On Location: Prince's Guide To '80s-Era Minneapolis, In 'Purple Rain' The movie that gave Prince his screen debut was also an ode to the diverse music scene of the artist's hometown. When the movie came out in 1984, funk, R&B, indie and punk all thrived. Today locals say that diversity is the movie's legacy.
NPR logo

Minneapolis' Starring Role In 'Purple Rain'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140142078/140171331" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Minneapolis' Starring Role In 'Purple Rain'

Minneapolis' Starring Role In 'Purple Rain'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140142078/140171331" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host: 1984, Prince, and I guess he's back to calling himself Prince again, made his film debut in the movie "Purple Rain." The film was semi-autobiographical, was set in the thriving music scene in new Minneapolis - especially at the legendary First Avenue Club. This summer NPR has been exploring movies with a strong sense of place. And NPR's Allison Keyes went to visit Minneapolis and its music scene.

ALLISON KEYES: From the movie's opening scene - as Prince and the Revolution rock the stage at the cavernous First Avenue Club - it's clear the city of Minneapolis is going to be its own character in this film. After all, its star was born and raised here, and cut his musical chops on the city's kaleidoscopic music scene.


PRINCE: (Singing) Go, go, lets go crazy. Let's go crazy - lets get nuts

KEYES: Prince plays The Kid, a talented and charismatic musician with a lot to prove.


KEYES: He's channeling his angst into his music, which doesn't go over with the manager of the hottest club in town.


PRINCE: (as The Kid) What do you want?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (as manager) I told you before. This stage is no place for your personal (bleep), man.

PRINCE: (as The Kid) That's life, man.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (as manager) Life's my (bleep). This is a business.

KEYES: The Kid is also beset by the demons of domestic abuse at home.


PRINCE: (as The Kid) Mom, Dad.

CLARENCE WILLIAMS III: (as Father) You keep this place clean.


PRINCE: (as The Kid) Please dad, she's heard you.

KEYES: But The Kid is falling in love with a beautiful aspiring singer.


APOLLONIA KOTERO: (as Apollonia) Do you see something you like?

PRINCE: Let's go.

KOTERO: He took me to First Avenue and it was fun.

KEYES: Apollonia played the female lead in "Purple Rain." She says she was already familiar with the city's diverse music scene.

KOTERO: I think it was a little bit of everything, you know, the punk, the INXS and Morris Day.


MORRIS DAY AND THE TIME: (Singing) ...have you heard? A brand-new dance, it's called The Bird.

KEYES: Apollonia also knew about the club, First Avenue, where Prince took her the night of her audition.

KOTERO: I remember it was crowded and all these people were staring and I thought oh, oh, that's right. This is like, this is like his place. And we danced.

ROY FREEDOM: It was just a really exciting fun time and well, Prince was the main thing, of course.

KEYES: Roy Freedom has been a DJ at First Avenue for 30 years...


KEYES: and says Prince's music fit right into the club's cutting-edge vibe in the '80s.

JON BREAM: There was that whole wave of what was coming over from England like New Order and then we had some New York stuff, you know, like there was a song called "Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight." Okay, that was a big record here.

So that's one of his, you know, the great blessings of him growing up here.

KEYES: Jon Bream, a music critic who's been with the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 36 years, first saw Prince perform at the Capri Theater in 1979. He says this live music town had a mix of sounds when Prince was coming up - from punk to garage rock, and an R&B funk theme.

BREAM: He didn't limit himself to R&B music. You know, he listened to everything. You know, he listened to a lot of classic rock and got all kinds of influences in his music.


PRINCE: (Singing) Where is my love life? Where can it be? There must be something wrong with the machinery.

KEYES: Then "Purple Rain" came out in 1984. But many local musicfiles(ph) like Steve McClellan don't think "Purple Rain" had a huge effect on the 1980s music scene in Minneapolis. It was already boasting other hot bands including, The Replacements and Husker Du.

STEVE MCCLELLAN: The movie had absolutely no relevant bearing on anything.

KEYES: Steve McClellan spent more than 30 years in booking and management at First Avenue, and while he calls Prince a fantastic artist who's music broke down some of the racial barriers that used to affect clubs here in the '80s, he says the movie didn't improve the local music.

MCCLELLAN: A lot of mediocre bands were created very quickly because the major labels came and signed anybody funk. But that happens in every market, right?


JOE MABBOTT: I think it helps that "Purple Rain" was definitely done here in the area, but there's obviously it's gone way past that.

KEYES: Joe Mabbott runs the Hideaway recording studio and says the local music scene remains diverse 27 years later.

MABBOTT: A huge array of style of music, from hip-hop to traditional Irish folk music, and everything in between basically.

KEYES: Mabbitt has been recording groups from what he calls a supper creative city and some are branching out. He's got a wall full of their CD covers, P.O.S., Brother Ali, Sims, Dessa and Atmosphere, one of the better known current bands from here.


ATMOSPHERE: (Rapping) It's no surprise; I overslept, put my boots on and climbed out my tent. I didn't see you, assumed you were sleeping.

KEYES: Music critic Jon Bream says Prince and "Purple Rain" changed the stakes for musicians in Minneapolis.

BREAM: People knew that you could make it out of here and make it big. Bob Dylan is from here. You know, he's from northern Minnesota. He went to college here in Minneapolis for a year. But he had to move to New York to make it. Prince proved that you could stay here to make it and you could make it huge.

KEYES: The movie's mystique clearly lives on. Bream says almost any out-of-town, big time rock band that comes to Minneapolis makes some comment about Prince and "Purple Rain," especially if they play First Avenue.

Allison Keyes, NPR News.


PRINCE: (Singing) Purple rain, purple rain.

SIMON: You can see pictures of the First Avenue Nightclub in Minneapolis from the 1980s and today on our web site, npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.