How should we react to the news over the weekend that Prince will publish a memoir, “The Beautiful Ones,” in fall 2017?
If you didn’t hear, he announced the book in a news conference late Friday at a nightclub in New York. He spoke briefly, didn’t take any questions but gave a 30-minute performance that included, of course, “All the Critics Love U in New York.”
Here are a few questions and thoughts about the project to be published by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House.
- Why is he doing a memoir now? Since starting 3rdEyeGirl in 2012, he’s become more reflective and more concerned about his legacy and teaching others. Own your own story, his then-manager Julia Ramadan, who was in her early 20s, encouraged him in 2013. So he will. The 57-year-old can impart wisdom, set the record straight and make some serious money.
- Will this be a complete autobiography or a selective memoir? Don’t expect Prince to share intimate details about his two marriages or his son born with a rare disease who lived only about a week. We’re more likely to get an episodic memoir like Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles: Volume One,” a nonlinear, incomplete account of select key moments in his life and career. But Prince, in his typical elliptical fashion, paused in mid-song at his post-press conference performance and declared, per Rollingstone.com: "We wanna thank Random House. Ain't nothing random about this book."
3. Will Prince be spiritual or more down to earth? Don’t be surprised if he’s both.
- Will he share old photos? Nothing was mentioned about photos during the press roll out. He’s not always been fond of old images of himself. The guess here is there will be selective old images, probably more from publicity photo sessions than private, personal shots.
- How much Jehovah’s Witness proselytizing will be in the book? Let’s hope it’s limited but he often likes to expound on spiritual topics.
- How will Prince get along with co-writer Dan Piepenbring? He’s never easy to collaborate with. Prince is accustomed to being in control and always getting his way. At the press conference, he referred to his co-writer as “Brother Dan.” Piepenbring is web editor of the Paris Review and drummer for an indie-rock band whose name is not fit to print in a family newspaper nor would Prince utter it these days. The author wrote a short essay on Prince in 2010 in the Paris Review.
- Will the editor be demanding of Prince? The music god has often resisted authority. Will he listen to an editor? Will the editor, Chris Jackson of Spiegel & Grau, have the courage to speak up to Prince? Perhaps Jackson has an idea what he’s getting into since Prince already submitted 50 pages of manuscript.
- How will the book sell? Biographies about Prince – from Steven Ivory’s “Prince” and my “Prince: Inside the Purple Reign” in 1984 to this year’s “Prince: The Man and His Music” by Matt Thorne and last year’s “Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain” by Alan Light – have not landed on any significant best-seller lists. However, rock-star memoirs and autobiographies do sell. To wit: “Life” by Keith Richards (776,683 print copies sold, according to Nielsen), “Chronicles” by Bob Dylan (560,706) and “Just Kids” by Patti Smith (466,635), the Wall Street Journal reported.
- Who sold this book for Prince? Esther Newberg of ICM was quoted at the press conference by the Wall Street Journal as saying, “I think it will be one of the great music memoirs. Like Dylan, he writes his own songs, so of course he will write a wonderful book.” Newberg, one of the most powerful U.S. literary agents, represents, among others, John Feinstein, Patricia Cornwell, Carolyn Kennedy, Carl Hiaasen and two Minnesota-connected authors, John Sandford and Thomas Friedman. Coincidentally, Newberg was my agent in 1984 for my Prince book, which he had his lawyers scrutinize after publication because he did not like the fact that he had no control over his story and images.