Prince has always held a special place for me. I spent my summers growing up with grandparents, an hour north of the suburbs of Milwaukee, where I lived. In 1984 I was 11 and I still remember walking to the record shop to purchase my first record, Prince’s Purple Rain. Years later, I would joke that if my grandparents or parents knew of some of the lyrics on that album, I would never have been able to buy it.
I knew a girl named Nikki
I guess you could say she was a sex fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
Masturbating with a magazine
She said how’d you like to waste some time
And I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind
Growing up in the golden age of MTV, my fandom would continue. Raspberry Beret continues to be one of my top ten songs of Prince. U Got the Look, his collaboration with Sheena Easton, will always be emblazoned in my mind from the video. In 1989, when the first Batman movie was released starring Michael Keaton, Prince’s Batdance was a sensation. There was nothing like it on pop radio. Diamonds and Pearls was released in October 1991, a month after I met my girlfriend and later wife. The Love Symbol album was released just a year later in October 1992 and both of these albums would feature singles that I would sprinkle through the mixtapes I made Kelly over this period.
I moved from Milwaukee to Madison in late 1992. I worked as a supervisor in a Best Buy store and Barb, a customer service rep, worked for me. If I had to guess, she was in her early 40s and worked Monday through Friday from 9-2. She knew I was a Prince fan and one day, out of the blue, she asked me if I wanted to join her and her husband on a trip up to Minneapolis. It turns out her son, Jamie, was a choreographer working for Prince’s new protege. Jamie didn’t have any formal dance training. Every day growing up, he would come home after school, turn on MTV and learn the dance moves to all the videos playing on MTV. Jamie would later go on to become one of the five touring dancers on Michael Jackson’s Bad tour.
I joined Barb and her husband on the trip to Minneapolis, my first time there. It was about a four to five hour drive. A local radio station was hosting there annual party called the Star Party. We had a VIP table close to the front where it was Jamie, Barb and her husband, and…. Carmen Electra. (I bet you didn’t remember that Carmen Electra started as a protege of Prince, did you?)
The Star Party was at Glam Slam, the club owned by Prince in downtown Minneapolis. Carmen Electra was slated to go on second to last and we sat at the table watching the other acts performed. Shortly before Carmen Electra was to go on stage, two huge bodyguards approached our table:
He is going to come to the table in a few minutes. You don’t look at him, you don’t talk to him. Understand?
And then he was there. You knew Prince was short but he was even smaller in person. He ignored all of us and whispered in Carmen Electra’s ear. She giggled, clearly enjoying the attention. And just like that, he was gone. A few minutes later Carmen would go backstage to get ready for her performance, of which I remember very little as it was forgettable. After the show, she came back, signed a record for me in lipstick, and kissed it. For years, as I moved apartment to apartment, cross country and back, I kept that sealed and signed record. At some point, I got rid of it. I kick myself on two fronts for that: first, the novelty; second, I would buy a turntable in 2008, and would have been able to actually listen to it.
After the show, we drove out to Chanhassen to drive by Paisley Park, before driving back to Madison. I only remember that I was very tired and it was a half hour drive to his studio through corn fields out in the suburbs. Who knew that in 1999 I would buy my first house just ten minutes from Paisley Park, where I still live to this day.
A few years later when watching the Oscars telecast, I noticed in the credits:
Choreographed by Jamie King
Hey, I met him!
A year or two later I would move to Minneapolis with my future wife. I was still working at Best Buy, and now so was she, in stores about ten minutes apart. There was a security guard who worked at both of our stores who also moonlighted as security at Paisley Park, where Prince would throw impromptu concerts from time to time. This security guard had a crush on Kelly and even asked her out. I didn’t hold this against him as he got me on the list for Paisley Park a few times.
Seeing Prince perform at Paisley Park is like nothing you’ve ever seen. He would rarely play any of his hits. Most times it was things stored in the vault or it was a one hour jam session with his band playing whatever he wanted. Whatever it was, it was magical and special and I’m so glad to have been one of the hundreds in attendance at those shows.
I would only be in Minneapolis for a year or two before moving for another promotion at Best Buy. Two albums would get me through the cross country drive. One was The Hits, a three album best of and a disc of B-sides, released in 1993. The other was ABBA’s Thank You for the Music, their four disc best of collection. (Don’t judge me).
In 1996 I was now a district operations manager for Best Buy in Philadelphia. The Gold Experience, released in September of ’95, was my constant companion in the car as I drove from store to store.
We would move back to Minneapolis in 1997 and in 1999 we bought our first house in Chaska, just ten minutes and one suburb over from Paisley Park, which we still drive by all the time.
In 2008, I would buy my first turntable. Searching through all of the record stores in Minneapolis, I was always on the lookout for Prince albums. Being in Minneapolis, Prince albums, with the exception of Purple Rain, were usually difficult to find and overpriced. But I would buy every one I could get my hands on.
After years away in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Prince returned to Minneapolis in a big way the last few years. He would throw more parties and concerts at Paisley Park. There was little notice given – usually a week to just a couple of days and you had to follow social media to find out. I would tell a co-worker who lived in Silicon Valley that he had to come out, as he really wanted to go to one of those shows. But buying a plane ticket on short notice? Ouch. You never knew if Prince was actually going to take the stage or not, and if he did, what time he would. Some of those first shows when he was back, doors would at 10 p.m. and he wouldn’t appear until 3, 4 or 5 a.m. I kept telling myself I would go back and never did.
Now I never will.
I drove out to Paisley Park mid-day yesterday after the announcement of Prince’s death. There were already hundreds gathered, grieving. The tributes along the Paisley Park fence were touching.
After the news broke, I was trying to explain to my oldest son what Prince met to me, and I broke down. 89.3 The Current played Prince non-stop starting in chronological order at 1 p.m. yesterday, and at 4 p.m. when Purple Rain hit the airwaves shortly after I got home from Paisley Park, I choked up again. Just writing this, tears come to my eye. Only one other artist’s death, Freddie Mercury in 1991, touched me in the way this has.
I’m so glad to call Minneapolis home. The impromptu concert last night on the streets of Minneapolis, as the city closed off blocks downtown surrounding the legendary First Avenue nightclub where Purple Rain was filmed, was awe inspiring as thousands filled the streets. First Avenue opened a dance party at 11 p.m., which was packed all night with people still waiting to get in at 3 a.m.
Prince called Minneapolis home, but he belonged to all of us, all over the world.
Photo: Prince by Peter Tea under a Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0 license.