The Artist who would be king

Jane Stevenson

First things first.

The Artist, the name Prince now goes by, refuses to respond to lingering rumors—most recently documented in yesterday’s Entertainment Weekly—that his newborn son died one week after he was born Oct. 16 with severe birth defects.

“I don’t talk about family matters,” said the singer-songwriter-guitarist, who also refused to be tape-recorded during a half-hour interview at the Four Seasons Hotel yesterday.

“As far as any rumors go, I once read that I was dead. I have to deal with rumors and innuendo every day of my life. I can’t justify any of it by responding.”

The Artist—in town to promote his new funky, sexy three CD set Emancipation—would say that he plans to have more children with new wife, Mayte Garcia, but couldn’t say exactly when.

“I’d better not answer that—that’s looking into my soul,” he said with a smile.

The Artist, otherwise quite animated and outgoing in person, was more effusive about marrying Mayte last Valentine’s Day.

“It just made me completely focused. When you decide you’re not longer in the dating game, you can see your path easier. For one thing the phone stops ringing.”

So when The Artist gets around to playing in support of Emancipation, will Mayte be dancing alongside him as she was on his last tour?

“I don’t think so,” he says. “There’s a lot of things she would like to do.” Like? “She’s not here. I’d rather you ask her.”

The Artist says he’s initially staging a series of benefit shows in major U.S. cities in support of his Minneapolis-based charity, Love 4 One Another. The first one is Dec. 28 at his Paisley Park studios with the audience comprised of school kids—“with good grades"—from all over the country.

“I have a band and they’re working on material now,” said The Artist, 38. “Emancipation is a pretty dense record so it’s a lot of work.

“The thing about being in charge of your own affairs is there is no schedule.”

Having control was one of the main ingredients in The Artist’s highly publicized battle with his former record company, Warner, which saw him change his name to an unpronounceable symbol and later write the word “slave” on the side of his face. Emancipation was recorded on his own NPG Records and is being distributed by Capitol-EMI.

“In the end I wanted to own what I created,” he said. “Changing my name, that was very necessary. Had I not done that I would not be here. I’m nothing if I can’t continue to evolve, be free of any sort of chains. There was a lot of baggage that goes along with being called Prince. Although I feel like a prince and I hope to be a king one day.”

Despite how that sounds, he says, “Everybody wants to believe that I’m not nuts.”

Interestingly, since making Emancipation, the usually prolific musician claims to have recorded only two songs with just him singing and playing acoustic guitar.

“We’ve got a joke right now that I’m in studio rehab,” said The Artist. “I’ve just got to try and stop the faucet for a minute so there’s time to properly promote this album. It’s got everything in it I can do.

“The record is the most truthful I’ve ever made. There’s no censorship when it comes to the emotions of it.”