The mid-’80s wasn’t the greatest period of Pat Smear’s career. He’d achieved acclaim for his rhythm guitar work with Los Angeles punk band the Germs, but the group had split in 1981. Later, he’d go on to become a touring member of Nirvana and then a member of Foo Fighters, but in 1985, he was struggling to find work.
Fortunately, another member of the punk scene had become a casting director and he helped out his old friends by finding them bit parts and extra roles on TV shows. Smear had appeared in CHiPs, Quincy, M.E. and other productions, so when he was invited to audition for Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” video he was pretty sure he knew the drill.
He didn’t. When he arrived at SIR Los Angeles studios, he discovered that he was required to perform a simple dance routine – which was beyond him. “Since I have two left feet and can’t dance, I assumed I wasn’t going to be picked for the video,” he told Feel Numb in 2019. “As I was walking out, one of Prince’s people stopped me and told me that Prince liked my look and wanted me to sit next to the drum set.” (He’s actually seen in front of the piano.)
Foos bandmate Dave Grohl offered a similar explanation in the 2012 book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. “That’s when Pat had dreadlocks all the way down to his butt,” Grohl said. “Pat can’t dance. So, he got cut. They sent him home. He starts walking down the hallway and hears, ‘Hey, you!’ He turns around and there’s a big bodyguard standing next to Prince. And Prince whispers in the bodyguard’s ear. The bodyguard says, ‘You can stay. He likes your hair.’ They wanted his hair in the video!”
Watch Prince & the Revolution’s ‘Raspberry Beret’ Video
Smear has offered fewer details because he signed a nondisclosure agreement, and even though decades have passed and Prince has since died, he wants to remain faithful to the contract. He did suggest, however, that it wasn’t the greatest of experiences. He wasn’t allowed to talk to Prince, and if Prince wanted him to do something for the video, he’d tell an assistant, who would then tell Smear.
That meant there was no opportunity for the pair to talk guitars or even for Prince to be told he had a punk icon for an extra. But, likely, Prince wasn’t even in the mood to listen because he wasn’t having a good day. As revealed in Duane Tudahl’s 2021 book Prince and the Parade and Sign O’ the Times Era Studio Sessions, “Raspberry Beret” was the second video he shot that day. The first was for “4 the Tears in Your Eyes.” “That day there were a few crew members which he hated to have around, but he had to because it was a video production and these people were necessary,” sound engineer Susan Rogers recalled. “He went off in a dark corner by himself.”
“It was the first video we did where there were extras around,” guitarist Wendy Melvoin recalled. “So that was weird. It was the first scripted video we had done. … It took much longer than we thought it would take. I could tell Prince was slightly annoyed by how long it took. He was just not a very patient guy.”
Within a decade Smear would be at the top of his game with Foo Fighters, but it wasn’t the last time he had a negative experience with Prince. In 2003 the Foos wanted to promote their cover of “Darling Nikki” but Prince wouldn’t allow it, later slamming the band by saying, “I don’t like anyone covering my work. Write your own tunes! … When I want to hear new music, I go make some.” That made things even more surprising when Prince covered the Foos’ “Best of You” at his iconic 2007 Super Bowl show.
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Ask a musician if they’ve got a Prince story to tell and they just might surprise you.