You never forget what it’s like to be inside Prince’s home — even if he didn’t allow photos inside the mythological complex better known as Paisley Park.
When the National Assn. of Black Journalists announced that its 40th annual convention in 2015 would be anchored in Minneapolis, a thought — rather, a wish — reverberated among members: Would Prince make an appearance?
And how could it not? The music legend, who was found dead inside his home studio on Thursday at the age of 57, pioneered a sound birthed in the very city we were visiting. There wasn’t a single person in our delegation who hadn’t connected to the man’s music or eccentric mystique.
That wish came true toward the end of the convention with a cryptic tweet from Prince’s account. “Something is happening in the city come” … he wrote (though notoriously press-shy, Prince embraced Twitter in 2013 to tease surprise gigs as recently as Saturday). And then the official invitation arrived with a few caveats. Only registered attendees of the NABJ convention were allowed, admission was $20 cash, and there would be no cellphones, cameras or alcohol.
The buzz was palpable, electric even, as a line of buses pulled up for the trek to Chanhassen, which is about 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Gasps rang out as we pulled up to the massive black gate that enclosed Paisley Park.
Other than the purple glow that enveloped the compound (of course there were purple lights outside), the building looked like an incredibly low-key bunker.
The purple motif seemed to extend everywhere once we were inside. I walked into a cavernous rehearsal space where a stage was set up. I ran my fingers across the edge of the stage to savor the moment, and imagined the countless talents who stood on this stage, many more than likely thinking the same thing I was: How did I end up here?
Standing at the lip of the stage, I thought about the first time I saw Prince in concert. It was back in 2011 during his epic, 21-show residency in L.A. where he performed at the Forum, House of Blues and the Troubadour. I went to one of the early Forum shows and I still get goose bumps thinking about it (I came back two more times, including the closing show).
There’s something inherently magical about Paisley Park. Everyone felt it, even with our limited access. As the DJ spun classic ‘70s and ‘80s soul, hip-hop bangers and Beyoncé, I needed to experience as much real estate as I could. I ventured into a neatly decorated bedroom semi-hidden above the stage. A stack of classic DVDs were laid by the door — a mix of current titles and vintage blaxploitation films — and the 1976 film “Car Wash” was projected on a screen nearby.
Near the stage was a ping-pong table. It’s hard to imagine someone like Prince indulging in ping-pong or basketball or Tweeting, but those tiny marvels helped add to his myth outside of music.
There was a merch booth — T-shirts, vinyls, posters and bags — that got plenty of action, but most of us waited in hopes that he would surprise us with a performance (although the lack of gear onstage made the latter seem unlikely).
Before anyone got a glimpse of the singer, a small group of reporters were ushered off for a private meeting in what turned out to be a lengthy, informal discussion with Prince about his religion, as well as racism and the music industry (he didn’t let them take notes or record the conversation, by the way).
It was well past midnight when Prince entered to rapturous applause.
He was flanked by two gorgeous twins, and was dressed in a shimmery gold pantsuit; his afro alone accounted for a quarter of his height. He swung a silver cane as he strutted through the dance floor (goodness, could that man strut). Prince shook a few hands as he walked by and flashed a smile. I nodded to him, and he nodded back.
Onstage he kept his remarks pointed and brief. He thanked us all for coming and discussed his excitement about his deal with Tidal (it’s the only place you can stream his music online) and his album, “HITnRUN Phase One,” which would become his penultimate record.
He didn’t perform, though. And he didn’t need to.
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