Goodbye, Prince – You Were the Best of Us
The song “Purple Rain” begins with an apology. “I never meant to cause you any sorrow, never meant to cause you any pain.”
In the context of the movie Purple Rain, that could have meant Prince’s “The Kid” character apologizing for betraying and hitting his girlfriend Apollonia. Or Prince could have been channeling the guilt of the Kid’s father, Francis L., like Prince’s own father, a struggling musician. The fictional film version had hurt his wife and his son, and ultimately himself, with his abuse and his controlling nature. Or the Kid could be talking to his parents, the mother he didn’t protect or the father he disappointed, and apologizing to them just for not being a different child, one who could take all of them away from their problems.
Whatever the context, “Purple Rain” is a song about pain, which is unusual for the kind of iconic global hit it became. The singer is sorry for the trouble he’s caused. He’s sorry that he’s ruined things. And even if it’s too late to make things better, he wants you to know that he wishes he could.
He wishes we could go to a place where it could all be washed away. The paradise he picked, Purple Rain, doesn’t exist on Earth, but he passionately believes in it. In the song, he uses his guitar and his voice to scale every possible note in search of it up there. He frantically plays and sings his way higher and higher, soaring in an ecstasy of creation until for a moment we’re all there with him in the Purple Rain, his characteristically weird name for heaven, where everything is forgiven and we all love each other again.
Thematically it’s a little like John Lennon’s “Imagine,” I guess, except the song wasn’t political but personal. Prince didn’t point the finger at priests or corporations or people who made war as the obstacles to a better world. He started with himself. He apologized, and then he tried to make things better the only way he knew how, by using his extraordinary gifts to make beautiful things.
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