We spent Thanksgiving in my wife’s home state of Minnesota this year. It was a really fun trip, between visiting her family in the snowy far north, photo-ops with giant Midwestern statues, and taking in some culture in the Twin Cities. The highlight of that culture part was definitely visiting the home of one of Minnesota’s brightest lights, the late Prince Rogers Nelson.
Paisley Park, his recording studio, base of operations, and home, opened to the public less than a month before we visited, on October 28th. It was only announced that it would become a public museum in August. It wasn’t clear how much preparation for turning it into a museum was done prior to his untimely death this April, but my wife observed that he was already basically living his life as a public performance, and there were already probably plenty of glass cases holding memorabilia around beforehand anyway, so it’s hard to know.
We went in the early evening on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Currently, they give tours most days going until 11 pm or so. When we got there, a guard stopped us at the gate to ask whether we had tickets. We didn’t, and he informed us that they can only be bought online, so we were turned away, and proceeded to buy them on a phone while idling in a nearby CVS parking lot. We idly pondered whether Prince had ever stopped there to buy Vitamin Water.
Tickets acquired, we were ushered through the gates and parked in front of this blurry purple wall.
Phones were not allowed on the tour, so I snapped the only other picture I was able to take:
Ironically, although they are extremely paranoid about phones, the only way to get in was to show them the QR code for your ticket…on your phone. After you do, they put your phone in a little “locked” pouch that they unlock at the end of the tour. I strongly suspect that they were already in use back in the days when he would throw massive parties here as well. I entertained the thought that Madonna had once been forced to use my pouch to lock up her phone when she came to an impromptu party/performance in one of the party/concert events he held for celebrities and cool people.
To start with, in case you’re not familiar, Paisley Park looks more like an office complex than a house. It’s a big white boxy structure on the corner of a ordinary street in the suburbs outside Minneapolis, in a pretty sparsely populated sort of place with occasional strip malls and empty lots. Here’s a picture I found on the internet.
Unlike a normal house, it had the kind of glass double doors, HVAC, and other stuff that you usually see in commercial buildings. Which makes sense, I suppose, since lots of people work(ed) there in a professional sense, but it is still a little crazy that someone extremely famous lived here for nearly 30 years. Also, because there were multiple displays which looked like they were created for a museum, and yet, other things which we were told had been there for years but looked carefully presented, we frequently wondered how much had been changed for the public tours. Our assumption was “less than you would expect.”
Security was omnipresent. They were both gruff and jocular and I strongly suspected that they were mostly people who had already been working there and were now getting used to dealing with the public on a daily basis.
About half of the tour group was wearing at least some purple, and the makeup of us tourists was diverse in every sense—reflecting the fact that Prince was a rare artist who appealed to people from every background and walk of life. He really united people in a cool way.
While waiting for our guide, we were allowed to peruse the wall of gold and platinum records hanging up around the entryway. My brother-in-law noticed that a quote/drawing beside the doorway was clearly from a blown-up image, and you could see the sloppy pixelation (he asked about it later, it had been there for many years). My wife was especially happy to find the platinum record (with accompanying platinum tape cassette) for ‘Batdance’. Across from these in a small frame was a condolence letter from the President that he and Michelle had signed in purple ink. I can’t find an image from it online, and I wish I remembered it better, but it probably included something like “‘A strong spirit transcends rules,’ Prince once said — and nobody’s spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative” which is from a quote Obama made publicly at the time. It was characteristically eloquent.
Our tour guide eventually arrived, wearing, as all the guides did, a loose Prince-ish, purple shirt with long loose sleeves. I noticed that he had a Prince symbol tattooed on his forearm and wondered whether the folks leading the tours were chosen from local super-fans. (This article seems to confirm that they were.)
He ushered us into a large room with a kitchen on one side and doors going in every direction. The second level ringed most of it, and on the upper level there was a birdcage holding two of Prince’s doves. We did not witness them crying.
We were told that this is where Prince spent a lot of his time, and it was where he had given a famous interview to Oprah in the 90s. The kitchen was frequently used when the musicians were in long recording sessions, and also held a couch and TV where he spent nights watching the Timberwolves. In recognition of that, the TV was playing a recording of an old game. Despite the seeming incongruousness of it, he was an avid supporter of Minnesota sports, as people in the area can attest.
On the opposite wall (where the photo above faces), there were several inlaid displays with guitars and hand-written lyrics (in place of those pictures of him), and several small rooms with the same kind of thing, and some of his bonkers outfits (these were in most displays and they were always quite small). Another room held his relatively normal-looking office. The phone on his desk was purple.
A small replica of the Paisley Park building sat in the middle of the large room (around the end point of the arrow on his symbol, as seen above), and contained a small black box holding his remains. (My brother-in-law, a funeral director, mentioned that the box would have been far too small to hold the entirety of a cremation, so the rest of His Purpleness must be somewhere else.)
We were led into a large wood-paneled recording studio. Prince had been recording a new collaboration jazz album there less than a month before his death in April. The guitar he was playing was still there, as was the lyric sheet in his own handwriting. The guide played an unmixed section of one of these tracks. It was extremely funky. In the mixing room, the original drum machine used on Purple Rain could be seen. The guide also egged someone on into asking about a little door about 10 feet off the ground…only to reveal that it was just for storage. We were baffled why he was so intent on telling us this.
We then passed through a room with memorabilia from and screens showing Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge. It had previously held promotion offices and been set up for the museum. Half of the room was monochromatic in a nod to Cherry Moon, a black-and-white movie. Graffiti Bridge, apparently a spiritual sequel to Purple Rain, was mostly filmed in this building, something he asked us to keep in mind, as the scale of the production, from the film clips playing, was clearly made in a very large studio space. Where could this space be?
This led to a long hallway (I might be mis-remembering the sequence) with his various awards over the years in inset cases in the wall. We noticed that the Grammy award trophies apparently got larger at some point in the early 90’s and got to see an MTV moonman statue up close. It was a long hallway, and, unsurprisingly, there were many awards.
Next we saw another less ornate recording space where they had created a display which included one of his outfits, a motorcycle (seen on the covers of the “Purple Rain” and “Let’s Go Crazy” singles), and his Oscar from Purple Rain. Then an antechamber for a large concert space, where a strange piano sat among strange organic sculptures. They mentioned that it was one of only a dozen or so examples of this unusual pianos ever made, but not knowing the name for this unique instrument, I could only find this single photo online. From my angle, it was reminiscent of black sea creature.
This was the entryway into an enormous concert-space/airplane hanger. In about half of the room, outfits and instruments from various tours were arranged on platforms, as were some giant chairs. A concert video played on the distant movie-theater screen. This was where he threw private concerts. It was incredibly large, with a very high ceiling—it felt like they could have fit a space shuttle in here, and if Prince had wanted to, they probably would have. It was staggering to suddenly emerge into a gigantic mostly-empty room.
Our penultimate room was full of couches and large screens. Our guide told us that Prince would sit up on an upper-level walkway looking down over his parties from a chair–which was still present. The area below was full of intimate couch-tables that would belong in a small jazz club, and psychedelic patterns played on the walls.
Near the exit, a neglected wall held some of the offerings left by fans after his death. They seemingly scooped up what was left outside (signs, drawings, tickets) and arranged it in a tapestry of raw grief, with names and addresses still visible on printed-out tickets scrawled with messages of what he meant to them. The flowers, cast about loosely on the floor, though dry, were not yet completely withered.
In this final area, a large flat-screen TV played his virtuoso Superbowl performance. In 2007, the Superbowl in Miami was played under heavy rain. As halftime approached, the organizers, worried if the weather would effect the show, asked him if there was anything they could do to help. His response:
“Can you make it rain harder?”