THE NEW YORKER (2008)
Soup With PrinceBy Claire Hoffman
24 November 2008
The thirty-thousand-square-foot Italianate villa, built this century by Vanna White's ex-husband, looks like many of the other houses in Beverly Park, a gated community in L.A., except for the bright-purple carpet that spills down the front steps to announce its new tenant: Prince. One afternoon just before the election, Prince invited a visitor over. Inside, the place was done up in a generic Mediterranean style, although there were personal flourishes here and there—a Lucite grand piano with a gold-colored “Artist Formerly Known as Prince” symbol suspended over it, purple paisley pillows on a couch. Candles scented the air, and New Age music played in the living room, where a TV screen showed images of bearded men playing flutes. Prince padded into the kitchen, a small fifty-year-old man in yoga pants and a big sweater, wearing platform flip-flops over white socks, like a geisha.
“Would you like something to eat?” he asked, sidling up to the counter. Prince's voice was surprisingly deep, like that of a much larger man. He picked up a copy of “21 Nights,” a glossy volume of photographs that he had just released. It is his first published book, a collection of highly stylized photographs of him taken during a series of gigs in London last year. “I'm really proud of this,” he said. Short original poems and a CD accompany the photographs. (Sample verse: “Who eye really am only time will tell/ 2 the almighty life 4ce that grows stronger with every chorus/ Yes give praise, lest ye b among . . . the guilty ones.”)
Limping slightly, Prince set off on a walk around his new bachelor pad. Glass doors opened onto acres of back yard, and a hot tub bubbled in the sunlight. “I have a lot of parties,” he explained. In the living room, he'd installed purple thrones on either side of a fireplace, and, nearby, along a hallway, he had hung photographs of himself, in a Moroccan villa, in various states of undress. At the end of the hall, a gauzy curtain fluttered in a doorway. “My room,” he said. “It's private.”
Prince has lived in Los Angeles since last spring, after spending years in Minneapolis, holding court in a complex called Paisley Park, where he made thousands of songs, far away from the big labels. Seven years ago, he became a Jehovah's Witness. He said that he had moved to L.A. so that he could understand the hearts and minds of the music moguls. “I wanted to be around people, connected to people, for work,” he said. “You know, it's all about religion. That's what unites people here. They all have the same religion, so I wanted to sit down with them, to understand the way they see things, how they read Scripture.”
Prince had his change of faith, he said, after a two-year-long debate with a musician friend, Larry Graham. “I don't see it really as a conversion,” he said. “More, you know, it's a realization. It's like Morpheus and Neo in ‘The Matrix.' ” He attends meetings at a local Kingdom Hall, and, like his fellow-witnesses, he leaves his gated community from time to time to knock on doors and proselytize. “Sometimes people act surprised, but mostly they're really cool about it,” he said.
Recently, Prince hosted an executive who works for Philip Anschutz, the Christian businessman whose company owns the Staples Center. “We started talking red and blue,” Prince said. “People with money—money like that—are not affected by the stock market, and they're not freaking out over anything. They're just watching. So here's how it is: you've got the Republicans, and basically they want to live according to this.” He pointed to a Bible. “But there's the problem of interpretation, and you've got some churches, some people, basically doing things and saying it comes from here, but it doesn't. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum you've got blue, you've got the Democrats, and they're, like, ‘You can do whatever you want.' Gay marriage, whatever. But neither of them is right.”
When asked about his perspective on social issues—gay marriage, abortion—Prince tapped his Bible and said, “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.' ”
Later, in the dining room, eating a bowl of carrot soup, he talked about an encounter that he described as a “teaching moment.” “There was this woman. She used to come to Paisley Park and just sit outside on the swings,” he said. “So I went out there one day and I was, like, ‘Hey, all my friends in there say you're a stalker. And that I should call the police. But I don't want to do that, so why don't you tell me what you want to happen. Why are you here? How do you want this to end?' And she didn't really have an answer for that. In the end, all she wanted was to be seen, for me to look at her. And she left and didn't come back.”