Q MAGAZINE (1994)
Q - JULY 1994
'I am normal!'
Pleased to meet you... Hope you've guessed my name. For the first time since God alone knows when, the artist formerly known as Prince talks exclusively and extensively about identity, insecurity, George Michael, Nelson Mandela, ballet, boogie, opera, orgasm, freedom and the future. "I follow the advice of my spirit," he tells Adrian Deevoy.
His name is not Prince. And he is not funky. His name is Albert. And he is lurching across the dancefloor in search of accommodating company. Slightly balding and chunkier than he looks in photographs, he moors behind a gyrating female and clumsily interfaces.
Up on the stage another man whose name is not Prince says, "This is dedicated to Prince Albert, the funkiest man in Monaco." It's a wonder he can get the words out with his tongue buried so deep in his cheek. Prince Albert beams and grinds arhythmically on. Prince laughs, throws a swift shape and stops the funk on the one. It's his party and he'll lie if he wants to.
One hundred and twenty people have been invited to the Stars &alt; Bars club in Monte Carlo for this most exclusive of celebrations. The champagne is free, the spirits are freer and the house band is possibly the best live act on the planet. You probably remember them as Prince And The New Power Generation. They're still the NPG but he's not Prince any more. He is (to give him his full title). Sir Hieroglyphicford for short.
Ursula Andress is at the bar, sipping sensually at a flute of champagne. A few generations and a couple of yards along, Claudia Shiffer is doing likewise. It's that sort of a do. Everyone is wearing impossibly shiny shoes and gold epaulettes. If God weren't resting his suave old soul, you'd expect David Niven to walk in with Peter Wyngarde on his arm. Without trying too hard, you can imagine Fellini standing in the corner saying, "Christ, this is weird!" Quit what the gnarled jet-setters are making of the music programme is anyone's guess. At 1.15am the Barry Manilow tape was exchanged for a stripped down five-piece (and non- stop disco dancer Mayte - pronounced My Tie - Garcia) who have just embarked upon the most daunting funk experience of a lifetime. A knot of maybe 15 perfumed debs cluster around the lip of the stage. Naturally you join them and find yourself standing so close to the Artist Formerly Known As Prince (AFKAP to use the diminutive) that you can hear him singing unamplified behind his microphone.
As the franc-trillionaires dance like your dad or simply stand looking bemused, a set of entirely new material is unleashed: a slamming funk madhouse named "Now"; a total headshag of a thing called "Interactive"; "Glam Slam Boogie", a swinging R & B shuffle; this scorching rap, Days Of Wild; "Space", a superb mid-paced chug; a Prince-of-yore smutathon which boasts the chorus "Pop goes the zipper"; "Race", another blistering rap and a freshly minted song which may not have been called "Jogging Machine". Amazingly, despite performing for over two hours and dancing like an amphetamined primate, he doesn't break sweat. It's only during the very last song (during which he takes to calling out "Bass - hallowed be thy name" and "You know you're funky!") that minute moist tresses begin to glisten at the back of his neck. Shirtless now, you can't help but notice as he cavorts on the floor with Mayte that here is a man who has no truck with underwear. The trained medical eye can also detect, through sheer yellow matador trousers, that he is circumcised. And she isn't. It is indecently, maybe even illegally, sexy. "Doesn't anyone have to go to work tomorrow." he asks rhetorically as the monied merry-makers bay for another encore. "Guess not."
The Prince camp are an odd crew: all are deeply aware of the idiosyncrasies of their bonsai boss - and they call him "Boss" - but they hold him in unutterably high esteem. One lunchtime, his American PR, face poker-straight, tells me that her charge is "an instrument of God." Over drinks, his European PR is a little more terrestrial: "He doesn't talk a lot," he says, reflecting on Prince's visit, a few days ago, to his newly opened London shop. "He just came in and sat on the stairs sucking a lollipop. Then he wandered around for a while, looking at things. Of course, the next day I get long lists of changes he wants made."
The band plainly find his celebrity both a convenient distraction and a bit of a laugh. They are more than used to fencing questions about their commander, invariably dismissing enquiries with "He's just a regular cat like you and me", but in their hearts they know he isn't. I ask them one Fleet Street-type question about their shrift: "Is he Mayte's boyfriend?" "No," they say firmly. "She don't have a boyfriend."
Amusingly, among the entourage, the P word is rarely mentioned for fear it might result in the P45 word. There is a mild panic when a poster advertising his appearance at Monte Carlo's World Music Awards is spotted with the dread legend on it. In the blink of an eye the name is erased and the now familiar gold unisex symbol drawn in its place. "If he'd seen that," says a relieved minder, "he might have just have turned around and gone home."
A telling scene occurs one night as the band are sitting around talking nonsense and drinking beer in the lobby of the oppressively posh Hotel De Paris. A huge horde of fans have gathered outside having heard that their hero is dining with Prince Albert tonight and will soon be emerging from the hotel. At 8.30, Prince ghosts up by your side (you soon learn that he has this unnerving habit of just appearing) and in an unimaginably deep voice asks, "Shall I go out the front?" He is resplendent in full battle dress: a jacket made from what once must have been fold doily, lace strides, heels, walking cane and lollipop. "Yeah," cry the band, "go out the front! Freak 'em out!" With the cheekiest of smirks, he pops the lolly decisively into his mouth and steps boldly out through the revolving door. The crowd screech his old name as, surrounded by three minders, he steps - head down, mouth corners curling knowingly - into a waiting car.
Only once during our five-day stay do we see Prince out of his stage gear. He is in a lift heading down to have his hair re-teased and is wearing a black jumper, leather jeans and impenetrable dark glasses, presumably because he hasn't bothered to put on any make-up on. He looks remarkably pale but then he has just got up. It's 5pm.
Similarly, the only time you truly find him off-duty is when you wander early into the empty Stars & Bars club and he is standing on the dancefloor on his own picking out a riff on a bass guitar. After thrumbing absently for a while he mutters "Sounds like shit" to himself. Then the enigmatic song and dance man looks over to the technicians and says, "Can we get separate EQ for the bass in the monitors?"
Such was the success of the gig at Prince Albert's party, a decision is made to play the same club the following evening. Sadly, the show isn't nearly half as good. It is merely transcendent.
"Do you feel ready to meet him?" It's been four days now. It's a little after midnight. You're not going to feel much readier. I'm escorted up to a small room that features a large white bed an not much else. The doors are open and, below, the guano-festooned roof of the Monte Carlo Casino looks monumentally unimpressive. The junior suite is the temporary home of Prince's brother and head of security, Duane Nelson. In keeping with the name change game, he has been re-christened The Former Duane. Prince's pe rsonal minder, a mightily be-blazered individual called Tracy, who looks and sounds alarmingly like Mike Tyson, informs is that "he" will be arriving soon.
Within a minute, there is a tiny commotion in the doorway and Prince is suddenly standing before you like a virgin bride on her wedding night. Dressed completely in white silk and wearing full make-up, he only breaks a long floor-bound stare to flash one coquettish glance upwards by way of a greeting. I'm introduced by name. He isn't. We are left alone.
An agreement made prior to this meeting stipulated, in no uncertain terms, that three rules were to by obeyed if intercourse of any description were to occur: firstly, that no tape recorder be used; secondly, that no notepad or pen be brought into the room; and thirdly, and most strangely, that no questions be asked. He wanted to enjoy a half-hour conversation unencumbered by the paraphernalia of nosy journalism.
He paces around the cramped boudoir in deliberate, even steps, as if he needed to fit the place with a new carpet and had forgotten his tape measure. He wanders out on to the balcony, still having not uttered a word and then comes back in, shutting the doors behind him. He is small but in perfect proportion, like a scale model of an adult. A doll, an Action Mannequin. He sits down next to me on the bed in a semi-lotus position and fixes his gaze on the middle distance, smiling secretly. No-one has said anything for a full minute. Then he turns with this curious expression. It's somewhere between the shamed but surly look of someone that has been wrongly reprimanded and the suggestive yet intense glare of someone who is about to shag you. Oh no! He leans forward and you can smell him. It is just like the band said: he smells of flowers, music and innocence. I smell of lager. Eventually, he says this:
"I don't say much."
Oh dear. Silence.
He shrugs in slow-motion and looks sideways and downwards. It's a sad, apologetic gesture, like he just killed your dog. This will serve as an answer for many of the questions he's initially asked. Once again. Why is that? Why don't you say much?
"You don't need to."
That doesn't bode well for this conversation really, does it?
A different tack: "Speak to me only with thine eyes." Have you heard that phrase?
He turns on the bed and laughs, rolling his eyes to heaven. He is wearing an extraordinary amount of slap - foundation, eyeliner, black mascara (on lashes of which Bambi is alleged to be fiercely jealous), brown eye shadow on the outermost corners of his lids. He has the most slender line of facial hair that runs from one temple, down his cheek across his upper lip and up the other side. There are black, phallic rockets on the sleeves of his shirt.
We look at each other for a while. It isn't quite uncomfortable, more exhilarating, like a first date. In keeping with this, I say: "You look lovely, by the way."
He exhales almost sexually, bites his lower lip and whispers, "Why, thank you."
This is becoming ludicrous. We've got 30 minutes and 10 of those have just been swallowed up with nothing more than a handful of sighs, some peculiar body language and one dodgy chat-up line to show for it. I decide to forget the rules and fire a volley of questions at him.
How did you feel when you heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time? He stops and thinks and arranges his hands in a steeple in front of his mouth.
"That was before Puerto Rico," he says quietly and, to be honest, mystifyingly. "I can't remember much before then. That was before I changed my name."
Why have you changed your name?
"I acted on the advice of my spirit."
Do you normally do that. Is it reliable, your spirit's advice?
Is it significant that you've changed your name?
"It's very significant."
Did you dream last night?
He frowns. "No, can't remember. Although I had a dream recently and I was telling Mo Ostin (Chairman of Warner Brothers Records) to be all a man and not half a man."
Last night I dreamt I saw this article in print. Believe it or not, the headline was Funny Little Fucker.
He laughs. "Oh."
Do you fall in love easily?
You're a slow burner then?
It isn't going tremendously well. Knocking it on the head and suggesting we just go out for a curry begins to seem like an excellent idea. Then something highly bizarre and Prince-like happens: a sound starts to crackle through a previously unnoticed and inert TV. Without missing a beat, he nods towards the set and says, "It's a sign. It's a sign that we should go to my room." He makes for the door, leading with his shoulders. Duane appears in the hall and asks what the problem is. "A sound came through the TV," explains Prince. "It's a sign." "Nah, says Duane, "you probably just sat on the remote control." And with that, he ushers us back into the bedroom to continue our "conversation".
Q: Do you think you're underrated as a lyricist?
"Well, underrated by who? Against what? You know? Some people get them. That's what counts."
Q: Do people not get the humour in your work?
"Maybe, but there's a lot of things that I don't get the humour in."
Q: What's the most moving piece of music you've heard recently?
(Long, sigh-strewn pause) "Sonny's bass solo last night."
Q: What is your preoccupation with sex all about? It features in nearly all your songs. Does sex really loom that large in your life?
"My songs aren't all about sex. People read that into them."
Q: But sex is such a dominant theme. Your new song called "Come" is unarguably about orgasm.
"Is it? That's your interpretation? Come where? Come to whom? Come for what?"
Q: Oh, come on!
(Laughs) "That's just the way you see it. It's in your mind."
This is the first subject he warms to: different perceptions. How one man's meat is another man's muesli. This, he explains, is why we can't label music, feelings, people. He says something convoluted like: everything is something else to everyone. When I begin to ask him about how he thinks other people perceive him, it obviously touches a nerve. He adopts the voice of an especially demented mynah bird and asks, "Are you normal? Are you normal? Is that what you're asking me? Do I think I'm normal? Yes, I do. I think I'm normal. I am normal."
Q: What happens in your life when you're not doing music?
(Hikes, eyebrows, looks incredulous) "When I'm not doing music?"
Q: Do you have a life outside of your work?
Q: And what does that involve?
(Pinteresque pause) "Have you never read about me? I'm a very private person."
Q: I'm not prying, I'm just interested.
"I know. I understand."
The subject of his recording contract with Warner Brothers comes up, as does the topic of Prince's work - he speaks about Prince in the third person. Whether or not Prince the recording artist is finished, consigned to the bunker of history, is unclear. He says several times that the body of work is complete but later admits that he hasn't ruled out the possibility of adding to it, under the name Prince or otherwise, in the future.
Q: Is it possible to shed a entire personality?
It's not like it's a real personality."
Q: It's a person then?
"Yeah, I think it is."
Q: Have you turned your back on pop music?
"What's pop music? It's different things to different people."
Q: Beatles-derived four-chord tunes that everyone can sing along to.
"Still don't help. Is The Most Beautiful Girl pop music? I can't say? You can't say."
He mentions George Michael's court case for the first time. It's a subject he'll return to with astonishing regularity and persistence. At one point, he almost shouts, "Why can't George Michael do what he wants? Why can't he write a ballet if he wants to?" What he is talking about is artistic freedom and its place in the future. By the end of the rant, and it is a rant, I suggest that he should get in touch with George Michael as he might find such supportive words encouraging. "Oh," he says breezily. "We speak."
Q: What do you think about when you're playing a guitar solo?
"I'm normally just listening."
Q: You look like you're about to cry sometimes.
"Really? Mm. Maybe."
Q: You seem at your most relaxed on stage.
If it's all going well, I'm pretty happy up there. It's a very natural thing for me."
Q: Offstage you seem to be having a good old laugh at us sometimes.
The categorisation of music is another area which gets his goat. How on earth can we categorise something like music when everybody hears and feels it differently? How many people do you know that have just one type of music in their record collections? None, right? You don't get home and think, I'll listen to some ambient jazz punk, do you? You just have a mood in your head and yet we, or at least the record companies, feel the need to compartmentalise everything. Tell you what, when you play a song live, and it's a jam, man, and you think up some little vocal line and everyone is still singing that when you've left that stage. That's marketing. Period. Wouldn't it be great if someone made an album and gave it away for free? Like air. You could just have it. Anyway, what type of music do The Sundays play? Is it pop, indie, rock? Who cares? When eventually, I say that anyone who heard Prince play would assume that his new direction was big funk, he says cryptically, "You could ask those people what they saw and they might say that they didn't see Prince play at all..."
Q: Do you ever have a problem translating the sounds you hear in your hear into music?
"No, that's never been a problem. The problem is getting it all out before another idea comes along."
Q: Do you exhaust people?
(Laughs) "Yes, I do."
Q: A joke: you used to be called Prince and then you were Victor. Why not just call yourself Vince?
"I read that somewhere. I was never called Victor. That was the line in the song, 'I will be called Victor,' I never called myself Victor."
He launches into a stream of consciousness monologue about names. What they mean. This seems to confuse him. He has, he says, a friend called Gilbert Davidson, and one day he said to Gilbert, Who is David? Is he your father? No, said Gilbert. Is he your grandfather? No. Then, man, you'd better look back and find out who he is. Then Prince started thinking, My name is Nelson. Who was Nel? My mother? No. My grandmother? Uh-uh. Then he thought, Maybe she's someone that I don't want to know about.
Q: I asked the band, individually, what you smell of?
"What I smell of? What'd Sonny say?"
He said you smell of music.
(Delighted smile) "That's a good answer, Sonny. That's a like, yeah, yeah, let's have the next question type answer, isn't it?
Q: And I asked them to sum you up in one word. The word one of them chase was, Wow!
(Laughs) "Who said that? No, let me guess. Was it Michael?
"That's funny. Wow. We don't normally talk about that kind of stuff."
Now he's getting excited. He has moved to a chair and is sitting with his boots - high-heeled silver stage numbers covered in mini mirrors - up on the counterpane. At one pint, whilst agreeing about something with particular enthusiasm, I grab hold of his boot. He doesn't flinch, but his toes wriggle inside. He has left behind the cautious customer of yesterhour an is freewheeling through the thoughts as they enter his head. Suddenly it strikes you. Blimey! It's just like having a chat with a normal bloke.
Q: Tell me about the opera you've written.
"I don't want to give too much away. It's just a story.
Q: What sort of story? A love story?
Q: Did you write the libretto?
"Yeah, (he laughs at the pretentiousness of the word) I wrote the story."
Q: Did you find opera difficult to get into?
"I don't really listen to opera."
He had spoken to Placido Domingo earlier in the evening. "He said some very beautiful things and you could sense that he had a feeling of all the power that was in the room and what it could achieve if we did something with it." While they were talking, Prince got this tune in his head that he's going to get down pretty quickly.
Q: I've been told that you're an instrument of God.
"Oh yeah, stuff's been written about that. Who said that?"
Q: Your PR.
Q: Do you seriously feel like you are a conduit for some higher power?
"No, I just practice a lot."
Q: Do you ever feel a certain telepathy exists between you and the NPG?
"Sure, musically, that happens sometimes. But we rehearse too."
He tells a long story about the making of the video for The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. They placed ads and got shedloads of letters and home videos back. They selected a cross section of women all from different backgrounds and invited them to meet Prince. He asked them what their dreams were and then to the best of his mortal abilities set about making those dreams come true. Like Jim'll fix it with "O" Levels. Then they filmed the women watching footage of their fantasies. One of the women, and he get quite emotional as he relates this, wrote to him afterwards saying that although she was overweight, he had made her feel beautiful and she would lose weight with the intention of modelling one day.
Q: Is physical beauty an overrated virtue?
"Yes. See, you understand."
Q: Did you sit on The Most Beautiful Girl In The World so Warners couldn't have it and you could release it on your own terms?
No, I didn't sit on it. I heard that I did that but I only wrote it recently."
Q: What would you have done if it had stiffed?
"If it had stiffed? (Laughs) It wouldn't have mattered. I put the record out, that was the important thing. People got to hear it."
Q: Did you feel vindicated when it was so successful?
Well, it's nice when people appreciate what you do."
We discuss the future again. He says, "That's why I wanted you to help me - and I need some help with this - because you think that anything is possible." He peels off at a tangent. "In the future," he announces, "I might be interactive. You might be able to access me and tell me what to play." It's certainly a thought. He says he's found a you drummer "who plays things you can't even think. And if he wants to do an album of drum solos, then I'm prepared to go out on tour to finance that." He reveals that he's got a blues album completed and in the can and lets out a vocal wail of anguished guitar to illustrate just how good it is. He brings up Nelson Mandela and the current situation in South Africa. Mr. Mandela, as he calls him, must have had a very clear vision of what would happen. He envies this and would like to have that gift. Something of a basketball fan, he alludes to Magic Johnson time and time again. "He wants to form his own team," he says. "How long will that take?" He looks at his non-existing watch and shoots a look to the ceiling. "Look at South Africa," he says, palms upturned. "Bosnia. You can't tell people what to do for that long." He appears to be equating racial and artistic freedom, then he has to be prepared to put up with that Mick Hucknall jazz harmonica album, which, under these terms, could easily emerge. "But would that be a bad thing?" he asks, his argument crumbling. "OK", he concedes, giggling. "I guess you wouldn't have to listen to everything."
Q: Won't people say, It's all very well Prince banging on about artistic freedom when we've got bill to pay and mundane reality to cope with? Aren't you speaking from a privileged position?
"If you're shackled and restricted, it doesn't matter how much money you got. Money don't help. And I've got bills to pay. People at Paisley (Park), they're like my family, I have responsibility towards them."
Q: Would you like to have children?
"That's something I haven't thought about."
Q: You've been thinking about the future so much and you haven't considered children?
"No, but I'd like to contribute to the future generation."
He's tearing up and down the room now, having talked for almost an hour and a half. His voice has become excited and slipped up a key. Not suite Kiss standards but getting there. Now and then, he slips into black slang. He even belches once, very gently but it's a belch nonetheless. It's like the Queen farting and lighting it. He enthuses about his new songs, Now and Days Of Wild. "What the fuck is that all about?" he asks, shimming around the bed with one arm stiff behind his back, rapping the opening lines, which involve copious use of the Oedipal compound noun. He raves about the genius of George Clinton, froths about his Smell My Finger album and is plainly in awe of his talents. "George is the funk," he explains breathlessly. He speaks about purity in music. "Rock N' Roll, man", he says, "was so much better when people were hungry. It was better when you didn't automatically make money. When James (Brown) was putting out an album every four months, that was the stuff."
It's getting on for 2am now and we have one final bash at distilling what he really wants to convey. Before that, he asks about magazine editorial practice and is stimulated by the fact that an article can go from writer to reader virtually untampered with. He speculates about producing music that you would listen to as you read this article. "That would be great, wouldn't it? And although I am an artist without a contract, that's just the sort of thing I can't do."
He recaps one last time: artistic freedom for everyone with fearlessness and limitlessness well of the fore; love and care to be liberally distributed and accepted; peace to reign; dolphins to leap; choirs of children to sing and, um, George Michael to write that ballet.
"So," he says spinning on his spangly heels. "Are we gonna party?" He dances towards the door, flicks a final seductive glance over his shoulder and sashays out. Funny little fucker.