BY: ANGIE HADDOCK
“Brilliant composer, smooth soul singer, killer drummer, and charismatic band leader, Morris Day, has been a force in American music for the past four decades. In On Time, the renowned funkster looks back on a life of turbulence and triumph.” Goodreads
A few weeks ago, I tackled Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones.” So it seemed only logical to follow that with Morris Day’s memoir, which was published the same month (October 2019). If you don’t know Morris, please take a break and go watch Purple Rain. (Or even Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, for that matter!)
This is another memoir that is written in a unique style. In this one, the story is (thankfully) told in chronological order. There are three “voices” in the book, though – Morris, Prince, and MD (who is Morris’ onstage persona). Obviously, they were all written by Morris, but he uses these voices to kind of argue with himself on certain points where there are conflicts or confusion.
Morris was born in Springfield, Illinois, but moved to Minneapolis when he was still young. His parents were divorced, and he had several step-dads and half-siblings. His older sister was the rock to him, and continued to help him out of trouble well into their adulthoods.
Morris started out as a drummer. He met Prince in high school, and became the drummer for the Purple One’s band. There were several other funk outfits going at the time, and he admired certain players and singers in some of them. He was constantly in search of a good groove.
When Prince created his first signed band, The Revolution, he did not invite Morris to be the drummer. But, he did offer Morris a completely different gig, if Morris wanted to go on tour with them – videographer. Of course, Morris said yes, despite not having any experience. In the early eighties, this meant lugging around a heavy camera. He stuck with this gig for three years, just to be close to Prince’s creative genius.
Eventually his loyalty paid off, and Prince wanted to make a Morris album. Morris had never been a lead singer, but Prince convinced him he could do it. They produced the whole album themselves, and then Prince revealed that he envisioned Morris with a band, not as a solo artist. So Morris dipped into his Minneapolis funk favorites to come up with band members for The Time (even though none of them actually played on that first album).
This story sets an important precedent for many of the stories that follow, and I’ll quote Morris directly:
“Naturally, that made me crazy, but being driven crazy is the price you paid for being around Prince.”
Most people know Morris Day from his performance in the movie Purple Rain. His character has the same name, Morris Day, but was a little more bombastic than the real Morris at that time. This came out of figuring out how to make Morris the foil for Prince in the movie, and the idea that – since Prince would obviously be the sexy one – Morris could be the funny one.
This is where we see the birth of MD, the more exaggerated version of Morris. The character from the movie became his onstage persona, and often blended into his real life. Over decades, Morris fought with drugs, alcohol, and women. He did get married, and had a family. He did have some successful albums, both with the band and as a solo artist. He feels he had an ongoing struggle between MD, who wanted all the fabulousness of being a celebrity, and Morris, who wanted a family and to just play good music.
But his other lifelong struggle was with Prince. He wanted to get out of Prince’s shadow at some points, but also knew that Prince was a genius. Prince would invite him to play at some shows, then change his mind at the last minute (when the band had already traveled to the city of the show). A later incarnation of The Time actually had to record under a different name, because Prince claimed he owned the name – even though they were still touring as The Time at the time.
Morris eventually gets clean. He also gets divorced, and remarried. He sees Prince one last time – for the first time in a decade – a few months before his death. He still considers him a brother, albeit a hard one to deal with sometimes.
This is a fun and easy read, especially if you like music. The hardcover edition comes in at just over 200 pages, and the conversational tone is easy to digest.
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