Prince Ponders ‘The Question of U’
In the 1990 film Graffiti Bridge — an unofficial sequel to Purple Rain — Prince’s character, The Kid, battles music rival Morris Day for control of the Glam Slam club. Along the way, he meets an angel, Aura (Ingrid Chavez), who encourages him to stay true to his spiritual music, emphasizes the importance of love and assures him he will win if he doesn’t give up.
He does win the musical challenge — “with a ballad!” another character shouts — at the end. “The Question of U” is not that ballad, but it’s a significant part of the movie. Just before the song plays, Prince tells Aura, “Maybe that’s what I need. Some kind of sign. Some kind of green light that says it’s OK. It’s OK to continue. Somebody’s up there listening.”
Therefore, “The Question of U” can be taken as The Kid’s plea to God to direct his path. “Which way do I turn when I'm feeling lost?” he sings on the number, which features haunting vocal layering, searing guitar work and infectious hand claps. “If I sell my soul, what will it cost?”
Without the context of the film, one might think Prince was singing to a lover. As many fans can attest, Prince’s catalog is often dense with multiple meanings.
“Everything tended to have a duality about it,” Prince’s former guitar player Kat Dyson said. “Even a love song still had a duality. I don’t think he ever wrote from one particular place in his mind.”
It’s likely there are other meanings, especially since a version of the track was first recorded back in 1985, according to PrinceVault. Where was Prince’s mind then?
Overall, the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack fared better than the film. The former reached No. six on the Billboard 200, while the latter took the eighth-place spot during the first week of its release and dropped 66 percent in sales during its second week, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I wish it would have been a better film,” said Craig Rice, a producer on the movie. “But … [Prince’s] attention span is short. To stay focused on one thing—it’s hard for him to do for long periods of time.”
Still, the music lived on. Prince began merging “The Question of U” with his similarly moody, 1998 song “The One,” live in concert in 2004 and 2007 (the latter performance can be heard on Prince’s 2008 live album, Indigo Nights).
So while future generations may not discover the Graffiti Bridge film, they’ll likely take the opportunity to ponder “The Question of U.”
Erica Thompson is a journalist in Columbus, Ohio. She is currently writing a book on Prince’s spiritual journey and the spiritual themes in his music, which was the source of the interviews with Dyson and Rice. Keep up with the project at A Purple Day in December.