Audience with Prince

Mike Ross




EDMONTON—Hearing Prince play Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love during an exclusive pre-concert soundcheck and meet ’n’ greet was almost worth the price of admission for 38 Edmonton members of his fan club, the NPG Music Club - myself and my wife included.

“That was for you’all,” he said afterwards.

I feel like a spy, a traitor, posing as a fan - well, I am a fan, actually, but also a journalist - Prince being as private as he is. But I don’t know what he’s worried about. He’s hardly the weirdo he’s been made out to be. During the half-hour or so he faced questions from his most loyal fans in Edmonton, he proved himself to be a genial, non-judgmental and intelligent host.

At about 6:30 p.m. yesterday, and after a 90-minute wait, the NPG Members were ushered into the orchestra pit of the Jubilee Auditorium where the band was just finishing up its soundcheck. The band, sans Prince, played some light jazz. Lighting cues were run, monitor levels were adjusted, various connections were secured. Soundchecks themselves are quite boring, but since the real one had obviously been completed, this was basically an excuse for an informal mini-concert. As technicians fussed and musicians noodled, Prince turned up - a basketball jersey draped over his beanpole frame - and sat behind a keyboard. He didn’t play it, though. He just said the shirt didn’t belong to him. There was more fiddling and more standing around before he finally picked up his guitar and stretched out his funk chops. An audience member he seemed to know was invited on stage to play the guitar as Prince sat with us and watched. The guy was trying to play Purple Rain, I think, a tune Prince seemed unenthusiastic about playing. I’m sure there are lots of tunes he’d rather not play these days.

Much lively banter was exchanged before Prince took back his axe to unleash his rock ’n’ roll chops and a little Zeppelin in honour of Edmonton. The “soundcheck” over, Prince came down to sit on the front of the stage and chat - the real reason we were here. For some fans we talked to before the show, this was the chance of a lifetime. Prince talks to no one - except his true fans.

Prince talked about music, about plans for a live album, about the input of NPG members on what he does, which is significant, but mainly about religion. From his sex-machine past, he’s become a devout Jehovah’s Witness. Quizzed by my wife about why Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays, he replied with something along the lines of, “If you’re going to live forever, you wouldn’t keep track of the years.”

“I always had you pegged for a Buddhist,” said my wife.

“Can you see me chanting?” Prince laughed.

As he talked, incense burned and psychedelic images flashed on three video screens draped by purple curtains.

We learned that in his spare time, Prince keeps up with the “playoffs” - hockey or basketball, he didn’t say - writes songs and studies the Bible. He still finds time to go to church every Sunday he can, he says.

Asked where he was on Sept. 11, he said “a safe place,” both physically and mentally. He talked about the looming war between India and Pakistan, and about how much he loves Canada. It’s not just talk. He reportedly married a Canadian woman and bought a nice house in Toronto. None of the NPG fans asked questions about his personal life - though a request for an autograph was met with a chuckle; he may talk, but he signs nothing - so no details here.

He talked about how delighted he is to finally be free of major record companies. From a troubled decade and a fight with his former Warner Bros - changing his name to a symbol was part of the fight - Prince now does all his business through his Internet Web site, npgmusicclub.com, only dealing with record companies for one-of distribution deals. One fan club member made it clear that the One Nite Alone CD should remain exclusive to fan club members.

I presume he’ll take it under consideration.