By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
With a full moon rising over the Roxy Theater in downtown Missoula on Thursday night, Prince fans gathered to celebrate the artist’s passing, and to reminisce on coming of age to his music.
Mike Steinberg, executive director of the Roxy, had reserved a theater for an impromptu screening of “Purple Rain,” the 1984 film shot on a shoestring budget. For those of a certain age, the evening brought back memories of another time and another lost legend.
“We went to see Purple Rain in 1984 at the Westport Plaza in St. Louis,” said Steinberg. “It was R-rated and it blew our minds. Prince was this semi cross-dressing, sexy, extraordinary guy. His musical talent was really something.”
Thursday’s ode to Prince marks the second time this year the iconic theater has opened its doors to celebrate the passing of a pop icon. In January it was the death of David Bowie that parted the curtains on a late-night showing of “Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars.”
“When I heard about it, my immediate thought was how we’d get the screening in,” said Steinberg. “There’s a growing expectation that we celebrate when someone great passes away. It’s a good opportunity to be a theater – it’s a community experience.”
Prince, best known if his classic hits including “Kiss” and “Raspberry Beret,” helped shape a generation. Back in the early 1980s, as Madonna and Michael Jackson took the world of music by storm, Prince set himself apart as an entertainer, and someone fans remembered as an oddity.
“Prince is just consistently cool,” said Adam Miller, the theater’s programming assistant. “The perception has always been he’s a mysterious figure that’s above the rest.”
Tannis Hargrove remembered dancing at her prom to “Party Like it’s 1999” while Cassie Strauss, originally from Prince’s home state of Minnesota, had fond memories of First Avenue, the nightclub made famous after the filming of Purple Rain.
“What about Prince wouldn’t bring me down to the theater tonight?” added Krispen Nelson. “I grew up in Minnesota, but I don’t feel it has anything to do with that. He was this tiny purple majesty, man. There were tears today.”
Krispen said Prince’s musical talents ran the gamut. She remember the star as one of the planet’s “most amazing guitarists,” and she laughed at how she danced to “Little Red Corvette” at a slumber party when she was 13.
She also took Prince into her later years.
“I’ve been at Charlie B’s when the bartenders put on Prince and the whole place would explode with people dancing on top of the pool tables and bars,” said Krispen. “The people who are obsessed with Prince are the finer people, to me.”
While the Roxy was packed with with the Wildlife Film Festival on Thursday night, Steinberg scrambled to get a room open to screen Purple Rain.
The effort didn’t go unnoticed by Prince fans.
“I think it’s awesome to be in Missoula where they instantly decided to celebrate his life,” said Penny Gifford, who brought her son Joshua to see to film. “There’s not a lot of places that do that. Even in the big city it would be hard to find someone to do that.”