The Purple Raincheck

One time, I got invited to Prince’s house but I couldn’t go. Somehow I ended up with an even better Prince story.

That brief message from Scott Addison Clay was the first indication I had that something was up. Scott was then the webmaster for Prince, working on creating, the website for a 3-disc set called Lotusflow3r that would be released in 2009. (Like all of Prince’s websites, he let the site lapse after he moved on to the next album project, so it’s not running now.)

I’d connected with Scott through mutual friends because he knew I was a web nerd and a huge Prince fan. What I didn’t know was that Prince had decided to invite a number of fans to come to his house in Los Angeles to preview the new albums and the new website.


There was just one problem: I was scheduled to leave the following day for a big family trip to India, my first time visiting the country in 25 years. Everything had been planned long in advance, and it was going to be impossible to change all my flights.

I had to say no.

I called Scott to follow up on the email, and stammered out an explanation for why I couldn’t make it. Somehow, I stumbled upon the single best thought I would ever have in my life: I asked for a PURPLE RAINCHECK.

Now, I assumed there was no chance I’d ever get invited back, but I wanted to feel like I had at least tried to make it happen. I shook off my disappointment, headed on a plane to India, and assumed that was the end of the story.

When we got back from the trip, I looked up the event to see how it had gone. There were a few breathless reports on fan sites, and then bigger stories like the Rolling Stone article about the event, which wonderfully dubbed Scott “for one moment the baddest white dude on the West Coast”. Recently, Scott even wrote up his own reminiscence of that day.

Feeling a little disappointed again about having missed it, I sent Scott another note. I tried to play it cool, and said that if anything else interesting popped up, I’d love to be able to join. (It wasn’t very subtle, but I figured then again, neither was Prince.)

I hadn’t expected the reply to be an invite to Prince’s Oscar party.

Less than 48 hours later we had marshaled all our frequent flier miles and called in a favor with my aunt and uncle to let us crash at their house, and found ourselves in Los Angeles, still fighting off the jetlag from having just arrived from India. I didn’t have any idea what one wears to such a party, but we figured we’d dress as fancy as we could and that should do the trick.

On the way to the club, we found out from the radio that Slumdog Millionaire had won a bunch of Oscars, which seemed to guarantee to me that this was a spectacular night to be an Indian dude in Hollywood. We arrived at Avalon, the club that Prince had taken over, and they had VIP laminate passes for us. We were even told we’d get to walk down the purple carpet! (The only carpet there was red, but every person who mentioned it referred to it as the “purple carpet”, so I didn’t question it.)

We ended up walking behind Taraji P. Henson. (I mean, way behind. Like, they cleared the carpet entirely before letting us up.) At the point when I was walking on the carpet, the paparazzi literally turned away to face the opposite direction, which seemed reasonable.

In addition to Taraji, when we got into the place we saw Alicia Keys and Queen Latifah and Penelope Cruz and probably a ton of other folks who are famous but that I didn’t recognize. We settled in for a long wait, since I had been to enough Prince shows to know he wasn’t starting anytime soon.

Prince hit the stage a little after 1:30am and proceeded to kick our asses.

The band’s opening had been a snippet from the start of “Purple Rain”, which he immediately cut off to dive into a new song, “Ol’ Skool Company”. Two songs later, though, he completely blew me away with a monstrous cover of The Cars’ “Let’s Go”. And it just kept going.

Edgar Winter, The Cars, Tommy James, The Beatles, Mother’s Finest, Billy Cobham, The Rolling Stones (twice!), Jimmy Eat World, The Staple Singers, Wild Cherry, Kool & the Gang… it was an unimaginable breadth of cover songs across every genre and era. Plus, Prince reclaimed songs he’d written for Sheila E, The Time, Tevin Campbell. And along the way he doled out half a dozen of his own hits.

The full set list was nothing less than stunning. And all of it accompanied by Prince stomping around the stage in sneakers that lit up with each step.

We managed to steal about two hours of sleep, and then had to hop on a plane home to New York. The next day at work, reading the press stories about the night made it all seem even more like a dream.

It wasn’t the last time I saw Prince, but it was one of the precious few times I got to stand less than 10 feet from him while he went all-out at the top of his abilities. And as much as any of the musical memories, I am thankful for that night teaching me the magical possibilities that can arise simply by asking for a purple raincheck.