Behind the Making of “Gangster Glam”

Leisl AuVante, in the late 1980s.

 

Editor’s Note: In part one, Leisl AuVante shared how she met Prince in 1984 at age 16. She went on to graduate from high school in 1986. True to her rebellious spirit, she decided to marry at age 19. She gave birth to a son and eventually divorced. AuVante had spent a few years outside of Prince’s circle by the time 1991 rolled around — but apparently, she was never far from Prince’s mind. 

 

On a picture-perfect summer day in 1991, Leisl AuVante’s phone rang.

“We’re goofing around with a video camera at Paisley Park,” an enticing baritone voice said. “Hurry up and get over here and bring all of your best outfits.”

For a moment, AuVante considered the proposition. “Goofing around with a video camera – that sounds a little dangerous,” she thought.

But Prince had called AuVante for good reason. What he already knew about her was this: She was spontaneous and was ready for fun. She could act, she could match Prince’s energy, and she could roll with the unexpected.

“He knew if the camera turned on, and we had no script, I could just go and improvise,” she says.

True to form, AuVante decided to give Prince’s proposition a chance. She grabbed her best dresses and headed to Paisley Park. There, she was greeted not simply by Prince goofing around with a video camera, but by a full complement of hair stylists, makeup artists and a camera crew.

“We’re filming something?” AuVante asked in surprise. It was the first in a series of surreal moments that occurred during the two-day video shoot for “Gangster Glam,” a non-album track released on the “Gett Off” maxi single. (“Gett Off” was the first single released from Prince’s thirteenth studio album, “Diamonds and Pearls.”) The video shoot would take AuVante from Prince’s inner sanctum at his private office and inside his Galpin Road home to Minneapolis’ hottest nightclubs.

AuVante’s initial surprise at discovering that she’d be performing in a music video with one of the biggest pop stars in the world was nothing compared with the next moment, when Prince emerged in an ensemble that might mildly be described as unconventional, even by Prince’s standards.

“When saw him in Speedos and suspenders and rollerskates, I was like, `What the heck?’” she says. Still, there was no time to ponder the situation, she says. “Prince said, `The music’s going to come on and we’re going to go.’”

The spontaneous video shoot is all the more striking when viewed in the context of the times. The early 90s were far from a “throw-on-your-suspenders-and-Speedos and make a video” kind of era. Pop culture was dominated by the image of the perfectly coiffed, designer-clad, vogue-ing runway supermodel. Prince’s musical rivals George Michael and Michael Jackson were sinking huge dollars into mega-budget videos. In 1992, George Michael came out with “Too Funky,” a video directed by French fashion designer Thierry Mugler and starring supermodels Linda Evangelista, Nadja Auermann and Tyra Banks. Not to be outdone, Michael Jackson created “In the Closet,” a short film directed by fashion photographer Herb Ritts and featuring supermodel Naomi Campbell.

Prince, however, intended to go his own way. His plan, unbeknownst to AuVante, was to create a video EP, essentially a visual album, to accompany the “Gett Off” maxi single. (The resulting EP runs about 30 minutes and includes videos for “Gett Off,” “Gett Off (Houstyle),” “Violet the Organ Grinder,” “Gangster Glam” and “Clockin’ The Jizz.”)

According to AuVante, they were standing in the parking lot in front of Paisley Park, with Prince’s best cars lined up and members of the NPG wearing crazy loud 90s outfits, when a boombox appeared, and someone hit “play.”

 

What resulted was some of the most joyous footage of Prince ever captured on camera.

Prince climbed on top of his yellow BMW and screamed his lungs out. He jumped onto the car’s hood and slid down, wrapping his legs around AuVante. He did push-ups, poolside, in a mankini (“It was weird to see him in his bare feet,” AuVante says. “I always saw him in high heels.”) He toyed with his sunglasses, placing them on AuVante’s face and admiring the result. In his office, AuVante sat in his lap and later, Prince waves her arms in the air like she’s a marionette. Then, Prince bursts into a dance with AuVante looking on from his desk chair.

Prince tried to get AuVante to lip sync for part of the song where he samples Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son. (Aunt Esther was the staunch Baptist  sister-in-law of Fred Sanford who was constantly critical of him).

“When that part came on, he tried to get me to say, `Hold it, Fred!’” she laughs. “I tried over and over but I couldn’t catch the rhythm. He knew I was always a beat behind.”

As darkness fell, Prince put AuVante in his limo and sent her downtown.

“I had no idea where I was going or what we were doing,” she says. They wound up at The Perimeter, the hottest nightclub in town.

During one sequence outside of the club, Prince moved in close and grabbed her breast. Acting on instinct, AuVante spun Prince around and pinned him against the wall.

“`Wow, what are you doing, we don’t have this kind of relationship!” she recalls thinking. “And then I realized, `Oh wait, we’re on camera.”’

In the editing process, Prince reversed those two shots. Rather than the actual sequence in which Prince gets fresh with AuVante and then gets his comeuppance, the final version makes it appear that AuVante is cozying up to him against the wall to whisper an intimate secret, and then he grabs her breast. “It comes off as me whispering sweet nothings,” AuVante says, shaking her head at Prince’s clever editing.

At night’s end, AuVante jumped into Prince’s yellow BMW with Prince and Tony Mosley in the front seat. Driving home to Paisley Park on Minnesota’s open roads, they were trailed by two cars, with cameramen filming out of the sunroofs.

“It is one of my best memories,” AuVante says of those two glorious summer days with Prince. “To me, the video screamed, `the Minneapolis Sound having fun in our brief but beautiful summertime,’ and that’s exactly what we were doing.”

Next: Circle of Friends during Paisley Park’s Heyday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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