‘I feel like this is my last time on earth...’

He’s The Artist Formerly Known As Bonkers. That’s right, PRINCE is back, free of that pesky Warners’ (hence the title of his new album ’Emancipation’) and he is talking... to us!  Or more precisely to SYLVIA PATTERSON, who found the funky l’il fella has gone, like, New Age. Man. Which means incarnation theories, inner peace, humility(!) and a new use for his erections...

Sylvia Patterson



For the man from The Sun, it’s all going horribly O(+>-shaped. Already, he’s moist of brow, on tip-toe in a kaleidoscopic side-room of the Paisley Park studio complex in the midst of a scrum of 100 pan-global journalists, the sole representative here of the British tabloid populace.

He knows his job. Knows he’s flown several thousand miles to ask one of the biggest superstars in the history of popular culture just one question. A question which probably won’t be, “So, just how irreversibly brain-damaged is your child anyway?” but that will be the subtext. Trouble is, he can’t get a word in edgeways for the Dutch fellow.

“You are the greatest live performer of all time!” he’s shouting. “So I have to ask, why no live alboom? I have to say now, ’Sorry’ because I myself have many bootleg albooms!”
’Prince’, for it is not he any more, oh no, not under any circumstances, gives a huge-toothed grin and quips, “Security!?”

The world’s tough-jibbed global media population keels over at the funniest joke ever told. Evidently.
Last questions!” barks a besuited gent with a walkie-talkie stapled to his ear. lt’s the man from The Sun’s last chance.

“What’s it like being a fath...

”’Ee’s so great you are talking to us!” squawks the Dutchman, “and to see you are normal because you have not spoken before and this is why we have rumours you are a crazy guy and we see now you are a nice guy!”

Gawdalmighty. The first 15-minute press conference the man they’re all calling The Artist has ever given in almost 20 years of pop genius celebrity and the man from the ’Dam has used it all up in a preposterous attempt to become the pop star’s pal. One minute to go.

 “What’s fff... father like...”squeaks the man from The Sun, fluffing his opener.

“Excuse me?” says the superstar.

Silence falls. He’s on his own. You can hear hair grow.

“Are you enjoying being a father, PRINCE?”
OhmiGod. He spake the unspeakable! The roof caves in, sucked to the floor by a unanimous, incoming gasp.

 “Of course.” says the little fella, unflustered, “that’s why we do it. I had a playpen built here even before the birth.”

The suit steps in – ’Thank you all for coming! – and Unpronounceable name disappears under cover of a many-legged, fast-moving blanket of omnipotent keepers.

Next morning, the ’all-powerful’ pop column in the soaraway Sun will whimper: ’Showbiz shock of the year TAFKAP talks sense.’

The last outrage of the ’weirdo’ is. of course, not being ’weird’ any more.

WE’RE IN Minneapolis, Minnesota, the sub-zero hinterland of Midwest America, where the pleasure of our company has been requested at the biggest coming-out party in history; a global satellite’ simulcast celebration of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’s long-awaited freedom from the confines of his old Warner Brothers’ contract, the one which ’imprisoned’ the purple perv by owning the master tapes to his music and refused to allow the problematically prolific tiddler to release music when he wanted.

Thus he wrote ’Slave’ on his cheek and killed off Prince forever. They called it Cosmic Stalemate, now he’s a comet loose in the heavens, his all-new triple CD cavalcade, ’Emancipation’, brought to you on his very own NPG (New Power Generation) label, distributed and marketed by EMI, using his millions to finance his very own revolution.

He hopes one day to spearhead some kind of “alternative music industry” where creative freedom is all. Which makes him, by all accounts, a multimillionaire punk rocker.

It’s been eclipsed, of course, by the dread worldwide news of his new baby’s illness. Clover Leaf skull syndrome (a condition which compresses the brain and which led to the baby’s death at two weeks old; although this was not made public until a month later to give the couple time to grieve).

It appears to be true though no official statements are made, other than The Artist’s declaration in USA Today. “I’ve heard rumours that my baby died. My skin is so thick now. I care more about my child than what anyone says or thinks.”

Which is, of course, exactly as it should be. Meanwhile, The Artist, said to be ’hopeful’, went ahead with his do.

Along the Chanhassen freeway towards Paisley Park there’s a neon sign which gives indication of entry into the Prince-zone of yesteryear. It says, “LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BE LITTLE.”
Or rather it used to be there; there’s been a lot of changes round these parts since then. Paisley Park, often described as a corporate carbuncle or .a carpet warehouse, has been transformed  into a
playgtound  of luscious fondant fancy.

From the outside, it’s a huge, white, angular-blocked complex and, just as one is informed by Buck Palace that the Queen is in and having her tea by a flapping flag on the roof, here a glass pyramid crowns the premises, glowing with a purplish light when The Artist is in and having his ginseng mouthwash. Now that’s what we call Pop Star.

The interior now hosts a wonderland of pastel-hued tomfoolery, all pillars and gold and murals of The Purple One’s great big Bambi eyes beaming out from the walls. Tiled floors spell out the Symbol. A painted flock of silvery doves flutters down the wall, painted light blue with little fluffy clouds on.

Gold, silver, platinum, triple-platinum discs line the walls trumpeting pop-defining moments of two decades. ’Purple Rain’. ’Sign ’O’ The Times’. ’Lovesexy’. ’Diamonds And Pearls’. The Gold Experience’. A thousand others. Three million sales. Two million sales. Five million sales. Millions and millions and millions of sales.

And, right now, several hundred members of the music industry are imbibing the spoils of their host’s generous hospitality and vomiting copiously all over the birdcage on an upper balcony, housing the studio dove. Divinity (aged I5). Except they’re doing nothing of the sort. because there is no booze allowed. Instead, you can make yourself royally ill on 10,000 Parmesan vol-au-vents, skipfuls of Cap’n Crunch cereal (The Artist’s favourite) and a flagon of supersweet apple juice.

All the while. ’Emancipation’ floats down from the speakers, as smooth and polished as the floorboards underfoot. Too smooth, however, and you fall over on your neck. Whether The Artist will break a collarbone here or not, will be decided by the public. It’s all a ludicrous lark, of course, and none of it matters, really, when, on the stroke of midnight, in the cavernous, blinding white of the Paisley Park sound room, the reason we’re all here finally happens. The Artist plays his music. For us.

”Free at last!” booms Martin Luther King and The Artist emerges from the snow-white backdrop in purple velvet, flared trews, purple flared-cuff silken blouson open to the waist (2in span) and purple high-heeled pixie boots. Blimey. His name is not Prince. And he is not chunky.

And he’s standing so close you could reach out and touch him. But you daren’t, lest you flick him accidentally off the floor-long catwalk with a wayward pinkie. And, you know what? His name ruddy well IS Prince! No matter what he says! And he IS funky! No matter what anyone else says!

The old magic flicks from his fingers, fingers which he licks, plucks on a guitar string and then smooths on a pipe-cleaner thigh as new song. ’Jam Of The Year’, whisks the industry toffs into meringue. He even plays ’Purple Rain’ and ’if l Was Your Girlfriend’. breaking his own Prince-is-dead embargo. An hour later, he plays a further half, closing his Big Night  In  with ’The Cross’ from” Sign ’O’ The Times’, a huge evangelical juggernaut of soul-empowerment which sees Paisley elevate all the way to the top of the Rocky Mountains. His relatively namby-pamby efforts of recent times are forgotten. Prince is dead. Long live the real King Of Pop.

DEARLY BELOVED, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called a 15-minute interview with no photos and no tape-recorded evidence whatsoever of the small man’s very existence. He has, however, changed his mind, expanded his audience to a full half-hour, including photos, and allows pen and paper note-taking – a breakthrough; he used to confiscate reporter’s pens. Once, he even banned the asking of any questions.

With ’freedom’ has come media almost-friendliness, the colourific Paisley Park foyer a-swarm with audience waiting US and European press pundits. Chris Evans should’ve been here and blew a ginger raspberry after hearing the communication limitations, branding him, unpoetically, a “purple git".

One hour before our time is called, The Artist changes his mind again and cancels all photographer’s sessions. Later, he hand-picks one American photographer to take pictures for everyone else, arranges his session for another day, only to blow the blighter out again.  Chris Evans, it seems, has a point.

The Artist is late. So we wait. Suddenly, in some bizarre ’beam me up Scotty’-energised materialisation routine, he wanders in, alone, hands stuffed in the pockets of a beautiful, floor-length fawn coat. He appears not so much to walk, as glide into the area. And then he glides out again. Not a word spoken.

So you wait. Go to the loo. And emerge, walk out into a disc-festooned corridor and... it’s him! Three feet away, bowling down the corridor, still alone, still on castors, looks into your correspondent’s eyes and his, for a second, glow fluorescent purple - like, they really do - then he swivels on his heels, bowls off in the opposite direction and disappears into a room on the right. The man’s a Jiving X File.

A full half-hour later the summons occurs. Escorted to a conference room upstairs, a young man possibly known as Footservant No 43 motions to a comfy chair by a huge rectangular glass table. The comfy chair opposite, clearly His seat, is positioned 6ft away.

Footservant No 43 loiters, edgily, by the door. “He’s on his way,” he says, peering out the door. “He’s coming up the stairs... He’s coming along the corridor...”

At this point, NME chokes to death from internal laughter suppression injuries. And in he glides, fawn coat still on, smiles, proffers a handshake (hearty, ungloved), descends into the seat opposite and folds his hands in his lap, eerily serene.

He’s so familiar and yet so alien, like a hologram in sharp focus. He wears a tight mauve suit, mauve skinny tie, mauve pixie boots and a black and gold shirt. He’s far paler than you’d think, } though he is liberally powdered. The ’ black hair is short, slicked back, glitter i behind the ears, goatee beard meticulously trimmed. And his supernaturally enormous brown eyes really are all filled up with internal glitter, the eyes of a person who knows something the rest of us do not.

And you wonder if you should begin with a jaunty, “how’s it goin’. Art?” when a low rumble booms up from the bowels of the Earth.

“Do you like my house?”

He spoke! First! And it’s in his low frequency drool, more lustsome ’Gett Off’ than the falsetto trill of ’Kiss’.

Yes, it’s very... special.

And he’s off. On about his ’house’, ie, Paisley Park, and how it was all his wife’s idea to “introduce some colour". Soon, he will open it to the public, invite tours,so the young folk can see how the work is done here.

Bit strange, though, that your house should be barren and colourless; when we think of you, we think of colour – you’re His Royal Purpleness!

“Hmm,” says The Artist, who registers nil thus far on the mirthometer.
“Y’know, when I got this place I was just ; so excited to have a studio I forgot all about what it could look like. I didn’t really care. I only saw the inside of myself.”

Clearly The Artist has gathered his flock to spread the good news; he is not the man he used to be. He has seen The Light; marriage, ’Emancipation’ and the previously unthinkable opening of his very own front door are all proof. In the olden days, you couldn’t get a syllable out of Prince, today, you can’t get The Artist to shut up. And now he’s talking about being a punk rocker (he’s an Offspring fan to prove it).

“I do feel like a punk,” he beams, and then stops and beams a-fresh, “because no-one believes in God any more.”

Erk.

"What we’re doing here is gospel music,” he breezes, “which is the original rebel music, so in that sense, yes, I am a punk rocker. Gospel was once the alternative and once again that’s the stuff people are scared of, that’s what the non-conformists are doing. I’m not conforming to anything any more. Except the universe.”

Is that you, Crispian Kula Shaker in disguise??! This relentless, one-voiced spiritual pop star proclamation of our times is veering out of control, frankly.

The Artist, of course, was always one of the originals, a man who would pronounce ’God is Love’ on his sleevenotes (still his ’simple’ theological explanation) and sign his autograph, ’Love God’ (as opposed, thankfully, to ’Love, God’).

What can he mean, one wonders, by “conforming to the universe"?

“Well,” he says, still eerily becalmed, ’I think one of the greatest songs ever written, and for the lyrics alone, is Paul McCartney’s ’Let It Be’, ’cos, boy, let me tell you, that’s what you have to do, you yjst have to let it be.

“Like, if you put a loaf of bread on the table, it turns into medicine and to me that is incredible. The bread will eventually take care of itself. That’s nature, that’s the Truth. Everything happens for a reason and if you know that then you will be free. That’s what I had to know in order to free myself.”

A knock at the door. Good God. It’s it all over after nine minutes, just when a mouldy old loaf in the bread bin was about to become the secret of the universe. The door opens and Mayte Garda, 24, font of all The Artist’s light, emerges. She’s wearing a silvery jacket, purple flowery skirt stopping half-way up the thigh (positively Victorian by her standards) and a beam stretching from here to Australia.

“This is my wife,” he smiles. Wife:"...” (huge beam)

The Artist: “We’re nearly done. I’ll see you in your office.” Wife: “...” (beam)

The Artist: “....” (beam)

Wife: “...” (beam)

And she’s off, wafting out the door with nary one vocal squeak unbound. The Artist looks faintly annoyed.

“Now I’ve gone totally off my train of thought...”

Damn these things called wives, eh?

“Oh no,” he says, frowning, for he has taken genuine offense, “thank God for these things called wives.”

Gifted dancer of the perverted pelvis, Mayte has been The Artist’s working colleague as well as “friend and sister” for years, since Mayte was what’s been dubbed a “famously virginal” I 7-year-old. Not for long, etc.

Unquestionably, she has changed his life, he’s “never been happier. Now I am complete". Of the nuptial certainty, he says he couldn’t argue with the “the coincidences". He was christened Prince. Her childhood nickname was Princess. Both dads are called John. His mum is Mattie, she is Mayte. Her middle name is Janelle. His father’s name is John L Her mother’s name is Nell, he was born a Nelson.

They were married this year on February 14, naturally, and she was carried across the Paisley Park threshold, besieged with gifts, the last of which was a crib. Then they sat on the floor, bowed to God and blubbed their eyes out.

“I’m so in love with love now,” he swoons, “and I just wonder what kind of a life we’d all have if we did all love each other, not just one person or the family, but everyone. We’re here to learn how to get along with one another. I believe that is the purpose and I believe it’s possible, I really believe that now. And I didn’t before.”

From here he tells a story of how he and Mayte walked through the doors in the ’7’ video in 1992 where they embarked on some kind of personal Truth. He’s lost us here, frankly, and does not return for some time.

“I’ll give you an example,” he says, finally, “Top Of The Pops.”

Hello?

“They asked for an exclusive little thing for the single, so we put together some exclusive footage from the video and they said that wasn’t good enough. So I have to say to myself, ’Let it be, it was not supposed to happen’, that’s all I can do.”

He pauses, on the brink of revelation. “It’s all about trying to get out of your box.”

Liam Gallagher writes, ’See? I was right all along!’

“Each of us lives in our own little box,” burrs The Artist, “and we think that is the whole world and it’s only our own prison. We put ourselves in prison and we can get ourselves out of prison. With Warners, I put myself in that box. I had ’Slave’ written on my face but I agreed to the terms. The time came when I wanted out. And the time comes when everyone wants out, that’s what we have to do. And then you are free, because it frees your emotions.”

These days you’re advocating a life of self-control and sobriety.

"It’s not very funky, really, is it? “I think it is,” he grins, “see, it’s all about paths. Now I know that those paths of excess, drugs, sex, alcohol - all those experiences can be funky, they can be very funky, but they’re just paths, a diversion, not the answer, because a lot of the time, people don’t come back. That’s the end of their road, there was no fulfillment there, so the search goes on. And the search won’t leave you, let me tell you, it’ll hunt you down, like a stalker.”

Hold your miniature ponies there, shorty. This is all a bit rum; you have, after all, built a 20-year career on being one of the most voracious advocates of sexual permissweness in modern-day history!

"...”

You’re The Purple Perv!

 "...”

The Valentino of pop!

"...”

The Errol Flynn of funk!

“Eheheh. That may be so.”

Too right it’s so. You’re the man who once said. ’I never waste an erection"!

“Oh boy,” he says, teeth eclipsing the sun. “Oh man. That’s right, I said. (thinks) ’I hate to see an erection go to waste’. Eheheh. Well, 1 feel I’ve just as much sexual energy as I ever had, j just find other things sexy these days.”

So what d’you do with an ill-timed erection these days?

“The energy goes on other things,” he lies, “look at this.”

He reaches over to a small orange box on the table and flicks over some cards therein: they are cards with the ’Emancipation’ sleeve on and dates on the bottom, counting down to the release date of the LP. a cute marketing device for record shops.

“That’s what I find sexy,” he glows, “that is so sexy to me. I couldn’t do that before. I find freedom sexy. I find freedom so sexy l can’t even explain it to you. You wake up every day and feel like you can do anything.”

D’you feel as though you were another person, back then? “No, I wasn’t another person,” he says, “but I see now that I was searching for my freedom in sex.”

He stops, takes a worryingly huge pause.

“It’s very hard for a man to have another man... denounce you.”

Whatever do you mean?

“Before, I would do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

?????

“Now I see I was hiding from myself. But, hey, that was my experience. (Chortles) Everyone has their own experience. That’s why we are here. to go through i our experience, to learn, to go (down those paths and eventually you have gone down so many paths and learned so much that you don’t have to come back again.

"That’s the point. I think I got it right this time, I don’t think I’m coming back. This is it for me, I feel like this is my last time on Earth. I won’t have to come back any more.”

How many times d you reckon you ve been here before?

The Artist looks at NME as if it is a buffoon of the highest disorder and cocks a beautifully sculpted eyebrow. A

h. lt’s an infinite number of times, isn’t it?

An infinite number,” he nods. “yes. I didn’t choose this life for me no more than yours was chosen for you. It was chosen for me and I have no idea why “ Whooo. Other than it was chosen and I was supposed to learn from it. And that’s what I’ve  done.

We’re here to learn, he implores, how to “empty our hearts of hate", become a Force for Good. His ’Emancipation’ reflects his own personal, sexual, spiritual and emotional rebirth, a new disciple of the Buddhist ways in negation of Ego. He is, quite simply, a born-again good guy. And he recommends it to everyone.”

People better start looking back,” he says, actually giggling, “dates, times, names, they better see those coincidences, man, it’s so simple, like a video game total recall. That happened, and because of that, that. In terms of the world and in terms of yourself. (Shakes head in awestruck glee) It’s all lining up, it’s all there for you to see, to help you, if your eyes are open.

There was a time when The Artist was one of the bad guys. A megalomaniac rumoured to fire people just for being ’telepathically unresponsive’. His couchings in the reality-buffer of ’yes’ men are legendary.

He never used the telephone because “I didn’t have to". He was a compulsive voyeur, sexually and socially, preferring to “people-watch” in clubs, sat in a corner, saying nothing. He freaked people out. Creeped people out. Perhaps the greatest example of egocentric Small Man Syndrome gone berserk since Napoleon. He thought he was fabulous. Where in actual fact, he despised himself.

I had a massive ego,” he nods. How massive?

“Massive,” he says and pauses. And then grins. “But that’s not such a bad thing to have. Because at least you’re aspiring to be something, you consider yourself great because you want to be great, in all respects. But it is not great at all to see yourself as superior to anyone else. That’s the mistake.

"I’m no different to anyone. Yes, I have fame and wealth and talent, but I certainly don’t consider myself any better than anyone who has no fame, wealth or talent. People fascinate me. They’re amazing! Life fascinates me! And I’m no more fascinated by my own life than anyone else’s.”

Was your “massive ego” born out of massive insecurity, as is traditional?

Yes,” he says, and leans forward in his seat, best to thwart any queries as to what insecurities these were, exactly, and I don’t have any insecurities about anything any more.”

There was a time where he asked himself what it was he was running from. He wondered, “Am I lonely? Is that why I surround myself with so many friends?” He felt he didn’t know the answer until he decided to marry and “make the commitment” which meant “I will take care of you forever . He knew she was The One because “she was the only person who never showed me any malice. She showed no malice towards anyone.

And he’s off, talking about magic, about how Mayte was the one who made ’Emancipation’ possible, the 36 songs he was ’born 2 make’ as the publicity has it, some of which he’ll agree are “sentimental", inspired by a love which made the flavour simply flood out.

Today, he has over I ,000 songs recorded in his vault. He can now make an LP every six months if he wants; we can expect new LPs whenever the time is right. He’ll be playing more and more old songs on tour because now he is free. Every day he makes music. Sometimes he studies ancient Egyptian architecture. He loves Björk: “that’s an innovation, that’s songwriting and songwriting is what I understand".

A knock at the door. “Last questions’” comes a call from the yonder. And you close your notebook, it’s all too hopeless. Twenty-eight minutes gone and 10,000 questions left unasked.

You make it very difficult Tor us joumos, pal.

“This is my way,” he grins, “there are no tapes because nothing I could ever say could ever be faithful to the spirit of the music. I don’t speak in the studio, y’know? The only thing I like talking about is the business and how it works against the artist and the spirit. And against music itself. But...”

He eyes the NME, throws it to the back of the wall with a laser beam and says, “We II talk again". Struck, then, by lightning, the mind goes blank, emptied of all sometime ’important’ questions, like who was taller, him or Kylie; if he really did, as is rumoured, divest early-’90s Cuban songstress Martika of her cumbersome virginity when they were both on acid (no wonder she had a funny jaw, etc); and what the hell did he ever see in Sheena Easton, and is filled up, instead, with the Prince classic of yesteryear, * 1999’, thundering into the consciousness. We’ll do it his way, take it as a sign.

"1999’, eh? It’ll be played all over the globe, surely, as the first song of that year. one second after the global New Year bells of 1998. What will you feel? Pride?

“That song was not created by me, he smiles, ever-serenely, “it was a gift to me from the higher powers, so I can only be grateful to be given that position.”

Then again, maybe it’ll be the last song played on the global wheels of steel on New Year 1999. The last song ever played, all around the world, of the whole millennium! That’s a fairly big concept. Man.

“That s,” he says, eyes glimmering, “a fairly... big... concept. Well, what can I say? It wasn’t me. It’s only a privilege.”

An older footservant, possibly No 7, strolls into the room and thrusts some papers under The Artist’s beautifully powdered nose. “Good shoes!” says No 7, eyeing NME’s stupid platforms approvingly, on their way to the door.

Why thank you. Shoes are important.

“Yes, they are,” says The Artist from his seat, talking into his papers, as No 7, gently but firmly, doses the door.

OUTSIDE PAISLEY Park in the arctic afternoon, The Photographer Formerly Known As Employed, takes a snap of a pigeon, keeled over on the driveway, legs in the air, frozen in ice. ’Very symbolic,” he sniffs and saunters off.

The bird who was free is dead. The perv who was imprisoned is born again. Funny old life.

“We’ll talk again", he’d said. And the pyramid on the rooftop glows ever more purple. “That’ll be him now, then,” you guffaw. And. suddenly, if only for a moment or two, you actually believe it is.