“You all still read books, right?” said Prince, dressed in a sparkling pinstripe suit on the balcony of cramped Manhattan club Avenue.
On Friday night, one of pop’s most enigmatic figures made the announcement that he’s working on his memoir — a book with the working title The Beautiful Ones.
“The good people at Random House have made me an offer that I can’t refuse,” said Prince, who is putting it together for imprint Spiegel & Grau. “We’re starting right at the beginning from my first memory, and hopefully we can move all the way to the Super Bowl. We just started, we’re going as quick as we can, working tirelessly.”
Prince assumed that most in the crowd of less than 200 packed inside the hallway-like Avenue — members of the press, book professionals, VIPs like Harry Belafonte and Trevor Noah — knew the gist of the three-minute announcement before they arrived. However no one but Prince could know exactly what would transpire in his brief, high-octane performance that would transpire after he left to “change and put some dancing clothes on.”
DJ Pam the Funkstress, of Bay Area agit-rap Molotovs the Coup, kept the crowd juiced for the hours it took for him to return, priming them with choice Prince-era jams by Rick James, Midnight Star, Pebbles and the Gap Band. Though Prince was equipped with nothing more than a single sampling keyboard set up — just a man and his instrument like his reflective Piano & a Microphone tour — the 30-minute performance was pure grind. With Pam blasting out hiccuping, stuttering, skipping instrumentals of Prince songs like “Hot Thing,” “Sign O’ the Times,” “D.M.S.R.” and “Shockadelica” the performance seemed like a triangulation of hard-funking Eighties electro, crushing Nineties dance music and the timelessness of Prince melodies — many parts of his career thudding and colliding into dank ecstasy like they were re-recorded for The Black Album.
“You know how many hits we got, right?” he said as they came fast and furious: “When Doves Cry,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and a thumping “Controversy” where he demanded the lights off and told everyone in the mostly buttoned-up, business-casual crowd to “find somebody to dance with.” A shard of “If I Was Your Girlfriend” drove directly into closer “Let’s Work.” Sans guitar, the instrumental pyrotechnics were handled deftly by Pam the Funkstress slicing with abandon. The powerful 30-minute performance mixed nostalgia (he shouted, “What year is this?” multiple times) with the forward-motion focus that drove one of the most unique and powerful careers in pop history.
“We wanna thank Random House,” he said mid-song. “Ain’t nothing random about this book.”