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Raspberry Beret

This submissions was part of the #PurpleReigns: A Tribute to Prince event hosted at the New School, Friday, September 23rd.

Lesbians loved Prince. And butch lesbians, like me, particularly loved Prince, seeing ourselves in his gender-bendy performances.

“Raspberry Beret,” originally recorded in 1982, was released by Prince and the Revolution in 1985 on the album Around the World in a Day. I would have heard this song on the radio as I was driving a crappy olive green Dodge Colt with one red door, given to me by one of my girlfriends, out to the North Fork of Long Island (reader, I married that woman!). I would also have heard it on an odd device called a personal stereo, or Walkman. It played cassette tapes that you could listen to walking down the street. In 1985, that seemed very cool. My Walkman had a cassette tape deck and a radio, and when I heard “Raspberry Beret” come on, I cranked it up. I’d be in the subway, or walking to Bobst library, and the people around me would suddenly hear me sing: “She wore a raspberry beret…”

And I was probably thinking of some girl I had just met, or a girl I wanted to meet, and even though the girls I knew didn’t wear raspberry berets — they all wore black, and still do — it was the thought that counted, you know?

Around the World in a Day was Prince’s seventh album. Although it came out to mixed reviews (and how could it not, since it followed Purple Rain?) it still went double platinum with “Raspberry Beret.”   The romantic ballad about an ordinary guy who meets a special girl and sweeps her off her feet was a number one hit. In May 2016, following, it charted again — in a completely different century — at 33 on the Billboard top 100.

“Raspberry Beret” had to fight its way through a crowd. Other pop hits that year were Whitney Houston’s debut album, which included “Saving All My Love for You,” “Greatest Love of All” and “How Will I Know?” and Madonna’s Like A Virgin album.

“Raspberry Beret” was a happy, funny song that stood in sharp contrast to the moody brilliance of Purple Rain’s hits — and to the erotic punch of Prince’s 1986 number 1 hit, “Kiss.” VH-1 had just joined MTV as cable’s second music video channel, and Prince — who had forsworn music videos, as he would later fight music file sharing, YouTube and streaming services — dropped his objections and returned to the music video scene. But Prince never stopped being vigilant about what he saw as giving music away for free. You won’t see that Raspberry Beret video on YouTube, and if you do, you better rip it fast because his people take things down as fast as they go up. When he died, many of my friends on Facebook were complaining that his songs were hard to get hold of. “No they aren’t,” my friend Stephen Trask, also a musician wrote to one. “You could buy them.”

People say you can’t buy happiness — but try buying Raspberry Beret, and capture a memory of a young lesbian PhD candidate be-bopping down an East Village street, thinking about all the girls in the world and how pretty they are.

That was me.

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