Photograph courtesy of Paisley Park/NPG Records
The atrium at Paisley Park
The atrium at Paisley Park
Five years after Elvis died, Graceland opened to the public. When Prince died last April, Paisley Park was open by the following October. The quick turnaround was spearheaded by Elvis Enterprises’ and Graceland’s own Angela Marchese, who has been with Graceland for 28 years.
“When we started telling Prince’s story it was ‘Let’s tell the story of what Paisley Park is and what it meant to him,’” she says. “So there was no need to go back to, ‘Prince was born in Minneapolis, went to high school here, did this, did that.'”
Marchese wanted to honor Prince by simply telling the story of the place. “This is Prince’s Paisley Park, and this is his world that he created so he could be his true self, the artist,” she says. “And that’s what we are going to show you.”
We spoke to Marchese about her role as Paisley’s new head curator, how she draws on her experience at Graceland, and how she splits her time between Memphis and Minneapolis as we approach the one-year anniversary of Prince’s death.
Now that you’ve been up here for a few months, going back and forth from Minneapolis to Memphis, how are Prince and Elvis similar, and how are Paisley and Graceland different?
My approach to both Elvis and to Prince is that they were people. Each of them was a person. They’re not a brand. They’re not an icon. They were each a person. They had friends, they had family, and they had marriages and everything like that. And so we’re telling the story from that perspective, both at Graceland and Paisley Park. We want everyone to feel like Elvis is inviting you into Graceland to see his home, and at Paisley Park, Prince is inviting you to experience his home. But the difference is that Graceland was where Elvis lived and where he raised a family, and we tell his career story here. At Paisley Park, it’s a totally different situation, and so we actually came at it going, “What did Prince do at Paisley Park?” It’s where he created his art; it’s where he, as an artist, thrived. It was his little world that he could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to do it—that’s why he built it. So if he wanted to film a music video, he had the soundstage to do that. If he wanted to be up at 2 o’clock in the morning recording demos in studio B, it was set up for that purpose.
So as you rose up at Graceland, did you change how that place was run? How did you refine it, how did you put your personal philosophy on it?
The interesting thing about Graceland is we opened up for tours five years after Elvis died. And the guests that were coming through to tour lived it, they knew the stories. So we didn’t have to tell them about how important The Ed Sullivan Show was, or how important playing this song on the radio was to break down the music barriers. Because they knew it all. They were just interested in seeing behind the curtain: where did Elvis live, where did he have dinner, where did he entertain friends. As Graceland continued to operate, we came to a point where we had to change our philosophy internally because our guests are now people who weren’t even born when Elvis was alive. They’re interested but we have to go back and educate them on who he was, and why he was so important. And oh yes, this is where Lisa Marie used to ride her tricycle, and this is where he would play the piano and this is what he would do in the house. So we still told that story, that you were coming into his home, and it’s a very personal space, but we had to change the way we told the career story from “Oh you remember The Ed Sullivan Show,” to, “In 1956, the biggest thing on TV was The Ed Sullivan Show.”
So that will happen with Prince. Because right now, it’s people who are making a pilgrimage to a place that they’ve always heard about, or a place they’d been to before, but that will change in the future.
The same process is going to happen. Right now we’re opening the doors to Paisley Park, and the majority of people coming now are people who are die-hard fans who used to party here and are here to pay their respects. Or they’ll tell the tour guides stories about when they saw Prince in concert. And all of that information helps develop what our tour is. Eventually it’s going to be, “Hey, this guy Prince did all of these things and he was a revolutionary.” We really don’t have to tell that right now because the people coming through know that. They just want to see, [and have the experience of], “Oh my god, I’m standing in Studio A, this is where he recorded the Batman Soundtrack. I can’t believe I’m standing where he recorded it.”
Did you find any documents or anything that laid out Prince’s vision for a museum?
There were actually lots of e-mails that were shared with us from people that were there—people that worked with him. In fact, one of the e-mails was literally Prince writing the script of what the tour guides were going to say. Like, “Here in Studio B, Prince. . .”—and he was actually writing in third person—“Prince did this and did that and now your tour is going to continue down this hallway. . .”
So are you picking April 21, 2016 as your period of restoration in terms of the historic preservation of the property?
For some areas yes, but not for all of them. We preserved places like his office or the little kitchen where he watched basketball—places that were very personal to him. There was work on the table in his office where he was working on what the remaster of Purple Rain was going to be—it was important to leave those rooms as they were April 21st.
I talked to a curator at the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland last summer, and he said Prince was very controlling of anything that could be considered a Prince artifact—even going to the trouble of bidding on anything that used to be his that would come up for auction.
That’s the way that he was. It’s amazing, because we have such a vast collection. The family is as protective as Prince is. Will we work with museums in the future to do official exhibits from Paisley Park? My guess is probably yes. Right now, we’re focused on making Paisley Park the best experience it can be. But we know Prince, like Elvis, deserves to be represented in certain places.
Are you finished cataloguing?
Oh no. We had seven weeks to get it up and running, and make it the museum that he envisioned. The first thing that we tackled was his wardrobe. We literally just did a photo archive of every piece that we had—about 7,000 pieces. We’ve got 121 guitars, and that was the same thing: just get a photo of them, get ‘em in the database, just so we have some sort of easy photo archive of what this collection is. And now we’re in the process of going back and properly cataloguing everything—making note of pieces that might need work.
I read a New York Times story on Elvis’ wardrobe. You have boots there that still have dirt on them. A lot of those pieces from Prince’s wardrobe are like game-worn—he danced in them and sweat through them. So do you make notes about the condition of each piece?
Yes, we do a complete condition report on each piece, its condition, the material it’s made of, if it’s stained, if it’s ripped, what it was worn in. And then everything gets stored in acid-free boxes with acid-free tissue, and everything gets handled with white gloves for preservation.
How big is your team?
When we first got started, it was actually my team at Elvis Presley Enterprises that went up there to do that. And then we hired archive staff to be Paisley Park archivists. So at first there were about five of us, and we ended up hiring three archivists full time. But they are managed from Memphis. And my staff goes back and forth to make sure everything is being done properly. But off and on, there were about five people working on the massive photographing of all the pieces.
Most museums have 10 percent of the collection in the galleries. How much of the iceberg has emerged and how much is still submerged?
Uh, a majority of it is still submerged. Realistically, because of the spacing and what we’ve been able to do so far with the exhibitions, we have probably 2 percent, maybe, of artifacts on display. So the majority of it is in storage, waiting to be displayed, or waiting to be purposed.
Have you found stuff that could tell us something new about Prince?
I think the unique thing about the collection is that he saved everything—for the Purple Rain Tour, we have every costume he wore onstage in every city, and so we picked four to put on display. But if I had space I would put all 30 of them on display. Same thing with the Lovesexy tour—I have over 200 items.
How meticulously archived was it from his perspective?
Well it’s funny, you can tell from looking at the collection that off and on during periods of his life he had someone who actually worked on organizing it and cataloging it, and you can also tell where it stopped and where somebody else picked up to continue it.
Who are the holdovers at Paisley that had experience working with Prince?
Kirk Johnson. He actually met Prince and was a dancer on Purple Rain. He became the drummer for the New Power Generation, and was off and on the road with him, and was the person running Paisley for the last couple years of Prince’s life. So he’s been an advisor, and he’s still on board. And then there’s a gentleman named Trevor Guy who’s worked with Prince for the last five years doing merchandizing and photo shoots. They’re the two guys who really know everybody. Kirk’s been there since the beginning, and knows who to call and who did this and who did that and all of that type of stuff. We also worked with one of Prince’s longtime costume designers, Debbie Wan. And she actually was there in the beginning with us, helping us as we started doing the photo inventory of the collection going, “Oh I designed this for this tour, oh he asked me to do this, and that’s how this came about.”
Will you have a catalog of the archives for sale at some point?
We’re actually are getting ready to produce four books for Paisley Park that are all going to be available by April. One’s a fashion book, one’s a book about the instruments, and one’s going to be a book more in depth about Paisley Park itself.
How often are you up here?
I was up there for about three months when we were just up and running. I’ve been back in Graceland since, and I’ll be there for a month through celebration.