Better it should follow the celebration of his work
“Uptown,” “Calhoun Square”: the late musician Prince was known for writing songs that spoke of areas around his Twin Cities hometown. But none were more significant than “Paisley Park.”
On October 6, Prince’s Chanhassen home was opened for fans to tour. The massive white structure made up of geometric squares, pyramids, cylinders and domes had mainly been open in the past for impromptu public Prince concerts or legendary artists like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Kahn and Mavis Staples, among others.
But unlike Uptown and Calhoun Square, the song “Paisley Park” preceded the actual place. The 65,000-square-foot structure, was built in 1987 after the 1985 release of the song.
During a November 2 media tour, our tour guide informed us that Prince always envisioned a place where he could be creative and record his music and films all under one roof. Similar to the Electric Lady Studios, founded by another iconic guitarist also associated with the color purple, Jimi Hendrix, the estate’s main function would be to create an atmosphere of creativity.
Soon after the tour began, visitors found themselves in the atrium, a room full of light. Blue skies and clouds painted to Prince’s specifications lead up to pyramid-shaped skylights above. It is a place our tour guide described as having “endless possibilities” for Prince’s creativity. On the second floor of the atrium, Prince’s two doves, Majesty and Divinity, still reside and sing in a white-gilded cage.
It is a little off-putting, for this writer at least, who had attended a few of his impromptu concerts there, for the atrium to also be Prince’s final resting place.
More than just a studio, over the past few years Paisley Park had been Prince’s home. So it is not surprising that the family chose for his urn to be placed somewhere he loved. But for longtime fans who expect, for the purpose of the tour, an experience similar to their musical experiences with the artist, the urn may bring an immediate sense of finality.
If your musical experience includes an introduction (For You, released in 1978) followed by getting to know the music better (just under 50 albums during his 57 years of life), then facing the reality that the person’s creative and physical presence is no more (Prince died earlier this year on April 21) might feel jarring with the location of the urn right at the start of the tour.
Graceland opened as a museum in 1982, five years after the death of Elvis Presley. Currently there is still no museum to honor the legacy of Michael Jackson, though it has been eight years since his death. Museums usually represent those things and people that we have lost, had time to mourn, and are ready to honor. For this writer and longtime fan, it was simply too soon — I was unprepared to view Prince’s remains held in the Paisley Park replica encased in glass.
However, as the tour continued, a celebration of his life began to emerge. The center of Studio A is an empty, dimly lit room, but at both ends are smaller studios that tourists see behind glass. One of the largest contained a microphone, the Linn LM-1 drum machine that created the drum track for the hit “When Doves Cry,” and the synthesizer that is also featured prominently in the song. The tour guide explained that this was one of the primary places where Prince recorded, often with other artists, but more often alone.
There is little empty space on the wall adorned with gold and platinum records and singles, as well as photos — some familiar, some not — of Prince.
Those on the tour had the opportunity to hear an instrumental song that Prince recorded not long before his death, a jazz track that is currently unreleased. Prince had planned to release it and other recordings on Blue Note Records, a testament to his lasting creativity, drive and versatile musicianship.
Also on the tour is a video editing room, where visitors are treated to recordings of Prince in concert. After viewing a high-energy performance, Frank, the person operating the video editing machine, said “And that was just a rehearsal.” Our guide then informed us that “Prince recorded everything.”
The tour included two areas where Prince held live concerts. The largest was one I last visited for my 40th birthday in 2004. I remember being one of the first in line, waiting for the concert to begin in the wee hours of the morning, and being practically pushed to the front of the stage by other concertgoers.
That night Larry Graham joined Prince on stage. The atmosphere was alive with energy and it was — hands down — the best concert I’ve ever experienced. It would also be the last time I would attend a live Prince performance.
For the purpose of the tour, the lights in the concert room are dim, and the large dark room, that could pack upwards of 1,500 people, features guitars and pianos owned and played by Prince and concert memorabilia that span decades. On the widescreen are scenes from Prince’s last Piano & a Microphone tour.
The tour ended with a room that features Prince’s Super Bowl performance on one wall opposite a collection of tributes left from the fans who flocked to Paisley Park in the first few days after hearing of his death.
Perhaps this space, after touring his many accomplishments, accolades, movie clips, instruments and a constant soundtrack of his music, might have been a more fitting place for longtime fans to approach his cremains. It might have made it easier for those who felt that his music made a lasting impact to come to terms with the fact that Prince now only resides — like the “Paisley Park” he sings of — in your heart.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. More photos from Chris Juhn below.