Former Prince’s coming out bash is unforgettable

Jim Walsh

Just after midnight Wednesday morning, veteran Twin Cities music scribe Martin Keller stood in the recording room of Studio B at Paisley Park.

Keller, the writer who anointed Prince “His Royal Badness” in the early ’80s, was surrounded by members of the local print media, as well as journalists and an army of photographers from Italy, England, France, Spain and points in between.

Seated at a table with a small candle in the center was his former Royal Badness, the artist formerly known as Prince, who was holding a press conference moments after delivering a superb half-hour performance with his band, the New Power Generation, that was broadcast around the globe Tuesday night. At one point, a French journalist asked why TAFKAP has chosen to stay in his hometown of Minneapolis.

“I’ve gone several places in the world,” he replied. “And when I get back over that green and all those lakes, I feel peace. I think God puts you where you live for a reason, and I’ll live here for the rest of my life.”

It was an extremely unlikely scenario—pop music’s most reclusive genius meeting the press, like a post-game athlete in the locker room, or a pre-election candidate trolling for votes. Amid the questions about the musician’s new deal with EMI; his new album, “Emancipation” (due in stores Tuesday); fatherhood; and his marriage to Mayte Garcia (who was celebrating her 24th birthday Tuesday), Keller provided some perspective.

“Over the years, you’ve been notoriously press-shy,” he said. “And yet here we all are . . .” Without missing a beat, TAFKAP replied: “Well, I’ve got a record to sell.”

The room burst into laughter, but when all is said and done, it may have been the frankest statement of the night. “Before, I made them,” he said after the laughter died down. “I wasn’t selling them.”

He is now. Roll over Paul Stark, tell Lori Barbero and Tom Hazelmyer the news: The newest independent record-label owner in town is none other than the man who sold more than 100 million records for Warner Bros., his former label, toward which he said he bears no animosity: “They helped build this place. This was my dream. I owe them a debt.”

In addition to being its only artist, the former Prince is the president of NPG Records—though, for the time being, he said there are no other NPG projects on the back burner, since the “Emancipation” project is “such a mouthful.”

The 20-minute press conference yielded comments on other topics, including
*His staggering output: “There are over 1,000 songs in the vault. They’re fully realized, though some aren’t ready. The time’s not right for them to come out yet.”

*Marriage: “It’s changed my writing immensely. You stop looking for different things. You feel complete. She’s completed my soul.”

*What Mayte calls him: “Lotsa things,” he said, with a coy roll of the eyes.

*His inspiration: “Muhammed Ali.”

*Fatherhood: “It changes everything. I mean, I had playgrounds built before the birth.”

*Mayte’s role with the New Power Generation: “It’s mom time for her now. That’s all she thinks about.”

But the richest interview material was, of course, about music. For the first time ever, TAFKAP has recorded a cover tune—four times, in fact, on “Emancipation": The Stylistics’ “Betcha by Golly, Wow"; Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me"; the Delfonics’ “La La La Means I Love You"; and Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.”

“We did cover songs where we could give something back to the artists and pay them,” he said, sounding more like a socialist than a capitalistic record executive.

Of “One of Us,” he said, “I think it’s important for every musician to cover that song. And every person of color should cover it, too.”

The press conference’s other big laugh came when a gushing journalist admitted to TAFKAP that he owns several of the musician’s bootleg albums.

“Security!” TAFKAP cried, jumping up from his seat. After which, somebody asked how he feels about his back catalog. “I don’t own Prince’s music,” he replied. “I  don’t own the masters. I don’t own the publishing. But I know how to play ’em.”

And how. And though the six-song showcase ("Jam of the Year,” “Purple Rain,” “Get Yo Groove On,” “Joy in Repetition,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “One of Us") served its purpose—to reacquaint the world with one of rock/funk/pop’s greatest performers
—this listener was left wanting more music and more atmosphere.

Paisley Park might make for a good television studio, but as a live-music venue it is an eminently antiseptic environment, and anyone who has attended more than a few of TAFKAP’s late-night concerts at his Love for One Another club at Paisley over the past two years are undoubtedly ready for the little love god to come out of the Paisley cocoon and bounce his sounds off the walls of a dirty club, theater or arena.

The antiseptic vibe was even more pronounced than usual Tuesday night-Wednesday morning, given all the industry types and stiff suits that made up the crowd (a handful of fans who waited at the gate in the 20-degree weather eventually were admitted).

Still, the performance itself was typically magnificent, especially when coupled with a 35-minute set (following the press conference) that featured a free-form jam (with TAFKAP on bass) and included several guest vocalists. That jam, “One of Us” and a scintillating version of “The Cross” were the highlights of the night. As the clock approached 2 a.m., TAFKAP said, “It’s my wife’s birthday. We gotta get outta here.

But not yet.” And the New Power Generation went into “The Cross,” which concluded with a roaring guitar solo that put an indelible exclamation point on the evening. TAFKAP started to walk off stage, then abruptly returned to the microphone to issue one last message to the gathering of music-industry honchos, who, collectively, have the power to make or break an independent businessman.

“Remember, November 19,” he said. “Don’t let us down, y’all.”