With a girl as fine as she was then: The Psychopathological narrative in “Raspberry Beret”

Nearly a quarter century after she “walked in through the out door (out door),” the woman wearing the title garment of Prince’s 1985 song “Raspberry Beret” continues to puzzle and intrigue scholars.

But it is the narrator who has emerged as a dangerous and unstable sociopath.

“I was working part-time in a five-and-dime ,” the narrator begins, telling us that his employer, a Mr. McGee, had to repeatedly tell him that the narrator’s “leisurely” attitude toward work engendered feelings of dislike in his employer for not only the narrator but also the narrator’s social, ethnic, racial, political, or religious group, i.e. “kind.”

People with developmental disorders often need to be told several times to complete tasks such as those required in the type of retail establishments where the learning-disabled may find work.

We introduce the notion of the narrator’s own mental impairment as the basis for his attraction to the beret-wearing girl. While there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that “opposites attract,” it is more often the case that interpersonal relationships are founded on shared values and interests.

If the narrator is autistic, however, he is high-functioning, as demonstrated by his ability to vary his menial tasks in order to hold his own interest:

“It seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing,” he says, “but different than the day before.”

It is then that he sees the subject of the song, as “she walked in through the out door.” Consistent with Persistent Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified), he repeats “out door.”

“She wore a raspberry beret,” he tells us, “The kind you’d find in a second hand store.”

Researchers disagree on whether the narrator’s choice to speculate where the girl might have found her beret is Asperger’s Syndrome-style “Information Bombardment” or a genuine attempt to connect with the listener.

In any case, and appearing to validate PDD-NOS theorists, he compulsively, almost fetishistically repeats her headwear throughout the song, adding that, were the temperature appropriate, the probable group home resident might not “wear much more.”

Up to this point in the interview, students and professionals have been inclined to agree that the narrator, whether a stroke or head trauma victim or otherwise mentally compromised, was basically an amiable and harmless person, even if he might have proven a minor management problem to his employer.

But alarm bells sound in the next set of lyrics.

The narrator, based on the girl’s inappropriate entrance to the five-and-dime as well as her hat (and his opinions about whether or not she would wear nothing but the hat should the weather become “warm”), makes a compulsive and staggering logical leap:

“I think I love her,” he says.

While condemnation of the narrator’s premature profession of love is unanimous in university and medical circles, the following lines divide scholars:

“Built like she was, she had the nerve to ask me if I planned to do her any harm,” he says.

Does this mean she was attractive to the narrator and, knowing this, that she would flout a reasonable person’s fear of being harmed by him?

Or was she unattractive to the narrator (“Built like she was, she had the nerve to ask me…”) and therefore unworthy of questioning his malicious intent?

Either way, it is clear that she recognized the danger; when does it come up unless someone is in danger the question of whether they are to be harmed?

The American Psychiatric Association recommends a simple Appropriateness Test, which it calls the Cocktail Metric:

“Go to a cocktail party and approach a friendly-seeming stranger with the statement in question,” its literature suggests. Would you approach an amiable stranger and ask him/her if he/she planned to do you any harm?

It gets worse:

“So look here, ” the narrator challenges us, “I put her on the back of my bike and we went riding down by Old Man Johnson’s farm.”

Not “she got on the bike willingly and of her own volition” but “I put her on the back of my bike” like a wounded or trophy animal.

Perhaps due to abuse, trauma, or the schizoid belief that he is a being that draws power from celestial bodies, the narrator then observes that his ability to perform sexually is influenced by the visibility of the sun or the moon.

“Overcast days never turned me on,” he says, and then for the first time openly derides the girl by comparing her to noxious smog:

“But something about the clouds and her mixed.”

The narrator then savagely beats the girl with his feet, attempting to make the listener believe that she was not only the aggressor but also that she wanted him to beat her with his feet.

“She wasn’t too bright, but I could tell when she kissed me,” he says, ” – she knew how to get her kicks.”

Having dragged her into some kind of stable, silo, or manger, the narrator feels an almost lycanthropic connection to nature.

“Rain sounds so cool when it hits the barn roof,” he says, and researchers concede that he’s right: Rain does sound cool that way. But we shouldn’t let the sociopath charm us with his studied behaviors of normal human interaction.

Because then, as if denying his own humanity (and the responsibility of his crime) by attributing human characteristics to animals, he attempts to divert listeners’ attention to his temporary stablemates.

“…And the horses wonder who you are.”

As if shaking his fist at a universe only half-complicit in his offenses, the narrator goes on to accuses Nature that “thunder drowns out what the lightning sees (and) you feel like a movie star,” (possibly Hannibal Lecter, the Son of Sam, Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” or even Satan, as depicted in several films).

The narrator invokes this pandemonium of murderers as “They”: “They say the first time ain’t the greatest,” he says.

Boldly addressing us again and bragging of his lack of remorse: “But I’ll tell you, if I had the chance to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a stroke.”

The narrator’s megalomania at its zenith, he taunts listeners by referring to them collectively as an infant, hinting that the girl is no longer alive:

Baby, I’m the most,” he says, “with a girl as fine as she was then.”

Despite acknowledgment by Prince that the song was about ex-girlfriend Susan Moonsie and documentation that her intelligence is within normal limits, and that Prince himself is not criminally insane, I’m still hoping to use this abstract to get my license to practice Psychiatry in the State of California. Wish me luck!

Previously: Bob Dylan’s kelping hand; Tearing that hotel down, contextually

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