Prince: Strange Tales from Andre’s Basement... and other fantasies come true.
By Barbara Graustark
Sure he’s a weird kid. For Prince Rogers Nelson, a man whom Henry Miller and Howard Hughes are undoubtedly behavioral models, the two S’s of sex and secrecy are paramount. His reluctance to talk to the press is well established and his role as a beacon of sexual controversy is past legendary. Jimi Hendrix may have helped open the floodgates when he asked an innocent generation, “Are you experienced?” But Prince didn’t have to ask. His sexual excesses in a dank, dark Minneapolis basement with his confident and companion Andre Cymone and a host of neighborhood girls shaped the values of his earliest songs and mirrored the experiences and insecurity of a liberated generation.
His first albums were full of funky innuendo. For You established him as a poetic prince of love, with a mission to spread a sexy message here on earth—a message reinforced by his “special thanks to God” credit on the LP’s jacket. Prince had heard the call, all right, but it wasn’t the Lord’s sermon that he was preaching, and with his next album, Dirty Mind, he catapulted out of the closet and into the public eye as a raunchy prophet of porn.
That album established Prince in rock critical circles as a truly special case. He created his own musical world in which heavy-metal guitars crashed into synth-funk rhythms, where rockabilly bounced off rapid punk tempos, all of it riding under lyrical themes of incest, lost love, sexual discovery and oral gratification. It was then that I became interested in talking to this elusive boy genius.
His concerts that fall had been a hot, erotic blast of wind through the chilly Northeast, and I was primed to meet a proper, swaggering conqueror — “The leader of a pack in a brave new world without rules or categories or any limitations,” as Boston critic Ariel Swartley had extravagantly described him. What I found facing me that sleepy-eyed morning was shockingly different: a man-child in the promised land. Despite the studded trenchcoat, the leather jock bikini and the blatant bare chest, he was a shy and unsure creature, small as a leprechaun and just as elusive.
The interview became a lengthy excursion into Prince’s pained past and through songs that had a purpose beyond the titillating of fantasies, as I was soon to learn. Prince’s preoccupation, disclosed between the lines of the interview, was loneliness, which in the world had become painfully interwoven with sexuality. His own childhood was something else. Multiracial, one of nine children of a hard-working Italian mother and a half-black father—a struggling musician who was mostly absent during his youth—Prince was a veteran of foster homes and a chronic runaway.
At the time of our interview, he was proud and hurt, contemplating ending interviews altogether. He communicated with the gravity of a crestfallen child, speaking in short grudging bursts of words that nevertheless revealed a great deal more than he wanted anyone to know. At the end of our long visit, he gave an eloquent summation: “That was the longest I’ve ever talked,” he said with a child’s awe. He gave me an uncertain grin and, as he trudged off into the New York rain, wobbling a bit on his high-heeled cobra boots, I liked him immediately and had the feeling that Prince would survive his current bout with success.
MUSICIAN: Let me start off with the question, to me at least. Dirty Mind seems to be the antithesis of what sex should be. Or is it? Why was that album called Dirty Mind?
PRINCE: Well, that was kind of a put-on. . . I wanted to put it out there that way and in time show people that’s not what sex was about. You can say a bad word over and over again and sooner or later it won’ t be bad anymore if everybody starts doing it.
MUSICIAN: Are songs like “Head” and “Sister” serious or satiric?
PRINCE: “Sister“ is serious. “Head” could be taken as satire. No one’s laughing when I’m saying it so I don’t know. If people get enjoyment out of it and laugh, that’s fine. All the stuff on the record is true experiences and things that have occurred around me and the way I feel about things. I wasn’t laughing when I did it So I don’t suppose it was intended that way.
That’s why I stopped doing interviews. I started and I slopped abruptly because of that. People weren’t taking me serious ly and I was being misunderstood. Everything I said they didn’t believe anyway. They didn’t believe my name. They didn’t believe anything.
MUSICIAN: Your father’s stage name was Prince Rogers. Was that his real name?
PRINCE: That wasn’t his real name. He made it up.
MUSICIAN: And what’s your last name? Is it Nelson?
PRINCE: I don’t know.
MUSICIAN: Your point about being misunderstood is kind of important. We should try and be as straight as possible with each other so I know that what you ’re say ing is being interpreted correctly.
PRINCE: Okay. I tell the truth about everything but my last name. I just hate it. I know how it’s just the name that he had to go through life with, and he hated it too. So that’s why he gave me this name and that’s why he changed his when he went onstage. I just don’t like it and I just really would rather not have it out. It’s just a stupid name that means nothing to my ancestry, my father and what he was about.
MUSICIAN: Was your father very much there when you were growing up?
PRINCE: Well, up until the time I was seven he was very much there. Then he was very much away. Then I went to live with him once...I ran away the first time when I was twelve. And then he worked two jobs. He worked a day job and then he worked downtown playing behind strippers. So he was away and I didn’t see him much then, only while he was shaving or something like that. We didn’t talk so much then.
MUSICIAN: Did he have any feelings about you being a musician? Was he a supportive person?
PRINCE: I don’t think so because he didn’t think I was very good. I didn’t really think so either. When I finally got a band together he used to come and watch us play every once in a while. But he finds it really hard to show emotion. I find that true of most men and it’s kind of a drag, but. . . .
MUSICIAN: Is your father a good musician? What does he play?
PRINCE: Piano. The reason he’s good is that he’s totally... he can’t stand any music other than his. He doesn’t listen to anybody. And he’s really strange. He told me one time that he has dreams where he’d see a keyboard in front of his eyes and he’d see his hands on the keyboard and he’d hear a melody. And he can get up and it can be like 4: 30 a.m. and he can walk right downstairs to his piano and play the melody. And to me that’s amazing because there’s no work involved really; he’s just given a gift in each song. He never comes out of the house unless it’s to get something to eat and he goes right back in and he plays all the time. His music. . .one day I hope you’ ll get to hear it. It’s just—it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard.
MUSICIAN: How did you get into music? Where were you? What were you doing?
PRINCE: I was at home living with my mother and my sister, and he had just gone and left his piano. He didn’t allow anybody to play it when he was there because we would just bang on it. So once he left then I started doing it because nobody else would. Every thing was cool I think, until my father left, and then it got kinda hairy. My step-dad came along when I was nine or ten, and I disliked him immediately, because he dealt with a lot of materialistic things. He would bring us a lot of presents all the time, rather than sit down and talk with us and give us companionship. I got real bitter because of that, and I would say all the things that I disliked about him, rather than tell him what I really needed. Which was a mistake, and it kind of hurt our relationship.
I don’t think they wanted me to be a musician. But I think it was mainly because of my father, who disliked the idea that he was a musician, and it really broke up their life. I think that’s · why he probably named me what he named me, it was like a blow to her—"He’s gonna grow up the same way, so don’t even worry about him.” And that’s exactly what I did. I was about thirteen when I moved away. I didn’t really realize other music until I had to. And that was when I got my own band and we had to play top forty songs. Anything that was a hit, didn’t matter who it was. We played every thing because they were mainly things that I wanted to go on, not things that were going on. Which is different from what I write about now.
MUSICIAN: Do you feel a strong identification with anything . . . anybody?
PRINCE: No. I think society says if you’ve got a little black in you that’s what you are. I don’t.
MUSICIAN: When you moved away, did you move in with your father?
PRINCE: Well, that was when I went to live with my aunt, also in Minneapolis, because I couldn’t stay at my father’s. And my father wouldn’t get me a piano, it was too much or whatever, so . . . he got me a guitar. I didn’t learn to play the right way, because I tuned it to a straight A chord so it was really strange. When I first started playing guitar, I jus t did chords and things like that, and I didn’t really get into soloing and all that until later, when I star ted making records. I can’t think of any foremost great guitarist that stuck in my mind. It was jus t solos on records, and it was just dumb stuff; I hated top forty. Everybody in the band hated it. It was what was holding us back. And we were trying to escape it. But we had to do it to make enough money to make demo tapes.
MUSICIAN: How’d you get to Andre Cymone’s cellar?
PRINCE: Andre Cymone’s house was the last stop after going from my dad’s to my aunt’s, to different homes and going through just a bunch of junk . And once I got there, I had realized that I was going tp have to play according to the program , and do exactly what was expected of me. And I was sixteen at the time, getting ready to turn seventeen.
MUSICIAN: Were you still in high school?
PRINCE: Mm-hm. And, that was another problem. I wasn’t doing well in school, and I was going to have to. Otherwise the people around me were going to get very upset. I could come in anytime I wanted, I could have girls spend the night, and it didn’t make a difference. I think it had a great deal to do with me coming out into my own, and discovering myself. I mean, the music was interesting at that time, once I got out of high school. And I got out of high school early, when I was like sixteen.
MUSICIAN: Did you finish?
PRINCE: Yeah. Because I go t all the required credits. And that’s relatively early. In about two and a half years, or something like that. It was pretty easy and stupid. To this day , I don’t use anything that t hey taught me. Get your jar, and dissect frogs and stuff like that.
MUSICIAN: How’d you support yourself?
PRINCE: Well, that was the problem. Once I got out of high school it was interesting for a while because I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have any school, and I didn’t have any dependents, I didn’t have any kids , or girlfriends, or any thing. I had cut myself off totally from everything. And that’s when I really started writing. I was writing like three or four songs a day. And, they were all really long. Which is interesting for me as a writer, because it’s hard to jus t take a thought, and continue it for a long period of ti me without losing it. And it’s harder for me now to write than it was back then, because the re’s so many people around me now. I wrote a lot of sexual songs back then, but they were mainly things that I wanted to go on, not things that were going on. Which is different from what I write about now.
MUSICIAN: You mean, what you were writing about then was just a fantasy of women?
PRINCE: All fantasies, yeah. Because I didn’t have anything around me. . . there were no people. No anything. When I started writing, I cut myself off from relationships with women.
MUSICIAN: Did you ever have a relationship?
PRINCE: Several solid relationships (laughs). When you’re broken, and poor and hungry, you usually try to find friends who are gonna help you out.
MUSICIAN: Who are rich and things?
PRINCE: Yeah. And successful. And have a lot of food in their fridge. I don’t know.
MUSICIAN: Did you ever do anything that you’re embarrassed about?
PRINCE: Mmm. . . no. . . well. . . .
MUSICIAN: Were you doing drugs?
PRINCE: No. One thing that turned me off to that was seeing my brother get high. At first we all thought it was funny, but then I started asking him questions and he couldn’t answer ’em, you know. So I felt it was kinda stupid. And I didn’t want my mind all cloudy at any time, because I always felt. . . I don’t know, maybe it was a basic paranoia or something about me, but I didn’t want anybody sneaking up behind me, and doing me in, or taking my money, or tricking me in any way. So I never wanted to get high.
MUSICIAN: How does Andre Cymone fit into all of this? Was he there at the beginning, and then you went to New York and came back. and resumed the friendship?
PRINCE: Well. what happened was. before I went to New York we lost our friendship, because he was in the band with me at the time, and I asked them all what they wanted to do, “Do you want to stay here. or do you want to go to New York?” And Andre didn’t speak up, but everyone else was against it. No one wanted to do it. They liked their lifestyle, I guess. I don’t think they really liked the idea of me trying to manipulate the band so much. I was always trying to get us to do something different. and I was always teamed up on for that. Like, in an argument or something like that, or a fight, or whatever. . . it was always me against them. That ’s when I wrote “Soft And Wet.” which was the first single I put out. I really liked. the tune. but everyone thought it was filthy, and “you didn’t have no business doing stuff without us. anyway.” I just did what I wanted to. And that was it.
MUSICIAN: When did you realize that?
PRINCE: When I was in Andre ’s basement. I found out a lot about myself then. The only reason I stayed was because of Andre ’s mother. She would let me do anything I wanted to, but she said all I care about is you finishing school. Anything.
MUSICIAN: How much can you do in a basement?
PRINCE: Well, it depends on how many people are there! (laughs) You know, one time she came down and saw a lot of us down there, and we weren’t all dressed, and stuff like that. It kind of tripped her out. and we got into a semi-argument. and whatever, but it, was. . . you know. . . .
MUSICIAN: Was the scene back then in the basement a heterosexual scene? Was it homosexual?
PRINCE: No, everything was heterosexual. I didn’t know any homosexuals, no. There was one guy who walked around in women’s clothes, but we didn’t know why he did it, we just thought it was funny, and that was that. Some things don’t dawn on you for a long time. And now I hear, like . . . Minneapolis is supposed to be like . . . the third largest gay city in the country, or whatever. Huge.
MUSICIAN: Were you ready for New York when you came?
PRINCE: Yeah. I was ready for anything. I felt disgusted with my life in Minneapolis.
MUSICIAN: What’d you do when you got here? Did you know you were gonna live with your sister?
PRINCE: Mm-hm. When I called her and told her what had happened, she said, well come here and I’ll help you. And I came. She had a great personality. You know , all my friends were girls , okay? I didn’t have any male friends, because they were just cheap, all of ’em were just cheap, so I knew then that if she used her personality and her sensitivity she could get us a deal. That didn’t mean going to bed with anybody, it just meant that. . . you know, use your charm rather than trying to go in there and be this man, because you’re not.
And then my sister was introduced to this one guy who had a band. And, I don’t know how she got this, but it was really cool. She ended up talking to this guy and found out everything he did, and found out that he had a demo and he was gonna take it to this woman named Danielle. And he was gonna try to get his band signed to her. So we all went together, and she said, “Can my little brother come in?” And she said sure. So we were all sitting there, and Danielle said, “Alright, put your tape on.” So he put on the tape of his band. That tape was pretty terrible, and Danielle said so, and the guy started making excuses, saying, “Well, that’s not the real guitar player, or the real singers, so don’t worry about it.” And she said, “Well, why did you bring a tape that doesn’t have the real musicians? “
Then my sister started telling Danielle about me and finally she asked me to sing. And I said no (laughs). And she said. “Why not?” And I said, “Because I’m scared. “ And she said. “You don’t have to be scared.” And they turned the lights down, and it was really strange.
That same day I had just written “Baby,” and I didn’t really have it all together, but I sang the melody and she really liked my voice. She said, “I don’t care what you do, just hum, because I just want to hear you sing.” So that’s what I did, just started singing and humming, and making up words and really stupid stuff.
MUSICIAN: Were you singing in your upper register then?
PRINCE: I only sang like that back then because, I don ’t know. . . it hurt. . . it hurt my voice to sing in the lower register. I couldn’t make it, I couldn’t peak songs the way I wanted to, and things like that, so I never used it.
MUSICIAN: Oh! I would think it would hurt losing in a falsetto.
PRINCE: Well, not for me. I wish it was that way, but. . . .
MUSICIAN: Did Danielle sign you to a contract?
PRINCE: Well, she wanted to start working with me immediately. Nevertheless, this guy was pretty upset that he didn’t get his band in there. He and my sister fell out right away, but she didn’t care. And that’s what I dug about her. So I talked with Danielle, and she told me to come over to her apartment. She was very beautiful, too, which made everything a lot easier, I remember that about her. And she made me bring all my songs, and we went through ’em all, and she didn’t like any of ’em.
MUSICIAN: None of them? Not even “Soft And Wet"?
PRINCE: None. Except for “ Baby.” She wanted me to do “Baby “ with a lot of orchestration, tympani, strings. and. . . .
MUSICIAN: How’d that sound to you?
PRINCE: I didn’t care. You know. I was cool with it. All I I ~ wanted to do was play a couple of instruments on it. and let it ~ say on the album that I played something. And she said no, unless I could play better than the session guy, which I didn’t think I could do if a guy was gonna sit there and read the chart, and I was going to get aced out right away. So that materialize. Anyway. . . after I finished that, that’s when me and my sister kinda had a dispute.
MUSICIAN: About what?
PRINCE: Mainly money. I had nothing; I was running up sort of a bill there, at her place, and she wanted -me to sell my publishing tor like $380 or something like that—which I thought was kinda foolish. And I kept telling her that I could get my own publishing company. I didn’t care about money. I just didn’t care about money. And, I don’t know, I never have, because. . . the one time I did have it was when my step-dad lived there, and I know I was extremely bitter then.
MUSICIAN: And did you have to go back to Minneapolis?
PRINCE: I didn’t have to, which was nice. Danielle knew this was gonna happen sooner or later. It’s was all really interesting to me back then, and I kind of would have liked to have seen what would have happened if she had managed me.
MUSICIAN: What did happen? Why didn’t she?
PRINCE: Well, when I got back to Minneapolis, that’s when I first met Owen Husney. I had been talking to him over the phone, and all he kept saying was that he thought I was really great, and that . . . .
MUSICIAN: Was Owen big time then? Was he a big -time kind of promoter, or manager?
PRINCE: Mmm. He had promo ted some gigs, but he was working mainly in his ad company. And he wanted to manage an act. The main thing he said was that no one should produce a record of mine—I should do it. And, I still had a deal with Danielle if I wanted it, but something about him saying that to me made me think that was the way to go So I told her that I was going to college.
MUSICIAN: Was Danielle somebody that you had a relationship with?
PRINCE: Mm-mm. It was only. . . it was only mind games. I mean, we’d look at one another and. . . play games, but it wasn’t. . . we never said anything.
MUSICIAN: Um. . . when you came back and started working with Owen, what did he do? Did he get the contract for you with Warner Bros.?
PRINCE: Owen believed in me, he really did. First of all, nobody believed I could play all the instruments.
MUSICIAN: How many instruments did you play?
PRINCE: Well, on the demo tapes I didn’t play too many—I played drums, keyboards, bass and guitars, percussion and vocals; but when I did my album, I did tons of things. Some body counted and said I had played twenty-seven on the first album. Different ones, but I don’t know, I never count things (laughs). Because the quantity is. . . people put so much emphasis on that. It’s about the quality, and what it sounds like.
MUSICIAN: It must have been a battle with the record company to produce and arrange.
PRINCE: Well, I got a couple offers and the only difference between Warner Bros. and the others was that they didn’t want to let me do production, they didn’t want to let me plan anything on the records. Warners had a lot of problems with it at first but Owen was fighting for control for me. They made me do a demo tape. So I did it, and they said that’ s pretty good. Do another one, and so I did another one. Then they said, “Okay, we can produce your album.” And they waited a week to call me back and they said I couldn’t. I had to go through that process a few more times. Then finally they said okay. It was kind of frustrating at first but I got used to it.
To some degree in the earlier days I was listening to Owen and the company. I didn’t want to create any waves because I was brand new, and stuff like that. But now I feel that I’m going to have to do exactly what’s on my mind and be exactly the way I am. Otherwise sooner or later down the road I’m going to be in a corner sucking my thumb or something. I don’t want to lose it. I just want to do what I’m really about.
MUSICIAN: Did you know what you wanted to do when you started out? When you got that contract with Warner Bros., and they said to go into the studio and do it?
PRINCE: I had an idea, but it was really vague, and I think that had to do with. . . at least, with having such a big budget. It was really big-over $100,000. You’re supposed to go in and do an album for $60,000. But I went in and kept going, and kept going and kept going. I got in a lot of trouble for it.
MUSICIAN: How much time did you spend in the studio?
PRINCE: Hours. Hours. I was a physical wreck when I finished the record... it took me five months to do the first one. I’m proud of it, in the sense that it’s mistake-free, and it’s perfect. And it’s... that’s the problem with it, you know. But it wasn’t really me, it was like a machine. You know, I walked in, and I was sleepy all the time. I didn’t really feel like recording for eighty percent of the record. But I did it anyway, because, by the time I had gotten close to $100,000, it was like, you know, you were going to have to do something great. So, by that time, I didn’t want to make any mistakes. The relationship between me and the executive producer that they assigned with me was horrifying.
MUSICIAN: Did Warner Bros. ever look as if they were just going to wash their hands of the whole thing, or were they committed?
PRINCE: No, I don’t think so, because I owed them too much money.
MUSICIAN: They had to stick with you, so you could pay off.
PRINCE: Yeah. At least three albums. And I didn’t want to do anything like interviews or touring. I was being real stubborn and bull-headed, and Owen didn’t realize how to get it out of me, and make me stop. And, I don’t know, our friendship died slowly after that. It just got strange.
MUSICIAN: How did you get the whole act together? When did you get a band and decide to go on the road?
PRINCE: Well, the band came right before I did the second album (For You).
MUSICIAN: What happened when you went back to Minneapolis. . . first, after New York, and then, after you had actually recorded? Were you treated very differently? I mean, this was big time with Warner Bros., for sure.
PRINCE: Yeah. The same people who told me I wasn’t gonna be anything, treated me with a lot more respect now. And it made me a much better person. II took a lot of bitterness out of me. Because that’s all I really wanted; I didn’t want the respect so much as I wanted friends hip, real friendship. That’s all that counts to me. And I tell my band members the same thing now. I mean, you have to learn to deal with me on an up-front level, or else, you know, it’s dead. I don’t want people around me who don ’t do that.
MUSICIAN: Has your music changed much since then?
PRINCE: I think I change constantly, because I can hear the music changing. The other day I put my first three albums on and listened to the difference. And I know why I don’t sound like that anymore. Because things that made sense to me and thi ngs that I liked the n I don’t like anymore. The way I played music, just the way I was in love a lot back then when I used to make those records. And love meant more to me then-but now I realize that people don ’t always tell you the truth, you know? I was really gullible back then. I believed in everybody around me. I believed in Owen, I believed in Warner Bros., I believed in everybody. If someone said something good to me, I believed it.
MUSICIAN: And it was reflected in your music?
PRINCE: Yeah, I think so. It was....
MUSICIAN: More romantic?
PRINCE: Yeah. And I felt good when I was singing back then. The things I do now, I feel anger sometimes when I sing, and I can hear the difference. I’m screaming more now than I used to. And things like that. I think it’s just me. It also has to do with the instrumentation. It has nothing to do with trying to change styles or anything. Plus, I’m in a different environment; I see New York a little bit more. In my subconscious I’m influenced by the sinisterness of it, you know, the power. I hear sirens all the time, things like that. It’s not like that in Minneapolis. If you ever go there you’ll see it’s real laid back: real quiet, and you have to make you r own action. I think a lot of warped people come out of there. My friends. I know a lot of warped girls, okay? Warped to me means they see things differently than I would, I suppose. They talk a lot. They talk a lot. about nothing. But I mean heavy. They get into it like you wouldn’t believe. I mean, we could get into an hour-long conversation about my pants. You know, why they’re so tight, or something, do you know what I mean?
MUSICIAN: Well, why are they tight?
PRINCE: I don’t know (laughs). I don’t know. Because I want them to be. I just like the way they look.
MUSICIAN: Did Warner Bros. flinch when you put “Head” on the third record?
PRINCE: They flinched at just about everything. (laughs)
MUSICIAN: I wanted to ask you about the cover of Dirty Mind. How was that done?
PRINCE: We were just fooling around, and we were jamming at the time. It was summertime, and we were having fun. And that’s what I had on. But my coat was closed, so the photographer didn’t know. I was with some friends and...
MUSICIAN: Does everyone in Minneapolis just walk around with bikini underpants?
PRINCE: (laughs ) No. But, see. . . l don’t know. I mean. . . once. . . I mean, if you’ve got a big coat on. I mean, who knows what he has on? I mean, it was hot out. Everybody was saying, why you got that hot coat on? I’d say, I’m really not that hot. (laughs) And they’d say, you gotta be.
MUSICIAN: I bet you flash.
PRINCE: No. Not in. . . it depends on who it is. But, we were just jamming and stuff like that, and he didn’t know that’s what I had on. And so, he was taking pictures and I happened to open my coat for one, just as a joke, you know? He said, wow. Like that. And, wel( see: I used to wear that onstage.
MUSICIAN: How’d you pick that image of yourself? Where did it come from?
PRINCE: Well, I used to wear leotards and Danskins and stuff, because our stage show is really athletic and I wanted something comfortable. And my management said, “You have to at least start wearing underwear, because. . . . “
MUSICIAN: You weren’t wearing any underwear?
PRINCE: No. Kind of gross. So I said, okay, and started wearing underwear.
MUSICIAN: What kind of friends were you hanging with?
PRINCE: Prostitutes. Pimps. Drug dealers. Really bad people and preachers’ daughters, you know? Which is strange, because they were the total opposite of their fathers.
MUSICIAN: How did you meet them? At gigs?
PRINCE: Yeah. I talk to people. and if they’re real and sincere about what they ’re doing, and they don’t really want anything out of me except to be my friends, then, you know, I go for that.
MUSICIAN: The people who you were friendly with back then... that group... did they influence your style?
PRINCE: Well, I think to some degree. They’re really rebellious. They cut themselves off from the world, as I did. The band’s attitude is, they don’t listen to a lot of music and stuff like that. And the band is funny, the only time they ’ll go to see someone else is if they ’re going to ta lk about them or heckle. It’s really sick. They ’re like critics.
MUSICIAN: Are they all close friends?
PRINCE: I don’t know anymore. It’s hard to say. When we first started I think we were. That’s how they got in the group. Some of them I didn’t find out if they could play until later.
MUSICIAN: Are they concerned, now, about not being on the road? Do they feel that they ’d like to be touring?
PRINCE: Yeah. We all do. Once I stop, then I start writing again, or whatever, or start playing... fooling around, then I don’t want to play out in public so much. I guess I write letters better than I talk, basically. I can write really good letters. And that’s where the records come from. I can sit down and say exactly what I want. I don’t have to worry about someone else next to me doing their job.
MUSICIAN: It’s funny, because you’re a very imaginative guy. I would think for someone who draws on fantasies and wrote about dreams, fantasy would be important.
PRINCE: Well, it is. But it’s not so much when you’re writing a letter. Do you know what I mean? If I were to write a letter to a friend, and tell them about an experience, I wouldn’t say how it made me feel; I would say exactly what I did, so that they could experience it, too, rather than the intellectual point of view. If you give them a situation, maybe that you’ve encountered, or whatever, give them the basis of it, let them take it to the next stage, they make the picture in their own mind. I know I am happiest making records like this, making records that tell the truth and don’t beat around the bush. Maybe I’m wrong for it, but I know the people at the concerts know exactly what the songs are about, sing right along, and are really into it. We have their attention. They understand, I think, and they ’re getting the message. I don’t know. It seems real o me because. . . well, it is, because I’m saying exactly what’s going around me. I say everything exactly the way it is.
MUSICIAN: Do you think people think that you’re gay?
PRINCE: Well, there’s something about me, I know, that makes people think that. It must stem from the fact that I spent a lot of time around women. Maybe they see things I don’t.
MUSICIAN: People always speak about a feminine sensibility as if it’s something negative in a man. But it’s usually very attractive for most women. Like a sensitiveness.
PRINCE: I don’t know. It’s attractive for me. I mean, I would like to be a more loving person, and be able to deal with other people’s problems a little bit better. Men are really closed and cold together, I think. They don’t like to cry, in other words. And I think that’s wrong, because that ’s not true.
MUSICIAN: Is there anything that you want me to mention that we haven’t talked about?
PRINCE: Well, I don’t know, it’s. . . Idon’t want people to get the impression that sex is all I write about. Because it’s not, and the reason why it’s so abundant in my writing is mainly because of my age and the things that are around me. Until you can go to college or get a nine-to-five job, then there’s going to be a bunch of free time around you. And free time can only be spent in certain ways. But if people don’t dig my music, then stay away from it, that’s all. It’s not for everybody, I don’t believe. I do know that there are a lot of people wanting to be themselves out there.
MUSICIAN: Will you always try to be controversial?
PRINCE: That’s really a strange question, because if I’m that way, then I will be forever writing that way. I don’t particularly think it’s so controversial. I mean, when a girl can get birth control pills at age twelve, then I know she knows just about as much as I do, or at least will be there in a short time. I think people are pretty blind to it. Pretty blind to life, and taking for granted what really goes on.
MUSICIAN: Do you think that older people don’t give the twelve- and thirteen-year-olds enough credit for knowing as much as they know?
PRINCE: I’m sure they don’t. I’m absolutely sure they don’t I mean, when my mom had stuff in her room that I could sneak in and get. Books, vibrators, all kinds of things. I did it. I’m sure everybody else does. And if I can go in there and do all that, I don’t see how she figures I won ’t know. And the way she figures I don’t know is, she doesn’t sit down and te ll me exactly what’s going on. I never got a rap like that, and I don’t know how many kids do.
MUSICIAN: I think that a lot of kids would like to feel that there’s somebody who’s capturing that experience for them. And I don’t think anybody really has done it before.
PRINCE: Yeah. At the same time, you’re telling them about wanting to be loved or whatever... accepted. In time you can tell them about contraception and things like that, which need to be said. No one else is going to say it. I know I have def interview points on a lot of different things: the school system, the way the government’s run, and things like that. And I’ll say them, in time. And I think they ’ll be accepted for what they are.
MUSICIAN: So is that really you up there onstage?
PRINCE: What? The way I act? Oh, yeah, without a doubt.
MUSICIAN: In other words, when you go back to Minneapolis, and you go to parties, is that you?
PRINCE: Oh, yeah. And when I’m with my friends, I’m more like that than anything. A lot of times, when I got out to clubs, if I go, I just go to observe, and I watch people. I like to watch people. They way they act and things like that.
MUSICIAN: So what will be the first thing you do when you get back to Minneapolis?
PRINCE: Probably take a long bath. I haven’t had one in a long time. I’m scared of hotel bathtubs.
MUSICIAN: What do you fear?
PRINCE: They just. . . a maid could walk in and see me.
MUSICIAN: I liked your first two albums, but it seemed to me that the third record, Dirty Mind, was really a growth....
PRINCE: Yes. The second record (For You) was pretty contrived, After the first record, I put myself in a hole, because I’d spent a lot of money to make it. With the second record, I wanted to remedy all that, so I just made it a “hit” album. I usually write hits for other people, and those are the songs I throw away and don’t really care for. Dirty Mind started off as demo tapes: they were just like songs inside that I wanted to hear. So I took it to my manager and he said, “This is the best stuff I’ve heard in a long time. This should be your album.” The drag is that J don’t know how I could make another album like that. I usually change directions with each record. which is a problem in some respects, but rewarding and fulfilling for me. I have mixed emotions.
MUSICIAN: The fourth record, Controversy, sounds more new wave.
PRINCE: It depends a lot on what instrument I write on. When I write on guitar, I come up with songs like “When You Are Mine” and “Ronnie Talks To Russia.·· When I start with drums. I get “Controversy.” Controversy is a little erratic. I’m really proud of this new album (1999).
MUSICIAN: How did “Little Red Corvette” come about?
PRINCE: That song was a real life incident. A girl in a little red Corvette....
MUSICIAN: Did you resist the idea of 1999 being a double album?
PRINCE: Yes. I didn’t want to do a double record, but I just kept on writing. Of course, I’m not one for editing. I did try to shorten things.
MUSICIAN: How do you prepare to go into the studio? Do you have rough ideas... ?
PRINCE: I don’t plan or anything like that. When I record, I find if I usually just sit down and do something, I’ll gradually come up with something. Sometimes it starts with a lyric.
MUSICIAN: Is It easier to work alone rather than with others?
PRINCE: Oh, much easier. I have a communication problem sometimes when I’m trying to describe music.
MUSICIAN: Were you always a musical loner?
PRINCE: When I first started, I always had buddies around me. I never wanted to be a front man. It felt spooky to be at the mike alone. I had a bad habit of just thinking of myself—if I just moved constantly, then people would think I was comfortable. But that wasn’t right.
MUSICIAN: When did you finally become comfortable performing?
PRINCE: Last year, on the Controversy tour. There was something about coming down the pole and going out in front. I felt real comfortable.
MUSICIAN: What was the incident at the Stones’ Coliseum show when you left the stage early?
PRINCE: When we went onstage, there were a lot of people throwing things and making noises and stuff. At first I thought it was fun, okay, and then I thought, “Wen. we just better play.” Dez, my guitar player, is just a rock ’n’ roller at heart and he said, “Show ’em we can play, and then it’ll simmer down.” But there was this one dude right in the front and I looked down at him—you could see the hatred all over his face. He wouldn’t stop throwing things. And the reason that I left was I didn’t want to play anymore. I just wanted to fight him. I got really angry. It’s like I’m feeling, “Look, I got twenty minutes. If you can’t deal with that, well, we’ll have to go outside and work it out.” You know? How dare you throw something at me?
MUSICIAN: Many songwriters use the word “love” to mean other things such as ambition or goal or talent. Is the word “sex” almost interchangeable sometimes?
PRINCE: Yes, I think everything basically is. Like in “Lady Cab Driver,” for example, “sex” is used in two different contexts. One is anger.
MUSICIAN: Does that imply an S&M kind of thing? A lot of people might perceive that from the record.
PRINCE: Well, that’s up to them. I don’t want to burst anybody’s bubble, but the idea was that a lot of people make love out of loneliness sometimes.
MUSICIAN: And they want to be touched in reassurance?
PRINCE: Yes, exactly. It just went from anger and you start saying, “Well, how long can this go on? This is a person here. I have to be human.” The right spot was hit so....
MUSICIAN: Do you enjoy being in the studio?
PRINCE: Yes. There’s nothing like the feeling after you’ve done something and play it back and you know that you’ll never hear anything like it and that they’ll never figure it out-I’m sorry, I know what that sounds like. When I say “figure it out,” I mean something like I’ll try to go so high and so jagged with my voice that if everybody tries to do it their tonsils will tall out. I don’t try to trick people. Life is too confusing itself, and I wouldn’t put any more on anybody else. Now everybody’s worried about the fact that I can’t use engineers.
MUSICIAN: You can’t use engineers?
PRINCE: No, they drive me crazy. It’s because they’re so technical. Everything just got so esoteric, “We’ve got to do this a certain way,” when you’re ready to play. The engineer I use and give credit to on the album, she sets everything up for me, most of the time before I come in. And then I just do what I have to do and split. She puts things together afterward.
MUSICIAN: I once heard you described as a child prodigy.
PRINCE: Don’t. That’s all fabricated evidence that the management did to make it happen. I don’t want to say that I was anything less than what they thought, but I just did it as sort of a hobby, and then it turned into a job and just a way to eat, and now I do it as art.