Soul Asylum

Purple Reignia

Minnesota, the land of 10,000 Prince stories. Pretty much everyone has one, including me. The last few days have been harder than I ever could have imagined and yet oddly comforting. The shock of his loss is palpable and everywhere but the outpouring of grief has been offset at least a little bit by the many public memorials, street concerts and all night dance parties that have happened across the city in his honor without any incidents because we’re classy like that up here in the north country. Forget Kevin Bacon and his six degrees of separation. No one in the Twin Cities has to go any further than two degrees of Prince separation. Everyone knows someone who either had an encounter with Prince at the state fair eating Tiny Tim donuts, or was in one of his many bands (two peeps from my high school for sure), or was an extra in Purple Rain (I’m just saying, if everybody who said they were in this movie really were than the credit list would be twice as long).

Unlike Dylan, the Coen Brothers or just about anyone else with an iota of fame, Prince never left us and for that he earned our eternal love and respect. He was a Minnesotan through and through. He went to sporting events (he loved the Minnesota Lynx), showed up at clubs (he had a permanently reserved table at the Dakota) and rode his bike around his Chanhassen neighborhood as if he were just a regular guy who worked at Target or Best Buy corporate. There was no drama with this one and there certainly could have been because he was a mega-genius wrapped up in a neat little pixie package.

The mid-to-late 80’s was a magical time to live in Minneapolis and be into the local music scene. Bands like the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Walt Mink, Trip Shakespeare and Soul Asylum meant you could go out just about any night and not regret the loss of sleep (well maybe once or twice if the ‘Mats were having an off night). Thanks to Prince, Alexander O’Neal, The Time and the Flyte Time crew, the Minneapolis sound was getting huge and gaining world-wide attention. Then Purple Rain came out and suddenly we were cooler-than-cool, and not in the expected winter-weather kind of way. Prince put our city, First Avenue and the mind-boggling purification benefits of Lake Minnetonka on the map and for that we are forever grateful.

There are and were many reasons to love Prince. He was an icon musically and sexually for a generation that needed some guidance during the just say no years. He spoke out about HIV/AIDS when the president at the time could not even acknowledge its existence. He could wear a puffy shirt like nobody’s business and didn’t mind a little black lace or shoulder pads, mainstays of 80’s fashion mostly reserved for Limited Express shoppers. I love the fact that Prince was a devoted Joni Mitchell fan and I especially love the fact that he wrote Purple Rain the ballad, as a direct response to the in-concert popularity of Bob Segar’s We’ve Got The Night. With a 1% African-American population in Minneapolis when he was growing up Prince had to find his inspiration somewhere and it certainly wasn’t going to be by watching Soul Train since the market was too small for it to even air here.

I had many Prince sightings throughout my formative years, usually at First Avenue where he was either tucked behind the glass of the VIP section or blocked by burly bodyguards. One time I saw him as he was coming up the stairs and I was coming down. There was no one else around and I could feel myself holding back from wanting to say something lest I blew my whole “we’re cool” persona. When we both stopped on the same step I realized that I was finally taller than someone in Minnesota and that someone was Prince. We both had on heels but his were much taller than mine. I was doing my happy dance on the inside when our eyes locked and he gave me that sly, pants-meltingly sexy smile he had. Let me tell you Prince was HOT up close, scorching really. I about died right then and there and hadn’t even been to a high school reunion yet. I lived and would run into him occasionally after that, usually at the grocery store, but we would never have meaningful eye contact again. Thanks to a job I had at the time I was lucky enough to be invited to the grand opening of Paisley Park and that is one piece of direct mail I will never, ever recycle.

Sometimes unfortunately it does snow in April in Minnesota and sometimes, just like Joni Mitchell said, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Prince’s charitable donations were many and not widely publicized, partly because of his faith and partly because he was not that kind of guy. There are people with solar power in Northern California thanks to him and a charter school in Minneapolis would not exist without his financial support. He bankrolled school music programs across the country and probably bought more boxes of Girl Scout cookies than you or I could ever imagine (hey, it very well could be true). The Carver County sheriff said it best at the press conference last Friday. To the rest of the world he was a celebrity but to us he was a neighbor and a friend, and we will miss that friend terribly.

Diary of a Rock Video Extra

this story originally appeared in a long gone but not forgotten music ‘zine (those were big in the 90’s) called Cake and I figured I would resurrect it here, since it was like a printed thing and this like a digital thing and are there even any rock videos anymore???

So what is it really like to be an actual paid extra in a rock video? Well, you wait around an awful lot, sweat like a water buffalo while doing take after take, and then when it is finally over, start thinking about when the hell you would ever get the chance to do it all over again.

The call came at about 4 p.m. on a Friday. Would I be interested in being in the new Soul Asylum video? Yeah, right. No no, it’s true my friend assured me. She gave me all the gory details and I sat back and fantasized. This could be my big chance, just like the chick in the Bruce Springsteen “Dancing in the Dark” video who went on to such bigger and better things as a Tampax commercial and a shitty bit part on “Family Ties” I was already thinking CAREER CHANGE!! Editor’s note:that chick did go on to bigger and better things like a year later, she was Monica on Friends. To be fair, I also made a career change, to advertising. Oh well.

I’d watched MTV during my formative years (the 80’s) and had visions of myself in full video vixen regalia–a skin-tight little lycra number with fishnet stockings and some bitching black boots. I could not wait!

We arrived at the shoot around 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. This was a virgin experience for me and my two video-extra friends. I had been on “Romper Room” once when I was four. I threw up in the general direction of Miss Betty and was not asked to return. Editor’s note: she also NEVER saw my name in her stupid mirror EVER, I am sure it was intentional. I hoped I’d outgrown my stage fright. After checking in with the producer, we are sent down to Moose and Sadie’s until further notice.

We later meet Bridget, the wardrobe director, who promptly tells me she does not like my choice of attire, or the rest of the extras for that matter. “We’re looking for the that Seattle grunge look,” she explains. Bridget holds up various pieces of clothing rented from Ragstock for the shoot. I do no like any of them, and I particularly do not like the extremely large green tee shirt and WOOL plaid shirt she seems to think will look “fabulous”. I do like Bridget though, so I agree to wear it even though it is about 100+ degrees in the tiny narrow hall we are all assembled in. I now look like Eddie Vedder’s sister, minus the curls. My dreams of video babe stardom are fading fast.

The next step is hair and make-up. The first victim emerges with a beehive that would make Kate Pierson from the B-52s proud. I perk up a little at the prospect of a similar funky-do. Unfortunately I never get the chance to be similarly transformed as Bridget summons me for yet another costume change. Her assistant hands me a shapeless navy blue, virtually see-through dress. “I hope you are wearing underwear,” she says sweetly. “But of course,” I say. “It’s Saturday, isn’t it?” The dress is hideous but it is definitely cooler than the Pearl Jam outfit.

Dave Pirner walks by in lime green and white polka dot boxer shorts. “I didn’t think Dave wore underwear,” my friend said out loud. I looked at her smiled. Dave and I know how important a little thing like underwear can be when making a video plagued by technical difficulties in a building without air conditioning.

Dressed in clothes other than your own while waiting to have your hair and make up done, to do God knows what on film, is a great way to meet new people. Most of the other extras are models in their late teens. One of them asked how old I was, as only someone who has not seen twenty yet could. I smile cagily and  ask “What do you think?” She fiddles with her hair and says “Fifteen.” What a liar. We all laugh and I say try doubling that. She looks shocked.

It seems like we are close to the actual filming. We’re instructed to read a disclaimer posted on the wall regarding our participating in the video. I am getting a little nervous. The “Romper Room” fiasco looms nearer. “I’ll bet this reminds you of Woodstock,” says the youngster behind us. We collectively glare at him, me in particular. I must have aged considerably in the past five minutes since I looked fifteen. “I don’t think I was there,” I say pissed. “I was alive but not hardly a participant since my parents weren’t hippies.” He tried to wriggle out of his gaffe but it is too late, I hate him.

Finally we are led into a large room and placed in the first row of extras–just in front of Dan Murphy. the excitement is building. The producer tells us we’re about to start and warns us about where not to step or look. He says we will be doing take after take and to pace ourselves accordingly. The video is for the song “Somebody to Shove”. We dance furiously, take after take after take. In the end I think we did it seven times, but it sure felt like more. Between the hot lights and lack of air conditioning it was an aerobic workout that would make Jane Fonda beg for mercy.

Eleven hours, four costume changes and numerous takes later, we’re finished. Expect to see all of us dancing our butts off on MTV sometime after this issue hits the streets. The next video from Soul Asylum will be for the song “Runaway Train”. If they need any extras, I know three women with experience who would love to do it again. Shit, I’d even wear the Pearl Jam plaid outfit again, although I would prefer the fishnets and boots.

editor’s note: the director of this video, Zack Snyder, who had not yet graduated to movies but in the next few years did “Dawn of the Dead”, “300” and “Watchmen” and a slew of other movies I have never seen.