Soon after Prince’s untimely demise in 2016, I made overtures to Prince’s estate and to a leading gallery to recognise the cultural and historic value of his clothing collection.
As (at that time) one of very few people to have written and commented on Prince’s powerfully political dandy aesthetic, I was worried his ruffs, pantaloons and kinky boots could end up mothballed (or worse).
I want it all captured and preserved physically and digitally for current and future generations.
My heart sank when, opening the local paper, I saw tickets were going on sale for My Name is Prince. Billed as giving “fans the chance to get up close and personal with the music legend’s life and work” this wasn’t the reverential museum-based contextualised retrospective I’d had in mind.
Nor was it to be staged at the V&A, Met Museum or the Fashion Institute of Technology. It’s at the O2 Arena for funk’s sake.
In effect, Prince’s sister Tyka has created a pop-up Paisley Park inside a small exhibition space within the venue for his legendary 21 Nights 2007 residency. Costumes, guitars, awards and personal artefacts are laid bare amidst a purple-lit cacophony of sound and strobe lighting.
Prince lighting up the whole arena, and by extension the whole of London, purple throughout that memorable summer, entertaining at least 15,000 people a night, is one thing. Having his trinkets tucked away up an escalator, not even second-billing to Little Mix, is quite another.
It also didn’t help that excavators sounded like they were fracking beneath the arena, while wafts of fried food seeped through from the adjacent Harvester. Prince would have had the place ‘frou frou’d’ with scented candles at the very least.
But all of that was blown out of the waters of Lake Minnetonka when I marched past the audio-guide proferrers, harrumphed around a corner then laid eyes on…. The.Costumes.
Displayed on headless mannequins, there’s no glass partition so you can get within six inches of some of the most iconic Princewear dating back to the early 1980s.
Being able to get so up close to his stuff felt generous, intimate and life-affirming.
Unmediated and unretouched, un-ironed in most cases, you could see the creases in his coat tails, the scuffed toes on his silk-covered boots.
Was that a hint of foundation on the ruff of a frilly shirt? The purple flashy lighting, while on the one hand an annoyance because I couldn’t make out the exact colour of some of his jackets, also played clever tricks on the eye.
In one glass case lay his sunglasses and iconic ear cuffs. Peering close, I could see scratches on the lens of his priceless specs suggesting he’d plonked them down thoughtlessly on some surface – yes Prince had some careless habits just like the rest of us.
The effect of the disembodied outfits and artefacts was that I actively filled in the gaps with memories, visualisations and sensations. Here I go theorising again. Or rather here he goes again, framing our experience of him long after his demise.
As with a live Prince concert, in death Prince continues to make us work. Prince – like a set of shifting signifiers – meets us at the nexus of our experiences, passions, doubts and aspirations.
Witnessing his personal effects at close hand I was reminded of the influential person-centred theorist Carl Rogers’ view that we can find most fulfilment in viewing our lives as a flowing process “as a stream of becoming, not a finished product”.
“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be”, wrote Rogers. “When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”
Akin to Carl R Rogers’ notion of self-actualisation, in Paisley Park Prince created an environment – both actual and symbolic – where he could thrive, form positive relationships with his devoted, creative collaborators and self-disclose through his art.
So, it makes sense to transpose that environment from some freeway outside Minneapolis into a liminal space like the O2 Arena. It is to all intents and purposes an act of disclosure to his fans, albeit not by himself but through his belongings. In turn, it becomes a space for us to learn a little more about ourselves.
That’s why Prince went to great lengths to build good relationships with his fans. You could see this monumental star play for a tenner down the road. And he might throw in an after show, a free copy of his latest album, or ask to sleep on your sofa.
Just as he trilled to us tunefully and ironically, muscular yet eyelashes batting, that we didn’t have to be beautiful to turn him on, he was now showing us how he had overcome so many potential barriers just to be the best version of himself that he could be in any moment. Maybe he wasn’t fibbing in Kiss after all?
The academic researcher in me wasn’t satisfied. I craved written contextualisation, fabric descriptions, name-checks of tailors. The audio guide was great for someone just landing from Mars, but didn’t satisfy my thirst for minutiae.
Where were the really early costumes, the gold lame shorts, G-strings, Rude Boy ska badge?
Then I came back to Planet Earth off my lofty high horse. I started imagining he’d decluttered one Sunday afternoon, and sent them to Chanhassan jumble sales. In fact, that would not surprise me one bit.
His now-legendary engineer Susan Rogers told me he kept his frilly cast-offs in bin bags in the studios, and encouraged female staff have a rummage through in case they fancied any of it.
One day, I truly hope to see all the brocade and satin fully catalogued and on display in climate-controlled cases. It’s historically significant stuff and time is of the essence.
But for today, as both Carl and Prince Rogers would say, it’s not perfect but it’s enough.
“Really!? Are you sure about this? Can’t you just take a year’s unpaid leave from your university job in case it doesn’t work out?”
I’ve been fascinated by the oft-spluttered reactions of university colleagues to my recent change of job – from an associate dean to chief executive of the UK Council for Psychotherapy.
To those who don’t know me well, particularly what gets me up in the morning, it might seem an unusual move to step down from a coveted, professorial senior university position and take the reins of the leading membership, training and regulatory body for psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors.
To me, it makes total sense and fits entirely with my professional identity and career trajectory. In fact, it’s the realisation of all the foundations I’ve laid, theoretically and practically, over the past 30 years. And it’s brilliant.
As chief executive, my hand’s on the tiller of a bold new vision and strategy. I want our strategy and policy underpinned by significant, impactful research activity. Our members comprise Masters and doctoral candidates at 70+ training organisations alongside highly experienced, top level experts working in the NHS, public and private sectors. Our membership base is growing annually and spans umpteen modalities of which our therapists deliver critical practice at the cutting edge.
As I said to our Board of Trustees at my first address to then, CE stands for more than chief executive. I’m chief experience officer for our staff and varied stakeholders, both internal and external. I’m campaigning editor-in-chief. I’m vice-chancellor at a campus spanning the UK virtually and digitally.
There’s a standing desk (my one rider!) in London but my real office is in my rucksack, which travels with me up and down the land and further afield.
Collaborator , chatterbox, coach – countless, endlessly fascinating and creative functions are captured by my role.
So no, this isn’t a sabbatical from the ‘important’ business of the TEF, REF, restructures and regs. Nor is it the end of research – if anything that’s stepped up.
I’ve always straddled university life while remaining in the fray for the past 30 years. That was weird, to some, back then but not now. I’ve been talking the talk for too long – and now it’s time to walk the walk and put this theory into urgent, direct action for the benefit of our members and the public.
A month in and it has exceeded all expectations. I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts and progress….
“I’ve never been a Prince fan but after hearing this panel discussion I am so inspired!” Tom the audio-visual technician, 24, wasn’t even a glint in his parents’ eye when the star donned his shiny trench coat and sat astride a pumping motorcycle.
But after the first day’s deliberations at Purple Reign, the world’s first interdisciplinary academic conference on the legendary musician’s life and legacy, Tom’s completely sold.
He’s not alone. More than 60 researchers presented their findings on everything from Prince’s hit records to his high heels over two densely-packed days and nights of deliberations. Even Dez Dickerson, Prince’s one-time lead guitarist from The Revolution, rocked up and sprinkled purple stardust over the event, jointly hosted by University of Salford and Middle Tennessee State University.
Eyebrows are often raised when pop culture phenomena, be they musicians or TV series, attract critical scrutiny. People may scoff at the idea of a group of indulged academics squandering bloated expense budgets on pet pursuits. But in the coffee breaks as we exchanged email addresses, it was clear how many had crossed the globe at their own expense.
As an undergraduate student back in the 1980s, I made the controversial decision to do my dissertation on the pop star Prince.
While my classmates pondered pressing questions of political economy, media ethics and regulation, I burnt the midnight oil wearing out VHS tapes of Purple Rain. A part-time MA and PhD on the star followed, done in the evenings and weekends while juggling work and toddlers.
Prince offered me a lifeline
Why put myself through this? Because as a young working class female growing up in a depressed northern town, Prince offered a lifeline; the inspiration to crash through any barriers. His own inauspicious and troubled background is a masterclass in overcoming racism, trauma and bullying over his height to achieve success.
I spoke to many others who, like me, struggled to find academic publishers willing to make their scholarship permanent. Yet their work is no less empirically rich, methodologically-sound or relevant than studies of Mozart. Their interrogations spanned musicology, philosophy, psychoanalysis, visual culture, gender, ethnicity and sexuality.
The topics were tangible, not esoteric: His connections with black labour activism and the radical tradition were under the spotlight. His battles with the corporate music megaliths in the 1990s, which he won by dropping his name for an unpronounceable symbol, provided rich insight into commercial law. It wasn’t sycophantic hero-worship: serious questions were addressed, especially regarding homosexuality and misogyny.
I was also struck by how diverse and global the delegate list is. Ivy League scholars mingled with fans and rock stars. One man, James, visited from the USA to proffer perspectives from African studies, rather than the privileged white Western discourses that dominate student reading lists here in the UK.
I also met scholars from Russia and Poland: “Imagine listening to Prince under Putin? You cannot begin to image how much we feel personally liberated by his music.”
PhD student Scarlett, accompanied by her super-fan dad, spoke personally about how Prince taught men to value women as equals and helped her father know how to equip her with life skills as a young teenager.
No ‘easy options’
The ubiquity and popularity of stars such as Bowie, Beyoncé and Kanye can tell us much about everything from death to digital technology.
But the biggest value of these gatherings is the way they challenge the status quo of academic ‘value’. To dismiss pop culture phenomena as less worthy or ‘important’ is to totally miss the fact that higher education is meant to be more inclusive than ever.
Indeed, an oversubscribed black feminist course on the politics of Beyoncé was cancelled at Rutgers University in the US because it was so popular it threatened other modules.
Yet this was no ‘easy option’ – it centred on the complex theories of Foucault and Deleuze, although, unlike some courses, it made those critical studies relevant to the lived experiences of the participants, be they black and/or working class.
Interrogating these objects of study exposes outdated, outmoded and elitist academic discourses which exclude a diversity of voices. They serve as a wake-up call to outmoded higher education structures, syllabi and research funding barriers.
As buildings across the city were lit up in the late icon’s signature colour, we held silences in tribute to fellow music fans who lost the lives at Manchester Arena, a venue Prince loved. The music research beat must go on.
All it lacked was Graham Norton doing the commentary. The BBC’s staging of last night’s Leaders’ Debate had more in common with a ratings’ driven TV contest than an informative event to help the “undecideds” vote next Thursday. It was as if the seven leaders of the main political parties and their stand-ins were vying for the top slot of most retweeted quote or most viral putdown. Admittedly BBC bosses had a tough brief: finding televisual strategies that appeal to a cross section of the entire UK’s diverse demographic is nigh on impossible. Only that can explain the rather bizarre juxtaposition of the grandiose wood paneled University of Cambridge backdrop, connoting “importance,” against the Weakest Link style semi-circle of podiums. In fact, it felt like one of those nightmares you have on the eve of a major job interview.
So much so, Theresa May—the woman who actually called this general election—made the bizarre decision to bail out and sent the recently bereaved Amber Rudd into battle. Rudd defended her leader’s decision on the grounds that “part of being a good leader is having a good, strong team.” Now, I loathe it when female leaders are maligned for showing little warmth, a criticism all-too-often laid at the door of women and not men. But Home Secretary Rudd’s rather severe demeanour did nothing to reassure a largely terrified and certainly confused British populace that it is safe under Tory rule. The moment when she said the Conservatives care most passionately about the poorest had the trappings of pantomime and a Crimewatch reconstruction rolled into one.
To be fair, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon wasn’t there either, with deputy Angus Robertson—the party’s Westminster leader—speaking instead. And Caroline Lucas is one of two co-leaders of the Green Party. Lucas was the most impressive of the assembled, standing out from the cacophonous crowd in her challenge to the Tories’ record on arms sales. If anything, she made Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s case for him, but with more conviction.
Deciding late in the day to pitch up, Corbyn ditched the “Chairman Mao-style” cycle cap and presented one of the more polished performances of his campaign. Not only did that seem to sway the studio audience in his favour—in fact if the audience were randomly selected and representative of a cross-section of voters then it looks like a Labour landslide—it probably surprised the majority of his own MPs who’d previously voted no confidence in him. Head tilted to one side, we witnessed a resolutely statesmanlike Corbyn, a more authentic leader, happy in his own skin as a man with four decades’ experience in politics. The 1970s lecturer vibe of yore has been consigned to history, thankfully. Beside Corbyn and Lucas, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron appeared affable but ill-equipped—and somewhat too immature—to take on sole-charge of society’s challenges.
During the 90-minute debate, there were clashes over living standards, public sector pay and immigration. But I was surprised to hear nothing on school-level education, given Darth Mayder’s manifesto pledge to bring back grammars. Had the debate touched more on that fundamental bedrock—children’s, and by extension, the nation’s future—it might have given the delegates their much-needed breakthrough moments.
As for Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, he came across like a pub bore with his profoundly offensive views on immigrants unembellished with any factual grounding. As one Twitter commentator put it, he made even Nigel Farage sound like Abraham Lincoln.
If there was one big takeaway from the programme, it is that an alliance between Labour and the other progressive parties no longer looks as scary or chaotic as it might once have done. But I don’t think the programme’s format fits with the times anymore. In the wake of the Manchester bombing coupled with Brexit and the NHS crisis, the public needed deeper, thoughtful interrogation, not a battle for primacy and soundbites.
Unless you’ve been camping off-grid in the Siberian tundra, you can’t have avoided the news that Britain’s most eligible bachelorette is about to marry. Long after Twitter and Facebook stopped cooing over Prince William’s nuptials, the media is still fawning over Kate Middleton’s younger sister Pippa, who ties the knot tomorrow.
Pippa, 33, best known for her stellar in-laws and her over-scrutinised behind, will marry hedge fund manager James Matthews, 41, at a private ceremony in Berkshire. Not many couples exchange their vows in front of two British kings-in-waiting, William and his pageboy son George; even fewer in front of Matthews’s television lothario brother Spencer—known for his appearances on Made in Chelsea.
The US-based media have parked their satellite vans in Bucklebury for the weekend, but that’s not without precedent. They don’t have their own royal family, at least not since the quasi-regal Kennedys. If our monarchy has any relevance these days, it’s as a curiosity for the rest of the world, undoubtedly drawing in tourists in their droves.
What bothers me is the oversaturation of Pippa in the UK where, frankly, most of the public couldn’t give a hoot. Considering this isn’t even a royal wedding, this is garnering acres more attention than even when Sarah Ferguson took Prince Andrew down the aisle. That made three paragraphs on an inside page of the Guardian. Even that venerable stable of solid news values couldn’t resist a preview of the Middleton big day on its home page.
Stories like this clearly illustrate how UK media outlets are like penguins around an ice hole. When one brand decides a story is worth doing to death then the rest follow, each trying to catch ever more exclusive prey. I’m sure there’s a triple bonus for the paparazzo who can bring in a glimpse of Prince Harry’s paramour TV actor Meghan Markel in her rollers and bathrobe.
Another related and creepier concern is that it exposes what happens when we entrust a predominantly ageing, conservative male demographic to run Britain’s news desks. They froth over Pippa like dirty old men. She’s frightfully posh, tanned and svelte thanks to all that marathon running. If only more young brides would focus on staying pretty like her instead of pursuing careers. One tabloid has gone so far as mocking up images of what her bridal lingerie might look like. Because Pippa isn’t quite royal, they think they can get away with debasing her.
But they can’t. With every headline and caption like this, the media shift ever more seriously out of touch with what British news consumers actually want. If the outlets peddling this stuff are to have a future then they seriously need to reassess their purpose and reconnect with their audiences. Yes, audiences plural.
The real joy and opportunity in reporting UK culture is in mining the rich seam of untold narratives that exist in this diverse-but-compact island. Tomorrow, countless couples and families—white, black, rich, poor, young, old—will be forced to compare their own worth against this stereotype of the perfect wedding. I know whose stories I’d rather read about and I am sure I am not alone.
When it comes to breaking the internet, Kim Kardashian’s got nothing on HRH Prince Phillip. She might as well swap the slinky silk blouses for sensible tweed and trade in her limo for a horse and trap, because our doughty Duke is unbeatable when it comes to global media popularity.
Satellite vans of the world’s biggest news brands burnt rubber to the gates of Buckingham Palace when word leaked out in the early hours of an impending announcement.
A world on tenterhooks Global speculation began when the MailOnline website published a story at 1am, Thursday about a “highly unusual’ emergency meeting called by the Lord Chamberlain, the Queen’s most senior officer of the Royal Household.
Moments later, the story had crossed the Channel and the Atlantic, and the ever-present royal watchers and tourists were elbowed off their Mall vantage points by camera crews and besuited, stiff-haired presenters. “The world has always been fascinated by our monarchy and its role in Brand UK.” Quickly, momentum took a darker twist as a couple of brands in the UK and further afield mistakenly announced Prince Philip had died. Was the Palace trolling us?
By the time I awoke and turned on Twitter, the trending #BuckinghamPalace hashtag revealed a world on tenterhooks… and the tension was palpable when the BBC and Sky completely ignored the story in their 8am bulletins. Tweeters reported being late for work or putting back their bedtimes, unable to rest till they had the full picture.
Bizarrely, it was actually a New Zealand-based media outlet, Newshub, who were the first to get telephone confirmation from the Palace that no-one had died. How? Good old-fashioned phone bashing.
Why the media fascination? What is it about Phillip that has commended such global media fascination since he walked Princess Elizabeth up the aisle? Well, that wedding was one of the world’s first media spectacles after all. The vision of an unerringly manly man, a Royal Navy officer, being willing to take a back step and take a supportive role to a woman and, later, a mother was captivating to many.
Back when I worked at the Liverpool Echo, I was one of just two journalists allowed to follow the Queen and Prince Philip on a tour of Lever Brothers’ soap works at Port Sunlight. Her Majesty remained dauntingly formal and not a little dour throughout, but a grinning Phillip, doffing his impeccable headgear, was straight over to us for a chat. His relationship with journalists was and remains unerringly affable, perhaps deliberately taking the tension out of formal events.
His famously unguarded candour, sometime hilarious and infrequently cringe-worthy, ensures a steady drip feed of “Man Bites Dog” level headlines wherever he may tread. In an age of visual media, the Duke is a picture-opportunity par non. Whether bedecked in dandy garbs or hurtling cross country at the reigns of a horse-drawn carriage, the world continues to be fascinated by how a man of his age can remain energetic is almost superhuman ways. He’s Bond-like, indestructible.
The world has always been fascinated by our monarchy and its role in Brand UK. While their images may be etched inside the eyelids of almost everyone across the planet, the senior Royals are intriguingly unknowable. Philip, despite his Mediterranean connections, reflects stereotypically British upper class masculinity, that raging testosterone channeled into sartorial elegance and charging around the British countryside.
With so much political, social and economic flux, and Brexit drawing ever more attention to us as a sovereign state, it’s not surprising that this 95-year-old figurehead serves as something of a consistent and enduring reference point in uncertain times.
Professor Sarah Niblock is Associate Dean (Undergraduate) at the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster and a journalist.
From the outside, Paisley Park resembles a less ambitious Ikea or a suburban medical center—the kind where podiatrists and dentists make their living. The 65,000-square-foot, clinically white compound is surrounded by a traditional parking lot and a few evenly spaced trees. In the distance of the residential area of Chanhassen, Minnesota, you’ll spot a day care center and a public storage facility right before a highway entrance. It would more seemingly be the home of the film Office Spacethan one of most creative musicians of our time.
Yet inside, one is transported to a kaleidoscope of trippy colors and questionable interior design decisions. As you enter, a six-foot horizontal mural of Prince’s eyes seductively stares you down—it was the artist’s way of letting guests know he was watching them. From there, you walk into a colorful atrium with large piano keys drawn into the ceiling and plush purple velvet sofas anchored on either side. Heavenly cloud designs on the wall are meant to symbolize that this was a place of “no limits.” Beneath you, the artist’s insignia is inscribed into marble tiles. A caged dove coos from a second-floor balcony.
Further down lie several recording studios and bland offices, as well as a “galaxy room” filled with ultraviolet lights and drawn planets meant for one to practice meditation. There’s also a spacious nightclub complete with a stage, theater screens, and velvet ropes where Prince would throw concerts or parties for up to 1,000 guests. Sometimes, though, he would play Finding Nemo for them instead.
In some ways, the entirety of Paisley Park feels a lot like Prince himself—a successful combination of corporate aggressiveness and psychedelic creativity, with just a dash of kookiness. Business in the front, party like it’s 1999 in the back.
“THERE IS A PARK THAT IS KNOWN…”
While the icon passed away last year, his sanctuary lives on, albeit in a much different way. Paisley Park now serves as a museum run by Graceland Holdings LLC, the same company that manages Elvis Presley’s Graceland. But prior to his death, Paisley Park functioned as a revolutionary symbol for the music industry. What Prince created was more than just a home and recording studio—he created an entirely new way for musicians to envision their production.
Following the meteoric success of Purple Rain in 1983, Prince Rogers Nelson decided he wanted to build his very own recording studio. At that time, he was living in a residential area of Minneapolis in what was dubbed “the purple house” because it was the only house painted the regal hue in what was effectively a rather homogenous block. (The neighbors, it’s been said, were not pleased.) He already had an in-house recording studio, but with all his different projects, the young musician was spending outrageous amounts of money renting additional commercial recording studios.
Bret Thoeny, architect and owner of Boto Design Architects in Los Angeles, was only 23 years old when Prince’s manager tapped him to design the purple house recording studio. Shortly thereafter, he was summoned to produce what would become the $10 million Paisley Park.
Upon arrival, the architect discovered that Prince’s team had already purchased a warehouse in Eden Prairie, a suburb south of Minneapolis.
“He really had a vision that he wanted to have a creative complex that was his—that wasn’t in Los Angeles or New York, but in Minneapolis, where he was born and raised and felt comfortable in,” says Theony. “So he could bring everything to him, not the other way around.”
Professor Sarah Niblock, associate dean of the University of Westminster and co-author of Prince: The Making of a Pop Icon, regards Prince’s physical dedication to his Midwestern roots as symbolic. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, the African-American community consisted of less than two percent of the Minneapolis-St. Paul population. Growing up as an African-American in one of the whitest American cities was key to forming Prince’s talent for melding a unique blend of musical styles, explains Niblock. That he also overcame local radio stations and music clubs—which had traditionally refused to associate with black music—made him a trailblazer.
“Prince went through huge battles to put the Twin Cities on the map as a global center for black musical innovation,” says Niblock. “No wonder he wanted to create a permanent monument to that struggle, right on the highway so no one could ignore it.”
On a lighter note, Prince once told Oprah that he chose to remain in the Midwest for more practical reasons. “The cold keeps the bad people out,” he said coyly.
Minneapolis was non-negotiable, but the chosen property wasn’t large enough to execute Prince’s demands: a complete multi-use complex of recording studios, Hollywood-equipped sound stages, vaults to hold unreleased songs, multiple dressing rooms, editing suites, offices, and enough space to film movies and hold full concert tour rehearsals. It would also include living quarters so that, if need be, Prince and his team could rest following late hours. That means the Purple Rain star could compose at any hour of the day, whenever he pleased, in his very own sound factory.
“The music, for me, doesn’t come on a schedule,” Prince asserted in a 1996 interview with The New York Times. “I don’t know when it’s going to come, and when it does, I want it out.”
Such a compound was revolutionary for its time. It might be standard fare for popular artists today, but back then, musicians strictly worked with commercial studios. The only similar project belonged to George Lucas, who built Skywalker Ranch in 1978.
“Artists weren’t doing this,” stresses Theony. “It was forward thinking, [this idea] of combining everything under one roof. It had never been done by an artist.”
Theony was tasked with finding another property, so he simply drove further north into the suburb of Chanhassen, a quiet area that had a few industrial complexes peppered throughout. Theony stumbled upon an open piece of land—six acres—with nothing but several beehives. It would become the future site of the production plant that was Paisley Park.
“THEY’VE TAKEN A LIFETIME LEASE . . .”
For the next year and a half, Theony worked alongside The Purple One to execute the first recording facility of its kind. Not that working with such a demanding—and visual—artist was by any stretch simple. For example, Prince didn’t want to look at blueprints. Such documents didn’t help him imagine the end product. Instead, Theony was required to make a scale miniature model of all of Paisley Park.
“I would show him in 3-D, and he really got into it—looking inside the little rooms and making suggestions,” Theony recounts.
Some of the facility was pre-determined due to its production specifications. The high ceilings throughout the complex were a direct result of the large sound stages built. Other details, though, were specifically requested: “He wanted pyramids,” says Theony, who positioned one in front and one by the living-quarters suite in the middle. The latter would light up in a soft violet glow whenever Prince was in residence, much like the Queen’s flag at Buckingham Palace. He also preferred that the structure be mostly windowless to protect his privacy and to limit sunlight.
Other aspects were functional. The entryway had double doors to prevent the cold weather from seeping in. Once inside, there was a small gathering point so guests could warm up. “It had some public aspects,” says Theony.
Some details were a hybrid between the two professionals. Theony designed the building exterior’s white metals panels, which he thought would serve as a dramatic contrast against the green front lawn. Prince took it a notch up by using them as a canvas with which he would either light up in purple lights or flash various images on.
During his time with Prince, Theony was also witness to some of the singer’s lovable eccentricities, including his appreciation for fan mail. “A fan had sent him a white dove and that dove lived in his office,” recalls Theony. “It became a [Paisley Park] mascot for a while.”
When it was completed in 1987, “Prince couldn’t believe it,” says Theony. The singer, who was 29 upon its opening, had been on tour for a good portion of that last year. “He was quite happy.”
Prince’s mission to build a recording production plant solidified his independence, both creatively and physically. Much like how he took on the recording industry to break free of corporate interference, he envisioned a new, bold approach to music-making. Prince wanted to control and have access to everything he created.“Everything was in one place so, at the drop of a hat, he could do whatever he wanted, 24 hours a day,” explains Niblock. “If he wanted a new album cover, his in-house photographer could have the shoot set up in an instant. If he wanted a new outfit rustled up, he could phone down to the wardrobe department. Whenever the energy felt right, he could jump into a studio and lay down vocals or, if he wanted, do an impromptu stage performance video with his band at 3:00 am.”
“ASK WHERE THEY’RE GOING, THEY’LL TELL YOU ‘NOWHERE’ . . .”
Life was busy at Paisley Park, which served other artists from the get-go. Steve Parke, author of the upcoming book Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait began painting with the artist in 1988 and ultimately became his art director for 13 years. He recalls the early days of Paisley Park filled with musicians, actors, and directors who were renting the premises for a number of projects. It was not unusual for him to walk past someone like MC Hammer in the halls.
“It was definitely more of a corporate entity,” says Parke. “The estate had its own sustainable income.”
But over the years, the direction of Paisley Park changed: Prince slowly took up more of the studios and reclaimed his investment. “He wanted to bounce between studios,” says Parke, who would witness the musician hustle back and forth across the atrium to record in various studios. “He’d be occupying all the spaces [until] he took it all over.” In the later years, outside recording was restricted to a few close friends and collaborators.
Prince’s refocus on Paisley Park was not only reflected in his decision to cut back on rental use, but also in his desire to rework the interior design. As Parke remembers, “One night, he said ‘’I want to change all this and make it more creative.’”
Parke had to throw ideas out in hopes that Prince would take to them. “He wasn’t super communicative, you kind of had to figure it out,” he says. Parke incorporated details like the mural of the artist’s eyes by the entrance, building a waterfall behind a drinking fountain, and designing a rug that weaved in the singer’s lyrics. “It was about making it more interesting instead of, in his mind, bare bones.”
Working 100-hour work weeks to meet the singer’s demands wasn’t out of the ordinary. Prince’s perfectionism extended beyond himself and became a work ethic he expected of his employees.
But there were perks: Parke often worked to the sound of Prince playing his piano. During late nights, Prince would challenge him to a game of ping-pong, although it wasn’t always fair. (“He cheated,” claims Parke of one memorable game.) And oftentimes, Prince would go into the kitchen to prepare him a fruit shake in big red Dixie cup.
“He was a bit like Willy Wonka in the Chocolate Factory,” says Parke.
Paisley Park proved remarkably productive for Prince, who recorded 30 albums there, including Lovesexy, the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Batman, Diamonds & Pearls, The Gold Experience, Sign O’ The Times and Emancipation. In addition, the facilities were rented out by a number of bold-faced names: Madonna, James Brown, Celine Dion, and Stevie Wonder among them. It even hosted movie sets, such as the 1993 film Grumpy Old Men.
In later decades, Prince’s home became infamous for its secretive, legendary parties and recounts of adorably bizarre behavior. The Chappelle Show hilariously immortalized late comedian Charlie Murphy’s story of being schooled by a competitive Prince on the Paisley Park basketball court, while Jamie Foxx said of the eccentric scene, “It was like all these people in there just kinda left over from the set of Purple Rain.”
Over the course of Prince’s residency, Paisley Park was subject to the artist’s private life and milestones: weddings, divorces, record contracts. Some were happy moments, others more melancholy. Following the death of his newborn son, writes his ex-wife Mayte Garcia in her new memoir The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince, Prince destroyed a newly-constructed home area and playground he had designated for the family he would no longer have. “In the darkest possible state of mind, [Prince] had it bulldozed to the ground and the contents burned,” wrote Garcia.
But perhaps one of Paisley Park’s greatest unsung contributions is the community it built. Prince brought together a wide variety of up-and-coming musicians, proteges, and collaborators who ventured to Minneapolis to record music. He was more than a legendary singer and songwriter of funk and R&B—he was a talented producer, editor, mixer, and talent scout. His more recent proteges included Janelle Monáe, Esperanza Spalding, and the female trio 3RDEYEGIRL.
“He was a huge champion for women and women being in the position of power,” Monáe said of her late mentor last year.
“ADMISSION IS EASY, JUST SAY YOU BELIEVE . . .”
Today, Paisley Park is outfitted with memorabilia, exhibitions, and tours that reflect on the artist’s decades-long career. Daily tours trace the creativity that was once bred at Paisley Park; fans can walk through the recording studios, editing suites and club that are no longer in use. The museum kept Paisley Park pretty much as it was the day Prince passed away in the facility’s elevator. So much so that even a few of the musician’s personal belongings—a cat carrier in his personal office, travel luggage in the corner, handwritten lyrics on a music stand—are left as they were on April 21, 2016. A Yankee Candle (Ocean Mist scented) that lies on Prince’s editing desk is probably the most jarring reminder that despite his otherworldly attributes, he was above all, a human, like us, who enjoyed cheap candles.
In the atrium that once held legendary parties lies a hoisted elaborate model recreation of Paisley Park. In it remains Prince’s ashes. A tour guide has a tissue box on hand should you find it necessary.
The Paisley Park museum will undoubtedly excite fans who have always wanted a peek inside the artist’s notoriously private creative space. (There is, at press time, no exhibits dedicated to his personal life.) But for some, there is disappointment that a complex so very dedicated to creation—with three recording studios still fully functional—remains inactive. Prince had wanted Paisley Park to ultimately serve as a museum, but did he want it to cease its original intention?
“My personal feeling is that should be both a museum and a working facility too,” says Theony. “I’d like to see it have a double life because I think it pushes the legacy forward.”
Parke, who recalls Prince mentioning Graceland “from time to time,” harbors conflicted feelings. He recognizes it would likely be a logistical nightmare to keep a museum running while coordinating rental space of the recording studios, but “Maybe that’s something they can do in the future,” he hopes. “Prince loved kids and educating kids through music and it’d be great if there was an opportunity somewhere down the line for that to be integrated into the museum.”
“Prince worked really, really hard,” says Parke, “I’m not sure people realize that. They just see the end product.” Parke recalls witnessing eight-hour rehearsals and all-night choreography preparations, albeit it all looked effortless once the singer took stage. “He pushed himself to an incredible degree. There may have been a tiny bit of magic involved, but most of that magic was stuff he created. It wasn’t out of nowhere . . . He [built that] at Paisley Park.”