend was good.  Today I boast I was there for the first screening with the same perverse pride I have when I show off my “Eraserhead” senior yearbook photo (hey, they caught me on a bad day!).  The film tied “Howard the Duck” for worst film at the Golden Raspberry Awards that year.

Living in New York the next year I caught the “Sign O’ the Times” concert film at an otherwise deserted Chelsea movie theater.  I remembered sitting there and wondering how long it was taking the “purple wave” to wear off of Johnny and Georges.  Or if it ever had.  Hey, Prince is a really talented guy.  Maybe I’ll ask Georges the next time I see him at DragonCon, for he went on after high school to become a very successful comic book artist and can be seen every summer at Comic Book Row at the Atlanta Marriott signing autographs.  Maybe he draws a little Wendy and Lisa in some of his characters.  Every time I see him though he’s never wearing his pirate shirt.

It’s been almost thirty years exactly since the movie Purple Rain came out (5 days shy as of this writing).  To me it still doesn’t look dated, but poorly made and misogynistic – yes.  Just skip to the live performances, for though he may not be a great actor, Prince is a great guitar player, all around musician and talented songwriter.  For a while there in the mid-80s, it really was his world.

1 reply
  1. Joe Seely
    Joe Seely says:

    i used to snort my cassettes, too. right in that little pocket where the cassette lived until uncased. or if the liner notes had many folding pages, i’d just put the whole fudging thing around my face like a hot towel after a razor shave…”Sign of the Times” was my jam. my mom wouldn’t let us buy the Purple Rain record or see the movie. We watched the videos at Grandpa’s house cuz he had MTV and were totally mesmerized. 1984 was probably the best music year ever. you were lucky to be in high school to fully take it in. i want your shirt!


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