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Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain
Alan Light ’88

Atria Books/Simon and Schuster, $26
Reviewed by Bruce Fellman

Bruce Fellman is a contributing writer for the Yale Alumni Magazine.

In 1984, not long after a suburban Cincinnati kid named Alan Light graduated from high school, a blockbuster movie and album called Purple Rain debuted to critical acclaim and fan adoration. The film was a semi-autobiographical take on the life of a twenty-something musician named Prince Rogers Nelson—the Minneapolis-born artist once, then formerly, and now currently known as Prince—and the album was the movie’s sound track.

The singer-songwriter and stellar guitarist was “nowhere near a household name,” writes Light in this entertaining look at the pop-culture icon, but “my friends and I were already nothing short of obsessed with Prince.”

Light was ahead of his time. The movie would gross $70 million, a lot back then, especially for a film made for just $7 million. The album, which frequently appears on lists of top pop music picks—in 2007, Vanity Fair called it the best sound track of all time—has sold more than 20 million copies since its release. And Prince, three decades later, has managed to retain most of his superstar appeal.

And yet, says Light, who has become a highly respected rock critic, “the fact that the Purple Rain movie got made at all is hard to imagine, difficult to explain, and the result of many extraordinary leaps of faith on the part of virtually everyone involved in the production.”

Beginning with the title song’s decidedly un-pop opening chord—“a B flat suspended 2 with a D in the bass”—Light examines the genesis of the songs and the film, along with their enduring impact. With the exception of Prince himself, who is famously shy and reluctant to talk to journalists (although he has spoken to Light from time to time), the author has interviewed at length just about everyone involved, from the members of Prince’s band to the directors and producers. The result is a well-crafted exploration of “what it took for a kid from Minneapolis to conquer the world.”