'Purple Rain' is high water mark for Twin Cities music scene

Now: Prince's shadow still looms large among Twin Cities musicians.

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Prince performs during his headlining set on the second day of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., Saturday, April 26, 2008.

Photo: Chris Pizzello, Associated Press - Ap

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It is far and away the high-water mark for the Twin Cities music scene, and the musicians and other scenesters making waves here today still feel its ripples 25 years later.

Prince's "Purple Rain" remains an omnipresent fixture for almost everyone in the music business here, and especially at the landmark club where it was filmed. Even as Prince himself has been fading from the local scene while living in Los Angeles in recent years -- though he was sighted here recently during a trip home -- he remains the music scene's most recognized export.

"It's definitely a selling point for a lot of bands to come play here," said Nate Kranz, general manager at First Avenue, who was only 7 when the movie was filmed at the club. "Just about everybody who plays here from out of town makes some kind of comment about it onstage. And I can't tell you how many covers of 'Purple Rain' [the club's staff] has heard."

Local musicians generally act more blasé about "Purple Rain's" impact -- until you really ask them about it.

When MTV2 came to town to profile local acts for its "Twin Cities Week" over Memorial Day, the crew got "Purple Rain" confessions from its subjects. Cable station VH1 Classic seems to rerun the movie once a week, as does the Fuse network. Among those who spoke with MTV2 about the movie was the wholly un-Prince-like indie-rock band Tapes 'N Tapes.

"I could probably write a dissertation on that beautiful work of art," says Tapes keyboardist Matt Kretzman, who has watched it innumerable times -- at least 40 during one summer he spent studying in Norway (where he couldn't afford to go out).

His bandmate Jeremy Hanson, who was two years away from being born in 1984, might be able to write a dissertation on "Purple Rain" -- or have a psychological study written about him. His mom, Lynda, used to load him and his brother Jacob (guitarist in Halloween, Alaska) into their Chevy Celebrity and park outside Prince's famed purple house in Chanhassen, listening to "Purple Rain" on cassette.

"I asked my mom about this recently for reassurance that this really happened, and she remembered the address and told me that we did this more times than she would like to admit," said Hanson.

Tasha Baron, 28, of the hip-hop/R&B band Black Blondie never parked outside the purple mansion, but she's one of countless musicians from the Twin Cites who say that growing up under the "Purple" shadow made a music career seem possible.

"That this daring, eccentric, outrageous musician was from my very own humble hometown deeply inspired me," she said.

For some of the older musicians who rose to stardom in the decade after "Purple Rain," its success had a more tangible effect in the form of open doors and attentive ears. "Purple Rain" put the Twin Cities on the map as a music town like nothing before or since.

"[Music-biz] people were flocking here looking for talent for years, and there's even a little of that 'Purple Rain' effect to this day," said Mint Condition singer/drummer Stokley Williams, who remembers talking to Prince a few years ago about the downside to this. "Some people are still stuck in the moment and only want 'Purple Rain' again, which is not going to happen."

Dan Wilson of Semisonic, which waved its Prince-freak flag by recording a cover of "Erotic City," said the singer's 1984 breakthrough was "the ultimate DIY [do it yourself] statement ever made by a musician here. It said a lot that the movie didn't really seem like a Hollywood movie, and the music certainly was still Prince's incredible, unique style, and yet it was a huge success. It sort of told all of us you could get things done at the highest level of stardom while remaining in Minneapolis, and while using Minneapolis as your creative center."

Ever see 'Purple' again?

"Purple Rain" gave musicians something to aspire to, but most industry insiders would tell you that kind of success can't happen again. Records simply don't sell 10 million copies in the digital-download age.

The last big chart appearance by a local album was last year's "When Life Gives You Lemons ... " by hip-hop group Atmosphere, which debuted at No. 5 in Billboard with only about 50,000 copies sold its first week.

Meanwhile, Disney tween-pop stars like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers are the only singers getting movie deals -- not envelope-pushing musicians from Minneapolis. Said Kranz, "It's hard to imagine any one movie or one album appealing to so many people nowadays."

Still, plenty of musicians hold onto the dream the same way Prince's character The Kid does in the movie.

Tapes drummer Hanson said, "A level has been set, and it is just waiting to be touched. I can't say if it will happen again, but I don't doubt it."

Were it to happen to Tapes 'N Tapes, don't be surprised if Hanson installs a large fence around his house.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

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