I guess I was the only person who was with Prince throughout his entire professional career. All 40 years. That’s because he couldn’t fire me.
Others came and went and sometimes came back. I was there to chronicle nearly every purple step. Sort of an unauthorized biographer for the hometown newspaper.
Over the years, I’ve written countless words about him. In the past several days, I’ve written thousands more.
If I had to sum up Prince in one word, it would be “visionary.”
He could see things that we couldn’t. He envisioned a world in which black and white, straight and gay, Christian and Jew, freak and geek, all got along. He sang about it in his songs and demonstrated it with his various bands.
He was a visionary when it came to musical sound. To Prince, there were no rules, no boundaries, no genres. If he wanted to release a song without a bass line, he did — and “When Doves Cry” became the biggest single of his career. If he wanted to roll James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles and Santana into one album, it became a cool new genre. Call it “Prince.”
He was a visionary when it came to the visual side of music. He designed his outfits, conceived his videos and planned his stage sets. It was all part of the package, all part of the plan that his creations should lead to one big party.
He was a visionary when it came to marketing. He envisioned a music industry in which artists, not record labels, reap the greater financial rewards. He wanted to market directly to fans so he set up a music club as one of the first Internet stores. He was always looking to blaze new marketing avenues, whether giving away a CD with your concert ticket or selling three albums in one package exclusively at Target.
He did it all — the marketing, the visuals and especially the music. He wrote and sang the songs, arranged them, played all the instruments masterfully, produced the records and, best of all, dazzled onstage. That’s why Prince was the most complete rock star ever. He deserved a singular name.
If there were another word to describe Prince, it would be “homeboy.”
He was one of us. Proudly so. He was a fan of the Vikings, Timberwolves and Lynx. He read Sid Hartman’s column. He stayed here. He built Paisley Park and a McMansion in Chanhassen. He went to see local bands in clubs, sat in with local groups, recruited local players for his own royal court.
For a person who put Minneapolis on the map, he had the perfect two names — “Prince” and “Nelson.” One sounded special, the other so Minnesotan.
However, the Purple One wasn’t always Minnesota Nice. At least not to me.
You’ve probably heard about our awkward dance throughout the years. It was my job to praise him when he deserved it and to call him out when his stuff smelled. He didn’t always tolerate my opinion.
I’m not talking about the playful Prince soaking me with his squirt-gun guitar during the Purple Rain Tour. That was the jokester in Prince. He really was a funny guy. Do you remember on Bryant Gumbel’s final day on “The Today Show”? Prince sauntered in front of the cameras dressed like the mirror image of Gumbel in a tie and conservative suit, owlish glasses and closely cropped hair. Everyone broke out laughing.
I’m talking about the Prince who kicked me out of his Glam Slam nightclub and banned me from Paisley Park concerts for a while. The one who burned my review of his “Gold Experience” album on Arsenio Hall’s talk show.
In the end, however, Prince came to realize we had a relationship built on respect and admiration.
That was obvious when we had what he considered a rapprochement at a listening party for his “Emancipation” album 20 years ago. When none of the invitees asked him a question, he said: “Jon Bream, you always have questions for me.”
Right now, I have only one question: Why are you gone so soon?
Jon Bream, Star Tribune music critic
There was no one better. Whenever I caught one of his shows, I came away humbled. I’m going to miss that. I’m going to miss him.
His generosity was really endless. He took me with him when he got an Essence Award. He invited me to watch “Midnight Special” videos with him, sitting on his living room floor. He let me share the mic with him and Gwen Stefani at Paisley Park. I’ll be a fan until the day I die.
Robyne Robinson, former KMSP anchor
He was one of a handful of guys that, when one of those videos showed up at the MTV offices, everyone would stop what they were doing and gather in the office. Michael Jackson opened the door for black artists on MTV, but Prince knocked it down. Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen. In 1984, those were the guys who ruled the world.
Doug Herzog, president of Viacom Music and Entertainment Group
He was a true original and a great inspiration. Prince will definitely go down in history as one of pop’s major icons.
Chan Poling, co-founder of the Suburbs
Prince was an artist with a capital A. One of the greatest guitar players of all time, a brilliant songwriter, amazing singer and dynamic performer who was also a champion of personal freedom and individualism. He was fearless, singing about sex, God, gender, race — sometimes all in the same song. He could move your ass and stir your soul simultaneously. He was deeply spiritual — even in a G-string and leg warmers.
Kevin Cole, former First Avenue DJ, now program director at KEXP in Seattle
This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
The first time I saw him on “Saturday Night Live,” I did not like his image. But eventually, I came to appreciate the makeup and high-heel shoes. He was saying: Be your own man. Lift up your flag and party like it’s 1999 every day. When I heard the news, I called up Little Richard just to tell him I love him. It was a reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed.
Fancy Ray McCloney, Minneapolis entertainer
Prince played with androgyny and racial identity in a way that no black artists had ever done. Unlike Michael Jackson, he never denied his blackness but instead embraced it and showed us another angle. He did it with his music and his unapologetic romantic choices. He took it out and swung it around for all to see, playing it like a virtuoso. He came from a generation that was finally free to see Blackness differently than the way we were raised up to perceive it.
Ralph Remington, Twin Cities theater leader and writer
Prince sang me through my darkest day of loneliness and made a fat kid from St. Paul dance like a madman in spite of his shame. He gave me hope of love and courage of wearing size 54 waist orange-and-tan striped bell bottoms and a leather-fringed vest. He meant the world to me and I never tried to meet him. I never wanted to lose the love and respect I had for him. He allowed me to feel free and now he is free.
Louie Anderson, comedian
He believed in those whom his music touched. To watch him perform was, as he encouraged, “To see the dawn.” There was a newness … a coolness that seemed to exude from his every pore.
I was on [his label] Paisley Park for seven years. During that time, I adopted him. He was the most beautiful spirit I ever met.
Mavis Staples, soul and gospel great