My father named me Prince

The turn-of-the-century artist takes a second look.

Michael Gonzales



Built during the erogenous zenith of his 1980s glamorous life, Paisley Park Studios has always been viewed by Prince’s (can we forget that pretentious Artist bull for a second?) massive cult congregation as a sound factory sanctuary where this funky 13th apostle can transcribe the countless songs blaring from the jukebox in his brain: a Utopian wonderland where this 41-year-old genius can rove the illuminated hallways like a black atomic dawg after midnight, creating complex compositions until the dawn.

Inside the spacious Paisley Park, the only rules that apply are Princes own—and since he never wears a watch, recording sessions can happen whenever the mood slaps him. As Prince would later inform me. “My dad was a musician, so I learned how to play the piano to please him. Our parents can be like gods to us. so I wanted to make him happy. But the only voices I admired at the time were Smokey Robinson’s and Blue Magic's. Those were the brothers I wanted to sound like when I sang.” One can almost imagine the kid humming The Tears of a Clown” to himself while being bused to a rich, white school in the fifth grade.

Located in the small burg of Chanhassen, about 30 minutes from downtown Minneapolis-bordered by massive trees, nearby fast-food joints and private homes-Paisley’s waiting area has the playful appeal of a circus funhouse as designed by the surreal eye of Salvador Dali. Chilling on one of the colorful overstuffed chairs. I can hear soft music drifting over the gentie cooing of the caged doves upstairs: next to the birdcage are racks of multicolored, flamboyant costumes, while on the main floor purple-hued walls are covered with framed platinum albums. Ivory birds and clouds are painted on the upper part of the same wall.

"Hello,” a bassy voice says, snapping me instantly out of a daydream queendom where Apollonia rules with a golden lasso. Dressed in black pants, a thin bronze-colored sweater and matching boots. Prince glides across the blue carpet with the style of a runway model. Although he’s a mere five foot three (without the heels, of course). Prince has seductive, ocean-deep voice that would make Barry White proud. The only obvious oddity is the excessive facial foundation on his grill. Extending his lone piano fingers into my hand. Prince has the grip of an all-true man. “Let's go into the studio,” he says, leading the way.

Depending on whom you speak with. especially former employees who have dealt with Princes madness on various levels. “His Royal Badness” can either be especially charming or the most bugged bastard since Batman took residence inside a cave. Indeed, from being asked to sign a confidentiality agreement upon entering Paisley Park to being informed that taping devices are off-limits within his domain (forcing me to scribble notes like a tanned Jimmy Olsen from Superman). it’s obvious that a sense of control is important to Prince's ego. Since breaking with his former distributor. Warner Bros. Records. in 1996. preaching a personal sermon of artistic control and emancipation has been his favorite pastime. He's even decided to go so far as to rerecord new master versions of his entire 17-album Warner Bros. catalogue for his own NPG Records label. which he launched in the mid-1990s.

Prince slides a DAT of “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” into a nearby tape machine. Lounging in a small studio chair and resting royally on his bony elbow like a St. Louis pimp macking at a riverboat blackjack table. Prince leans over and mumbles, "I wanted this song to be my answer to the sad state of current soul music.” With its mesmerizing Arabic guitar sounds and robust choruses, this was the first single from his latest release, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, an 18-track disc featuring cameos by Chuck D., Maceo Parker, Gwen Stefani, Sheryl Crow and Ani DiFranco. It represents Prince’s first dealings with a major label in more than three years.

Damn near whispering, as though his observation is top secret instead of common knowledge. Prince says, “I’ve been tripping lately on how wack Rhythm & Blues sounds these days. It's either [songs like] Bills, Bills, Bills' or 'No Pigeons: If that's the way men and women speak to each other, no wonder relationships are such a mess; Prince shakes his head and laments the lack of real romance in today's music.

Yeah, but back in the day you sang about getting pussy as much as much as some of these young dudes,” I remind him. “You just had a more poetic way of putting things”

Staring momentarily with a heated gaze that could melt cotton candy, Prince slowly relaxes and busts out laughing.

What is it that troubles him most about today’s producers? “ It bothers me when I see Missy Elliott and Timbaland on television whining 'People have stolen our sound.' Hey, if you re so bad. change your sound.” he says without missing a LinnDrum beat. "The only way people will stop biting is if you flip your style. That's what I've always done.”

Seventeen years before the premillennial mojo visions of Y2K became the latest paranoid chant for a Strange Days generation obsessed with wild. in-the-streets rebellion, a freaky black boy from Minneapolis emerged from a dank basement-cluttered with discarded musical equipment and sticky porn magazines-with an important lyrical dispatch for the world to absorb. Decked out in sheer pop-life panties, a glimmering purple-hued maxi coat, designer high-heel boots borrowed from his older sister s closet and dragging a spooky synth to an abandoned studio, the blackadelic dissident forever known as Prince wailed: “I was dreaming when I wrote this / Forgive me if it goes astray / But when I woke up this morning / I could have sworn it was judgment day.”

In my own science-fiction-captured imagination. I projected images of Prince cruising through a postapocalyptic wasteland (recklessly zooming in a little red Corvette, bopping his processed perm to an electro beat) while overdosing on crazed celebrations. dizzy dancers and sanctified nookie. Prince’s Armageddon anthem “1999"—first introduced in 1982—has since become a vivid booming-system soundtrack for cosmic cowboys dashing toward destruction, wild-boy hedonism and an explosive New Year's Eve. "I was having lots of futuristic visions at that time in my life.” he recalls. "There are some people of the lighter persuasion-that's what I call white people-who might tell you that I was reading Nostradamus. but that's not true. I just kept having these dreams that something was going to happen, and that the world might be a little scary at the end of the '90s.” Despite this year s legion of natural disasters-major earthquakes in places like Turkey. Taiwan Greece and Mexico; the Their Eyes Were Watching God-like rapture of Hurricane Floyd: and innumerable acts of senseless violence-Prince will brave his own prophetic musings and salute the millennium by performing at an unannounced location on New Year’s Eve.

While the chilly city of Minneapolis has been best known as the home of mumble-mouth Bob Dylan and Mary Tyler Moore’s goofy news crew it was this Twin Cities homeboy who happened to renew my faith in the power of soul. By juxtaposing his sound with any subterranean style that might_tickle his electric booty— swooning show tunes ("Sometimes it Snow In April")  banging ballsy ballads ("Adore"),  glittering glam ("Kiss"), horny harmonies ("Head") and paisley psychedelic pop ("She’s Always In My Hair)"—he could create his own eclectic ecstasy

With Prince s ’80s masterpieces Dirty Mind (1980), 1999 (1982), Purple Rain (1984), Parade (1986) and Sign ’O' the Times (1987). this self-described “little mother---- with the high voice” redefined the sound of blackness by creating his own aural universe for himself and others—including the stereo porn of Vanity 6. the gut-bucket soul of the Time. the new-age funk of the Family and the new-jack fusion of Madhouse. Although wacko Michael Jackson might have been more thrilling to a few. it was always obvious that Prince, who transformed into a Dolby-fueled Renaissance cat in the studio, often playing all of the instruments himself, was the more talented freak in the MTV sideshow.

Impressed by his musical diversity. live-evil jazzbo Miles Davis referred to his new pal as “the Duke Ellington of modern day black pop” in the pages of his autobiography. "I loved Miles, because he was more of a music fan than most people would expect: gushes Prince. "Miles loved good musicians and cool people. but he was also the type of guy to invite Mick Jagger to his house and make him sit outside. He was the type of guy who would tell you to meet him in the dressing room, then be sitting there butt naked. But I loved him.”

With a massive back catalogue of 30 discs, which doesn’t even include the hundreds of bootlegs on the market. Prince also influenced the latest  wave  of cyber-funk warriors (Dallas Austin, Timbaland and Tricky, among others), giving them the courage to experiment with music without fear. “When I was much younger, I used to sit in my bedroom in Richmond, Virginia, surrounded by Prince posters . . . just blasting his records and absorbing his sound.” neo-soul-stirrer D'Angelo said. before taking a drag from his Newport. On his much anticipated sophomore joint, Voodoo, brother D has even composed a moving tribute to The Artist Who Will Always Be Prince. Before his name change and disillusionment with the record industry. Prince was just another funk junkie trying to get his groove on. “When I was a kid I used to ride my bike over to Dee’s Record Center and buy the latest releases,” remembers Prince. "Dee weighed about 400 pounds and had hair like Al Sharpton. He would play the records for me, those little 45s with the big hole in the middle, and I would ride over there every three days. James Brown was putting out a single every three weeks, and I would buy them all. I would slide the discs on my handlebars so I could watch them spin as I rode home.”

Prince went from being mesmerized by spinning 45s to perfecting his own nasty onstage spins, enhanced by his signature freaky shrieks. Still, it was more than James Brown-like moves that inspired this purple wonder. j In the badass spirit of the Godfather of Soul, the li’l man's initial battle with his former “slave master” Warner Bros. Records began with his prolific desire to release more records than the label was willing to support, which later snowballed into a war over ownership of his master recordings. In his > new international distribution arrangement with Arista, he will retain ownership of his master tapes. "Any creation should belong to the artist: says Prince. "I'm not a brat,  but I do know that Western society is based on taking without giving back. The record companies are protected against everything. What began with me wanting to record when I felt like it. slowly became about my legacy as an artist.”

Yet for someone who once had the word slave scribbled on his face, Prince has put his money where his mouth is by forming NPG Records as an outlet for his own muse and the talents of singer Chaka Khan and bassist-singer Larry Graham. “It’s not always about just getting paid, but about respect. People like Chaka and Larry get beat down, because people don't support their art,” says Prince. "Artists like Ruth Brown. Al Green, George Clinton and Sly Stone are our musical cornerstones, but the kids today just dismiss their elders so easily.
"If somebody like Babyface wanted to rent my studio. I would charge a lot of money, but what would it look like if I asked Chaka or Larry for any money? If I help support them, then it sets an example for others. For me , it’s more about a sense of community and friendship.”

Although not everyone has the artistic leverage that Prince now enjoys in his business arrangements, his struggle for freedom has seemingly left a paranoid impression on his psyche. “I don’t believe in contracts anymore. Because the word con has a deep meaning. So I don’t have a contract with Arista-I have an agreement. Nor do I still have a marriage contract with Mayte, although we're still together.” In December 1998. Prince had their then three-year marriage “annulled.” They shared a "symbolic” ceremony last Valentine's Day to celebrate their love for each other. In fact. nowadays, it seems that he is more concerned with reconnecting to the real meaning of love in each of his lifetimes. 

As our interview slowly comes to a close, a reflective man looks at me and says. -My father named me Prince because he wanted me to go further in the world, and that’s what I strive to do every day.”