Prince Reclaims His Crown

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The overall strategy is for Prince to have what McMillan calls an ongoing, "multidelivery model" for bringing his music to the public. Everything Prince releases will be directly available online to the members of his NPG Music Club. Albums such as Musicology, with a potentially broader appeal, might also receive major-label distribution. More specialized projects, such as the instrumental album Prince has discussed with the Blue Note label, might benefit from still another approach. Live performance, meanwhile, rather than recordings, will increasingly become the center of Prince's musical universe.

Such imaginative flexibility may not only be ideal for Prince but might prove essential for record companies in the years ahead, particularly in the wake of the recent upheavals in the music industry. "I want to make heart decisions in business," Prince says. "If you can't do that, you're not free. I want to be able to dictate which way I'm going to go."

For a tumultuous run of songs at the end of the Cleveland show—"U Got the Look," "Life 'o' the Party," "Soul Man" and "Kiss"—Prince invites perhaps two dozen women in the audience onto the stage to dance. One willowy girl wears a purple two-piece bathing suit festooned with the glyph that had become the singer's name for a time. Prince struts over to her, and she becomes his dance partner during "Kiss." After the line "Act your age, not your shoe size," he holds the mike out for her, and right in tune, she sings, "And maybe we can do the twirl!" Prince's eyes widen and he yowls, "Wooo!"

"The security guard wasn't going to let her get onstage," Prince says backstage after the show. "I said, 'You can't send that girl home dressed like that!'"

Everybody's ready to hit the Spy Bar in Cleveland's Warehouse District for an after-party, but Prince and the band won't be doing a late-night set there tonight. "I always love to play," he says, "but we've been doing so many shows that I feel like I need to give the band a chance to rest." Asked why he booked a tour with so few days off, Prince smiles and holds his hands out in front of him, as if weighing an object in each. "Let's see," he says, "sleep, or half a million dollars? Sleep, or half a million dollars?"

But while the cash is obviously welcome—particularly as a proud refutation of the recurrent rumors that he was going broke—Prince is satisfied by more than money these days. "My fans bring their sons and daughters to my shows now," he says. "That's how I grew up. I hope to be an inspiration to those people.

"I feel at peace. I knew it would take time, and I had to deal with a lot of ridicule. But this feels like peace right now. Spiritually I feel very different from the way I used to, but physically? Not at all. I don't look at time that way, and I don't believe in age. When you wake up, each day looks the same, so each day should be a new beginning. I don't have an expiration date."

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