A million-dollar set that does everything but shoot baskets into the on-stage hoop, enough hardware to fill two 747 cargo jets or 14 trucks, record-quality sound, the most sophisticated lighting in the history of mass entertainment, countless costume changes, skits, and dances in the course of a three-hour show, a nine-piece ensemble with every step blocked out, every gesture scripted, not a drop of sweat left to chance, the whole contained in one man’s head, rehearsed past the point of role and into the theatrical realm where artifice and routine communicate as necessity and will, like a 50-year-old soul legend singing her greatest hit last week at the Lone Star with more passion than it brought from her when it topped out at number three in 1964—this is Prince in 1988.
The show is backed up musically, and it transcends itself when sound supersedes merely physical movement, merely electronic color; though people gasped at certain shifts in staging, this was the real shock. “When You Were Mine” caught it, opening on Prince’s guitar with the heroic confusion of the first seconds of Claudine Clark’s “Party Lights,” but sustaining the excitement of that opening through three, five, six minutes, the guitar shaping the singing to ring changes of wit on regret, seduction on defeat, maturity on adolescence, blues on rock ‘n’ roll. It was one of those moments when, confronted with the distant figure on the stage, with the huge noise that years of concert-going cannot quite connect to the performer’s body, you almost shudder at the reaction building inside you, asking, “Is this real? Is this happening?” You shut your eyes, trying to commit a thousand nuances to memory, but memory will barely hold a few—and you know that for all the rehearsals, all the effects, for every detail of the perfect script, the song can never be played precisely this way again. Like a fan who won’t wash the hand that’s touched the star, you’re afraid to go to sleep in fear of what you might forget.
2. Lee Maynard, Crum (Washington Square paperback)
Set in a nowhere West Virginia town a few years after the war, this novel about teenagers and sex could have been called “Country Without Music.”
3. Terri Sutton, “Women in Rock—An Open Letter,” Puncture #15 (1974 Filbert St. #3, San Francisco, CA 94123, $3.50 postpaid)
Why the Bangs (the Fucks) turned into the Bangles (the Glitter). “Biased critics aren’t doing music reviewing. They’re doing police work.”
4. Reggie Jackson Chevrolet (Shattuck and Durant, Berkeley, CA)
In the showroom, the man’s black-cherry ’55 Bel Air and a bubbling Wurlitzer with pristine tone. Number one on the jukebox: Chuck Berry, “No Money Down.”
5. Van Morrison & the Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat (Mercury)
Not as good as Into the Music, but close.
6. Brian Wilson, Brian Wilson (Sire CD)
The music is chirpy Beach-Boys-Spector retread; the flat vocals grow flesh with every playing. But the sanctity of David Leaf’s therapeutic liner notes (like that attending Patti Smith’s gruesome “People Have the Power,” or Tracy Chapman’s stutters on “Fast Car”) is disgusting. If you want Brian to get well, send him a get-well card: c/o Traubner and Flynn, 1849 Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 500, Los Angeles, CA 90025.
7. Happy Flowers, “They Cleaned My Cut Out With a Wire Brush” (Homestead)
8. Joe Higgs, Family (Shanachie)
9. Elvis Presley, for Blue Tana Lawn Shoes (advertisement in Harpers & Queen, London, June)
“ABUNDANCE” it says, “by ELVIS PRESLEY.” “Not a barn dance,” it says. He’s wearing blue and red “19th century floral design” shoes. They look great.
10. Pavel Büchler, Untitled Portraits (exhibition at Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, catalogue from Third Eye Centre, 350 Sauchiehall St., Glasgow G2 3JD, UK)
Büchler takes a wire-service crowd photo, blows it up, and isolates various individuals: from dress and manners, the time seems to be the ’50s, the place Europe. Close up, the now-huge wire-service dots print out into nearly complete abstraction; from a distance, each picture fingers a victim, matched in police files and then tracked, caught, and executed. Is the picture Büchler worked from specific, or could he have made a concert photo just as creepy?
Village Voice, September 1988 (actual date TBD)