(Soul man Michael A. Gonzales has written about music, film and art for Wax Poetics, New York, XXL and HYCIDE. A prolific short story writer, his latest “Jaguar and the Jungleland Boogie” appears in Black Pulp (Pro Se Press). He blogs at Blackadelicpop.blogspot.com and lives in Brooklyn.)
Prince: When Doves Cry
From Purple Rain (Warner Bros., 1984)
It was Orwellian summer of 1984 and big brother Ronny Raygun was in the White House cutting social programs and replacing them with crack. I was living in Harlem with my grandmother and trying to figure out where life was taking my bohemian b-boy/new wave wannabe writer ass.
A few weeks before my twenty-first birthday, school was out and I’d gotten a job as a midtown messenger. Zooming down the sidewalk with my Sony Walkman attached to my ears, I delivered documents to various creative folks including graphic designer Mitch Glazer, photographer Richard Avadon and fashion designer Calvin Klein. From the doorway of her upper west side apartment, actress Patti Lapone once tipped me a dollar.
After work, I hung-out with my friend Jerry Rodriguez, an aspiring filmmaker and playwright who was also a messenger. Both of us dressed entirely in black, rebels just because, and spent many nights at our favorite lower East Side club the Ritz. A former USO dancehall that today calls itself Webster Hall, the medium sized venue was known for their great live shows at affordable prices and thirty-foot screen where videos were projected.
It was at the Ritz that I saw, amongst others, Level 42, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, the Replacements, Andre Cymone, Fishbone and Adrian Sherwood’s Tackhead. In addition, since it was impossible to get MTV uptown in those golden years, it was at the Ritz where I viewed clips by Culture Club, Duran Duran and Michael Jackson as the music blared. Yet, it wasn’t until May of 1984 when Prince’s new video “When Doves Cry,” the first single from Purple Rain, debuted at the Ritz and became my soundtrack for the rest of the summer.
Standing on the dance floor, I stared in awe as futuristic imagery of the video, combined with the blackadelic guitar intro of the song, pulled me into a strange world of sight and sound.
With its reflective lyrics and melancholy romanticism, “When Doves Cry” was a delirious blend of synthpop, electric guitars and, despite not having a bass guitar in the mix, funk. Seconds after the song faded from the speakers and the massive screen, I excitedly grabbed Jerry and screamed, “That was the shit! Oh my God, that was wonderful.”
Buying the seven-inch single the following day, I was hyped by the spectacle of the packaging: a purple disc inside of a glossy jacket that featured a photo of strange flowers. The b-side was a fly track called “17 Days,” which, along with “Erotic City,” became my other favorite summer songs that year.
Even after buying the Purple Rain album a few weeks later, I still played “When Doves Cry” so much that my grandmother began singing the hypnotic song at random moments. One afternoon, while riding in a cab to Aunt Lillian’s apartment building near the Polo Grounds, grandma leaned back in the leather seat and out of nowhere sang, “Maybe I’m just too demanding, maybe I’m just like my father…”
Pausing for a moment, she glanced at me and we both exclaimed, “Too bold!” Like mischievous kids, we both laughed. Twenty-nine summers after the release of “When Doves Cry,” I can still hear grandma’s laughter whenever that (still) amazing song is played.
–By Michael Gonzales