What is the Meaning Behind the Song Purple Rain by Prince?
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More than perhaps any of the many songs by Prince, “Purple Rain” has gone on to become the symbol for the veritable symbol which created it. Like it’s creator, the song has effortlessly stood the test of time on its own accord, yet somehow continues to defy categorization and clear labels.
Thought the Purple Rain meaning is often misunderstood, the song’s vibrant and bold message shoots through the listener each time it comes on the airwaves, leaving with it an impression that they will never forget.
Purple Rain Meaning: According to Prince
Simply put, “Purple Rain” is about finding the beauty in the destruction that occurs around us. According to Prince, the term “purple rain” represents the image of the blue of the sky mixing with red blood. This blood is not the blood of one man, be it Prince himself or any other. Instead, it is the blood of humanity as a whole. The blood that stains the walls of history and threatens to flood over those walls as history is being written.
While this imagery may bring to mind a death metal song more than this classically mellow composition from Prince, there is an inherent meaning in the juxtaposition. Prince didn’t merely wish to shed light on the atrocities of the world; he aimed to show that there was still beauty in it and that the backdrop of bloodshed could give way to an eventual revolution of love.
“Purple Rain” and Alice Walker’s
The Color Purple
Purple is a very subdued, mysterious, and passionate color, not unlike Prince himself. “Purple Rain” was released only a few years after Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. Just before Steven Spielberg’s popular film adaptation. Although Prince has never directly correlated his own “Purple Rain” and the popular story, the cast of a recent rendition of The Color Purple did perform a tribute to Prince right after his untimely death.
In Alice Walker’s story of African-American struggles in the early 20th century, we can see parallels with the notion of the historical bloodshed that “Purple Rain” hints at. There is blood flowing through our veins that’s not ours, and even the youngest of us have been privy to some amount of bloodshed—a loss of innocence that is forced upon us from birth. In The Color Purple, the namesake color is said to represent elegance and dignity, worn despite the atrocities it’s wearer may face… not all too dissimilar from Prince’s notion of beauty being born from destruction.
A Tribute to Prince from the Cast of The Color Purple
Sins of the Father…
“Purple Rain” also deals with the concept of ancestral blood in another way– that being the biblical concept of the father’s sins being passed down to his children. In the film Purple Rain, Prince is found dealing with inherent behaviors that he is not in control of, actions that he blames on his elders. Another song from both the album and film, “When Doves Cry,” features the lines:
“Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold…Prince – When Doves Cry
maybe I’m just like my mother,
she’s never satisfied.”
Prince uses these thoughts to make sense of his toxic behaviors, behaviors he sees in others, both immediately and throughout history, and is subconsciously mirroring in his relationships.
“I Never Meant to Cause You Any Pain…”Prince – Purple Rain Lyrics
On a literal level, the song “Purple Rain” sees Prince lamenting about his intentions with his current lover:
“I never wanted to be your weekend lover,Prince – Purple Rain Lyrics
I only wanted to be some kind of friend…
I only want to see you underneath the purple rain.”
In these lines, the purple rain becomes a backdrop signifying the human condition itself. Both Prince and his significant other dancing blindly beneath it, desperately trying to gain some amount of sentience. In this moment of introspection, Prince blames himself for the destruction around him and is forgiven.
Prince and the Apocalypse:
Sign ‘O’ the Times
Finally, any examination of “Purple Rain” wouldn’t be complete without examining it’s apocalyptic undertones, undertones which permeate Prince’s body of work as a whole. Prince was obsessed with the end times. In a way, every album he touched was his attempt at rewriting The Book of Revelation for a consumerist audience. Blood oozes out of every crack of Prince’s discography, and it was never quite as bold and vibrant as it was on this 9-minute epic.
The Immortal Super Bowl Halftime Show
Although “Purple Rain” was first immortalized visually in the film of the same name, there is perhaps an even more memorable piece of film that features Prince performing his iconic song. At the Super Bowl in 2007, Prince was scheduled to perform the Halftime Show. However, the weather did not have it. All-day long, showers poured down on Dolphins Stadium in Miami, FL. Many commentators wondered if Prince was even going to come out at all. Still, few could’ve predicted the awe-inspiring sequence of events that was about to unfold.
Prince Performs Purple Rain During Downpour
Not only did Prince come out to brace the pouring rain (pun intended), but he performed the most impressive and pertinent rendition of “Purple Rain” that the world had ever seen. Crowds were, understandably, shaken. Prince had always been a mythical figure, but this event proved that the universe was really on his side. Prince was more than just a performer. He was a prophet– Prince had parted the purple sea.
“Purple Rain” Reigns Supreme, Even Decades Later
Prince’s “Purple Rain” has permeated the popular culture in ways that few other songs can ever hope. Its signature guitar solo is more memorable than the choruses of most other songs. The 9-minute runtime has a habit of making the world stand still every single time it comes on. As Prince’s oeuvre becomes older and older, the apocalyptic fear of boiling humanity’s blood grows more and more severe. Prince was undoubtedly a visionary. The visions he brought to us only become more vibrant as time goes on, be they blood-red, sky-blue, or Prince-purple.