David Lee Roth vs. Prince
In 1986, David Lee Roth released his first full-length solo album, Eat ’Em and Smile. His 1985 Crazy From the Heat EP, recorded while he was still fronting Van Halen, hinted that he was on his way to going full drunk uncle at the wedding buffet, vibe-wise. Crazy featured four covers, including, of all things, a relatively by-the-book rendition of Louis Prima’s “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody.” Do you realize how ridiculous it was to hear that on the radio in 1985? Hair metal was at its absolute peak, and DLR decided it was time to marry Aqua Net, spandex, cocaine, and guitar solos with Vegas lounge lizard antics and endless vaudevillian mugging and winking, high kicking his way across stadium stages with precision rarely seen away from Broadway, white-gloved jazz hands shimmering away on either side of his face.
Dismissing Van Halen’s music as “morose” (and who among us has not had a dark night of the soul, lying on the bedroom floor weeping and listening to “Hot For Teacher” on repeat?), DLR decided to strike out on his own once and for all, taking Van Halen’s lighting designer/creative director Pete Angelus with him. They called themselves The Fabulous Picasso Brothers, because, explained DLR, “fine art and pizza delivery — what we do for a living falls neatly in between.” He hired Steve Vai as his guitarist, who, like Eddie Van Halen, was recognized as a metal guitar virtuoso, having replaced Yngwie Malmsteen in Alcatrazz, for crying out loud, and worked alongside Frank Zappa as a teenager.
DLR has to have taken some of the inspiration for his Picasso Brothers jibber-jabber from Zappa; the liner notes for the Mothers of Invention’s album Freak Out! includes the choice quote “Freaking Out is a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricting standards of thinking, dress, and social etiquette in order to express creatively his relationship to his immediate environment and the social structure as a whole.” Certainly kicking off one’s full-time solo career with “Yankee Rose,” an erotic ode to the Statue of Liberty, is casting off all sorts of things, including, as it turned out, any hesitation about memorializing one’s penchant for assless chaps.
For “Yankee Rose,” DLR went all-ass at once, both literally and figuratively. In embarking on this new, post-Van Halen project, he had a lot to prove, and he knew it. The video is already mind-boggling before the actual song even starts. “AND SO THE ADVENTURE BEGINS…!!!!” announces the title card, followed by a full minute and 39 seconds of a sort of comedy sketch that takes place in a convenience store and is a barrage of racist and sexist characters so over-the-top that the aforementioned drunk uncle at the wedding buffet would call them a bit much. Eventually, DLR himself appears in the embarrassingly ignorant face paint and headdress from the Eat ’Em and Smile cover, waving around a spear and hollering what sounds like another Zappa quote: “Gimme a bottle of anything…and a glazed donut….TO GO!”
After a smash cut to a signature spread eagle toe-touching leap off a drum riser, he prances across the stage, microphone held aloft triumphantly, mouth gaping back at the presumably stunned audience. His outfit consists of a fuchsia off-the-shoulders long sleeved crop top layered under a gold lame slingshot thong a la Borat and black and gold assless chaps with a large leather tassel providing a modicum of coverage, swinging like a proud show pony’s tail.
All at once, the ass is there and then it’s gone. During the next three and a half minutes, DLR shakes, thrusts, presents, wiggles, and rubs his now-clothed ass in every possible manner, but the first momentary glimpse of cheek is all we get.
This glimpse had a profound effect on me as a child. “I saw David Lee Roth’s new video for his song “Yankee Rose,”” reads my diary entry from July 21, 1986. “His buns show and his you-know-what bulges out of his pants! OH MY GOD! DLR IS A HUNK!” I was ten years old, but I knew that in 1986 math, buns + bulge equaled hunk. The adventure had certainly begun, but DLR would never quite surpass that ass-out moment. The Picasso Brothers movie he and Pete Angelus were planning with a “retinue of characters” fell through. None of his future albums would reach the heights of Eat ’Em and Smile. I never wrote about him in my diary again.
Stay with me now, and join me in remembering the other great breach rebirth, Prince’s “Gett Off” performance at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.
“Gett Off” was the first single off the then not yet released Diamonds and Pearls, Prince’s first album with the New Power Generation. Following the disappointment of both the movie and the album Graffiti Bridge, which was supposed to be a sequel to Purple Rain, the final remaining members of the Revolution had left. Prince had a lot to prove. Prince was no stranger to both partial and complete nudity, of course. His first three album covers literally move down his body — just his seemingly candlelit face, Afro, and a hint of collarbone on For You, majestically feathered hair, mustachioed face, and bare torso with tasteful-for-1979 chest hair on Prince, and the head-to-groin shot on Dirty Mind, for which he wore the unforgettable combo of studded leather jacket with office lady lapels, a bandana jauntily nestled over the aforementioned thatch of chest hair, and black bikini briefs with pubes creeping out over the top. (The photo is tastefully cropped, so there’s no you-know-what bulge to discuss in one’s diary.) Later, he’d go fully nude for the cover of Lovesexy, which he referred to as a gospel album, going so far as to “beseech the crowds to love God, over and over” during its tour. Nudity was never just an attention-getting device for Prince. It was sexual, yes, but it was spiritual, too.
Post-Graffiti Bridge, Prince had to get crowds to love HIM again. For his reintroduction back into the public eye, Prince had something special in mind. His costume designer, Stacia Lang, recalls that Prince’s secretary told her that she “better sit down” before sharing that “Prince wanted a costume with his BUTT OUT.” My favorite part of this story is Stacia providing two options for Prince, “one with more exposure, and one with less,” leading Prince to silently cross out the “more exposure” option. It’s impossible to imagine DLR showing subtle restraint within the realm of assless pants options; Prince knew what he was doing. Prince always knew what he was doing.
“Gett Off” opens with a scream, which was a departure for Prince, whose iconic screams usually fittingly occurred during his songs’ climaxes. At the VMAs, the scream rings out twice, once to kick off the performance, the stage crowded with the NPG as well as a mass of dancers, and then again by Prince himself as he appears at the 20-second mark. He dramatically throws himself to the floor and is covered by several men who eventually roll off of him as he rights himself with a classic jazz split. He was back.
His outfit is a sight to behold before the big reveal even takes place. It’s composed entirely of what appears to be laser cut openwork lace, calling to mind the ubiquitous Tord Boontje garlands of the early aughts. It’s also citron yellow, thus introducing Prince’s yellow phase, which would see him replacing purple as his signature color everywhere, including his house and car! Yellow and purple are complementary colors, falling opposite each other on the color wheel. Like I said, he always knew what he was doing.
There are several glimpses of ass as the performance progresses, but it is not the focal point. It’s hard to find a focal point because Prince is performing in front of what appears to be a massive, pulsating, torch-lit orgy. I didn’t write about this performance in my diary, but I did watch it as it happened, and I remember being truly shocked to my core, entirely titillated and confused by the line “something about a little box with a mirror and a tongue inside,” and terrified that my parents were going to wake up, discover me watching this spectacle, and forbid me to ever watch TV again.
Prince waits until the 2:39 mark to start the real ass work, coyly turning to the audience as he raps, quickly turning around again in a bit of burlesque, then timing the next turn and reveal to coincide perfectly with the line “let me show you baby I’m a talented boy.”
It is perfect; the audience screams; how could they not? For the rest of the performance, Prince revels in his ass, most extraordinarily when he turns around and grinds it at the audience in time to the line “Now move your big ass ‘round so I can work on that zipper, baby.”
Prince has a tiny, compact ass, but with that performance it became one of the most powerful and enduring asses of all time. In a bizarre coincidence, Van Halen also performed at the VMA’s that year. Now headed by Sammy Hagar, they sang a song about asses called “Poundcake.” It was trash.