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Christa Lawler column: Pop culture on the sly

Christa Lawler

We were in one of the more permissive homes on the slumber party circuit.

We all crowded in the hallway outside the room our leader shared with her older sister. There was a copy of Prince’s “Purple Rain” on the premises, she whispered in the parlance of 9-year-olds.

It’s on there, though, the song? We asked.

She nodded.

She opened the door and we filed, reverently, into a space accented in pink faux furs. Her sister was waiting. She queued up the record player.

I did not understand one lick of “Darling Nikki,” a song that dazed its elementary school-aged listeners — or at least this one. To me, it was just dissonance and words that didn’t quite match up to my rudimentary ideas of romance.

That is just to say: It was no “Little Red Corvette.”

“Purple Rain” turned 30 this past week, just another pop culture milestone in a year absolutely teeming with 30-year anniversaries: “The Karate Kid,” “Ghostbusters,” “Gremlins,” Wham!, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Billy Idol.

Related content: Thirty years ago “Purple Rain” helped Prince become a pop icon.

“Purple Rain” would never land on the Lawler family turntable. Our experience of pop culture was curated to G-rated things.

About the closest I got to emulating Madonna was a wrist full of jelly bracelets. When I asked for a copy of “Like a Virgin,” I was redirected to Madonna’s self-titled debut. “Madonna” wasn’t a particularly chaste collection — so much panting! — but it eliminated an awkward series of questions about what the fishnet fatale had in common with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

I wasn’t allowed to see “Footloose,” though I didn’t understand why. This is the kind of question I would pose to my brother.

“There’s a butt in it,” the old sage revealed, a moment I now know stars Kevin Bacon’s keister, toned by habits like mad-dancing his way through a barn.

This made a lot of sense to me. Of course, I wasn’t old enough to see a butt.

Still, I believed the stifling duo headquartered in the master bedroom to be The Strictest Parents in the U.S.A. No sugar cereals. No “The Dukes of Hazard.” No Bacon butts.

I received a $25 gift certificate in 1987 and used it to buy two cassettes: Debbie Gibson’s “Out of the Blue” and LL Cool J’s “Bigger and Deffer.”

When we got home from the mall, I noticed a Parental Advisory sticker on the Debbie Gibson tape. My hands got clammy. I imagined that the teen at the helm of a massive mall tour was, deep down, a total sicko. I tried to imagine what “Shake Your Love” really meant.  

Turns out it was a decoy maneuver. My brother took the sticker off the LL Cool J tape and stuck it to Debbie Gibson. That way, if it was screened, my parents would find nothing but bedazzled jean jackets and hand-holding.

From then on, my pop culture meanderings became more duplicitous.

Christa Lawler is covers arts and entertainment for the News Tribune. Contact her at