I didn’t even know this song when Prince originally drenched us with his regal violet moisture upon the release of Purple Rain in 1984. In fact, it was about eight years later when it came to my attention. I would have been 11 when it originally came out… I’m not sure I would have even known what it meant to be “masturbating with a magazine.” “Nikki started to grind?” Grind what, little me might have asked? Is she perhaps some sort of mason, grinding down the stones? No, but I wouldn’t have even known what a mason was. So the sentiment might have been lost on me, but I’d like to think I would have thought it was a funky song, even at 11. After all, at the time I did enjoy “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When the Doves Cry.” I was down. But in 1992, during my first year of university, it meant what it was supposed to mean and I got both the words and the boldly sexual thrusts of the rhythm, the pounding staccato keyboards, the moaning Prince moans. I got it. I was down.
It came to me thanks to my Popular Music course, the single greatest course I ever took of any kind at any level. It was a joyous hour and a half of my life, twice a week, conducted by the incomparable, unceasingly enthusiastic (and later to be Grammy-winning) musicologist Rob Bowman. It was he who suggested we enjoy a close encounter with the university’s “Sound & Moving Image Library.” Not many of us took him up on that one, but I would spend countless hours between classes in there, devouring as much music as my ears could handle. After Bowman taught us the intricacies of “Let’s Go Crazy,” I decided to check out the Purple Rain CD at the library. It would instantly become my favourite soundtrack album of all time, surpassing the at-the-time recently released Singles soundtrack.
When I came to hear “Darling Nikki” for the first time that day, it touched on all the cravings of a 19-year-old university freshman. Specifically, it touched on lust. There was a girl in my “On the Knowledge of Good & Evil” course (much less exciting than it sounded, much to my chagrin… and boredom). I can’t remember her name. And I don’t know that I ever spoke a word to her. But she became Nikki in my mind when I heard that song. And I could never look at her the same way again. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.