Confession: I never really liked Paisley Park.

In my nearly two dozen prior visits to Prince’s temple to music and himself, I always found the location weirdly uninviting — a nondescript, industrial strip of highway in a suburb best known for its “Hello, Dolly!” dinner-theater productions — and the decor inside a tad cheesy, like a dental office designed by Charo. Seeing Prince perform there was always a thrill, of course. As a concert space, though, it felt stiff compared to the “real” venues he played in town, like First Avenue and the Dakota.

As a museum, though, Paisley Park works. In fact, it works almost perfectly. Several thousand fans found this out Thursday during opening-day tours.

Some of the most-heard comments were people marveling over how quickly and thoroughly the place had been converted into a museum. In a way, that’s what it always was.

Being the first non-insiders to get into the 65,000-square-foot building since its makeover was as much a thrill as it was a bummer.

His death, less than six months past, felt uncomfortably fresh as we walked into the building and saw a mural of his eyes staring down at us — “to remind us he’s always watching us,” a tour guide told us without irony.

Next, these sad painted lyrics greeted us at the front door:

“In this trusted place U can erase

Every tear that ever rolled down your weary face”

Those hints of sadness on the walls were nothing compared to the blunt-force reminder inside a large glass case in the center of the front atrium. It looked like a ceramic small-scale model of the building.

“That’s actually an urn, and his ashes are inside it,” our guide revealed.

At Graceland in Memphis — whose operators also bought the rights to run Paisley — visitors usually guffaw and giggle their way through the house only to have the shag carpet pulled out from under them at the end, when they come upon Elvis’ grave. Paisley Park offers that sensation in reverse.

I personally have no problem with his ashes being on display, as some fans no doubt will. Prince liked being on stage, so why stop now? I just wish the urn came after I had the chance to poke fun at the pearl fishnet shirt on display a couple of rooms later.

The tour did get more fun, though. It meandered through his private office, where a reissue of “Cookin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet” sits atop a stack of vinyl records from the day he died (the deepest the tour gets into his private space). From there, it took us into the biggest of the two recording spaces, Studio A, where they played an unreleased track from a jazz album he was working on (which might explain the Miles record being atop the pile).

The $100 VIP tour also took us into Studio B for a photo op at the piano and a chance to ponder the purpose of a small door up near the ceiling (my guess was either electrical wiring or a gateway to nirvana). Otherwise, there didn’t seem to be much else offered over the $38.50 general-admission ticket.

Amid all the different rooms were displays of his wardrobe and instruments, nicely organized by albums, tours or movies. The “Under the Cherry Moon” room was so inviting, I’m almost thinking of watching that terrible movie again. The tour culminated with a rare chance to watch the 14-minute, NFL-owned 2007 Super Bowl show, the last time the world was reminded of his royal bad-assness.

Paisley Park v. 2.0 now serves as a permanent reminder of what the little giant was all about. There are things that can definitely be improved while awaiting rezoning approval from the Chanhassen City Council for tours to resume after the shutdown next week (target date: Dec. 20).

Too much of the VIP tour was spent simply standing around. And too many of the tour guides talked like they were reading off a sheet. Actually, a couple of them did read off a sheet, and one not very well.

Just as odd, though, were the guides who talked as if they had drunk too much of the Purple Kool-Aid. One woman answered a skeptical question about Prince’s pair of caged doves, Majesty and Divinity — each purportedly 24 years old — by saying, “They can live that long if they’re Prince’s doves.” Adding to the cultish weirdness, the staff is all dressed in tight long-sleeve shirts that look like purple “Star Trek” fleet uniforms.

Sign me up for the next voyage, though. I love Paisley Park now.
 

7 royal items in the Paisley Park museum

1. Handwritten lyrics and cassette demo of “Soft and Wet” (1977).

2. Handwritten notes left on a sheet music stand inside Studio B (2016).

3. Telecaster guitar with leopard pick guard (largely used 1981-84).

4. Any of the full bodysuits in the wardrobe displays (which hit home how petite he really was).

5. Custom-made, vaguely phallic black Pegasus piano in the once-private Piano Room (from the 1990s).

6. Purple Yamaha grand piano he played on his Piano & a Microphone Tour (this past winter).

7. Letter of condolence to “family and friends of Prince” from Barack and Michelle Obama (May 18, 2016).  

chrisr@startribune.com

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