Wednesday, June 16th, 2004 - I’m nervously tapping my foot as I tell my boss I need to take the next two days off for personal reasons. I’d already decided to book a room, rent a car and buy a flight to the Twin Cities without any guarantee I’d see Prince. My boss gave the okay (but if he asked ‘where I’m going’ I’d tell him ‘Nowhere!’)
Maybe it was the thrill of the unknown, flying in from DC without a ticket to the aftershow, arriving in a city I’ve never been, or just knowing I’m visiting the hometown of a musical genius, I knew I had everything to gain in taking this trip, and the excitement I could hardly contain.
Friday, the last day to buy tour tickets to Paisley Park Studio, and possibly my only opportunity to get a pass to see Prince live at home. I waited in line anxiously and said a little prayer to the Being upstairs. The next thing I know, like butter on pancakes, she hands me my aftershow pass. Just like that. I held it, read over it 3 times, handed over the $50 without looking up from the gem in my hand and laughed out loud like a girl getting cotton candy at the fair. No, no scratch that it felt like no other joy I’ve ever felt. It was a gift I knew had no price and one in which I’d cherish forever.
Beginning the tour of Paisley Park, the first thing I notice, being an artist myself, is that Prince is an artist before, during and after ‘work’. I felt an immediate calm as the décor of the studio embraced me. Doves of peace fly around in his workspace. Skylights brighten his think tank. Aromas from scented candles permeate through custom-made wood-studded walls where only sound was meant to be captured. Ceilings that looked like cityscapes bounced original Purple Rain drum beats back to the listeners as analog synthesizers epitomized the word ‘nostalgia’. The echoes of his studio/slash/‘part time pick-up basketball court’ gave off the energy of a child. It all made me smile like I was in my youth again myself. I was given the chance to play the purple translucent drums in Studio A, where I was told Musicology was recorded. And though embarrassed at the unpleasant noise I was producing, I laughed and appreciated every second of every sound.
On that tour I met an NPG member from Belgium (traveling for her first time to the United States!) and two others from Hotlanta. The 4 of us instantly clicked so once the tour ended we hopped in the bright blue PT Cruiser, blasted "the girl on the seesaw is laughing 4 love " out the windows and headed downtown to First Avenue. The skyline of the city and the cleanliness of the surrounding towns were an impeccable sight. It was a beautiful place to call home, but seemed too small for a presence like Prince nonetheless.
That evening, as we waited second in line, the sunset draped across the sky like a child’s finger painting. And wouldn’t you know it, the sky was all purple. As we waited, the DJ played all the underground grooves just how we liked it, with a twist and a ‘wicky-wicky’ to keep us on our toes. The music helped us connect as we danced and it certainly helped the hours pass. But mostly it got my mind off that feeling of guilt that tends to creep in after judging some fan for wearing too much purple. Oh the silly role of hypocrisy I play. So while the wait was pleasant, I still wanted to pole vault the velvet rope that stood before the sleeping door guard.
I remember when they opened the doors to us. The entrance was so massive. The doors being so tall and wide open it felt like a welcome home hug from grandma. We tried scurrying to the stage as quickly as possible without losing our cool, using that half-walk/half-jog scamper but ended up looking like bargain shoppers at a Martha Stewart sale anyways. We don’t care!
Finally! We got our feet planted center stage front row. It was right then that it all came together. The stress of the plane ride, the smoky hotel stay, and the anguish of the wait all ceased at that moment. The anticipation purified but the anxiety was sure gone. It must have been checked at the security gate and tossed to the pile of unnecessaries. That pile labeled ‘place cell phones, cameras and yesterday’s worries here’. It was now time to receive the gift of music.
I can get into the details of the opening act but a lot of it consisted of an ‘introverted this-is-it look on most of our faces’ along with sore backs from standing for 7 hours straight. So sure enough, a few ‘check-check mic-check’s later near 2am (which he later states is actually 3pm on a cozy afternoon) this small but amazing man snuck on stage and starts preparing to play. Raw, avoiding a ‘pyrotechnics’ entrance as usual, he just showed up on stage letting us know that this majesty ship had officially set sail.
As he glided to the front of the stage I could feel the crowd still. Was anyone breathing? I wondered how he was still standing after 3 concerts and 2 previous aftershows in 3 days but he proved music has no limitations and began the show. He stood in the soft forefront lights and began singing. My heart pounded louder than John Blackwell’s foot petal. This was in fact, the closest I’ve been and the farthest I’ve traveled to see Prince. I thought I could keep my cool. I thought I’d be right on time with the beat Unfortunately, I found it much more natural to stare with my jaw sagging while thinking I’m close enough to floss with that tassel from his pants! Even when my favorite song came on, Joy in Repetition, I froze singing, "there’s Royyy with a Petition . " I meant to bring class and style, composure and respect, but sometimes we can’t predict when a person who doesn’t even know our names can take our breath away.
The next few hours got lost in the Bermuda triangle somewhere because there was no beginning and no end. Between multiple band member solos, Larry Grahams voice vibrating lower than his bass, and Prince belting out those passionate cries, I didn’t know where to fix my ears or my eyes. The band played as if each sound was solely responsible for the prolific supply of oxygen that breathed through our lungs. They played together as if to finish each other’s sentences. I got to dance on stage getting lost in the sound of jazz and funk as it orchestrated my limbs to move involuntarily. I got to see the intrigue of the crowd’s faces when Candy and Maceo’s solos hit a pitch so crisp only Prince’s guitar could otherwise reach. I gained momentum with JB’s perpetuating rhythm that quaked the stage floor. And we just kept dancing hoping the moment would never end but alas the words came, "aight, now get back to yo seats."
The highlight by far was towards the end of the show. I had 3 roses ready to give Prince, but noticed quite a large pile had already formed at the front of the stage. So I peeled mine down, no thorns, no leaves, just the purple rose and stem shortened to the length of a hand. I waited for Purple Rain. Sure enough after saying goodnight once, he returned to the stage to say goodnight again with 2 classic songs. As he sang the second verse of Purple Rain, he walked by me, and I slowly lifted my rose as to not force him to take it he held the mic in one hand and while not missing a note, slightly bent his knees, looked me in the eye and took the rose from my hand touching my fingers so softly. I watched his every movement. That’s when I saw that he wasn’t going to put this rose with the others. He put it in the pocket near the lapel of his jacket and I blushed to the color of Reverend Scott’s guitar. The rose didn’t fit well in the pocket so he held it in his left hand for the remainder of the song. At one point he had the rose in the same hand as the microphone and sang boisterously into it. Do you think I remember which words he sang into my rose? Or do you think my focus was on keeping my knees from buckling in two. Let’s just say I was barely standing but smiling from ear to ear. It was just lovely, so lovely. Then the raspberry on my sorbet was when they finished the night with another favorite. A song he says they don’t usually play because it’s known to break couples up. Give me an "A!" Give me a "D!" oh, get on with it Prince, you know we Adore you!
Leaving Paisley Park was truly bittersweet. The large doors opened once again only this time to the sunrise. We truly partied from dusk till dawn and were now saying our goodbye’s to one another. It being 5am Saturday morning I decided to head straight to the airport so not to sleep through my flight. My chest ached as Paisley Park grew smaller in my rear view mirror, an ache that resurfaces now as I write this and one that reminds me It’s so good to be alive.
Lastly, but most importantly I want to extend my thanks to the NPG family with these words:
I learned that Prince is about music. I’ve heard him say it, but now I get it. And that’s what we all walked away with. His religion, his wife, his 83rd glass of soymilk are all things that can be debated till the day we push up daisies. But it’s his music that is the core of his message and who he is because where music lies, God resides. And it’s this spirituality that I wish to address. I sincerely support anyone whose beliefs bring their consciousness to a higher level of love and happiness. I only wish Prince knew how his music always did this for people, not just now that he’s aware that children are listening. I was in grade school when I first listened to him, and it was God who chose the timing for me to hear the ‘rest’ of his music and even then I was young but only saw innocence in the ‘moans of his condition’ because they spoke of vulnerability, passion, and most importantly, God. I focused on the truth of his desires not any sinful influence. I never gave his music the responsibility over my life, but it did give me hope and spoke of feelings that we should embrace and not be ashamed of. He helped me appreciate being a woman and gave men a poetic alternative to lust. He only told the truth. What more can we ask And I wouldn’t hide it or cover it up I wouldn’t delete it from my playlist or sensor it. But I understand why he does. I just hope he understands that his past needs no redemption. It is an essential part of who Prince still is now... someone who let us know God loves us as we are. Thank you Prince for you are truly the life, soul and sound behind this revolution we call music. Thanks NPG and Prince for opening your doors and taking us in like family. As you continue to spread the wildfire of love to those who need an alternative, I’ll be here supporting you because inevitably so, I’ve taken a lifetime lease on Paisley Park.