Day 2 (A Trip To Paisley Park)
This is where the whole idea of our road trip began and why we have travelled to the much cooler climate of Minneapolis before heading over to sunny California. Sorry residents of Minneapolis, but if it wasn’t for Prince we would not have even thought to come to see your city on this trip. We have come on a musical pilgrimage to connect, to gain some sort of higher understanding. To see and to draw in the energy of the space where Prince created his whole musical world, this seemingly unreachable place (to us UK residents anyway), this Mecca, where he lived and where he ultimately died.
We don’t really know what to expect. During the 30-minute car journey, we both agree that we are expecting it to be an unprofessional setup. Very probably a badly organised and rushed exhibition, with a tour guide who probably isn’t even a fan. This is what we were prepared for and that was fine the experience, we were hoping, was going to be enough to satisfy our needs.
Paisley Park is situated on what looks to be nothing more than an industrial estate, so much so I expect to see a Screwfix around every bend. You can see the building as you approach from the highway. The large, angular and quite plain looking white building, built back in 1986, is not hidden away as you would expect the reclusive singer to have it.
No phones or cameras are allowed inside the Paisley Park complex. No filming or touching of the items on display is allowed. And that is the way it should be, it keeps the experience intimate and very personal, just the way I imagine he would have wanted it.
We booked a VIP tour, it was expensive, but fuck it, how often will I get to do something like this? This is what this trip is all about, all or nothing, when in Rome and all that! There are 12 people in our group and our tour guide is way more knowledgeable than we could have imagined. Straight from the off you can tell this is the real deal, informative and interesting, the guides know their shit, and the people at Paisley Park know how to put together a tour.
We are led to The Atrium, the entrance hall to Paisley Park. There is an ornate marble floor, in the centre, the iconic Love symbol, where our guide informs us is the spot where he recorded famous interviews with Oprah and Mel B (YouTube it). Above to our right is a balcony where his pet doves are housed in cages. Directly above us, a miniature replica of Paisley Park which contains Prince’s remains. We are given a minute of silence to pay our respects, deep in our own thoughts. And if that experience doesn’t move you emotionally and spiritually, then nothing will. It’s already the trippiest day of my life and we haven’t even got going yet.
We are then given some time to explore the various rooms that lead off from The Atrium. From here there are several rooms themed to different eras of Prince’s career. From ‘Dirty Mind’ and ‘Controversy’ with his original Madcat Telecaster, lyric sheets and demo cassettes on display, onto stage costumes from ‘Lovesexy’ and ‘Sign O The Times’ Tours. Although some rooms have been themed, many have been left just as they were the day he died. In his office, papers and lyric sheets are scattered on the desks and a suitcase sits by his desk, as if awaiting their owners return, this just seems to bring home how real this all is.
There’s a video editing suite with a sofa, where he would sit with dancers and watch hours upon hours of concert footage, improving the routines and the shows, ironing out the errors. A kitchen area with a TV where he would sit and watch basketball matches.
We are then led through a rabbit warren of various studios and soundspaces, every one ‘wired for sound’. This guided tour includes a photo opportunity next to the piano from his final ‘Piano & a Microphone’ Tour, next to it, one of his blue cloud guitars. Even cooler, while we wait for everyone to take their turn doing photos, we get to play table tennis on the actual table Prince used in his own precious down time. Even the ping pong balls have the Love symbol logo on.
In this large, wooden floored main recording studio, behind glass we peer at the mixing desk, all equipment just as he left it, down to the iconic Lynn drum machine that he used to get that signature sound from ‘1999’ until ‘Sign O’ The Times’. In this very room he recorded ‘Diamonds & Pearls’ and ‘Lovesexy’. The songs that have been recorded in this room, the legends that have joined him here, if only these walls could talk…
We learn he was recording a jazz album at the time of his death to be released on Blue Note Records. We then get the opportunity to hear one of the unreleased tracks from it, an instrumental. While listening through massive studio speakers, we get to take it the reality that the last thing he did before he died was to play and record in this very room.
The Purple Rain room is situated in what used to be the dance rehearsal studio, where he would choreograph and perfect the dance routines for hours and hours before each tour. The wall of mirrors is still there and the rails where the curtains once hung still visible. Here is housed the iconic artifacts from the 1984 film. The purple Honda motorbike, the white cloud guitar and the purple jacket from the film’s finale. We stare, we process and try and capture these images in our memories for eternity.
The corridors leading off are adorned with murals and paintings commissioned by the man himself, all left exactly as they were when Paisley Park was a working studio. We walk past his awards, there’s the Grammys, the MTV Music Awards and the Brit awards, all housed behind glass and all out on display. Through a window can be seen his beloved tour bus from the 90’s, parked up and covered in leaves. Probably not moved for years, forgotten like some ancient relic that has not yet been assigned to the rock ‘n’ roll graveyard.
We are then led into what is the grand finale, so to speak. The main soundstage, the room where Prince held many gigs and events. The ‘Rave Unto The Year 2000’ concert DVD was filmed here, as well as many of his promo videos. In this room, on several raised stages are more stage costumes and guitars from the last 10 years of his life. The matching suits and Stratocasters from the ‘Musicology’ period, including the red suit and strat he played at the Monterey Jazz Festival, it’s all here. Even two of the cars he could regularly be seen driving around town are parked in here, a purple Plymouth Prowler and a sky blue Bentley Continental, it truly is a fanboys wet dream and I freakin’ love it all!
Leading from this is the nightclub where Prince hosted parties well into the night. We are led to one of the private seating areas and our host tells us stories of how he would sometimes appear from the stairs behind and how he would get up and DJ and sometimes he would invite people to go watch a movie with him at the local cinema.
You could spend a small fortune in the merch shop, I went for a mug and a set of plectrums, Sedd bought a baseball shirt and an NPG pin. We learn from our guide that there is an underpass across the road where fans have adorned the walls with messages and tributes in graffiti. We have enough time to go in search. This Mecca, seemingly hidden from the world, is a secret place to go and think, contemplate or grieve, take photos or simply just read the messages of love from fans. Someone has even left a marker so you can add to the tributes…we do.
It’s the perfect end to an experience that exceeded all expectations, and even if the plane goes down on our flight to San Francisco later today, I will raise a smile and think to myself “yeah, it was all worth it”. Although it’s goodbye to Paisley Park and Minneapolis, there will always be a piece of it in my heart now. Our brothers would have loved this, goodbye Minneapolis…hello San Francisco!
Author: Ben Hughes