I had never seen nor heard anything like Prince. And just like everything, there was a first time — life before Prince and life after.
I was 12 when I first saw the video for “1999.” I grew up in a small town in North Mississippi. As much as I love my hometown, it didn’t exactly have the cutting edge of LA or New York, or even Birmingham and Memphis, the closet larger cities.
But Prince and The Revolution allowed us to be bold and daring.
Although I loved music for as long as I could remember, nothing blew my mind like Prince. We didn’t have MTV in 1983; I caught the video on USA’s “Night Flight” sometime after 10 p.m. on a Friday.
There was something about the way the song sounded and the way Prince and his band looked that immediately pulled me in. Plus, Prince slid down a fire pole before he sang his first in the song, which was pretty amazing.
But the people in the video were just as captivating as the music. There were women and men and people of color and white people — all making music that seemed like it was being brought to Earth by aliens from another world.
Dez Dickerson sang the song’s baritone vocals and he was wearing a Rising Sun headband; Mark Brown had a purple bass; Bobby Z looked a movie villain behind his drum kit and Matt Fink was dressed in scrubs. Seriously. Mind blown. And there was Lisa Coleman, who had suddenly replaced Olivia Newton John as my 12-year-old crush.
It sounded like the future. In the days of heightened nuclear tensions — you know, like, now — the song held some truth. But if the end of the world was indeed coming, I wanted it to be as funky as Prince’s vision of the apocalypse.
By the time “Purple Rain” was released, Prince and The Revolution had changed my life. By age 14, I was wearing a trench coat and spiked wrist bands. I was exploring Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder. I was digging deep into the back catalog.
I went to see the film “Purple Rain” two nights in a row at the Elkin Theater in Aberdeen, Mississippi. I went to see it again four nights later on “bargain night” and I paid my $2 and stood in the balcony with great pride.
Prince and The Revolution — Brown Mark, Lisa, Bobby Z, Dr. Fink and Wendy Melvoin — changed my life. I say that not as some superlative statement, but as truth. As much as I loved admired Prince, The Revolution were equally important in shaping my life musically and culturally.
When Prince died April 21, 2016, I felt like a part of me had died with him. Seriously? We had to lose Prince and David Bowie within a few months of one another?
One of the only good things that happened in the aftermath of Prince’s death was that The Revolution decided to get back together and mourn his death and use the music as way to help heal the fans.
The Revolution will be at the Joy Theater in New Orleans at 8 p.m. on Thursday. Tickets start at $39.50 and are available here. The show is the band’s first of the 2018 tour. DJ Soul Sister will open the show.
In an interview with the Sun Herald, Lisa Coleman remembers a 1985 show at the Louisiana Superdome and life after “Purple Rain.”
You grew up in a musical home — your father recorded with the famed “Wrecking Crew.” Do you remember what it was that you first heard or saw that really ignited your passion for music?
Wow, what a great question. I feel like I was really just born out of the womb ready play. Like, “OK, count me in.” As soon as I could reach the piano, I wanted to play it because my parents were both musicians. When we were little, my father would go to work in the studio and we would get to see him and my mother would take us to her vocal rehearsals and I would see it and it just felt like that’s what I wanted to do. I would get to go to recording dates with my dad and see Motown sessions and things like that. It was just incredible for me.
I got to see like Jackson 5 recording sessions — everything like that to the Mamas and Papas. One of my best friends was John Phillips’ daughter, Laura Phillips, who ended up changing her name to Mackenzie Phillips — she was the girl on “One Day At a Time.” We had a band together when we were kids. There was just music everywhere. Everyone I knew was creative.
Do you remember the first record you bought?
Yes. It was actually three records at the same time. It’s funny because it describes me perfectly. The three albums were “Talking Book” by Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” and “Lizt C Minor Piano Concerto” played by Lazar Berman. I was taking classical piano lessons almost all my young life — to this day, but I just didn’t see a career there playing other people’s music. I wanted to create more. It was so amazing to meet Prince later on and find out that he was in to Joni Mitchell, too. We just had the same taste. It was amazing.
I’ve heard you tell the story about how you met Prince. Was it a culture shock for you to have grown up in Los Angeles and then move to Minneapolis to set up shop with Prince?
Yeah , it was kind of funny because I came from the “entertainment capital of the world” and literally living where the Hollywood sign was. There I was was moving to Minneapolis where they still had some dirt roads. It was a totally different mindset. But I actually thought it was really exciting because in LA there’s a sense of everything being wired down because there’s too many people and too much going on and if you want to focus, you have to make every effort to do that. But in Minnesota, it’s easy to focus your energy because there’s not a lot of stimulation, or it’s a stimulation of a different kind.
It was a unique feeling to go there — Prince was special there, even as early as 1980 when he was just getting started. There was a feeling of excitement. He was recognized when he would walk around downtown. It was like, “This is a special guy and people can feel it.” I enjoyed that feeling. The funny thing is that me and Prince would end up fighting about fashion sensibility because coming from Hollywood and going to Hollywood High it was like you were geeky if you were dressing up and trying too hard. It was geeky. To be really cool, you had to not dress up. But in Minneapolis it was the opposite. It was pretty funny. But he ended up making his own fashion.
The first album you did with Prince was “Controversy,” which was released in 1981. The first Prince album I bought was “1999” and then “Purple Rain” and then I went backward. When I found “Controversy” in 1984 or ‘85, which was in the beginning of Reagan’s second term, once again, my mind was blown. It was a mix of funk and new wave, punk rock, avant-garde, politics, sex, religion — it was groundbreaking. To me, it still holds up. Did you see it as you were part of something groundbreaking at the time?
I agree with you on all of that. I still think it holds up. It’s such a great record and it has a great sound. At the time, I think we knew we were being bold and we wanted to be bold and we wanted to make some noise and shake things up and use our voices and be political and be socially conscious. I don’t think we thought it was groundbreaking because we thought that it was going to take a lot to be groundbreaking. It was still like, “Is it enough?’ We had to push it. It does become a little bit of a battle with the record company because they don’t want you to be too much, they want you to have a distinct personality and not be too controversial, which is ironic on the album we ended up calling “Controversy.” If you can do it and do it right, it will work. We thought we could do it well and spread the word a little bit.
I think it worked and there are people like you that go back to it because there is sense of courage and it’s comforting in a way, especially now. We’re still reeling from this school shooting (Parkland, Florida) and that album was popping into my heard. Like on “Annie Christian,” “Everybody say gun control,” we were saying that all of those years ago. We’ve been talking about this for a long time. It’s still valid in so many ways. I’m really proud of it.
Looking back on 1984-85 after the release of both the film and album “Purple Rain” and having been thrown into the international spotlight, do you see that time in your life as terrifying or are you more comfortable with it in retrospect?
Yeah, it was a combination of total terror — it was kind of like a roller coaster where you’re screaming the whole way but you’re laughing, too. We didn’t know what to expect and it really connected and the next thing you know, we where playing shows at places like the Superdome, which was one of the most memorable gigs or our lifetime — to be in a place that was so huge and just hear the screaming.
The thing that helped us stay smart was that we rehearsed so much and prepared. We were in boot camp. We were training all of the time, and not just musically. We would rehearse our music day in and day out, but we would also be looking at how we looked, how we stood, how we walked, how we danced, what we looked like — we would tape every rehearsal and watch ourselves. We were fully prepared. It was really helpful because it was so distracting to have success. It’s distracting. We weren’t really sure how big it was on a daily basis until we would go out and play gigs and have bodyguards and it was like,” Wow. We’re The Beatles.” It was something else — it was once in a lifetime, I’ll tell you that.
I have never been more excited about the release of an album than I was for the follow up to “Purple Rain” — “Around The World In a Day.” Was there a lot of pressure on The Revolution to top what had been done with the success of “Purple Rain” or was it just the normal pressure of working with Prince?
There was a definite new kind of pressure, but Prince kind of kept it away from us as a band. He didn’t want us to be feeling that, he just wanted us to be a great band. But that was a highly creative time. They had this warehouse out in the boonies in Minneapolis and we were writing a lot and sharing a lot and working on different projects with Andre Cymone — Prince was writing a lot.
It was my brother David and Wendy’s brother Jonathan, both of whom have passed away, who wrote a song called “Around The World In a Day” and we played it for Prince and it blew his mind and it got him refocused. I think it solved the problem for him of “what’s the next thing.” It was “Around The World In a Day.” It was a great opportunity because the name itself is nice and big and inclusive and fun sounding. And the song had a world music sound to it and it was a great way to expand what we were and what we sounded like. When you make an album, you need songs that are going to kind of poke through the entertainment membrane. It was an interesting time.
There was a lot of creative pressure and I think there’s still kind of a thing about that album and I think some people never made up their minds about it. It didn’t connect the way “Purple Rain” did, that’s for sure. We started working on it long before “Purple Rain” wrapped up. When it was released and there was talk of a tour, everything got abbreviated and we went right into “Parade.”
The Revolution returns to New Orleans on Thursday. Aside from the Superdome show, do you have other fond memories of shows in New Orleans?
Absolutely. The air is thick in New Orleans with lore and vibes and music just hangs in the air. I can’t remember the place we played the first time we played there. But I do remember going as a young band and playing a club and it was funky and sweaty and awesome. Then we returned a few years later to the Superdome was an impossible thing to have happened. I remember Prince asking to have the house lights turned on during the show and they turned them on and it was like, “Noooooo. Turn them off.” It was too much. It was insane. It was terrifying and wonderful.
We’re really excited to come back as a band. I know we’re returning without Prince, but we need a chance to share that with you people, with everybody. We need to connect over the loss and share some sadness but also share some joy with what he left for us. We just want to turn it over and give it back to the fans and share some funk.