Prince Talks: The Silence is Broken

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Off the kitchen is a living room that holds nothing your aunt wouldn't have in her house. On the mantel are framed pictures of family and friends, including one of John Nelson playing a guitar. There's a color TV and VCR, a long coffee table supporting a dish of jellybeans, and a small silver unicorn by the mantel. Atop the large mahogany piano sits an oversize white Bible.

The only thing unusual in either of the two guest bedrooms is a two-foot statue of a smiling yellow gnome covered by a swarm of butterflies. One of the monarchs is flying out of a heart-shaped hole in the gnome's chest. "A friend gave that to me, and I put it in the living room," says Prince. "But some people said it scared them, so I took it out and put it in here."

Downstairs from the living room is a narrow little workroom with recording equipment and a table holding several notebooks. "Here's where I wrote and recorded all of 1999," says Prince, "all right in this room." On a low table in the corner are three Grammys. "Wendy," says Prince, "has got the Academy Award."

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Prince

The work space leads into the master bedroom. It's nice. And . . . normal. No torture devices or questionable appliances, not even a cigarette butt, beer tab or tea bag in sight. A four-poster bed above plush white carpeting, some framed pictures, one of Marilyn Monroe. A small lounging area off the bedroom provides a stereo, a lake-shore view and a comfortable place to stretch out on the floor and talk. And talk he did – his first interview in three years.

A few hours later, Prince is kneeling in front of the VCR, showing his "Raspberry Beret" video. He explains why he started the clip with a prolonged clearing of the throat. "I just did it to be sick, to do something no one else would do." He pauses and contemplates. "I turned on MTV to see the premiere of 'Raspberry Beret,' and Mark Goodman was talking to the guy who discovered the backward message on 'Darling Nikki.' They were trying to figure out what the cough meant too, and it was sort of funny." He pauses again. "But I'm not getting down on him for trying. I like that. I've always had little hidden messages, and I always will."

He then plugs in the videocassette of "4 the Tears in Your Eyes," which he's just sent to the Live Aid folks for the big show. "I hope they like it," he says, shrugging his shoulders.

The phone rings, and Prince picks it up in the kitchen. "We'll be there in twenty minutes," he says, hanging up. Heading downstairs, Prince swivels his head and smiles. "Just gonna change clothes." He comes back a couple minutes later wearing another paisley jump suit, "the only kind of clothes I own." And the boots? "People say I'm always wearing heels cuz I'm short," he says, laughing. "I wear heels because the women like 'em."

A few minutes later, driving toward the First Avenue club, Prince is talking about the fate of the most famous landmark in Minneapolis. "Before Purple Rain," he says, "all the kids who came to First Avenue knew us, and it was just like a big, fun fashion show. The kids would dress for themselves and just try and look really cool. Once you got your thing right, you'd stop looking at someone else. You'd be yourself, and you'd feel comfortable."

Then Hollywood arrived. "When the film first came out," Prince remembers, "a lot of tourists started coming. That was kind of weird, to be in the club and get a lot of 'Oh! There he is!' It felt a little strange. I'd be in there thinking, 'Wow, this sure is different than it used to be.' "

Now, however, the Gray Line Hip Tour swarm has slackened. According to Prince – who goes there twice a week to dance when he's not working on a big project – the old First Avenue feeling is coming back. "There were a lot of us hanging around the club back in the old days," he says, "and the new army, so to speak, is getting ready to come back to Minneapolis. The Family's already here, Mazarati's back now too, and Sheila E. and her band will be coming soon. The club'll be the same thing that it was."

As we pull up in front of First Avenue, a Saturdaynight crowd is milling around outside, combing their hair, smoking cigarettes, holding hands. They stare with more interest than awe as Prince gets out of the car. "You want to go to the [VIP] booth?" asks the bouncer. "Naah," says Prince, "I feel like dancing."

A few feet off the packed dance floor stands the Family, taking a night off from rehearsing. Prince joins the band amid laughs, kisses, soul shakes. Prince and three other Family members wade through a floor full of Teddy-and-Eleanor-Mondale-brand funkettes and start moving. Many of the kids Prince passes either don't see him or pretend they don't care. Most of the rest turn their heads slightly to see the man go by, then simply continue their own motions.

An hour later, he's on the road again, roaring out of downtown. Just as he's asked if there's anything in the world he wants but doesn't have, two blondes driving daddy's Porsche speed past. "I don't," Prince says with a giggle, "have them."

He catches up to the girls, rolls down his window and throws a ping-pong ball that was on the floor of his car at them. They turn their heads to see what kind of geek is heaving ping-pong balls at them on the highway at two in the morning. When they see who it is, mouths drop, hands wave, the horn blares. Prince rolls up his window, smiles silently and speeds by.

Off the main highway, Prince veers around the late-night stillness of Cedar Lake, right past the spot where Mary Tyler Moore gamboled during her TV show's credits. This town, he says, is his freedom. "The only time I feel like a prisoner," he continues, "is when I think too much and can't sleep from just having so many things on my mind. You know, stuff like 'I could do this, I could do that. I could work with this band. When am I gonna do this show or that show?' There's so many things. There's women. Do I have to eat? I wish I didn't have to eat."

A few minutes later, he drops me off at my house. Half a block ahead, he stops at a Lake Street red light. A left up Lake leads back to late-night Minneapolis; a right is the way home to the suburban purple house and solitude. Prince turns left, back toward the few still burning night lights of the city he's never left.

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