“I’m not a human
I am a dove
I’m your conscience
I am love
All I really need
Is to know that you believe”
Taken from the album Purple Rain
US #8, UK #58, AUS #96
A lot of Prince’s best work is concerned with religion, and a lot of his worst material is concerned with religion. Some of the amazing stuff to come from his faith over the years: ‘God’, ‘4 The Tears In Their Eyes’, ‘7’, ‘The Word’, and ‘I Would Die 4 U’. The latter is not about Jesus in an obvious way, but once you properly listen to the lyrics it becomes quite clear. “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I am something you will never understand” and “I’m your messiah” are things you might expect Prince to say about himself, but they fit in even better if you figure he’s talking about Mr. Christ.
‘I Would Die 4 U’ is the first of the big trilogy that closes Purple Rain, with ‘Baby I’m A Star’ and then ‘Purple Rain’. Each of the songs feel important in a different way – in a way it’s like this song is about Jesus, ‘Baby I’m A Star’ is about Prince, and then ‘Purple Rain’ is about all of us together. ‘I Would Die 4 U’ has a shimmering, grand feel to it, and suitably, the verse lyrics are so inaccessible because they paint Prince as a larger-than-life figure, an alien perhaps. However the tone switches completely in the chorus, as the lyrics suddenly turn and look us right in the face: “I would die for you, darling if you want me to”.
The performance in the Purple Rain film, complete with amazing hand actions for the title, if effortlessly cool and thoroughly impressive. I’ve never seen Prince live (I’m not sure how long it’s been since he toured Australia, I think the last time may have been in the early nineties) but the sheer magic of his stage presence shines through on film in a way that most other artists could never dream of. ‘I Would Die 4 U’ captures the intensity of his work in the eighties and one of those times where it feels like he’s the musical equivalent of the guy this song is about.