At first, he is seen bouncing up and down among a group of passersby. Presumably, he’s trying to get a better look at what’s going on. A camera crew from a television station is reporting on a teachers’ strike. Then the boy himself stands in front of the microphone. A reporter asks him, “Do you kids all support your teachers’ strike?” “Yupp,” the boy replies. And adds, with a somewhat shy but also somehow familiar mischievous smile, “Teachers should get some more money ’cause they work extra hours for us and that stuff”. The clip, a mere 17 seconds long, was recorded in April 1970 in a black neighborhood in the north of the metropolis of Minneapolis in the U.S. state of Minnesota. It’s a historic film document, discovered by chance a few weeks ago in the archives of WCCO-TV, a local television station. The boy taking a stand there about his teachers’ strike is eleven-year-old Prince Nelson. It may be the only publicly known film recording that shows superstar-to-be Prince as a child. As a fifth grader in the streets of his home.
The footage exudes a strange fascination. It is as if a window into the past opens for a short time. We see a boy who, a few years later, will begin one of the greatest artistic careers of our time. Already in 1978 he will release his first record, For You, he is not twenty then. He will write world hits, “Little Red Corvette”, “When Doves Cry”, “Kiss” and of course “Purple Rain”. He will become a musical genius, a legend. He will conquer the stages of the world on high heels. He will drop his name and call himself “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”, he will perform as “Symbol”. He will perform the craziest guitar solo ever to the Beatles classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at a concert honoring George Harrison. He will celebrate the most memorable halftime show at the American Superbowl finals. He will be thought a little crazy, and he will die far too soon at the age of 57. In April 2016, almost 46 years to the day after the now-discovered interview from April 1970. We know all this by watching this somewhat orange-tinged film clip. The boy there, he doesn’t know yet. He may think the interview on the sidelines of the teachers’ strike is his big moment. But history will take its course.
Reporter Quent Neufeld, by the way, who did the interview back then, now lives in retirement in Oregon. He’s 82 today, and he started crying with emotion when told now who he had on camera back then 52 years ago.
PS: Useless knowledge, part 24: The halftime show at the Superbowl, the annual finale of the American football season, is an event in itself. Where marching bands used to entertain the audience, music and gossip history has been made for years. Janet Jackson virtually destroyed her career when Justin Timberlake plucked her bra off her chest in front of billions of spectators in 2004. The most legendary show, however, was delivered by Prince on February 4, 2007. First it rained at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, then it poured. But Prince whispered “Dearly Beloved” into the mic and turned the music world upside down for twelve minutes with a medley of songs including “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower.” The final “Purple Rain” in the Florida monsoon is considered by many to be the best Prince performance of all time.
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