“Life won't be so bad in Paisley Park.”
Prince said that in 1985 and 30 years later, it still rings true.
This weekend, I along with about 800 of my good friends from the National Association of Black Journalists got a rare chance to party with Prince at his place, Paisley Park.
And it was everything you would have expected – exhilarating, epic and confusing.
After a very long wait – in fact a new day had begun by this time – Prince came out. He walked through the crowd, his afro a throwback crown. It was dark, but I think he was wearing a purplish lamé pantsuit. Or it might have been gold.
He walked on stage, greeted us and took the mic from DJ Kiss, who had been playing anything but Prince songs up to this moment.
The mic didn’t work.
DJ Kiss fixed it and handed it back to him. He thanked us for coming to his place.
So, he was here. But where was the guitar? Where was 3rd Eye Girl?
Let’s take a step back a moment. This year marked the first time in NABJ’s 40-year history that we took our convention to Minneapolis. From the day it was announced, the one thing on every members’ mind was “would we see Prince.”
So even as we spent the last year speculating whether or not we would see Prince – and we flew to Minneapolis with no clear indication that we would -- it was never a doubt that I would be there. Everyone who knows me knows I am a huge Prince fan. Been that way since we both had our original afros.
Someone announced early last week that we were invited to the First Avenue & 7th Street Entry club for a Mint Condition concert. I shouldn’t have to tell you the significance of First Avenue, but for the uninitiated, it is a major mid-Western music venue and major landing spot for dozens of legends, including for Prince, who often tested out new music there before opening Paisley Park’s soundstage.
It was there on Aug. 3, 1983 that Wendy Melvoin made her public debut as a guitarist for The Revolution. It was also the night he recorded "I Would Die 4 U", "Baby I'm a Star" and "Purple Rain," live for an upcoming album and soundtrack that would be known as “Purple Rain.”
First Avenue was also where most of the action in the movie “Purple Rain” took place. It was on that stage where he seduced Apollonia and in the bowels of the dressing rooms where Billy told him, “your music means nothing to nobody, but yourself.”
A British journalist told me later that she found the joint, “ghetto.” It was anything but that. It was just as important as any place her beloved Beatles had ever played. It was old, smoky and textured. It was gritty. The front entrance was chaotic and out of control just like in the movie. It was perfect. Oh, and Mint Condition was good too.
So for me, First Avenue was all I needed. If nothing else, that would have been the highlight of my week and I would have been good with that.
Earlier, on my way to a company dinner, I happened upon a mural outside of an old record store.
I remembered it from a series of 1977 black and whites of a then 17-year-old Prince standing before it with an afro almost as big as the one he has now. I made all of my co-workers take a picture in front of it.
All the Critics Love U
On Thursday at 7:26 a.m., Prince sent out a tweet in all Caps:
“SOMETHING IS HAPPENING IN THE CITY COME SATURDAY..SOMETHING IS HAPPENING IN THE CITY COME SATURDAY..SOMET..”
He attached a photograph of an NABJ flier. An hour later, NABJ President Bob Butler told us we were going to Paisley Park for a “dance party.”
For the next two days, tweets appeared and vanished. Rumors swirled. Was he in town? Would he show up? How would we get to Paisley Park? Most importantly, would he perform? The answers to all of those questions were vague and only added to the excitement and mystery that is Prince.
The only definitively information that we got was that alcohol, cameras and cell phones would not be allowed in Paisley Park. And that it would cost $20. Cash.
At 10 p.m. Saturday night, we lined up outside of the hotel to fill more than a dozen buses in route to Paisley Park. Someone announced that all current and former board members come forward. (I was NABJ’s Vice President of Print from 2005-2009). We would ride in the first bus.
But that was the extent of any perks. When we arrived at the massive white building bathed in purple spotlights, a select group of 10 journalists got a private audience with Prince. According to Eric Deggans of NPR and Kelley Carter of Buzzfeed, he spent about 45 minutes talking about religion, #BlackLivesMatter, institutionalized racism, and his legendary problems with the record industry.
"Record contracts are just like — I'm gonna say the word – slavery," Deggans wrote. "I would tell any young artist ... don't sign."
Carter also wrote that Prince had live doves in the studio.
Meanwhile, the rest of us were in the middle of a surreal partying experience. Most were in the large soundstage facing a massive dance floor. There were pool tables and a ping pong table. There was a giant door with Prince's familiar symbol painted on it. The room smelled good.
Four guitars were racked next to the ping pong table, but there were noticeably no instruments on stage. Just DJ Kiss. Lit only by a circle of candles, she was phenomenal and kept the crowd hyped for most of the night. I noticed that she did not play a single Prince song while she was spinning, which I saw as a good sign that he would do his own music.
I got a “This Could Be Us, But You Playing,” t-shirt, my new favorite. Others enjoyed macaroni and cheese and red beans and rice. I didn’t see any meat as Prince is a vegetarian. There were no pancakes either.
I staked out a position near the front of the stage. A giant screen behind DJ Kiss continuously flashed images of a kaleidoscope, which transfixed me to the point where Liz, a television reporter out of Ohio, tapped me on the shoulder.
“You alright?” she asked. “I was like, “what is Prince about to make him do?’”
We both laughed. But one woman did get faint. It was serious up in there.
Those not in the main room hung out in a side lounge, where Prince was screening the movie, “Car Wash.”
Funny, not having our cellphones and not being concerned about taking pictures gave us all a chance to talk to each other and enjoy each other’s company in a real, old-fashioned way.
Life Can Be So Nice
Finally, at about 12:45 a.m., Prince hit the stage.
He tapped the mic that DJ Kiss had just handed back to him. He told us that on Sept. 7, he will drop a new album on Tidal called “HitNRun.” It will be available through streaming and as a CD. He pointed back at the stage and said, “as you can see, there are no instruments on the stage.”
He promised to perform for us the next time we were in town.
Then he was gone. No concert. No performance.
We stood in silence. Was he coming back out?
DJ Kiss broke it up a bit by playing a few of Prince’s songs from the new album.
Reaction was decidedly mixed. Most were cool with the overall night. Others, expecting a concert that was never promised in the first place, were disappointed. Some would have been fine with a short speech. At least tell the 800 journalists the same thing you told the 10. But alas, it was not to be.
I was a little disappointed, but not mad. I have seen Prince perform maybe 20 times, including once with the NABJ board in Las Vegas, where I stood toe-to-toe with him in a cool, but strange, encounter. (That is a story for another time).
I guess it was enough that he invited us to his place for an amazing, once in a lifetime night. For $20 to boot. Who knows when, or if, I will ever go to Minneapolis again?
Besides, last year around the same time, I was in Ferguson running for my life.
Standing in line to get on the bus back to the hotel, a woman from MSNBC took out her phone and snapped a selfie. I asked her to take a picture of me for prosperity and she happily obliged and quickly emailed it to me.
Somehow Prince got a copy of it and by the next morning, tweeted it out to his 85,000 followers.
He took it down an hour later.
But it didn't matter at that point. I had just visited Paisley Park. "Our" Graceland.
I was good.
“Admission is easy, just say U Believe and come 2 this Place in your heart/ Paisley Park is in your heart.”