Saturday March 25, 2017
Fruit, veg and otters: Nicky Liar blows the lid on the true story behind Prince's 'Purple Rain' LP.
I met Prince, or Sex Otter as he was calling himself in 1982, at the Giant Vegetable Competition, which was part of the Harrogate Spring Flower Show held in the Great Yorkshire Showground.
I was carefully tweezing mud out of the roots of a foot-long radish when I looked up and saw what looked like, and was, a skinny bloke stuffing two onions and an aubergine down his purple crushed velvet pantaloons.
I caught his eye and he looked sheepishly at me and said he was simply trying to keep them warm.
I was intrigued to say the least so offered him a cup of Earl Grey from my flask.
He politely accepted and he introduced himself as Sex Otter in the Waters of Lust.
He said, "you can call me Sex Otter".
He was excruciatingly shy at first, despite his outrageous self-titled epithet and outlandish outfit; the aforementioned pantaloons, matching jacket and beret.
He explained that his given name was Prince Rogers Nelson but he was experimenting with alter egos.
I told him my name was Tripod and chuckled to show I was joking.
Without a trace of amusement he said he liked it and wished he'd thought of it.
He went on to say that he was actually a musician but he loved showing his giant vegetables.
The irony was not lost as I quickly glanced down to his trouser area.
I mentioned my interactions with David Bowie, Kraftwerk and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and he said he'd been influenced by all three.
Accordingly, I knew that I, Nicky Liar, must have indirectly influenced Prince, Symbol, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince or whatever he is currently calling himself.
IN THE STUDIO
We got on famously that spring weekend and he invited me over to Minneapolis to help him write his forthcoming album Purple Plums (eventually renamed Purple Rain) and meet his band the Revolution.
As I wasn't doing much at the time and the showing season was all but finished, I decided to take him up on his offer and embarked on an adventure that has never been spoken of, mentioned in his autobiography or even alluded to by Prince, the band or anyone that knows him.
I was met at the airport by a couple of lovely looking ladies smartly dressed in business suits and holding a sign that said "Tripod".
I blushed and made myself known to them.
The taller of the two smiled and said she was going to drive us to Sex Otter's studio.
The other one just smouldered.
At the studio I met the Revolution, some more ladies, Sex Otter and yet more ladies... gyrating and grinding all over the mixing desk.
Sex Otter introduced me as his good friend Tripod; all the ladies cooed and scanned my trouser area.
I noticed that Sex Otter was still warming his onions and aubergine and had now taken to wearing a T-shirt with an arrow pointing downwards.
Subtle, I thought.
Sex Otter was actually a very accomplished musician, seemingly turning his hand to any instrument you could name; a bit like Roy Castle but with vegetables rammed down his trousers.
He asked me if I had any involvement with doves; he said he'd read that I had had racing pigeons and did I know what it sounded like when they cry.
A little confused, I answered him honestly and told him I didn't think they actually cry like we do; pigeons just go all quiet and shit everywhere when they are upset.
Prince, and indeed all of his alter egos, took things very literally.
This was despite the strong use of metaphor in his song lyrics.
Like the earlier 'Tripod' incident, he didn't get the joke when I said he had a footballer's moustache.
He quietly said he didn't, it was his and he had grown it himself.
I explained that I meant 'eleven a side'; pointing to the pathetic growth either side of his upper lip.
He quickly grabbed a vanity mirror and proceeded to count the individual hairs.
Some 40 minutes later he announced that he had 73 on the left and 78 on the right.
Prince was now calling himself Prince again after changing his name from Sex Otter earlier in the day to Package then Fruit Bat, Chemical Toilet, Flap-Wit, Pork Loin, Roast Pheasant en-croute with a Cranberry Jus, Pepper Mill, Hurricane Clint and finally Prince.
The changing of names happened on a daily basis and was often difficult to keep up with.
Even more difficult were the days where he would just assign himself a sound as a name.
He would quietly reprimand anyone who could not master the sound and then seemingly change it again as soon as they did.
It was always amusing to hear him on the phone telling his manager to try again after repeatedly making a high-pitched squeal or a popping sound... or both.
I wondered at the time how he managed to write the music and lyrics for so many successful songs for himself and other artists, think up new names on an hourly basis, make love to hundreds of women, act, count his moustache hair daily and record and mix his own music.
It was rumoured at the time that Prince didn't actually sleep; instead he would hang upside down for 45 minutes in an airing cupboard with weights tied to his wrists.
I could believe the latter, as he was a relatively diminutive 5'2" (1.57 m).
I spent exactly three weeks with Prince and the Revolution and the ever-attendant bevvy of ladies.
I helped inspire some of the apparent nonsense lyrics and dance moves but mostly added effects to the tracks... while Prince wasn't looking.
Arguably the most controversial song, Darling Nikki, sprang from a heart-warming tale I recounted of a young lady I met at the dentist's.
Prince has since changed it into a sordid tale of nymphomania and animalistic lust.
In reality, Nikki was reading a magazine and masticating (chewing) and subsequent mentions of her 'grinding' actually referred to her teeth grinding, which was the reason she was visiting the dentist in the first place.
Moreover, as testament to his depraved mind, mentions of castles and signing on the dotted line actually derived from the fact she lived in Elephant and Castle and was due to sign on at the Job Centre.
She was a lovely, simple and beautiful girl and the references to toys were ironically not taken literally by Prince as they should have been.
Quite simply, she spent most of her dole money on dolls, Lego and various other childish amusements.
Nevertheless, Nikki and I did have an active sexual relationship.
In fact, she nearly hospitalised me with her constant demands to be "ridden hard and put in the stable wet", tying each other up, swinging from a homemade trapeze and various water sports.
And talking of Darling Nikki, here now, embedded on the music-tastic Rake & Herald from Benjamin Kimball's YouTube channel, is Prince himself practising that very song in his surprisingly unpurple bedroom. Which he's promised to tidy up by the time his mum's back from Asda.
Stay tuned for more rock 'n' roll revelations when Nicky reveals how a chance meeting with David Bowie at a Pickering Traction Engine Rally ultimately changed the face of music as we know it...
See also I am the unknown Beach Boy, posted 20/8/12, and Ralf, Florian and Nicky, posted 2/8/12.
Top and thumb: Illustration by Ignatius Rake using original images from Diana Staniland; Muy; Berto Garcia; and allen watkin from London, UK.
Middle: A woman leaning against a car by andreasegde.
Bottom: Chiselling teeth in the Mentawai Islands by Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT).
For licensing information click the above links.
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