Prince may call himself the Purple Yoda — but when he tries to tell a sweeping, transformative story, he always reaches for fantasy, not science fiction. Prince's career is littered with weird little magical adventures, and it might even be fair to call him the Tolkien of funk. (Or maybe, just the Purple Hobbit.)
Don't believe us? Here's a rundown of all the magical stories that Prince crafted during his heyday.
Sign 'O' The Times (1987 Movie)
Prince's second double album was a masterpiece of introspection and whimsy, mixed with a few looks at current events like AIDS and poverty. But when Prince decided to turn the ensuing concert tour into a movie, he added more story segments. And somehow, this concert is taking place in a weird neon-lit post-apocalyptic world where society has broken down and people roam through the wilderness, speaking only in monosyllables: "Sex." "Love!" "Money." The only source of power in this dystopian future is the weird neon globe with sparks of dayglo lightning that — wait for it — follows your fingers when you touch it. The exact meaning of this artifact, and how it relates to the monosyllabic gangs, never quite become clear.
The first thing you probably think when you you see this album is, "Who shrank Prince to doll-size, stole his clothes, and left him on some flowers?" And apparently, it's Spooky Electric, who's sort of the neon Devil. Spooky Electric gets namechecked in the opening song, "Eye No," but we learn more about him in the final number, "Positivity." Apparently he "cuts like a knife and tries to get in you," until he becomes your boss and gives you a .57 magnum — and then you have to "call People Magazine and Rolling Stone." So, he's a gangster but also a publicist. In any case, the album tells about how Prince overcomes Spooky Electric by finding "Lovesexy," which is some kind of sacred sexual connection to the divine that involves saying things like "butterfly water ripple baby scram on my nipple." (Or something. It means "I love you," but it takes longer to say.)
The Batman videos (1989)
Prince's Batman movie soundtrack still holds up quite well. But the videos he made for "Batdance" and "Partyman" are just... wow. Together, both videos are about a dozen or so minutes long, and they tell the story of Prince being half taken over by his evil side — he's half Joker, half Batman, so that he actually looks a bit like Two-Face. (At left: The "Batdance" video without the real music, for rights reasons.) A quartet of Batmen and a quartet of Jokers dance around, while Prince processes his dual nature — actually, he looks a bit like the Charons from Star Trek. Later, there are four dancing Vicki Vales — and one has a Batman tattoo on her thigh, while another has a Joker tattoo. Duality! So is Prince Batman or the Joker? Can he ever reconcile his dueling halves? I strongly suspect that it depends on whether a man is considered guilty for what goes on in his mind.
Graffiti Bridge (1990)
Prince's third and final theatrically released non-concert movie is a quasi-sequel to Purple Rain, in which Prince and Morris Day battle over the future of Seven Corners, a magical land of nightclubs where people like George Clinton and Mavis Staples each have their own clubs. And Ingrid Chavez, Prince's latest discovery at the time, is a mystical girl who goes around saying "It's just around the corner... It's just around the corner." (You hear Ingrid at the start of the Lovesexy album, explaining that rain is wet and sugar is sweet.) At one point, Ingrid gets enchanted, so that she falls asleep, and when she wakes up, she will "fall in love with the first face she sees." Morris Day plans to make sure she sees his face first — but Prince steals her away while she's sleeping, so that she sees Prince's face when she wakes up. After Ingrid goes around the entire movie saying "It's just around the corner," a truck comes around the corner and runs her over.
Alter Ego (1991)
This comic book, from the amazing team of Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan, with a cover by Brian Bolland, expands on the duality theme from the Batman videos. Prince even gets compared to Batman twice in this comic. Basically, we learn that Prince has an evil twin named Gemini — they grew up together and practiced music, but Gemini uses music for evil. He gets superpowers from anger and hatred, and he can control people's minds. And he steals Prince's band, and sets out to tear Minneapolis to shreds. Minneapolis will burn, unless Prince can take back the power. In the end — as Chris Sims helpfully explains — Prince and Gemini have a "rock-off." Update: I added some scans from the comic, including the part where Gemini tries to kill Prince with an electrocuting guitar.
Three Chains O' Gold (1992)
Prince's "Love Symbol" album — its actual name is the same as the unpronounceable symbol he changed his name to a year later — is sort of a weird rock opera in which Kirstie Alley chases Prince all over the world, demanding to know about the Princess of Arabia and statutory rape and stuff. The actual story of the album is pretty incomprehensible — mostly because Prince recorded a bunch of extra segues which had to be cut for length reasons. (You can read transcripts of them here.) Later, Prince expanded on this story in another DC comic book, plus a direct-to-video movie, and a U.S. tour with a lot of random theatrics. In a nutshell, there are three chains of gold that have mystical powers. (And as Prince explains on the album, they are also "the nucleus of my soul.") Mayte, whom Prince later married, is the Princess of Arabia whose parents were murdered by seven assassins who are seeking the chains of gold so they can rule the Kingdom. And the story flashes forward to the dystopian future of 1997, in which Prince and Mayte are married and have a son, Michael, who finds the magical chains.
Glam Slam Ulysses (1993)
Prince more or less stopped making movies and other huge productions around the same time he no longer had a huge contract with Warner Bros. (And after he converted to being a Jehovah's Witness, he was less interested in creating his own weird mythos about Spooky Electric and stuff.) But his final hurrah was Glam Slam Ulysses, a stage show that's a retelling of — yes — the Odyssey. At left: a clip that's set underwater, with video screens showing fish and masks and things floating in the background. While what look like three mermaids dance around.
What was it about? According to Variety:
Storywise, "Ulysses" concerns itself with Penelope, a would-be other-world goddess, a character referred to as 'the fan,' both played by Prince protege Carmen Electra, and our hero, Ulysses, an unlikely dancing god played by Frank Williams. Quickly moving from one scene to another, the action, which is basically a bizarre, choreographed love triangle, takes place on the club's main stage as well as different sets built around the venue and in fantasy scenes shown on a large video screen.
The whole thing is on Youtube. And yes, Carmen Electra started out as Prince's protegee — he called her "the scariest female on the planet" and helped her put out a rap album. Later, it ended badly.