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    Prince Rolling Stone April 26, 1985


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    Prince Rolling Stone April 26, 1985

    Post by maxim9691 on Thu Jul 29, 2010 10:00 am



    John Nelson turns sixty-nine today, and all the semiretired piano man wants for his birthday is to shoot some pool with his firstborn son. "He's real handy with a cue," says Prince, laughing, as he threads his old white T-bird through his old black neighborhood toward his old man's house. "He's so cool. The old man knows what time it is."

    Hard time is how life has traditionally been clocked in North Minneapolis; this is the place 'Time' forgot twelve years ago when the magazine's cover trumpeted "The Good Life in Minnesota," alongside a picture of Governor Wendell Anderson holding up a walleye. Though tame and middle-class by Watts and Roxbury standards, the North Side offers some of the few mean streets in town.

    The old sights bring out more Babbitt than Badass is Prince as he leads a leisurely tour down the main streets of his inner-city Gopher Prairie. He cruises slowly, respectfully: stopping completely at red lights, flicking on his turn signal even when no one's at an intersection. Gone is the wary Kung Fu Grasshopper voice with which Prince whispers when meeting strangers or accepting Academy Awards. Cruising peacefully with the window down, he's proof in a paisley jump suit that you can always go home again, especially if you never really left town.

    Tooling through the neighborhood, Prince speaks matter-of-factly of why he toyed with early interviewers about his father and mother, their divorce and his adolescent wanderings between the homes of his parents, friends and relatives. "I used to tease a lot of journalists early on," he says, "because I wanted them to concentrate on the music and not so much on me coming from a broken home. I really didn't think that was important. What was important was what came out of my system that particular day. I don't live in the past. I don't play my old records for that reason. I make a statement, then move on to the next."

    The early facts, for the neo-Freudians: John Nelson, leader of the Prince Rogers jazz trio, knew Mattie Shaw from North Side community dances. A singer sixteen years John's junior, Mattie bore traces of Billie Holiday in her pipes and more than a trace of Indian and Caucasian in her blood. She joined the Prince Rogers trio, sang for a few years around town, married John Nelson and dropped out of the group. She nicknamed her husband after the band; the son who came in 1958 got the nickname on his birth certificate. At home and on the street, the kid was "Skipper." Mattie and John broke up ten years later, and Prince began his domestic shuttle.

    "That's where my mom lives," he says nonchalantly, nodding toward a neatly trimmed house and lawn. "My parents live very close by each other, but they don't talk. My mom's the wild side of me; she's like that all the time. My dad's real serene; it takes the music to get him going. My father and me, we're one and the same." A wry laugh. "He's a little sick, just like I am."

    Most of North Minneapolis has gone outside this Sunday afternoon to feel summer, that two-week season, locals joke, between winter and road construction. During this scenic tour through the neighborhood, the memories start popping faster. The T-Bird turns left at a wooden two-story church whose steps are lined with bridesmaids in bonnets and ushers in tuxedos hurling rice up at a beaming couple framed in the door. "That was the church I went to growing up," says Prince. "I wonder who's getting married." A fat little kid waves, and Prince waves back.

    "Just all kinds of things here," he goes on, turning right. "There was a school right there, John Hay. That's where I went to elementary school," he says, pointing out a field of black tar sprouting a handful of bent metal basketball rims. "And that's where my cousin lives. I used to play there every day when I was twelve, on these streets, football up and down this block. That's his father out there on the lawn."

    These lawns are where Prince the adolescent would also amuse his friends with expert imitations of pro wrestlers Mad Dog Vachon and the Crusher. To amuse himself, he learned how to play a couple dozen instruments. At thirteen, he formed Grand Central, his first band, with some high school friends. Grand Central often traveled to local hotels and gyms to band-battle with their black competition: Cohesion, from the derided "bourgeois" South Side, and Flyte Time, which, with the addition of Morris Day, would later evolve into the Time.

    Prince is fiddling with the tape deck inside the T-Bird. On low volume comes his unreleased "Old Friends 4 Sale," an arrow-to-the-heart rock ballad about trust and loss. Unlike "Positively 4th Street" -- which Bob Dylan reputedly named after a nearby Minneapolis block -- the lyrics are sad, not bitter. "I don't know too much about Dylan," says Prince, "but I respect him a lot. 'All Along the Watchtower' is my favorite of his. I heard it first from Jimi Hendrix."

    "Old Friends 4 Sale" ends, and on comes "Strange Relationships," and as-yet-unreleased dance tune. "Is it too much?" asks Prince about playing his own songs in his own car. "Not long ago I was driving around L.A. with [a well-known rock star], and all he did was play his own stuff over and over. If it gets too much, just tell me."

    He turns onto Plymouth, the North Side's main strip. When Martin Luther King got shot, it was Plymouth Avenue that burned. "We used to go to that McDonald's there," he says. "I didn't have any money, so I'd just stand outside there and smell stuff. Poverty makes people angry, brings out their worst side. I was very bitter when I was young. I was insecure and I'd attack anybody. I couldn't keep a girlfriend for two weeks. We'd argue about anything."

    Across the street from McDonald's, Prince spies a smaller landmark. He points to a vacant corner phone booth and remembers a teenage fight with a strict and unforgiving father. "That's where I called my dad and begged him to take me back after he kicked me out," he begins softly. "He said no, so I called my sister and asked her to ask him. So she did, and afterward told me that all I had to do was call him back, tell him I was sorry, and he's take me back. So I did, and he still said no. I sat crying at that phone booth for two hours. That's the last time I cried."

    In the years between that phone-booth breakdown and today's pool game came forgiveness. Says Prince, "Once I made it, got my first record contract, got my name on a piece of paper and a little money in my pocket, I was able to forgive. Once I was eating every day, I became a much nicer person." But it took many more years for the son to understand what a jazzman father needed to survive. Prince figured it out when he moved into his purple house.

    "I can be upstairs at the piano, and Rande [his cook] can come in," he says. "Her footsteps will be in a different time, and it's real weird when you hear something that's a totally different rhythm than what you're playing. A lot of times that's mistaken for conceit or not having a heart. But it's not. And my dad's the same way, and that's why it was hard for him to live with anybody. I didn't realize that until recently. When he was working or thinking, he had a private pulse going constantly inside him. I don't know, your bloodstream beats differently."

    Prince pulls the T-Bird into an alley behind a street of neat frame houses, stops behind a wooden one-car garage and rolls down the window. Relaxing against a tree is a man who looks like Cab Calloway. Dressed in a crisp white suit, collar and tie, a trim and smiling John Nelson adjusts his best cuff links and waves. "Happy birthday," says the son. "Thanks," says the father, laughing. Nelson says he's not even allowing himself a piece of cake on his birthday. "No, not this year," he says with a shake of the head. Pointing at his son, Nelson continues, "I'm trying to take off ten pounds I put on while visiting him in Los Angeles. He eats like I want to eat, but exercises, which I certainly don't."

    Father then asks son if maybe he should drive himself to the pool game so he won't have to be hauled all the way back afterward. Prince says okay, and Nelson, chuckling, says to the stranger, "Hey, let me show you what I got for my birthday two years ago." He goes over to the garage and gives a tug on the door handle. Squeezed inside is a customized deep-purple BMW. On the rear seat is a copy of Prince's latest LP, Around the World in a Day. While the old man gingerly back the car out, Prince smiles. "He never drives that thing. He's afraid it's going to get dented." Looking at his own white T-Bird, Prince goes on: "He's always been that way. My father gave me this a few years ago. He bought it new in 1966. There were only 22,000 miles on it when I got it."

    An ignition turns. "Wait," calls Prince, remembering something. He grabs a tape off the T-Bird seat and yells to his father, "I got something for you to listen to. Lisa [Coleman] and Wendy [Melvoin] have been working on these in L.A." Prince throws the tape, which the two female members of his band have mixed, and his father catches it with one hand. Nelson nods okay and pulls his car behind his son's in the alley. Closely tailing Prince through North Minneapolis, he waves and smiles whenever we look back. It's impossible to believe that the gun-toting geezer in Purple Rain was modeled after John Nelson.

    "That stuff about my dad was part of [director-cowriter] Al Magnoli's story," Prince explains. "We used parts of my past and present to make the story pop more, but it was a story. My dad wouldn't have nothing to do with guns. He never swore, still doesn't, and never drinks." Prince looks in his rearview mirror at the car tailing him. "He don't look sixty-nine, do he? He's so cool. He's got girlfriends, lots of 'em." Prince drives alongside two black kids walking their bikes. "Hey, Prince," says one casually. "Hey," says the driver with a nod, "how you doing?"

    Passing by old neighbors watering their lawns and shooting hoops, the North Side's favorite son talks about his hometown. "I wouldn't move, just cuz I like it here so much. I can go out and not get jumped on. It feels good not to be hassled when I dance, which I do a lot. It's not a think of everybody saying, 'Whoa, who's out with who here?' while photographers flash their bulbs in your face."

    Nearing the turnoff that leads from Minneapolis to suburban Eden Prairie, Prince flips in another tape and peeks in the rearview mirror. John Nelson is still right behind. "It's real hard for my father to show emotion," says Prince, heading onto the highway. "He never says, 'I love you,' and when we hug or something, we bang our heads together like in some Charlie Chaplin movie. But a while ago, he was telling me how I always had to be careful. My father told me, 'If anything happens to you, I'm gone.' All I thought at first was that it was a real nice thing to say. But then I thought about it for a while and realized something. That was my father's way of saying 'I love you.'"

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    Re: Prince Rolling Stone April 26, 1985

    Post by maxim9691 on Thu Jul 29, 2010 10:00 am

    Part II
    A few minutes later, Prince and his father pull in front of the Warehouse, a concrete barn in an Eden Prairie industrial park. Inside, the Family, a rock-funk band that Prince has been working with, is pounding out new songs and dance routines. The group is as tight as ace drummer Jellybean Johnson's pants. At the end of one hot number, Family members fall on their backs, twitching like fried eggs.

    Prince and his father enter to hellos from the still-gyrating band. Prince goes over to a pool table by the soundboard, racks the balls and shimmies to the beat of the Family's next song. Taking everything in, John Nelson gives a professional nod to the band, his son's rack job and his own just-chalked cue. He hitches his shoulders, takes aim and breaks like Minnesota Fats. A few minutes later, the band is still playing and the father is still shooting. Prince, son to this father and father to this band, is smiling.

    THE NIGHT BEFORE, in the Warehouse, Prince is about to break his three-year public silence. Wearing a jump suit, powder-blue boots and a little crucifix on a chain, he dances with the Family for a little while, plays guitar for a minute, sings lead for a second, then noodles four-handed keyboard with Susannah Melvoin, Wendy's identical-twin sister.

    Seeing me at the door, Prince comes over. "Hi," he whispers, offering a hand, "want something to eat or drink?" On the table in front of the band are piles of fruit and a couple bags of Doritos. Six different kinds of tea sit on a shelf by the wall. No drugs, no booze, no coffee. Prince plays another lick or two and watches for a few more minutes, then waves goodbye to the band and heads for his car outside the concrete barn.

    "I'm not used to this," mumbles Prince, staring straight ahead through the windshield of his parked car. "I really thought I'd never do interviews again." we drive for twenty minutes, talking about Minnesota's skies, air and cops. Gradually, his voice comes up, bringing with it inflections, hand gestures and laughs.

    Soon after driving past a field that will house a state-of-the-art recording studio named Paisley Park, we pull down a quiet suburban street and up to the famous purple house. Prince waves to a lone, unarmed guard in front of a chain-link fence. The unremarkable split-level house, just a few yards back from the minimum security, is quiet. No fountains out front, no swimming pools in back, no black-faced icons of Yahweh or Lucifer. "We're here," says Prince, grinning. "Come on in."

    One look inside tells the undramatic story. Yes, it seems the National Enquirer -- whose Minneapolis exposé of Prince was excerpted in numerous other newspapers this spring -- was exaggerating. No, the man does not live in an armed fortress with only a food taster and wall-to-wall, life-size murals of Marilyn Monroe to talk to. Indeed, if a real-estate agent led a tour through Prince's house, one would guess that the resident was, at most, a hip suburban surgeon who likes deep-pile carpeting.

    "Hi," says Rande, from the kitchen, "you got a couple of messages." Prince thanks her and offers up some homemade chocolate-chip cookies. He takes a drink from a water cooler emblazoned with a Minnesota North Stars sticker and continues the tour. "This place," he says, "is not a prison. And the only things it's a shrine to are Jesus, love and peace."

    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 unusual thing 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 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."

    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 a 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 said, 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 wearing heels because 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 to took 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 was a lot of us hanging around the club 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 Saturday-night 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 and laughs, kisses, soul shakes. Prince and three of Family members wade through a floor 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 that 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 the window and throws a ping-pong ball that was on the floor 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 going to 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.


    Re: Prince Rolling Stone April 26, 1985

    Post by Guest on Sat Dec 25, 2010 4:28 pm

    Great article! I had never seen this one before. Thanks for sharing!

    Re: Prince Rolling Stone April 26, 1985

    Post by Guest on Tue Mar 01, 2011 12:00 pm

    I bought this when it came out, with a still from Raspberry Beret as the cover. The part about the Family "twitching like fried eggs" has never left my mind, although I never really thought of them as particularly funky. I like that album, but not in *that* way.

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    Re: Prince Rolling Stone April 26, 1985

    Post by purpleaxxe on Thu Jul 28, 2011 8:49 am

    Is this the journo guy from the "Prince Of Paisley Park" (Omnibus) documentary?

    Great article !

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    Re: Prince Rolling Stone April 26, 1985

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