Minneapolis native Prince was perhaps the last American pop musician who could legitimately be compared to such prime movers as Elvis Presley or James Brown or Jimi Hendrix.
Arriving almost fully formed as a teenage recording artist in the late 1970s, he drew upon a particularly vibrant circle of musical scenes, absorbing the exuberance of disco, the edginess of punk rock and new wave, the fervor of Michael Jackson and the pyrotechnic thrills of Van Halen and heavy metal, transforming it all into a body of work that was as accomplished as it was ambitious.
He flashed through the 1980s in a delirious purple dream, besting himself so often and so brilliantly that he quickly became his only competition, thrusting himself into the 1990s as virtually the only musician left standing, which is where Jim Walsh’s “Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ’90s” finds him.
Walsh covered Prince for the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1994 to 2002, and this book collects his articles about the purple guy as he attempts to continue surging forward. Adding very few editorial comments to this collection of clips — and presumably making no revisions — Walsh eschews hindsight perspective and delivers the reader right into the drama of each moment, making it possible to experience Prince’s development during these years with a sense of urgent suspense.
Virtuosic musicianship having suddenly gone out of fashion in the early 1990s, Prince struggled to maintain purpose and relevance in this new cultural landscape, and Walsh documents his wavering trajectory in observant and sometimes painful detail.
At the book’s outset, Prince had recently changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, and it’s telling that for almost the whole era that this book documents Walsh refers to him as “the former Prince.” Nearly every new step seems to herald a return to Prince’s golden age, with Walsh cheering him on (and occasionally lecturing him), but as the decade slacks toward the millennium, it gradually becomes clear that Prince won’t be reinstating his purple reign in time to celebrate 1999.
Following Prince as he tries to recapture his astonishing prime, Walsh’s “Gold Experience” is in fact a chronicle of the artist’s silver age, and as such it serves more as a record of the journalist’s emotional journey than as a vital document of a crucial time.
With his hero going astray again and again, Walsh struggles with acceptance as he watches the brightest luminary of his age become eclipsed by much lesser lights. Vividly capturing the hope and heartbreak of this waning musical epoch, Walsh’s “Gold Experience” paints a poignant portrait of the artist formerly known as Prince.
David Wiley is a writer living in Philadelphia: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gold Experience: Following Prince in the 90s
By: Jim Walsh.
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press, 200 pages, $16.95.
Events: Launch, with all-Prince DJ'd party, 7 p.m. Jan. 24, Amsterdam Bar, 6 W. 6th St., St. Paul; reading, 1 p.m. Jan. 28, Barnes & Noble, Galleria, Edina; 7 p.m. Feb. 8, Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.; 7 p.m March 8, Mill City Museum, 704 S. 2nd St., Mpls.