[UPDATE: This was written long before my friend Prince passed away. I still miss him and am still shocked.]
A friend just now found and sent to me this post from Prince.org, the Prince fan site that described how I pulled off the production of Prince’s ALPHABET STREET video on impossible notice! It is from the book, Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince by Alex Hahn. Funny that I’ve never seen this before.
I remember Prince stopping me in the hall outside his apartment at Paisley Park Studios with a big grin on his face, saying “All the people in Hollywood are freaking out. They say, ‘Prince went and made a garage video!'” He enjoyed that, especially since it was a full three-camera shoot with a complete crew inside his brand-spanking-new mammoth sound stage at Paisley Park Studios.
The video of ALPHABET STREET, which premiered on MTV way back in 1988, is now available on YouTube.
Here’s the story, from Prince’s manager at the time, Alan Leeds:
On the ‘the New P♥wer of L♥vesexy’ thread from March 30, 2012:
This is not music, this is a trip
Then Prince dropped another bombshell: He didn’t want to shoot any videos for the album. He boldly claimed to Warners’ incredulous marketing team that the absence of a video would distinguish him from other pop stars, as well as create a sense of mystery about the album. No one accepted the argument, but the label couldn’t force an artist of his stature to go in front of a camera. There would be no videos.
Chapter 10: Black
March 20, 1988: Alan Leeds’ residence, Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Possessed: the Rise & Fall of Prince
Alan Leeds was among those beginning to harbor doubts about the direction of Prince’s career. After working for many years with James Brown, Leeds accepted inconsistent behavior, arbitrary demands, and frequent bouts of hubris as part and parcel of a brilliant artist’s character. And yet, Prince’s actions were in some respects even more erratic and unpredictable than Brown’s.
On a gray late-winter day, as a snowstorm gained force and began coating the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, Leeds was happy to have a day off from the hectic and exhausting routine of catering to Prince’s every whim. It was warm inside, an NFL game was on, and Leeds was home with his family.
Then the phone rang.
As always, there were no pleasantries, no introductions. “I want to shoot a video,” Prince said in a quiet, clipped voice. Leeds had to press to find out exactly what this meant. Did he want to make a clip for Alphabet Street, after all? Prince said yes, and Leeds asked if he had spoken to Fargnoli about this. No, Prince responded, he wanted to shoot without meddling from the managers or Warner Bros. They would just screw things up. Leeds cautioned that this meant the budget for the video would come out of Prince’s pocket-didn’t it make more sense to contact Warners, which would readily approve financing for the video?
No, Prince said. He wanted to do it on his own.
“Ok, when?” Leeds asked.
Incredulous, Leeds did everything he could to dissuade Prince from making the video. It was mid-afternoon on a stormy Sunday. No respectable team of filmmakers could be assembled, particularly in Minneapolis where, as Leeds reminded Prince, there was not a film crew on every block as in Los Angeles. Even if a crew agreed to do the shoot, it was unlikely that adequate equipment could be rented and that everyone would make it through the snow to the set. How could this possibly be pulled off?
“Sounds to me like that’s your problem, not mine,” Prince retorted.
Leeds realized that, at the very least, he would have to placate Prince by placing some phone calls. Although the local community was not large, Leeds knew several skilled directors. Predictably, they refused the assignment. Working through his Rolodex, Leeds called filmmakers whom he considered B-List, and began to worry that even if someone agreed to take the job, the end result wouldn’t be worth the time, effort, or money. As Leeds waited for callbacks, Prince continued to hector him by phone, “When are we shooting?” he asked repeatedly, undeterred by Leeds’ warnings that no top-flight filmmakers were available. Prince told him to keep trying.
Frustrated that a rare day off was being spoiled, Leeds continued his efforts and finally found a director, Michael R. Barnard, who was eager for the assignment. But the question remained: Could Barnard locate a facility and equipment? The afternoon dragged into evening, and the snow kept falling. Prince kept barraging Leeds with phone calls. Finally, Barnard called: The shoot was a go. He had located a facility owned by a cable television company, as well as a truck full of basic equipment typically used to cover city council meetings for local access channels. Leeds, not surprised that matters had come to this, called Prince and told him the shoot was on.
By eleven p.m., with most of the city under snow, film was rolling. Prince had rounded up Sheila E and Cat Glover to participate. The video was shot against a blue screen, with the result that the footage looked startlingly amateurish and homemade. During the post-production process, Prince had Barnard jazz up the video by having various textual phrases dart across the screen, including “Don’t buy The Black Album, I’m sorry,” and “Ecstasy.”
Talk 2 me lover, come and tell me what U taste
Didn’t your mama tell U life is 2 good 2 waste?
Did she tell U Lovesexy was the glam of them all?
U can hang, U can trip on it, U surely won’t fall
No side effects, the feeling last 4ever
Straight up, it tastes good, it makes U feel clever
U kiss your enemies like U know U should
And then U jerk your body like a horny pony would
U jerk your body like a horny pony would
Now run and tell your mama about that!