Four years after Prince’s death, superfan Maya Rudolph remembers him as ‘a perfect musician’
How has Maya Rudolph been amusing herself in quarantine?
The other night she tuned into one of Questlove’s DJ sets on Instagram, where the Roots drummer was spinning live cuts by Prince as part of a tribute to the one-of-a-kind performer who died four years ago this week at age 57, from an accidental fentanyl overdose.
“Hearing him use the Revolution almost as a drum machine, like he was programming each member of the band to play things, then mixing it on the fly — it’s the most fascinating thing,” said Rudolph, a lifelong fan of the Purple One.
Now it’s her turn to keep Prince’s faithful entertained: On Tuesday night the actor and comedian, 47, will host “Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince,” a CBS special featuring performances by admirers such as Beck, Usher, Foo Fighters, Miguel, Mavis Staples, Juanes, John Legend, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Recorded at the Los Angeles Convention Center in January — back before prime-time music specials had to be shot in artists’ homes — the tribute also features some of the late legend’s collaborators, including Sheila E, the Revolution and Morris Day and the Time, as well as Princess, the Prince cover band Rudolph has played in for years with her friend Gretchen Lieberum. (They do a snarling “Delirious.”)
Indeed, though she’s best known for her work on “Saturday Night Live” and in “Bridesmaids” — and for her relationship with director Paul Thomas Anderson, with whom she has four children — Rudolph has music in her veins: The daughter of songwriter and producer Richard Rudolph and soul singer Minnie Riperton (who died when Maya was 6), she toured for a spell in the mid ’90s as a member of the Rentals and contributed backup vocals to last year’s “Old LP” by L.A.’s That Dog.
What was your introduction to Prince’s music?
My older cousin Ingrid came to stay with us from Chicago, and she bought the “Dirty Mind” record and played it for me and my brother. I remember staring at the album cover — like, “What is happening in that coat?”
Had you seen anything like that before?
I had not. I’m sure by that point I’d heard “Soft and Wet” on the radio and recognized that it was Prince. But I didn’t really know what he looked like or anything. In those days you didn’t always put the picture with the music, not until MTV. When I saw him, I knew it was a world that I wasn’t a part of. But it didn’t scare me. I just felt deeply connected to the music.
What drew you in?
I definitely have always been drawn to his voice. He was a perfect musician. It’s like when you have a tour guide and you know that they’re amazing — you just say, “All right, wherever you want to take me, let’s go.” And that feeling carried through my entire experience of listening to Prince, not to mention when I got to see him live. When somebody’s that proficient at what they do, it’s almost relaxing.
After “Dirty Mind,” what was the next big moment for you?
When “Purple Rain” the movie came out, I sat in the theater and watched and was like, “I’m in love with this human being.” The earlier songs I loved, and we would dance to them in my house. But “Purple Rain” was my music.
When did you see Prince for the first time?
The “Lovesexy” tour. My dad took me and a couple of girlfriends who loved Prince. He reminded me — I actually got to tell Prince this story, which makes me laugh — we went to see the show and before the lights went down, we were talking about boys and teenage stuff: “Oh my God, I know — he’s so weird, right?” Then the lights go down and my dad said we just started screaming — full love shriek. When the lights came back up for intermission, he said we went right back into it: “So, like, what did he say?”
What have you learned about Prince’s music from playing it?
I’ve collected bootlegs for years — sorry, Prince — and listening to live versions, I notice he always sped everything up onstage. With Princess, we like to do the live version or the 12-inch version. You want to amp people up. And just the way he led his bands. He was like a conductor, calling everybody’s part out.
Do you ever think about Prince as a comedian? Truly one of the great side-eyes in show business.
One hundred and fifty percent. His sense of humor is probably my favorite element of him. The goofy stuff he did with Jerome Benton in “Under the Cherry Moon — the whole “wrecka stow” scene. And there’s a great video for “Partyman” from the “Batman” soundtrack — he has this moment with a chimpanzee that’s like, “Oh my God, my heart.”
Where were you when you heard that Prince had died?
I was at the airport. It was a really strange experience. I knew about the plane that week [when a flight Prince was on had to make an emergency landing after he lost consciousness], so I guess he was on my mind. I was flying that morning, so I had to get up really early. And one of my oldest friends since the seventh grade, Rachel Haden [of That Dog], she had emailed me, which she rarely does, in the middle of the night. She said, “Listening to Prince and thinking of you.” When I saw the email I got scared that he had died. So I was getting ready to go to the airport and just had this nervous feeling in my stomach. It was like this awful premonition. I know that sounds weird. My biggest question to myself, even a year after he died, I asked my dad, “Why am I having such a hard time with Prince’s passing?” I loved him, but I didn’t know him well. And my dad said, “Because he’s such an enormous part of your life.”
Have you introduced your kids to Prince?
Oh, they’re sick of old Mom talking about Prince. They know a lot about him, which makes me feel like I’ve done my job. The other day I was listening to a show from the “Purple Rain” tour, and at the end they do a super-long version of “Baby I’m a Star.” We got out of the car, then got back in later and it started up again where it was. They were like, “Are you still listening to the same Prince song?” “Yes — it’s 17 minutes, OK?”
Are you as serious with the bootlegs and live recordings with any other artist?
He’s the only one I went that deep on. I grew up in Westwood and we had a Tower Records, and I would go to Tower every time a new single came out and get the 12-inch because they had a long version of the song. They were these precious moments where I felt like you got to see more — you got to be in the room longer with him and with the song. I didn’t realize at the time that he was so prolific that he was doing an 8-minute version of “Little Red Corvette” as a dance mix and then had to put it somewhere.
Your collection must be pretty extensive.
But that to me is the other part about him being gone that’s so awful. Have I heard everything? If I’ve heard everything, I’m so depressed. I talked to Questlove about this, though, and he was like, “Don’t worry — there’s a lot more.”
Wendy Melvoin of the Revolution has compared Prince’s famous vault to the enormous warehouse at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Yes! Oh my God, I really hope that’s it. And I hope there are no Nazis.
Your essential guide to the arts in L.A.
Get Carolina A. Miranda's weekly newsletter for what's happening, plus openings, critics' picks and more.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.