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Paisley Park - Prince and the Revolution

The train arrived in Paris in early evening and, unable to get through to Sophie by phone, I asked a young guy I met in a café whereabouts in the city her address was, and, seeing I was needed a place to stay for the night, offered to put me up. His name was Ahmed and he was of Algerian descent. Any fears I had of ulterior motives on his part, were allayed as he took me to his mother's café for a fine meal, and then asked if I wanted to see some dancing girls. He said he knew a place where he could get us in for free and, thinking I had the chance to visit the Moulin Rouge or some equivalent, I tagged along. He took me to a basement bar, packed full with Algerians, smoking and drinking and eating snacks, while an Algerian band played and, from time to time, a raqs sharqi dancer (bellydancer) would perform to much applause. To my untutored eye she was incredibly talented, moving from table to table, gyrating her hips unbelievably while the enraptured audience would place 10 franc notes in the folds and tucks about her person, something I, suddenly embarrassed, found myself obliged to do also, ill though I could afford it. Contrary to modern expectations, there were a fair few women at the tables, eating and drinking with the men, and everyone was very welcoming to me, the only "outsider". Afterwards, having stopped off at his Mum's café to get my rucksack, we went to Ahmed's flat, he insisting on silence and that the lights remained off so as not to wake up his brother who was his flatmate. Having passed an uncomfortable night on the floor of his one-room "flat", I awoke to find myself looking up from the floor at a bizarre gallery of nude female bodies. They lived in just one room which housed a sink and single-plate stove in one corner and a bunk bed in the other. There was no seat, just my expanse of floor, and no tables or chairs. Every inch of wall and ceiling was covered by a collage of naked women, cut out from hardcore porn magazines. They explained that they had all their meals and tabletime in the café across the road, which was just as well as it would have been difficult to eat in their cave of flesh. Kind as they were, I resolved not to return, no matter how hungry or hard up I was.

Finally getting through to Sophie, I asked when we could meet and if I could stay at her flat. She said this was impossible - it wouldn't be right as she was now affianced - and also that she was very busy and couldn't meet up for three days. She hadn't told her fiancé about me, and this was making any rendezvous difficult.

After getting a bargain student pass for the Louvre I spent the next two days looking at giant paintings mostly of classical and religious subjects but spent a long time before Gericault's "Raft of the Medusa". Having little money left beyond the odd coffee and snack, the nights were my toughest ordeal. Philosophically concluding that sleeping rough in the "city of love" was a romantic prospect, I was swiftly disabused of the notion. The first night I tried sleeping in the Gare du Nord but being constantly woken up by successive young, and not so young, men ambiguously offering me a bed for the night prompted a move to the steps of the Sacre-Coeur which, teeming with young people who seemed to never stop singing, in turn proved an impossible option. In the end, I climbed over a fence to a park that turned out to be a graveyard and slept there, unmolested, my head on a gravemound. The next morning I was woken by a priest, I had a moment's panic, thinking that I was to be pilloried for committing sacrilege, but he very kindly gave me a ham roll and coffee, but asked me not to sleep there again.

The next night I caught an express to Brussels and slept all the way in the warm train carriage , wandered around Brussels and took another sleeping trip back but still had hours before sunrise so, cold and dispirited, I gave up. I caught the next train to Calais, the ferry to England, another train to London, then back out to Surrey, winding up on leafy Merstham Station with birds singing all around, waiting for it to be late enough for me to wake my mother up so she could come and collect me. I never spoke to Sophie again. I left a message on her Ansaphone saying we wouldn't be meeting after all, and she rang back a few days later, full of remorse for messing me about, but I was out and she talked to my sister, who said I was fine, not to worry. And so I was.

Prince was the Quentin Tarantino of pop rock, always breaking new musical ground, always brilliantly self-produced and always challenging the listener to spot his refences and influences. Though he denied that the cover and content of his 1985 album "Around the World in a Day" referenced and was influenced by the Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", the songs speak otherwise, not least "Paisley Park" which combines the surreal recollections of childhood prevalent in Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the jaunty tone and sketchbook portraits of the ordinary people of McCartney's "Penny Lane. So he's showing off Tarantino-style, combining both sides of the Beatles' double "A" side single that was recorded in the same sessions as "Sgt Pepper" in one glorious original. Is he trying to tell us that he's better than both Lennon and McCartney combined? Or is he making a tribute to one of the greatest, most daring singles of all time? Either way, he doesn't quite carry it off, and it's the Beatley bits that make the song succeed on its own terms, from the psychedelic Strawberry Lane Mellotron to the lyrics which simultaneously manage to evoke those of both of the Fab Two:

"There is a woman who sits

all alone by the pier

her husband was naughty

and caused his wife so many tears...."


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