Rock and Roll Book Club: 'Prince: Before the Rain'

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Allen Beaulieu's 'Prince: Before the Rain.'
Allen Beaulieu's 'Prince: Before the Rain.' (Jay Gabler/MPR)

When you're Prince's most trusted photographer, when does he cut you loose and stop working with you? When Earth, Wind & Fire call.

At least, that's how it happened for Allen Beaulieu. "When Earth, Wind & Fire called him to get my number," the photographer says in a new book, "it was kind of over between us. He goes, 'You're mine. I'm not giving Earth, Wind & Fire your number. You're my secret.'"

It was a secret that started, like many of Prince's secrets, in Minneapolis. Prince first saw Beaulieu's work on the wall of his friend and bandmate André Cymone, whose mother had a poster for a 1978 "Shades of Blackness" fashion show in downtown Minneapolis. Prince was struck by how luminous Beaulieu, an American Indian whose family is from the Leech Lake reservation, made the African-American models look. That look would help shape Prince's image as he rocketed to stardom from the late '70s into the early '80s.

Beaulieu's best-known photos of Prince are the album covers for Dirty Mind (1980) and Controversy (1981); and a smoky, neon-lit image from the inside cover of 1999 (1982). ("Prince told me to go see the movie Blade Runner," recalls Beaulieu.)

He also, though, was responsible for many of Prince's most widely-circulated promotional photos from that era. A "red shorts and stars" image, created by putting a strobe behind a perforated backdrop, was all over record stores at the time of Prince's sophomore, self-titled album in 1979. Beaulieu took multiple shots of the band evolving into the Revolution, and shot album covers for The Time and Vanity 6.

Fans may first want to dive into the stories and outtakes behind those sessions. (Dez Dickerson and Jim Walsh wrote introductory essays, with additional text by Eloy Lasanta.) There's a rare color outtake from the Dirty Mind cover shoot, with Prince posing in front of a bed spring that Beaulieu hoisted vertically as a twist on Prince's request to shoot the cover on a bed.

An account of the Controversy cover shoot (the very first shot became the cover) involves Beaulieu negotiating with Prince over how he could post the star in front of a newspaper. "Right off the top of his head," remember Beaulieu about prepping the papers' headlines, "he says, 'Love Thy Neighbor, Do You Believe in God, Gun Control, Joni Mitchell.'"

The book also contains captivating live shots (including from his first show at First Ave, and from the Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit that yielded the live tracks used in Purple Rain), as well as backstage candids — that were rarely as candid as they look, Beaulieu explains.

It's poignant to see Prince relaxing and playing with bandmates who would leave his orbit within a few years, as Prince rose to superstardom after a movie that co-starred many of them. A young Lisa Coleman (before Wendy joined the band). The always-stylish Cymone. Morris Day, looking guardedly confident. A close moment with Vanity — who, Beaulieu said, turned heads like no other model he ever worked with. Lots of shots of Dez Dickerson, a powerful counterweight and respected collaborator.

Learning the stories behind the photos helps reinforce the fact that Prince World, an abstract realm of sex and funk, was very much located in Minnesota. A pull-out poster from Controversy was shot in Prince's Chanhassen shower, in the same house where the Revolution posed for a promo pic with Dr. Fink listening to the wall's heartbeat. The cover for The Time's self-titled album was shot on the West Bank, on a doorstep Beaulieu scouted. The videos for "1999" and "Little Red Corvette" (Beaulieu took production photos) were shot on the tour set at the Minneapolis Armory.

The book is about Beaulieu's work, not so much about the man himself. As the photographer started to develop his own identity, he parted ways with Prince. Just as Prince took a pseudonym (Jamie Starr, as played by Beaulieu himself in a Prince-styled photo) for some of his production work, he wanted Beaulieu to do the same for some of his photography. When Beaulieu asked why he wasn't credited on the 1999 album sleeve, Prince just rolled his eyes. "I claimed the term 'almost famous' way before that movie came out," says Beaulieu.

You can learn more about the man himself at a book launch party this coming Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Electric Fetus. Dickerson and Walsh will join Beaulieu for a conversation, and live music will be provided by Curtiss A, who opened for Prince the first time he hit the Mainroom.

The Current's Prince: Before the Rain Giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Prince: Before the Rain giveaway between 9:54 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018 and 11:59 p.m. CDT on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018.

Two (2) winners will each receive one (1) hardcover copy of Prince: Before the Rain. Three (3) backup names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $29.95

We will contact the winners on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. CT on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

You must be 13 or older to submit any information to American Public Media. The personally identifying information you provide will not be sold, shared, or used for purposes other than to communicate with you about things like our programs, products, and services. See Minnesota Public Radio's Terms of Use and Privacy Statement.

This giveaway is subject to Minnesota Public Radio's 2018 Official Giveaway Rules.

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