“Peace to David Bowie. I only met him once, but he was really nice to me. Seems like he was that way with everybody. Just wanted to say that.”
– Prince, opening night of the Piano & a Microphone tour, January 21st 2016
As with David Bowie, George Michael, Steve Strange, Pete Burns et al, it still doesn’t feel like the news has really sunk in. Nevertheless, to mark today’s 24 month anniversary Prince’s estate had finally released the Purple One’s original studio take of Nothing Compares 2 U.
Lest we forget, Nothing Compares 2 U was the song Prince dashed off in June 1984, for his protégés The Family. Purple Rain had been released the same month but his head was already a whirlpool of future projects, many which never came to fruition in his lifetime.
Prince’s rockier, more electronic version lacks the plaintive sorrow and haunted emptiness of Sinead O’Connor’s memorable and minimalist reimagining, obviously, but it’s a fascinating listen… despite Eric Leeds’ slightly grating but typically very Eighties sax solo. Unbelievably, Prince – ever the control superfreak – didn’t care for Sinead’s cover, chiefly because, unlike, say the Bangles’s Manic Monday, it wasn’t an ‘official’ approved version from demo tapes that he’d personally handed over. That didn’t stop him ‘cashing in’ on O’Connor’s chart-topping success though, including a live take on his 1993 compilation The Hits/The B-Sides.
With Paisley Park now permanently re-zoned as a museum, Warner’s posthumous release programme well under way and Universal Music Publishing slightly controversially appointed to administer Prince’s publishing rights, it’s time to give serious thought to what should happen to Prince’s unreleased music, concerts, videos and films.
So here’s an outline of what matters, what that means, and what should be done — to create debate, and perhaps shape the thinking of those in charge.
“Maybe it’ll all make sense when I’m dead. When I’m dead” (Old Friends 4 Sale, 1985)
It seems incredible – nonsensical even – that a man who fought so hard to gain complete control over his work, and so jealously guarded its presentation, would make no provision for its care after his death. But, whatever the reason, no will has been found, so, unlike Bowie, for whom legacy was everything, no binding expression of his wishes will be forthcoming to guide the estate in its management of Prince’s artistic heirlooms.
Anyone managing Prince’s estate has several things to think about, many of which compete, all of which are important, and none of which can be ignored:
Aesthetic significance — Prince was one of the world’s most accomplished musicians, writers and performers, with an astonishing work rate across the widest possible spectrum of pop music.
This is an artist whose output set the bar in both quantity and quality and should be managed and presented in such a way as to make this fact indisputable.
Cultural and historical significance — Prince didn’t just create outstanding works of art in music, fashion, film and performance, he manipulated his image to blur social racial and sexual lines and challenge societal norms, pushing the boundaries of acceptable artistic expression.
The Purple One created new ways of working in the Paisley Park Studios and record label, and pioneered new ways of communicating and selling with his online presence. His work, persona and achievements resonated with millions worldwide and shaped contemporary commerce and culture.
Commercial considerations — While many fans express horror at the suggestion that Prince’s work be used to generate revenue for the estate, there are good reasons that it should.
First and foremost, the only sure way to preserve Prince’s work is to ensure that the preservation is paid for. Working through The Vault, cataloguing and preserving it will take a lot of time and money, and the most certain way to generate that money is to allow people to purchase this new material. Done well, this will enhance people’s appreciation of his legacy and ensure its preservation and dissemination in perpetuity.
The expectation of inheritors — Again, people might be aghast at the thought that Prince’s estate is “property” that can be treated as a set of “assets” with monetary value and divided up amongst his heirs — but in truth, because Prince left no will, in the eyes of the law, that’s exactly what it is. First of these inheritors is the IRS, the US tax man — who is obliged to seek a considerable portion of the value of the estate, the first bill for which was due in January 2017. Second are the legal heirs, in this case, his next of kin.
If one of your relatives was a multi-millionaire, who sadly died without a will, you might reasonably expect that you might receive some part of the proceeds of that estate. There’s nothing particularly fair, or equitable about it, but then there’s nothing particularly fair or equitable about people winning the lottery. It’s just life. Prince’s heirs may have such an expectation — though they doubtless realise that the best way for them to guarantee the best possible return from this inheritance is to safeguard, preserve and manage it appropriately.
Prince’s wishes — Prince didn’t leave a will, and he’s no longer around to ask, but he did make certain plans and provisions, in particular for the uses Paisley Park Studios should be put to.
Insofar as it is possible, it is desirable to ensure that his wishes are adhered to.
Prince’s example — In the absence of a will, it is impossible to know exactly what he would want in respect of his estate, but he lived a life where his actions spoke clearly to his personal, artistic and commercial sensibility.
We might not know what he would do in the detail any given artistic choice — would he want that 20-minute remix of I Would Die 4 U released, as well as the official 10-minute version? But there are some things he never did, and his example should set the limits for the further dissemination of his work.
“I’ve got grooves, and grooves up on the shelf”
(Daddy Pop, 1990)
Because Prince’s musical output, both published and unreleased, both for himself and for others, was so vast, and because he recorded so many of his live performances, and produced so much related content, the question of how this huge resource might be organised and released is itself dizzying in scope. Some choices are relatively simple — Prince made some creative and commercial decisions that have yet to be executed.
Two posthumous Warner Bros. album releases have already been released — a greatest hits album 4Ever in late 2016, and an expanded version of Purple Rain following in 2017. It appears that these were submitted by Prince to the record company in 2014 when he re-signed to the label as part of the deal he made to regain his master recordings. (Prince insider ‘Dr Funkenberry’ asserts that another album of “unreleased” material was submitted to Warner Bros. before he died — though the exact nature of this material is unclear.) These three releases will almost certainly represent the last material which had Prince’s approval and his personal supervision of their content.
The first posthumous album of unheard Prince music is set to arrive on Sept. 28, the chief custodian of his archive announced this week. Whether that turns out to be the set Funkenberry makes reference to is unclear at this time, but with a release date of five months away, further details will emerge pretty soon. The news was revealed during a turbulent week in which arguments over blame for Prince’s death and the safety of his Paisley Park vault resurfaced. Troy Carter, who’s charged with looking after the material recovered from Paisley Park, spoke to Variety magazine recently:
“The last year was really about information collecting. Meeting with various partners, meeting with the heirs and [estate executor] Comerica and figuring out what partners we need to bring on to help execute that vision. First and foremost, it was about organising the vault and finding out what music exists, what footage exists, photos, personal notes, letters. Prince basically saved everything, so there are decades of music and video and artifacts, but it takes long time to go through each one of those and research the historical context. Where is this from, who did he collaborate with, where was it recorded, what year, was it the final version?”
Carter noted that Nothing Compares 2 U was “the first piece of music to come from our collaboration with the estate. Now we’re working on a release for the fall — a full-length album. Michael Howe, who’s been working with us on the archive, has done a tremendous job of finding some special pieces of work, and one of the pieces that he found, all of us fell in love with it and decided this was special enough for fans to hear. So we’re putting the final touches on it. After the excitement around [Nothing Compares 2 U], we felt, ‘Let’s give the fans something else this year.’”
The new album will be “time specific,” Carter said, rather than a compilation of material from across the archive. He added that Prince had written down “his thoughts and plans and how he ran his business, so he pretty much left a blueprint of how things should go.”
When the estate executors Comerica decided to remove the giant archive from Paisley Park, Prince’s surviving relatives objected. But because Prince left no will, his executors have the authority to do what they feel is best, and legal action to prevent the move failed. Now a series of pictures appear to suggest that Comerica was right when it decided material was at risk if it remained in Prince’s basement bank vault. The Vault contains enough music to release 100 albums, piles of cash and old studio equipment, as well as signs of potentially dangerous wear and crushed storage material. Prince’s longtime engineer Susan Rogers told the Guardian that when she left Prince’s employment in 1987, The Vault was almost completely full.
“Everybody’s looking for the answers — how the story started and how it will end”
(The Ladder, 1984)
Beyond that as-yet-untitled album, what should happen to the rest of the material that Prince produced — the records released, the live performances recorded, the re-workings and remixes, and all the material he recorded but, for whatever reason, he didn’t release?
Given the complex considerations, the diversity and volume of material Prince is known to have produced, and open questions around what the Vault might actually contain, hard and fast recommendations aren’t easy. But a little bit of something beats a whole lot of nothing, so here’s a list, which is probably incomplete, but should provide a framework for thinking about what should be done, and act as a catalyst to a broader discussion.
1. Remaster and re-release his albums as Deluxe Extended Editions
Prince’s life and work beggar belief — his achievements so great, and his attitudes so extreme, that they lend themselves to hyperbole. Indeed, it seems almost impossible that the music that made his name, the incredible run of albums in the 1980s, remain essentially untouched since their release. These albums were released when vinyl was the default mode of music production, and were mixed and mastered with this medium in mind.
Because Prince fell out with Warners he blocked any further modification of these releases, so the version of Sign ‘O’ The Times you can buy today, is exactly the same version that was released in 1987. This completely ignores the changes in audio technology made in the last 30 years. The music suffers as a result — in digital form, Prince’s most important albums sound ‘thin’, muddy and lacking in bass. These albums need to be remastered for today’s technology to provide the best possible listening experience for today’s listeners.
For last year’s Purple Rain re-release, we can assume that Prince signed off on the remastering — but there’s no guarantee that he oversaw the re-work of any of his other Warner Bros. albums. Which raises the question of who should undertake this work now that Prince no longer can? For his early records, the choice is relatively straightforward.
Susan Rogers was Prince’s engineer from Purple Rain to the early days of Paisley Park, and helped record these pinnacles of his career. She was also instrumental in gathering Prince’s recordings together into what would later become The Vault. If anyone could understand Prince’s musical intent when these albums were created, it’s her, and she should, if possible, play the principal role in preparing this music for re-release.
In this task she might have assistance from other close associates from across the breadth of his incredible career — Wendy and Lisa from The Revolution, Sheila E, Kirk Johnson, a close friend and musical collaborator throughout Prince’s career, Joshua Welton who helped produce two of Prince’s late period albums and Trevor Guy, husband of guitarist Donna Grantis, who worked as the Purple One’s manager over the last several years.
Indeed, these individuals might form a panel who could oversee and sign off on any re-mastering of Prince’s music, each leading the work in period of Prince’s career in which they collaborated. And what should these albums contain? In the first instance, a complete, unaltered edition of the album as it was originally sequenced and released, now remastered for modern audio technology.
In addition to this, the edition should include a complete set of all the related releases from this album — all the B-sides and remixed or extended versions that were released in support of the original album to form a complete edition of the published music from this period.
In the case of 1985’s Around the World in a Day, this might include the extended versions of America and Paisley Park, and the original and extended versions of Girl and Hello, and possibly the newly unveiled version of Nothing Compares 2 U. These albums should also contain unreleased demos, tracks or extended versions directly related to the album.
For Lovesexy (1988), this might include the earlier version of the title track that Prince apparently recorded and then discarded when it was clear that his band members didn’t understand the point he was attempting to convey. There is also a remixed version of the released track that can be heard in the background of a BBC Omnibus documentary released in 1991. An unreleased remix of Alphabet Street is also known to be circulating amongst collectors, and there may well be other alternative versions of these tracks sitting as yet unknown and unheard at Paisley Park.
From 1989’s Batman, there are unreleased remixes of Electric Chair, Vicki Waiting, a Big Daddy Kane remix of Batdance (yup, that is a thing apparently) and unreleased tracks like the Jack Nicholson as Joker-inspired Dance with the Devil.
Sign ‘O’ the Times might include an extended remix of The Ballad of Dorothy Parker, as suggested by artwork for a 12″ and CD maxi single release which surfaced recently. Who knows what else might reside in the archives?
Each album would ideally be accompanied by a set of extended liner notes outlining the genesis of the work, its release and reception, placing it within the larger context of Prince’s life and career — perhaps according to the example set by Alan Leeds, Prince’s former tour manager, in his work on James Brown’s Star Time and Prince’s own The Hits and The B-Sides. All of which would please the fans immensely, and given the plenty of reason for people to purchase these new editions.
2. Treat each album as an ‘era’
But for Prince, music was just the beginning. Each album was the centre of a creative ‘era’ that had its own art directed look, a new fashion direction, a new visual presentation in music videos or film, and, more often than not, a tour and set of live performances on TV that brought it all to life.
To present Prince, is to present not just the album, but the era — so each Deluxe edition should be accompanied by a set of releases of related material. Lovesexy, for example, was an outstanding record, but a truly incredible concert experience, captured for posterity at 1988’s Dortmund, Germany show, and released on VHS video as a two volume Livesexy set but now long out of print. Any presentation of the Lovesexy album should be accompanied by a release of the best possible version of the Livesexy concert, perhaps with a standalone audio version of that or a similar show from The Vault.
In addition, a number of aftershow concerts from this period present Prince at a musical peak — a recording of the show at the Paard van Troje nightclub in The Hague, Holland, from the early morning of the 19th of August 1988 has long been circulated and recognised as a one of Prince’s most accomplished performances — his cover version of The Temptations’ 1967 classic Just my Imagination (Running Away With Me) being worth the price of admission alone.
Prince: A Musical Portrait was culled from an aborted feature length documentary shot around this time and presented footage from rehearsals in London and Los Angeles, and the aftershow at the Camden Palace (now known as Koko), all of which would form a brilliant compliment and contrast to the footage of the show proper. Lovesexy is not unique in this regard.
Purple Rain is, of course, a movie soundtrack, but there was also a live broadcast from its tour, numerous performances at award shows, and music videos. There is even a video of the First Avenue concert, August 3rd, 1983, at which the title track, and several other songs from the LP, were recorded totally live in front of an audience.
1981–1982‘s Controversy tour was also professionally filmed, and apparently Prince intended to release it with short intervening skits in a movie called The Second Coming, all of which footage apparently now resides in The Vault. Prince also appears to have shot an entire movie to accompany his album 3121, as indicated by the trailer for it he released on his web presence around this time.
There are professional recordings of Parade-era shows, the Nude tour from the Batman era, the One Nite Alone… tour after The Rainbow Children album, and the Musicology tour was broadcast live to cinemas across the U.S. The 2009 shows at the Montreux Jazz Festival in support of his Lotusflow3r long-player had brilliant jazz-infused set lists, an incredible band, and were pro-shot and recorded by the organisers. 2103 shows at the same festival featured entirely separate performances backed by The New Power Generation big band, and the stripped down funk rock of 3RDEYEGIRL.
Prince released The Beautiful Experience TV special around the time of Come and The Gold Experience with unique live and video performances to support this release. I mean, he even put together a ‘Making of’ video for the video of the song A Million Days from the album Musicology, but never released the song as a single, never released the video, or put out the ‘Making of.’ There are numerous other examples.
Such era-based packages of material would provide a clear view of Prince’s vision for his work, its cultural footprint, and context — providing material for fans of his music, cultural commentators and historians. It would also provide a unique promotional centre of gravity for each album re-release, helping the estate to co- and cross-promote these different releases and formats. This should create a sense of event around each ‘era’ which should help generate excitement and sales, delivered over an extended period to create a feeling similar to that at the time of the first release.
3. Release the cancelled configurations
While Prince’s work felt never less than meticulously curated and perfectly polished, his working methods were fluid. New opportunities, personal set-backs, sheer inspiration or simple distraction could cause sharp changes in musical direction and the abandonment of a favoured project.
The most famous example was his decision to shelve The Black Album in favour of Lovesexy. But there are several other instances of Prince working up detailed musical concepts, only to abandon them at the last minute, or re-work them into new forms for later release.
Sign ‘O’ the Times, for example, was the result of two different album concepts, Camille and The Dream Factory, both of which were abandoned, and both of which fed into their released successor. The Dream Factory was The Revolution’s last album, compiled in various versions from April to July 1986, and is one of the Purple One’s most compelling musical statements, and much of it has never been released in any form — it absolutely stands-alone as an album and deserves a wide release and pride of place amongst Prince’s albums.
After Prince disbanded The Revolution in July that year, he set about recording a number of solo tracks with distorted vocals (initially a mistake by Susan Rogers, which Prince wholeheartedly embraced), and compiled them into an album in November, titled Camille, the pseudonym for this new musical persona. This album was so close to release that test pressings were made, the only known copy of which was recently sold at auction.
While all but one of Camille’s tracks later found release in various outlets, hearing the album as it was intended provides not just an interesting insight into Prince’s working methods, but also a compelling, consistent and coherent musical statement that deserves to be heard on its own merits.
Equally, Prince shelved plans for The Flesh, a jazz album recorded in 1985/6 with best members of The Revolution and the Lovesexy band, and the Batman album derailed plans for a 1989 album Rave un2 the Joy Fantastic, which progressed to the point of initial artwork.
In the late ’90s Prince apparently also considered compiling an album of music written with The Revolution, titled Roadhouse Garden — and if this album was ever completed, it’s release would showcase music from one of Prince’s most prolific periods, and also reflect his later attitudes to earlier work and collaborations.
Prince cancelled, cannibalised or corrected numerous projects throughout his career — many of these were artistic expressions of the first order. Where practical these Prince-prepared productions should be released in their original form.
4. Remaster and re-release the Paisley Park albums as Deluxe Extended Editions
Prince didn’t just put out music under his own name — he created new acts as expressions for different aspects of his artistic personality, and supported the endeavours of his associates. While those from the more well-known acts like The Time or Sheila E are still widely available, much of Paisley Park’s output is currently out of print in any form.
It is impossible to buy either Madhouse opus, the album from The Family that features the first released version of Nothing Compares 2 U, two pairs of LPs from Mavis Staples and George Clinton, or sets from Carmen Electra, Ingrid Chavez and long-time associate Jill Jones, whose eponymous album on the label is perhaps the best associated artist release. You still can’t buy the first album released as a solo effort from The New Power Generation, Goldnigga.
Each of these items could benefit from a remastered / Deluxe Extended Edition — providing all the remixes and extended versions that accompanied the release at the time. But Prince’s collaborative working methods present interesting opportunities. For many of these releases he simply recorded the entire track himself, and had his collaborators replace the vocals. The Vault may still contain his original recordings of several of these songs. There might, perhaps, be Prince versions of entire albums from associated artists. A ‘Purple Edition’ of The Family, for example, might indeed contain solo recordings of every track on the album, not just Nothing Compares 2 U.
5. Create the Prince Anthology
All of the above could provide perhaps two dozen sets of releases. Properly managed and marketed, putting out that many releases could take decades, but would still not really touch the true promise and premise of The Vault — original Prince compositions which have never been officially released.
Many of these are well known, having circulated for years as bootleg recordings — Princevault.com, a comprehensive listing of Prince’s music and performances lists hundreds of unreleased Prince songs. Many are known to be outstanding examples of Prince’s work.
To pick a few examples at random, The Grand Progression, Adonis and Bathsheba, Purple Music, Roadhouse Garden and Turn It Up, are all unreleased and are all great Prince tracks. How much more completely unknown music resides in The Vault? How many more tracks, how many more albums, might Prince have recorded which have never seen the light of day?
For example, immediately prior to his tragic death, Prince was known to working on an album, Black Is The New Black, with Bassist Mono Neon, playing jazz with the New Power Generation Quartet, and recording tracks with his band 3RDEYEGIRL, one of which, PANGEA (Prince’s latter-day penchant for capitalisations, not mine, by the way), has been described as “redefining the Minneapolis sound.” This was just a snapshot from the single year before Prince’s death. It’s perfectly possible that there are multiple albums worth of material which don’t fit any of the above criteria, and which merit release.
There are also one-off tracks, and even albums, which were released, but never properly promoted, and so remain largely unheard — and Prince’s own attempt at a Vault release, the triple CD Crystal Ball, contained some great work, but presented the music out of chronological order and came across as something of a grab bag. The temptation might be to cherry pick tracks and compile releases from across the span of Prince’s career, mixing and matching music from different periods and different approaches. While there might be some merit in an artful presentation of strong material in one-off releases, it would obscure the aesthetic evolution of the artist’s work, and cloud the historical significance of a given recording in Prince’s career.
A chronological multi-disc Anthology series, similar to that produced by Apple Records for The Beatles, might be the best solution — where material from a given period is grouped together and sequenced to provide a snapshot from that era. Anthology releases might fill in the gaps between the deluxe extended albums, compiling all the material that fell through the cracks in any given era to create a compliment to the albums proper and round out the full compass of Prince’s career.
Having said that, if the inclusion of the post mid-1990s non-Warners material is attempted, it’s currently controlled by a myriad of different labels and interested parties and could prove a tense legal headache. A Bowie Anthology has been on and off the cards for 21 years, due to, in the words of an insider, the “minefield” of licensing complexities of the various distribution and recording agreements The Dame signed over the course of his 50-year career.
But perhaps an Anthology set might be compiled once the Deluxe Editions are completed, and include all of Prince’s music released or unreleased — to create a single, continuous and complete account of his artistic history. This could comprise a multi-disc release from every year of the great man’s career, each year having a cover from the iconic Many Faces of Prince project created by Martin Homent. Some might suspect that Prince commissioned exactly one portrait a year for just such a reason.
6. No licensing of Prince’s music to others
But as important as what should be done, is what shouldn’t. Prince was incredibly protective of his music, ensuring it was available in only those places and formats he thought suitable. In particular, he never allowed his work to be used for purely promotional purposes. This unambiguous example should set clear direction for the future management of his estate — Prince’s music should never be used in commercials or related advertising or promotional content under any circumstances. He would have absolutely hated it. So don’t even think about it.
Prince was slightly more flexible when it came to allowing his music to be used in films, etc. under specific circumstances where he could personally approve the context and content. But this approval was based on particular personal preference.
The author and originator of this archive can no longer make these creative decisions, so let’s err on the side of caution — Prince’s music should never be licensed anywhere he wouldn’t have approved of. Admittedly, that’s a lot of potential revenue to forgo — but the artistic imperative should here over-ride the commercial — particularly since there are so many other ways to generate income for the estate, such as touring exhibitions of highlights from the Paisley Park museum.
7. No musicals, no remixes, no collaborations from beyond the grave, and no samples.
If Prince went, incredibly, to the trouble of suing a family who had a child dancing to his songs, we can be pretty much certain that he did not want people using his music without his permission and control. We can also be clear that he would not want anyone re-interpreting, re-working or otherwise re-casting his music in ways he had not personally approved.
Which means that there should absolutely not be any Prince jukebox musical along the lines of those from Queen, Abba or Tina Turner, where the artist’s back catalogue are shoehorned into a narrative or performance that often has little relevance to the act’s own backstory. Purple Rain would almost certainly make a great stage show and you could get great people to do it, and it would make a lot of money. But he would have absolutely hated such a thing. So it simply shouldn’t. In any form. Ever. Charles Koppleman, take note.
Prince was also notorious in having complete control over every part of his art — as well as writing all the music, playing all the instruments and signing all the songs, he produced pretty much all of his music. As far as I’m aware he shared production credits only twice in his career — once with David Z on Kiss, which he’d originally given away to Mazerati, and then took back, when he heard how well it had turned out, and second with Joshua Welton on his recent albums Art Official Age and Hit’n’Run Phase One.
In both those cases Prince supervised the work of close personal collaborators. He sometimes shared song-writing credits, and approved remixed versions of his music, but in exactly the same circumstances — when he had personal input, control and approval over the final product. He never allowed his music to be altered by anyone outside these limited circumstances and would have vigorously protested anyone doing anything with his music outside a close personal collaboration. Hell, he even objected to people doing cover versions of his songs. His displeasure at Sinead’s use of Nothing Compares 2 U is ample evidence of that.
So, other than remastering, and other minor audio quality adjustments, the music in The Vault should be left completely untouched, unaltered and unadulterated. There should be no contemporary remixes by famous producers, no digital collaborations where current artists add a vocal track to an existing recording, no ‘completing’ his work, where others add further instrumentation to an ‘unfinished’ track. There can be no doubt that he would have been absolutely horrified by the prospect. And no samples of his music in the work of others — he wouldn’t do it while he was alive, so there’s no precedent or justification for it now. Untouched, unaltered and unadulterated. No exceptions.
8. Re-stage Prince-approved performance pieces
There should never ever be a Prince-inspired musical. No Beatles-style Cirque du Soleil Purple Music or whatever. But that doesn’t mean that Prince’s music should never appear on stage. He worked on a number of stage productions over the years. Since each of these received his personal imprimatur of approval, they seem good candidates for revival.
Perhaps the most interesting of these was the Joffrey Ballet’s Billboards — a ballet using Prince’s music as its inspiration, which became part of the company’s repertoire and successfully toured America for a number of years.
In the mid-90s Prince also worked with his wife Mayte on stage projects. The first of these was a rock-dance-opera piece titled Glam Slam Ulysses, which, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, re-told the Homeric story of The Odyssey alongside music from the albums Come (1994) and The Gold Experience (1995).
Mayte also set up The NPG Dance Company which performed a 3-act multi-style piece titled Around the World In a Day in a number of U.S. venues in 1997, the second act of which was a stand-alone ballet piece Prince wrote for her entitled Karmasutra.
None of these pieces are ever going to speak to as wide an audience as something like Abba’s record-breaking Mamma Mia. So they won’t make all that much money. But we know that Prince worked on them, and that they are a way to further share his music in a form that he approved. That’s good enough.
9. Paisley Park Studios — keep doing what you’re doing
Prince had a very clear idea about how Paisley Park should be used as a museum, he communicated this clearly and repeatedly to his friends and family, and was in the process of making changes to the studios to accommodate this use when he died. The basic steps to put this plan in place have indeed been made, and with appointment of Elvis Presley’s Graceland Holdings to manage the site, and the recent confirmation by the City of Chanhassen that Paisley Park can be re-zoned as a museum, the future of the site appears broadly consistent with Prince’s plans.
Doubtless, work will continue to make Paisley Park a more engaging and effective museum experience — the initial transformation was done at speed, the guides aren’t yet that knowledgeable and teething problems will need to be ironed out — but the intent appears genuine and the desire to preserve the place and present Prince’s legacy seems to be sincere. On this point it is worth noting that Prince commissioned designs from a number of artists to re-decorate the facility to illustrate aspects of his career.
For example, he commissioned the decoration of the Purple Rain Room from the Australian artist Blule, who shared these designs online. The Many Faces of Prince might also have been intended for a similar use. Prince did not have the chance to make these changes himself, and at the time of writing, these designs have not yet been incorporated into the presentation at Paisley Park.
While it is a shame that these designs have not been executed as per Prince’s wishes, the preservation of the studio as a museum provides an opportunity to make these changes in future. Hopefully the museum administrators and estate will make these improvements and present the facility consistent with Prince’s intent.
10. Prince: Piano and a Microphone
We might never know precisely why, but there’s no doubt that Prince was becoming much more reflective in what turned out to be his last few years. The fact that he planned, and apparently wrote at least part of an autobiography, was a something of a shock — a man who had always fiercely guarded his privacy and cultivated a studied air of mystery — if not downright obscurity — was now about to tell his life story. It simply didn’t sound like the artist we thought we knew.
The state and fate of this book, of which Prince submitted 50 hand-written pages, aren’t entirely clear, though the publishers who won the rights describe the tome as “an unconventional and poetic journey through his life and creative work.” But in a sense Prince had already produced his autobiography — and he did it in the form most suitable to his life’s work.
Known for his love of mystery and intrigue, Prince is said to have sent out invitations to a private event in March 2016 at a nightclub in New York City. He appeared on stage dressed in typical flamboyant Prince style, according to Vogue, in a gold-and purple-striped pyjama suit, and told the crowd of media, fans and admirers which included the American singer Harry Belafonte and the Daily Show host Trevor Noah, that “The good people of Random House have made me an offer I can’t refuse.”
The memoir was due to be published in 2017 by the Spiegel & Grau imprint, and Prince reportedly announced that the title would be The Beautiful Ones, taken from the Purple Rain album track, before asking the crowd “You still all read books, right?” He also teased that the book would cover his “first memories up to the Super Bowl”—he played a memorable halftime set at the iconic sporting event in 2007.
“Millions of words have been written about Prince—books and articles, essays and criticism,” Spiegel & Grau executive editor Chris Jackson said in a statement last March. “But we’re thrilled to be publishing Prince’s powerful reflections on his own life in his own incandescently vivid, witty, and poetic voice.”
On 21 January 2016 in Minneapolis, Prince embarked on his first ever solo tour, dubbed Piano and a Microphone, in front of 1,000 lucky fans, exactly three months before his death. Seated at the purple baby grand piano, he showed what he could accomplish on his own, while giving his ailing hips a rest. He played two shows at the Paisley Park complex that night, but while they were both outstanding feats of musicianship, they differed significantly in form.
The second performance was an eclectic set of songs from across Prince’s career, performed brilliantly. The first show was radically different in conception. Starting with a jarring chord and a scream, it wasn’t clear at first what was happening. Then, sitting at his purple baby grand, the artist spoke:
I wish I could play piano
But I don’t know how to play piano
Everything looks different
Three year’s old
The piano looks bigger
At three year’s old
Mmm… Maybe I’ll just watch TV
And then he play-acted watching the TV. He talked about his dad not letting him play the piano, but when his father left, he could learn, and he played the Batman theme — the first tune he mastered — and explained more about who he listened to growing up, playing a few snippets from Smokey Robinson as he went.
Then he said “No… I gotta write some songs and start at the beginning” and played Baby — its first and last live public performance — from Prince’s debut album For You. And then that you realise that this gig isn’t just a set of songs. Prince Rogers Nelson is telling his life story — and he’s doing it in the most appropriate manner, and in the most appropriate medium possible — through his music.
And so went the rest of that show — what Prince wanted, who he worked with, who he admired, how songs were written, what they meant to him, how much he loved and missed his father, his family his friends — from start to finish, the performance was conceived and delivered as autobiography.
After the concert, Minneapolis music critic and long-time Prince follower Jon Bream remarked that Prince had probably said things that night that he wouldn’t have told his wife. He also said that Prince would never play that show again simply because it was too personal. He was right.
While many Piano and a Microphone shows had autobiographical elements – some of the later ones (though sadly not the night I saw him at the Sydney Opera House, dang) even had him slipping in bit of Bowie/Eno’s Heroes, usually merged with Dolphin, as a poignant tribute to the recently departed David Bowie – none had the same particular structure or unity of purpose as that first performance. This moving and pretty damn emotional audience recording of Heroes is taken from Prince’s final concert in Atlanta, Georgia on April 14, 2016. Hear it and weep.
“On barren walls tears fall, but what’s the use in crying?”
(Empty Room, 1985)
So, in the many difficult decisions that will face the estate in the management of this artist’s artistic legacy, one is simple: the very first live release from The Vault, the first complete concert from the archives, should be the recording of this show — Prince’s audio autobiography — it was his statement of his life’s work, it sums up his career, it stands alone as a brilliant expression of his musical prowess, and it was perfect. Everyone should have a chance to hear it.
The Purple One’s death made the world a lot less colourful — but it is some comfort that there’s so much of his work still to look forward to. I hope that these thoughts provide a useful approach the considerable task ahead — and feel confident that those managing the estate now and in the future will give Prince’s work the considerable care and great respect it deserves.