photo by David Bowman
Prince's star at First Avenue
Around 11:30 a.m. on that Thursday morning, I was sitting on my couch with a detox smoothie going through emails. I was waiting on a call back from my dog groomer, and two of my buddies were separately texting me about a “fatality” at Paisley Park. I actually texted one of them back: “Some janitor died at Paisley? Who cares.” (Evidently, privilege is not having to get it.)
Twitter was blowing up already. Pappademas at MTV had just tweeted, “Hard pass on this reality” with a link to the Paisley fatality story. Oh shit. Sitting there on my couch, monitoring all these inputs—text, Facebook, Twitter—everything felt so abstracted from what was really going on. So I called my girlfriend Maggie. Maggie’s a musician and a mosaicist—she works with her hands, she’s literally more in touch with the world, she would understand, and she deserved to know.
As soon as I got her on the line I was listening to myself cry. That throat-tightening kind of cry where you strain to keep your lips still enough to push words over them. This was both shocking and not shocking to me. Yes, we’re in the age of public grieving and yes, maybe my feelings were inappropriately intimate with regards to a famous person who I’ve never met, but Prince? In Minneapolis? Our familiarity to him is kind of a running joke. He had just had a dance party last weekend that my friends and I had blown off. Jon Bream from the Strib actually covered it. In fact, I found his report slightly hokey for what seemed like a non-story: dutiful details about Prince unveiling a new piano and a new purple guitar, reassuring the crowd about his health, even telling them to “save their prayers.” It sounded like your standard Prince Paisley dance party non-performance tease.
TMZ: “Prince had been found in an elevator unresponsive and declared dead by paramedics at 10:07 a.m.”
A text from my editor: “Does this mean you guys were at the last show at Paisley Park?”
I texted back, “They’ve had dance parties since.”
“But not concerts,” he wrote. Then, “Wanna write something?”
“Fuck. Maybe.” Then another text, “I don’t feel worthy.”
“You were just there. That’s pretty worthy.”
“Let me think about it. Fuck. Is it true?”
“Yeah. Local news is on the scene now.”
I texted my buddies back. “This is fucked.”
I texted my friend Sonia, the lady who runs First Avenue. Sonia always texts back right away when I ask to get on the list for shows. She was flying home to Maryland for her birthday. I felt bad for her. I asked her if First Avenue was planning on opening the doors for a vigil. “We have a show tonight,” she texted. I told her I was walking down to the club.
Finally, the dog groomer called me. Blair was ready to be picked up. I told her I would come get my dog soon. And I told her Prince was dead.
photo by Caitlin Abrams
I knew exactly what song I wanted to hear for the five-block walk to First Ave. A song I had just listened to only a few hours before, while I was working on a draft of a story on an Univision anchor in the middle of the night. “Sometimes it Snows in April” might be the saddest Prince song. It’s the last song on the soundtrack to Under the Cherry Moon and it’s about the death of Christopher Tracy, the gigolo Prince plays in the movie. But it’s really an analogy between death and the inevitability of snow in late spring in Minnesota.
Such an inside joke and this moment felt so huge that I needed something that felt like mine. And didn’t you have to be from a place with a winter that inevitably lingers into April in order to understand the true sadness of a winter that inevitably lingers into April? There’s a weird chord progression in the middle of the chorus where you expect it to descend but it sort of sustains instead, lingers on like late winter snow—yet another example of Prince operating on the level of a great composer, and not a pop artist. But until this walk to First Avenue I’d never really heard the last line in the song before: “And love it isn’t love until it’s past.”
At 12:30 p.m., there were only four bundles of flowers below Prince’s star on First Avenue’s black wall. The rain had stopped but the streets were still wet. There were about 25 people milling around, all of them taking pictures on their iPhones. People were taking turns taking selfies. A handful were professionals, with notebooks out or cameras around necks. There was a television van across the street. I’d been texting with my friend and neighbor, Myles, all morning—he’s kind of like my twitter oracle. He knows what’s going on before anybody else does. And now he was walking down 7th to meet me in what was quickly becoming the center of the online universe. When he arrived, I asked him if he had ever heard “Sometimes it Snows in April.” He hadn’t. I handed over my headphones. A woman wearing a University of Minnesota Gophers wind suit stood next to us, and her face began to melt. One of the pros snapped a picture.
A Star Tribune reporter with a camera asked if he could interview Myles and me. I felt guilty turning him down, so we did it. His first nervous question was, "When did you become Prince fans?" I told him it was when my uncle called Prince a “faggot.” It felt true as soon as I said it. We were up at our family cabin, probably thirty years ago. That word was so shocking that something permanently registered about how dangerous this guy must be. Myles laughed and I apologized to the reporter. Myles said something effortlessly eloquent about how Prince was one of the last examples of legendary, divine blackness and how he was the model for Kanye and Beyoncé. My face was red as I stammered through my feelings about the perception of our city as we stumbled through this year of racial strife, and about how whenever Minneapolis didn’t feel cool, we always had Prince. I could feel the intense loss of the coolest guy that had ever lived here. Myles asked if I wanted to get a shot.
It was an hour after the announcement, but the Depot already had a “Purple Rain” shot on special. I’ve been on this no-gluten, no-dairy, no-sugar cleanse, so I wanted something less sugary than the special, yet still purple. There was a spiritual message embedded in most of Prince’s work, and his affection for purple was no different—Tyrian purple, the color of kings, squeezed from millions of tiny snails, the color in which the Roman soldiers wrapped Christ. We ordered half-Limon/half-Chambord shots. The purple isn’t squeezed from snails anymore, but it felt appropriately regal, and flamboyant. And it felt honorable somehow, breaking my cleanse to honor this Jehovah’s Witness who assiduously avoided alcohol himself.
“Little Red Corvette” was playing. It felt weird getting verklempt to “Little Red Corvette.” Nate Kranz, the GM of the club, came out from the garage into the Depot and said hello but said he was crazy busy. He was clutching a piece of paper with several numbers written in sharpie. He said it had been non-stop interview requests. Myles had to go back to work. I asked him if he could bum me a cigarette. Everything felt too heavy—the shot, the song, the club.
photo by Caitlin Abrams
I called my friend Machen. She is the biggest Prince fan that I know, pound for pound. I know some more seasoned Prince fans, but I don’t know them like I know Machen. Machen is a former Radio K DJ and a former First Avenue employee who works in the PR department at the Walker. She had left her job for the day. “Where should we go?” she asked. “First Ave or Paisley? I don’t even know, Steve.”
“We should go get Blair, and then we should go get something to eat, and we should go to First Avenue.”
“Sounds good, but I left my wallet at home.”
“Don’t worry about it. Just come get me. I’ll be here.”
My boss called. “Where should I go?” she asked. I told her to come to First Avenue, too.
I waited on the corner. Everybody had their windows down and everybody was playing Prince. The sun had burned off the gloom. Machen texted that she was pulling up. Her hound, George, was in the backseat. We drove over to Northeast and picked up my dog on Marshall. Blair looked ridiculous, like a cartoon poodle cliché. I loved it. Mary Lucia was on the radio acting as the town crier. Later that night, I would discover that not only was Minneapolis listening to The Current play Prince but the entire world was listening to The Current play Prince. Mary was reading notes from people relaying their Prince stories in between playing Prince songs. There were so many Prince stories to be told, but Minnesota is the Federal Reserve of Prince stories.
Machen and I went to see my girlfriend Maggie at my friend Lucia’s just off Lowry. Maggie had left work early to work on songs in Lucia’s basement, but she couldn’t focus. She didn’t want to go downtown with us because she wanted to get to her songs eventually. My friend BJ also lives at Lucia’s, and he was doubled over in some kind of gastrointestinal pain because of the cleanse we had both started on Monday. He said it was getting worse and he needed to stay close to home. Machen and I took the dogs back to First Avenue.
It had only been two hours but the scene had intensified by a factor of ten. There were already hundreds of people here. The stage door opened and Conrad, First Avenue’s back of the house manager, brought out a boom box blaring The Current’s all-Prince format. There were now several TV vans on the Target Center side of the street. The professional class with notebooks and cameras had doubled. First Ave had just announced a block party on 7th Street for 10 p.m. and back-to-back-to-back all-night dance parties, tonight, Friday, and Saturday, that would each last until 7 in the morning. There were reports that the clouds had parted over Chanhassen and there was a rainbow over Paisley Park.
My friend Varun called, the only person I knew with the balls to consistently dress like he was a member of the Revolution. He had just landed back in Minneapolis from New York. “I feel like I need to go down there,” he said. I told him to come to First Avenue. I would wait. I called my boss. She had just been down here to drop off flowers. She was meeting with the other editors now to talk about planning something in a future issue. I was relieved that she didn’t want me to write right away.
When I got off the phone with Varun I saw Keith Harris. It’s always good to see Keith—he’s a music writer from Jersey who used to write for City Pages back in the day when City Pages was thick. He moved to New York and started writing for Spin until at some point he got married and became a lawyer and moved back here and then got divorced. Now he’s freelancing again. I’m sure on some level, he felt like this is the story that would make being embedded in Minneapolis worth it. He said he had already had two deadlines, both at noon, one for Pitchfork and one for Rolling Stone. He said he planned on writing about the S&M relationship Prince had with his fans. “That sounds a little harsh,” he said. “Maybe just controlling.”
Varun showed up and he was wearing flowered pants under a denim vest. “I parked a block away,” he said. “I’m good for a couple hours.” We ran into Barb Abney from Go96. Barb seemed amped, fresh off a special two-hour show playing only Prince songs. Jen Boyle, another former City Pages writer came over to say hello. The crowd was getting bigger. Keith came over and told me he was just trolling for Prince stories. He told me a lady had just told him about her inspirational role in the composition of “Raspberry Beret,” and the story’s connection to the Black Panthers. Keith said her story sounded true.
Everybody went home for a few hours. We read statements from the mayor. We read a statement from President Obama. We read what scant news was out there about what happened at Paisley. We started to re-read stories on Prince’s emergency landing in Illinois from a week earlier. They said there would be an autopsy tomorrow. Texts started flying around about block party plans. Several friends were concerned that this was going to be a bunch of local bands covering Prince. Maggie called from Lucia’s and we agreed to have people meet at our place downtown and then we would all walk down to First Avenue.
Everybody was supposed to get down to our apartment by 8:30. I texted Maggie and asked her if I should bring Blair to the block party.
“Just wait for us and we’ll bring him,” she texted. “He will lift everybody’s spirits.”
At 8:45 p.m. Maggie texted “Leaving Lucia’s now.”
Myles and Machen wanted to get down to First Avenue ASAP. I told them we would wait until Maggie and everybody got back. As soon as she walked in I said, “We gotta go.“
“We’ll catch up to you,” Maggie said.
photo by David Bowman
The mass of people was astounding. At 9:30 p.m., 7th Street was shoulder to shoulder packed between First Avenue and Hennepin, as packed as the most uncomfortable sold out Main Room show. There had to be 10,000 people there. The Current had set up a trailer in the middle of the north side of the street with a stage and some mobile speakers. St. Paul’s mayor Chris Coleman was speaking to Prince’s legacy. I couldn’t understand a word. I ran into two friends that had purple flowers they wanted to put on Prince’s shrine but doubted they could get close enough. I said we should try. The cops waved us across 7th and we walked toward Prince’s star. There was a massive pile of flowers with benign growths of purple Mylar balloons. (Somebody had tweeted that by now, there must be surge pricing on purple Mylar balloons in the metro area.) There was a guitar leaning against the wall. There were pictures taped up on either side of the star. There was an unofficial system in place for selfies. People would stand up, take one and move aside.
Ten thousand people sang “Purple Rain.” I started quivering again. It might feel weird to cry during “Darling Nikki” or “Little Red Corvette,” but “Purple Rain” is an apocalyptic cyborg tear jerker from the future meant to engineer new tears or wrench old tears loose. After we finished, Machen said we should get into the Depot. It looked daunting just getting from the main doors to the Depot. But I told Myles and Machen to get behind me. We would squeeze our way down the street inch by inch. Along the way I saw people from every era of my life, every job I’ve ever had, every school I’ve ever attended. I felt the entire length of strangers’ bodies. People asked me if I wanted drugs. People crossed their foreheads or threw their heads back and laughed at the awkwardness of all the jostling and touching. I kissed girls on the cheek and hugged dudes. We felt the crowd surge and Lizzo was walking through us like a fighter on her way to the ring. Her lane opened up and it was parallel to the one we were forging. I reached over to make eye contact and touch her hand. I wasn’t sure she saw me. She had just flown home from Los Angeles so she could make the stage where in moments she would sing “Beautiful Ones.”
We finally ran the threshold and squeezed into the Depot. Myles and I collapsed into a booth that was being reserved for First Ave’s owner Byron Frank. Byron walked into the bar from the garage and we both jumped up, but he didn’t even see us. I’d never seen him before. I’ve known when he was in the club, because when he flies in from California he sits in the owner’s box, best seats in the house, the box that Prince sits in. Byron was tiny, in a leather jacket with slicked silver hair. He looked like a club owner. He was just getting drinks for somebody back in the garage. Eventually, maybe after Byron had left, Myles, Machen, and I were brought back there. I was drinking ice tea because of this stupid cleanse. But I was definitely smoking cigarettes—so many cigarettes. I called Maggie and she told me that they had gone back to the apartment with Blair. I told them I would join them soon. I was fried. I felt shaky. My eyes stung. I wasn’t going to make it to 7 a.m. on night one. At 12:30 a.m., when nobody was looking, I walked out of the side door and went home.
photo by David Bowman
Mid-morning, my friend Juan Antonio texted from Chicago. JA lived in Minneapolis for years. “As an outsider that’s one of the things I never felt that I could share in,” he wrote. “He was always yours.” I texted back, “Prince belonged to the people who would wait in line.”
And that’s who belonged to him. Not me. I grew up in a suburb of St. Paul. My true love of Prince did reach back to the age of 13, however, when he released his most adolescent of albums in the summer of ‘89: The soundtrack to Batman. I had just discovered Frank Miller. That’s when I fell for Prince. Tim Burton and Prince went together perfectly. To a 13-year-old, their Batman wasn’t camp, their Batman was high art. Look, Mr. Mom didn’t even crack any jokes in this movie. All summer, I fought my younger sister and her New Kids on the Block tape over the stereo. Batman was serious. The “Partyman” video on MTV was Prince in a purple Joker suit killing everybody at a funky upper-class ball. It was an exploration of Gotham’s Dionysian world. I had no idea the real life Prince actually partied downtown at Minneapolis nightclubs.
By the time I was in college in small town Southern Minnesota, The Hits and The B-Sides were released. He was already a “legacy artist.” “Gett Off” and “Cream” were undeniable in high school, but by this point Prince was a tabloid monster in a world of dour grunge—the sexual clown who wore assless chaps at the VMAs. He lived in Barcelona with his dancer wife Mayte. My college girlfriend loved Prince. She wore out The Hits and The B-Sides. She loved “Alphabet Street.” (Didn’t everybody’s college girlfriend love “Alphabet Street”?) But I was into white college boy music, like Soul Asylum and The Jayhawks. Minneapolis bands you could see at First Avenue. We hardly realized you could go to Paisley Park and see Prince—in his prime!—back then. What idiots we were. When I graduated from college I worked with a group of waiters who would go to Paisley Park to go see him. People who traded Prince mixtapes and had a working knowledge of everything Prince had ever done. They were so devoted, but it still seemed like a hassle to me—waiting in line, waiting for a coach to bring you from the park n ride to the show. Waiting until 3 in the morning to see him play. Back in '98, that was two hours past bar time. I was still an idiot. I still thought it took too much waiting to be a true Prince fan. Eventually, I did line up for him. At the Dakota Jazz Club in 2009, years before his seven-day stint there, on the day Michael Jackson died. I showed up early to get a seat at a table and I sat through a band I didn’t give a shit about. Prince was going to play after the band. He had been in earlier to set it up. It was happening. But in the end he didn’t play. He just waited out on Nicollet in his white limo, mourning MJ.
By Friday afternoon, the eulogies started to roll in. Keith Harris hit both his deadlines. His Pitchfork piece, “How Prince Changed Minneapolis,” was poignant and insightful. Michelangelo Matos, the prodigal City Pages genius who wrote the 33 1/3 series book on Sign O the Times wrote another great piece for MTV. Dylan Hicks, who had covered Prince and Purple Rain’s 30th for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, wrote a brilliant piece in Slate. I read many others: Rembert in Vulture. Mark Anthony Green in GQ. My Facebook and my Twitter were both a solid purple state. Nobody in Minneapolis was talking about anything else. Nobody in the world was talking about anything else.
I left work, and my friend BJ met me at my house. We were going to walk my poodle to Tao Foods in Uptown and walk around Lake of the Isles. The dreary clouds were gone today. There were violets in bloom. Big bushes of purple flowers. BJ was in much better spirits, too, talking about rebirth. “The pain only comes about every 45 minutes now,” he said about the cleanse. “I think there was a lot of bullshit in my body.” He talked about the drum machine beats he had worked on for Prince all winter. How they were made on the same 1980s era drum machines Prince made famous but how this would sound different than Jimmy Jam’s throwback plan for Prince’s next album. Somebody at Paisley had listened to his beats and finally got back to BJ. And now Prince was dead.
We walked around Lake of the Isles. Everybody was listening to Prince songs. Every car in the city. We went to a grocery store. A clerk said somebody was going to make a statement on the autopsy by 3 p.m. BJ asked if I was going to Get Cryphy tonight, Plain Ole Bill’s monthly hip hop party. It was scheduled for 7th Street Entry tonight. (Plain Ole Bill is also a huge Prince fan.) I told him I was meeting Dave and Isaac and Astronautilus down at the club at 9 p.m. Last night was historic, but it was also a mad house. First Ave would be tighter that night.
photo by David Bowman
When I got home, Maggie told me she wasn’t going out. She was tired from last night and she had already given Prince an entire night of her life right in the middle of these two weeks she was preparing for her own show. Machen texted me: her and her girlfriend weren’t coming down tonight either. They thought that tomorrow night was the night. We got away from First Avenue and walked back to Monte Carlo for chicken wings. Our friend Myles joined us. I couldn’t eat any wings because of this damn cleanse. After they finished we all went back to my house. My brother and my sister brought an entire apartment full of people. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get any of them in. I didn’t know what my sister was doing. We smoked and everybody drank beers. Isaac and Dave and Myles left and they said they would meet us at the club. Around midnight, everybody else walked to First Avenue except for Maggie and her friends Lucia and Dom. The line had gotten thicker. It stretched out away from the intersection in both directions. I walked ahead of my brother. I told him to sit tight. I went into the Entry. Cryphy was sold out. P.O.S. was onstage rapping my second favorite P.O.S. song. “My whole crew is on some shit,” he rapped. “Steppin on your Nikes, spittin’ on your whip.” Then he did my favorite P.O.S. song, “Get Down.” My friend Monte came out to do the verse Mike Mictlan usually does. Monte’s new verse was about dealing drugs and doing drugs. The pattern was cool, slinky but insistent over the house beat.
I went outside to smoke a cigarette. I went back downstairs. Astro was wearing a Florida windbreaker that his girlfriend from Berlin had sewn for him. My brother and my sister were texting me. I couldn’t help them. I should’ve bought them Cryphy tickets. That was the move. I told them to get in line. Varun was also out there. He said he was in his car circling the block over and over again with his girlfriend. He said it was a good time. I went downstairs. Myles asked me if I read the Brian Phillips thing on Prince on MTV. I hadn’t. “Ya fucked up,” he said.
At some point they started playing Prince upstairs. The songs wafted down toward us as I found Phillips’ story on my phone. It was about Prince’s relationship with time, about how he looked dewy and teenaged at 30, how he looked smooth and 30 at 50. About how his music seemed intuited through a personal wormhole to the future. It was brilliant. And how had it come out so fast? Phillips must’ve written it last night or maybe this morning. It felt effortless but also deep and writerly.
Lizzo was sitting by herself on the other couch across the room. I got up and moved over to sit next to her. “Did you take one of those funny pills?” she asked. Lizzo said she was tired. “But I’m always tired.” She had flown in from LA to sing last night and here she was, downstairs at Cryphy with her DJ, Lauren. She hadn’t taken any funny pills. She stage coughed and waved her hands when I lit a cigarette. I wasn’t sure what time it was anymore. My sister had texted, “They’re not letting anyone else in. Going home.” I abandoned my family. I didn’t know where my friends were. It was just me and Lizzo in this universe, on this couch, in the basement of the Entry. The song “Seven” came on. “All Seven and we’ll watch them fall,” Prince sang from above. “They stand in the way of love and we’ll smoke them all.” Lizzo and I were hanging on every word. “And we will see a plague and a river of blood / and every evil soul will surely die in spite of / their 7 tears / but do not fear / 4 in the distance / 12 souls from now / you and me will still be here.”
“See?” Lizzo said. “4 and 12 is 4 and 21,” she said. She meant yesterday, 4/21. “He was a wizard,” I nodded. Prince’s 7 is found throughout his songs, throughout his life. 7 was in his birthday, June 7, 1958. And his death: at 10:07 a.m., on 4/21. Tonight the club was closing again at 7 a.m. But you could also find so many 2’s and 4’s and U’s. Just like the book of Revelations, Prince had his own Gematria—the practice of finding hidden meaning by assigning numerical values to letters and summing or otherwise manipulating a word’s or phrase’s corresponding numbers. He probably learned this from the Seventh Day Adventists he grew up with. But right now, on this couch with Lizzo, it all made sense. You had to have your own Gematria to be this cool in Minneapolis. The cool are persecuted here like the early Christians. Especially if you dressed like he did, partied like he did, had sex with as many people as he did. To be cool in Minneapolis, you had to have a charismatic leader and acolytes willing to die 4 U.
Waking up, the day was lazy. BJ came over and we went to the gym and sauna’ed out the previous night’s toxins. We went to Whole Foods for lunch, and Maggie and I played with Blair down by the Mississippi, on the lawn next to the Federal Reserve Bank. I read my old City Pages music editor Melissa Maerz’ Prince story on the Entertainment Weekly website. It was the first real discordant note in a sea of purple worship. After Prince’s conversion to Jehova’s Witness in the early 2000s he had rounded up all these female journalists and invited them to Paisley Park. Once there, he had read bible verses and mansplained what a woman’s role was and how it fit into the Godly order of things. Naturally, Melissa wrote about the press conference in City Pages. The story ended with Prince asking Melissa to return to Paisley and making her wait by herself in a room for hours until he reappeared only to harshly reprimand her for what she had written. He ended up slamming the door on her. It was an insane story about an insane person. It made me think of CJ Sinner, the Star Tribune’s gossip columnist. How for years she was the only one around her to vociferously dissent from the cult of Prince, a black female columnist at a Minneapolis paper, continually trying to cast herself as the underdog but nobody else seeing it that way. Nobody saw it as the champion of grammar versus the guy referring to himself as an unpronounceable symbol except for her. And Prince underlined reality when he called her a bully on The Gold Experience, and asked, over a smoking Fishbone sample, “Billy Jack Bitch, do U ever really cry?”
I don’t know if things had changed in other parts of the country—I’m sure the grief had started to break up a little, or feel less monolithic. But here in Minneapolis, my Facebook was still solid purp. And tonight was the last night to dance until dawn. We started making plans to get into First Avenue. Except Maggie. She didn’t want to go. “I’m not feeling social tonight,” she said. “And we have to be at my dad’s in Hudson by 4 p.m. tomorrow.” No problem, I assured her.
The plan was for everybody to go to Myles’ place upstairs to watch Beyoncé’s new “visual album” on HBO at 8 p.m. “Come up if you want,” I told Maggie. I texted Sonia, who was still, unbelievably, in Maryland. She texted back, she could get me on the list plus one, but that was it. Machen said she would come down with her girlfriend Schaefer to watch Beyoncé and that we would all get into the club somehow. Astronautilus and Dave said they would meet at Myles’. Varun and his girlfriend Natalie were coming, too. I made it upstairs a little after 8, just missing the first Beyoncé song. It was just Myles and Machen and Schaeffer. It felt strange to watch a cultural force that wasn’t Prince.
Halfway through we couldn’t believe Lemonade. I know this is a story about Prince, but can we talk about Lemonade for a second? Did Jay-Z know she was making this? It clearly stems from the elevator incident and his infidelity, but it’s not a divorce album, it’s a trial separation-slash-reconciliation album. Would her public be happy with this? Listening to it, watching it, thinking about it, felt like we were truant from the official period of Prince mourning. We argued about whether Beyoncé, who at Glastonbury a few years ago sang the greatest version of “Beautiful Ones” not sang by Prince himself (but still maybe in the top ten of “Beautiful Ones” performances, including the ones Prince sang himself), should have even released this on this weekend. We wondered if anybody else was thinking that. We considered how provincial our argument was. Myles said, “Tour starts this week, she can’t tour without her album.” We hoped nobody heard us or could even perceive that at any point we had momentarily doubted Beyoncé. Doubting Beyoncé is social media suicide even in the throes of grief.
We walked to First Avenue around midnight and it was another carnival. The line stretched around the building, who knows how many times. We went into the Depot. Machen immediately got a wristband for her and her girlfriend from one of her former colleagues. Myles was texting the GM's wife. Everybody was calling in all the favors tonight. Myles said the GM's wife was maybe going to come out and get some of us in. Sonia was still gone. We wondered what Sonia was thinking about all of this, away with her nephews in Baltimore. Was this killing her? Was she relieved? This had to be killing her. Varun was beating himself up over never having gone out to Paisley. Never having seen Prince. I had seen him only once myself, back in 1999, at this outdoor concert in a parking lot called The Mill City Festival. I couldn’t even remember the setlist, I could only recall his guitar playing, on that weird purple symbol guitar. I thought of the Eric Clapton quote. When somebody asked Slowhand, “What’s it like to be the best guitar player in the world?” He responded, “I don’t know. Ask Prince.”
At around 1:15 a.m. Carrie came into the Depot and said, “Ready?” She led a group of seven or eight of us into the garage. We were all handed lime green wristbands. My friend Johnny Swardson was back there. He was talking to a guy named Andy Holmaas, a young suit in a purple T-shirt with a connection to R. T. Rybak. “He helped First Avenue get the permits to make this happen,” Johnny said. Andy said it all came together within two hours on Thursday.
photo by David Bowman
I went up to the bathroom and emerged to stare down at the crowd from the balcony. “Controversy” was fwaping away on the dance floor and those fat keyboard sounds were deafening. Prince’s machine voice kept asking, “Am I black or white / Am I straight or gay?” A light rig bathed a packed dance floor in a swirl of purples and violets and pinks and blues. Our dead icon was projected on a huge screen. I welled up again. “Erotic City” was next. I watched all the girls dance, skinny girls, thick girls, black girls, white girls, Asian girls, Latina girls. One of my friends leaned over and said, “This is when I miss New York—only hot girls in the club.” And I caught myself staring at an ugly girl, her face and her form silhouetted by the purple light. I was offended on her behalf. Wtf, dude. Don’t you get it? There was something so democratic about this collection of people. Something so Midwestern, with beautiful people next to ugly people all bathed in the same neon. This was the Minneapolis of Purple Rain, the polyracial Minneapolis that Prince had imagined and then manifested. Black guys who looked like they were from the future standing next to white guys with feathered hair and mustaches, women with hairdos that were angular triangles next to guys wearing eye shadow with Members Only jackets. Straight couples and gay couples. Millennials and hipster dads. There were sober people and super fucked up people. We were all here tonight, together, and we were going to dance until we sang "Purple Rain" one last time together at 7 in the morning. This was a public service that had been provided that I hadn’t even realized we needed. How did First Avenue, The Current, the cops, and City Hall know we needed this? Our fathers had simultaneously dropped their Midwestern moral rectitude for Him. Why didn’t we need this every weekend? Weren’t we capable of it?
photo by David Bowman
At 7 a.m. we all danced to "Let’s Go Crazy." For a second there, in the delirium, I thought that He might rise again.
When we walked out at 7 in the morning, it was raining.
It felt like Prince had died.
Maggie woke me up at 2:30. Only a half hour to get ready to go to her dad’s. “I’m out of the shower and you’re still in bed,” she said. “Just tell me if you don’t want to go.” She had been working on her own music all weekend and I had become a Prince-mourning zombie. When she came back she woke me up again. I tried to tell her about last night. “You can tell me all about it in the car,” she said.
I got up and tried to make a D.Tox smoothie. The machine wouldn’t work. I couldn’t think. I was frustrated with everything. I asked Maggie why she didn’t go. “Don’t guilt trip me for not mourning the same way that you did,” she said. I asked her how she could expect me to go now. I told her I wasn’t going to her dad’s. We screamed at each other like doves. She was crying. I was crying. We held each other in the kitchen by the bullshit blender. I told her I was disappointing her. “I have to go,” she said. “We’re going to be OK.” She took the dog.
I made it to the couch and I checked my Facebook. I read a story somebody had sent me from the Daily Mail about “Dr. D” and Prince’s $40,000 a pop, decades long opiate addiction. I didn’t share the story on my Facebook, even though all I did was share Prince stories on Facebook. But I texted BJ the story. I also texted BJ that Maggie and I had gotten into a fight, and that I stayed home from her family dinner.
“Oh, so Prince means more to you than her dad,” he said. “I’m sure she understands.”
I asked him if his admiration for Prince would be altered by the revelation of a long-term narcotic addiction.
“It would change some of the mystique,” he said. “It would answer so many questions, about his weird diet, about the hours he kept, about why he stayed in Minnesota.”
I asked about all the other high functioning brilliant junkies in the art world.
“Yeah but if Prince had to get his fix in order to get on stage and perform?” BJ explained that Prince was on a pedestal for him and he wanted him to stay there. “Everything revolving around an addiction seems like a foul to me,” he said. “All the mystery, quirks, and magic are not nearly as interesting to me, if this is true.”
Maggie came back from her dad’s. We were cool. Her dad and her step-mom loved our dog. We watched Game of Thrones and went to bed.
I woke up and kept reading Prince tributes. I finally read Robert Christgau’s on Noisey. He wrote with clear-eyed objective authority. I read Andrea Swensson’s tribute—Swensson had become Prince's local radio confidante and I suspected that was wholly because of Andrea’s rah-rah attitude, but she wrote about feeling protective of Prince and his legacy and I felt her, especially with all of this tabloid drug addiction stuff beginning to creep into our consciousness. How do you die in an elevator alone? So much of this weekend had been about us, about our loss, but now the tide was shifting toward him, toward this lonely human who couldn’t stop the elevator from going down after all.
Mark Mallman picked me up and we went to Gandhi Mahal for another D.Tox-safe meal. Then he took me and Blair to the dog park by the airport. It was a misty, overcast day, but the wet park was vibrating green. I told him about my weekend and he told me I should write it all down. “7 Days of Prince,” he said. “That way, it won’t look like you’re late, it will look like you planned it.”
photo by Mark Kegans
For a couple weeks I had been planning to go the Twins game on Monday the 25th. It was the first time Myles was getting the Fallon tickets along the third base line. Now the game was a “tribute to Prince” and all the players would be using Prince songs as walk-up music and they would play “Little Red Corvette” during the 7th inning stretch. Before the game, it was announced that Mauer, who wears number 7, had changed his walkup music to Prince’s “7.” Our Korean first baseman inexplicably chose “Uptown.” It was a frigid night at Target Field and the 17,000 announced felt inflated, but there were still undeniable moments. The Twins hired Prince’s touring DJ, DJ Dudley D, and Dudley played “Adore” during the kiss cam—proving beyond a doubt that “Adore” is easily the greatest kiss cam song of all time. In the bottom of the 9th, Oswaldo Arcia hit a walk-off home run and they played “Let’s Go Crazy,” which they have been ingeniously playing after home runs for a couple of years now, immediately followed by our new victory song, “Partyman,” one of the underrated Prince hits, and one of my first Prince loves, off Batman. The walk-off home run was inexplicably magic, but Myles had left already, and something about the entire affair felt forced. Like a branding obligation. It was beginning to feel like mourning Prince was my job.
I showed up at the office on Tuesday morning and we had a meeting about how we were going to cover the community’s momentous loss with our limited resources. Our only advantage was time and location. We were in Minneapolis. We talked about what had gone down over the weekend. The Editorial Director is a huge Prince fan, and she talked about the Prince scene that she had grown up when she was living downtown. I asked Jayne if she thought Prince had ever had a drug phase back in the '80s. She said "No way," but forwarded me an email that suggested he used to drink, either a black Russian or a glass of red wine, when he would pop up in South Beach. I wondered aloud if the opiate addiction story would change the way this would be covered. We talked about Prince being up for 156 hours straight before he passed. There were reports emerging about Paisley becoming another Graceland, while at the same time details were starting to emerge over his lack of a will. Print demanded that we begin calibrating how we would feel six months from now, when we were only six days out.
On the way home I stopped off at the Tom Thibodeau press conference at Target Center. I wondered if Prince was as stoked as I was last Wednesday when the Timberwolves signed the best available coach. Prince was a known basketball fan, a big enough fan of Glen Taylor’s other product, the Lynx, that he threw them a private party at Paisley when they won their third ring this past September. Cheryl Reeves is a great coach. The Thibodeau thing seemed like a watershed moment for Minnesota. When do we ever have the most attractive situation in the country? When do we ever get the best guy? Had that ever happened before? Maybe Lou Holtz with Gopher Football. We never get the best guy. In anything. Well, maybe when we could boast the most innovative musician of the pop and rock era.
Hey! Minneapolis was beginning to feel like itself again.
By 10 p.m., Bernie and Trump had been reintroduced to my Facebook feed.
I still hadn’t been out to Paisley.
I called up my friend Varun and asked if he wanted to go. He did, and he had a car.
He picked me up at 6 p.m. from Calhoun Square. He had a loaner Mercedes, because his mom’s was in the shop, and we couldn’t figure out the Bluetooth on the thing. The Current wasn’t playing any Prince so Varun retold his Prince story. It’s a pretty great one. Varun’s family are Sikh’s from Dehli, and they came to Minnesota to live out their head shop dreams. Back in the day, his grandpa had a head shop kitty-corner from First Avenue, back where Target Center used to be. They filmed some scenes for Purple Rain in the apartments above his grandpa’s store. Prince came into the shop and he insisted on clearing the place out while he browsed, including the old man’s little kid, Varun’s uncle. Well that happened once, and the next time Prince and his entourage showed up, the old man said, “Everybody can come in but him.”
We took Highway 7 west toward Paisley and somehow ended up in downtown Excelsior, somewhere near Lake Minnetonka. Wait, was that Lake Minnetonka? Varun liked the trees. Budding leaves and flowers would be immediately followed by generic suburban strip malls. Excelsior felt like a small town. The gas station attendant was small town friendly. On road trips I’m notorious for finding strange historical markets and weird kitschy local attractions and this felt like we were looking for one. It says that Prince died here, honey. Suddenly I felt like a real tourist. Was I already over this, or was I afraid that I didn’t care as much as I thought I did?
photo by David Bowman
We pulled up to Paisley Park. “Yup, it really does look like an IKEA,” Varun said. The rain had slacked off, but I didn’t know whether to expect a handful of people or more. We parked by the day care across the road, and as soon as you came on site, there was a hush. Immediately my heart was in my throat again. My eyes stung. There must be a quarter mile of fence lined with deflated Mylar balloons, waterlogged flowers, paintings, handmade shrines, laminated prayer sheets, a flag from the city of Chicago, a child’s plastic purple sled, stuffed Nemo toys, boxes of pancake mix, a pair of purple Havaianas, a yarn bombing by the artist hottea, so many purple devotionals.
“It’s like the shrine of a dead saint in India,” Varun said. All the purple flowers reminded him of the strands of saffron and turmeric blooms pilgrims would hang on trees back in Dehli. We walked the entire length of a fence as a security guard paced along with us. There must have been 75 people here, whiter, more suburban with kids than the mourners downtown, but here they were, smiling for a selfie and then immediately returning to a somber, more prayerful comportment. We were in a holy place.
We imagined Prince riding his bike around here only a few days ago, going through the Riley Creek pedestrian tunnel and as the acoustics changed, maybe he was tempted to clap his hands or even issue a Princely, life affirming squeal.