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Robert Morast, Published August 07 2009

Morast: Prince’s ‘Purple’ pride turns 25

Drive, bike or walk around any neighborhood in Fargo-Moorhead, or any city in this region, and it’s obvious we live in the land of purple pride.

But even though our flags, clothes and, sometimes, vehicles reflect the purple passion that comes with Minnesota Vikings football fandom, we can’t forget about another shade of purple painting the Land of 10,000 Lakes and beyond.

It’s the purple tint of Prince Rogers Nelson, or Prince for short.

The musician who put Minneapolis on the national music map colored the ’80s with “Purple Rain,” his magnum opus that was so inspirational it compelled Prince to make an album and movie of the same name.

Thursday was the 25th anniversary of the release of the “Purple Rain” record. And while it’s astounding for some of us to realize it’s been out that long, it’s more interesting to consider the importance of this record.

Listen to many of the top-shelf music critics and they’ll go on and on about the significance of “Purple Rain” as a masterpiece; how it merged rock ’n’ roll with funk and R&B so skillfully that it blended rock into the African-American culture, how it doesn’t sound dated like so many other key ’80s albums, etc.

Allmusic.com calls it “one of the most exciting rock ’n’ roll albums ever recorded.” And Rolling Stone magazine slotted it at No. 72 on its list of the 500 greatest records – ahead of numerous classic albums like AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and John’s Lennon’s “Imagine.”

But while “Purple Rain” has long been showered with critical praise for its artistic and stylistic merit, I’m more interested in how important this album was for Minnesota and the region around the state.

It’s hard for some people to acknowledge that a 5-foot-2-inch black man who often dressed like a disco pirate could carry the artistic flag of a stoic state known as much for a fictional giant lumberjack as anything else. But, beyond Bob Dylan, no musician has been more important or influential on the Minnesota art scene in the past 30 years than Prince.

And much of that import can be traced back to “Purple Rain.”

We know the record that gave us the hits “When Doves Cry” (still a timeless song) and “Let’s Go Crazy” and ensured that the Twin Cities wouldn’t be overlooked anymore (plus, the “Purple Rain” film gave First Avenue a marquee status among national music clubs). But what’s easy to overlook is how much credibility Prince’s most famous record gave the residents of Minnesota.

Prince’s “Purple Rain” painted over the stereotype that Minnesota was full of backwoods hockey guys with beards and a closet full of flannel. With “Purple Rain” the nation realized Minnesota contained a cultural diverse metropolitan scene that can spawn great art. And better yet, Prince didn’t run from Minnesota. Unlike Dylan, who decided to forsake the state, Prince proved through example Minnesota was a place worth staying at (even if he has homes elsewhere).

Sure, this seems like obvious stuff. But it’s been hard for many of us to realize Prince’s importance because we wasted much of the ’80s and ’90s talking about how weird Prince was.

Yet, despite doing things like changing his name to a symbol or wearing pants exposing his butt, Prince was just like most us, proud to be from Minnesota.

That was exemplified with the “Purple Rain” project. And it’s why many people are starting to think Prince, not Dylan, is Minnesota’s greatest musical son.

It’s all about “Purple” pride.

Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518 or rmorast@forumcomm.com