Prince Reclaims His Crown

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As raucous as the show sometimes appears—with Prince and band members racing around the stage, seemingly at whim—everything is, in fact, occurring within a larger, orderly plan. Prince, of all people, believes that improvisation isn't a virtue in itself—even spontaneous gestures must be meaningful. Only rigorous rehearsals make that possible, and this band is flawless and taut. During a sound check in New York one evening, Prince was working with the crew on lighting cues. He'd casually count off song parts—"OK, second verse, from the top"—and the nine-piece band would instantly fall in exactly in time. It was as impressive as anything in the show itself.

"Oh, you can't go out there unless you've got the show completely in shape," Prince says after the Cleveland gig. "It can look pretty wild onstage, but everyone knows exactly where they're supposed to be. That was a lesson I had to learn from when I was starting out. When we first went out behind 1999, the Time, who were opening for us, beat us up every night. They would laugh about it; it was a joke to them. Our show wasn't together. I had to stop the tour and get things tightened up. Now me and the band have a certain relationship with each other, and every night we make the audience part of that."

It's hard to tell precisely what accounts for the more easygoing Prince. He refuses to speak about any aspect of his private life, but his becoming a Jehovah's Witness a few years back has seemingly brought him a good deal of spiritual calm. The religion's combination of absolute certainty and convoluted interpretive zeal suits him perfectly. He began his remarks at the Hall of Fame induction by offering "all praise and thanks to the most high Jehovah," and his additional declaration there that "too much freedom can lead to the soul's decay" should be read as his acceptance of the strict tenets of that faith. In consequence, he has expunged all profanity from his language and refuses to perform any of his racier songs—no "Darling Nikki," no "Head," no "Gett Off."

And speaking of sexual decorum, Musicology, among its other subjects, is a paean to monogamy ("Eye see U picked me out like U want something/But shame on U, baby, can't U see this ring?"). And Prince has even become an unlikely advocate for cleaning up the airwaves. "This culture is in big trouble," he insists. "All you see on television are debased images. Whether you believe it or not, black people do not want to see pictures of people wearing bulletproof vests. You saw the Super Bowl. I don't even need to say anything more about it. And who produced that? That should tell you something right there."

Prince's problem with MTV, which produced the Super Bowl halftime show with Janet Jackson's infamous wardrobe malfunction, is its de-emphasis on music ("Do you ever see a video on there?") and, like every other aspect of popular culture, its reliance on titillation. Discussing his Hall of Fame performance of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (a song he claims never to have heard before it was sent to him to learn for the show), Prince says, "It was an honor to play with Tom Petty—'Free Fallin' is one of my favorite songs. I used to love whenever he would come on MTV, because you knew you were going to get a great tune. MTV isn't like that anymore."

More personally, Prince's marriage to twenty-seven-year-old Manuela Testolini in 2001 seems also to have settled him. Beautiful, slender and soft-spoken, she was by his side virtually every moment he wasn't onstage in Cleveland. The past seven years or so have not been easy for Prince. The child he had with his first wife, Mayte Garcia, died from a rare illness after living for only a week. The couple's marriage ended not long after that. Both his parents passed away. Amid all that loss, remarriage and faith appear to have come as great, restorative gifts.

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