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The Revolution…Without Prince

Kevin Sampsell | Longreads | April 19, 2019 | 2,777 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

The Revolution…Without Prince

Hoping to reconnect to their love for the iconic musician, Kevin Sampsell and an old girlfriend go to hear his best known band play without him.
Illustration by David Wilson

Kevin Sampsell| Longreads | April 2019 | 11 minutes (2,777of words)

Prince’s “Erotic City” was one of the most played songs at dance clubs in the mid-`80s. If I were with my friend, Angie, and the DJ played this infamously dirty B-side, we’d be on the floor immediately after that first sexy note — a lone string plucked and whammied, dreamlike. Prince was the bond in our friendship, one that started when we were horny teenagers and has lasted in some small way or another throughout the years. Even though we live in the same state, we don’t see each other much. I guess you’d say we’re more like Internet friends these days. We chat about parenting, old friends, or jobs. But back in the day it was pretty hot and heavy, and it seemed like the good chemistry between us was heavily influenced by our love for the one and only Prince Rogers Nelson. Which is why it felt oddly appropriate when Angie messaged me on Instagram last year to see if I wanted to go see Prince’s most popular backing band, The Revolution, at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. “It would be a cool flashback if you wanted to go,” she wrote.

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I have to admit, I stopped paying attention to Prince around the time he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol (in 1993), but Angie had stayed a superfan. She interacts with people on Prince message boards, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and newsletters. She has a wardrobe of Prince t-shirts, tank tops, leggings, necklaces, and earrings. She saw him in concert eight times, most recently in Oakland in 2016 on his Piano and a Microphone tour, and before that, in Portland in 2013, when his backing band was the all-female group, 3rdeyegirl. He died less than two months after the Oakland show. Mournfully, she flew to Minneapolis shortly after his death to see The Revolution reunite and perform his songs at the legendary First Avenue nightclub, where scenes from “Purple Rain” take place.

I saw Prince perform only once, at (in my opinion) his creative peak, in 1988 on the Lovesexy tour. Just a year after Sign O’ The Times received rave reviews but before his oddball choice to record a whole album for a Michael Keaton Batman movie. The concert I saw was an elaborate stage show in Seattle, with a horn section, Sheila E. on drums, a seductive dancer named Cat I was obsessed with, and gratuitous stage props like a basketball hoop, a bed, a fountain, and a Ford Thunderbird. Even though The Revolution was not his band at the time, they were his band on his two best studio creations (Around the World In a Day and Parade). I guess I should say “arguably his two best” because when it comes to Prince, every other detail, achievement, and rumor concerning him and his work is argued about.

It took me just a few seconds to reply to Angie and tell her I wanted to go. I didn’t know exactly who would be singing the songs, but just the idea of seeing Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Brown Mark (Mark Brown), Matt “Doctor” Fink, and Bobby Z. (Robert B. Rivkin) on stage together, locking into one funky groove after another — circa 1979-86 — seemed amazing enough.

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